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IXP – The Smiling Coast

It is 6 pm, on Thursday January 6th and the plane I find myself on just took off for Banjul, the capital of The Gambia in West Africa. There is a river flowing through this country named Gambia and instead of naming the country the more creative “Gambio,” it was decided that “The” would be added, resulting in the less easy-on-the-tongue “The Gambia”.

Frankly, I should have been there already but one thing led to another, and the Senegalese Government decided this morning that my plane could no longer land in Dakar and then fly on to Banjul. Enter a 6-hour delay at the airport in which SN Brussels Airlines had a rough time finding two smaller planes. Thank God for David Moss’s Macro-economics and for the lunch voucher I received.

During the flight, I meet some fellow passengers; quite the interesting crowd it seems. My generously tattooed English neighbor Geoff from Newcastle made me realise that there are jobs more destructive to family life than either Banking or Consulting. Building a long and much-needed asphalted road, he alternates two weeks at home with three months of leading and training a local team in Gambia’s sunburned core. Also present is a large group of Americans from the Peace Corps who intend to spend two years (!) in Gambia, improving agribusiness, water management and what have you. A noble cause, but so is mine, albeit slightly less elongated.

Not the biggest fan of large group travelling and rather fond of figuring out itineraries myself, I resisted the mounting FOMO and rejected the enticing IXP altogether replica watches uk. One month later, I could not have been happier with this choice as I saw an incoming email from Hafeez Giwa and Matthew Tolliver introducing GIX for Global Impact Experience. This was exactly what I had been looking for: a student-led initiative presenting 3-week-projects in emerging markets with the possibility of making a lasting impact. In return for the students’ effort, the host company reimburses flights and accommodation, ensuring its full commitment. That, in short, is why I am on a plane to West Africa with the ambitious mission to improve tourism to the extraordinary continent that Africa is.

Upon arrival, I meet the three other students – Jennifer Lazar (ND), Colin Lynch (OA) and Hafeez Giwa (OG) – with whom I will embark upon this grand adventure. The great benefit of having a travel agency as sponsor is that they first send you on three days of sightseeing excursions. Dutifully, our team goes on a city tour in Banjul, sails to Juffureh and James Island from which slaves were shipped across the Atlantic over 200 years ago, and takes pictures of the white rhino in a Senegalese nature reserve. We unanimously conclude that the area definitely deserves its nickname “The Smiling Coast” for its welcoming, open residents (exceedingly so towards older British women is all I am saying). Then it is on to more serious work.

Africa is still unchartered territory for many travellers compared to other exotic tourist destinations. Political instability, intimidating diseases and modest popular media coverage contribute to its inaccessible reputation. Yet, slowly, the more informed travellers’ community awakes to all the wonders that this continent has to offer and international tourist arrivals are expected to increase from 31 million in 2009 to 39 million in 2014. On the back of this tremendous opportunity, our team helps a local operator of tourist excursions set up a professional tour operator under the name of ADI (African Destinations International) that will be your “True African Travel Specialist”. Starting with high-end, authentic tours and packages in relatively underserved West Africa, it will partner with other operators in the East and South and offer its products both through its website and travel agents. We set about writing the business plan, preparing a financial model and developing a convincing investor teaser together with Angela Andrews, the upbeat founder.

Working in a developing country brings about its own challenges. Having worked in London where every document was due yesterday and finding information often meant sending an email to a research department, you might say things run at a different pace, most so the internet. One, and especially overeager Type-A HBS kids, has to exude patience. This certainly holds when trying to incentivize the existing team replica breitling, busy with their day-to-day chores, to provide us with essential information. Marketing frameworks in hand however, we “deliver our deliverables” and churn out practical, useful recommendations and documents to help Angela overcome several of the founder’s dilemmas. It’s all incredibly exciting and way too soon, time has come to say our goodbyes. On the return flight, I relish the succinct moment of relaxed happiness one encounters after a satisfying undertaking, just before dozing off with thoughts of upcoming interviews creeping in…

January 31, 2011
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