Carmen Nibigira was born in Burundi in 1978. She is the first born in a family of four girls and her parents pushed them to excel. She studied at Lycee Vugizo in Burundi and St Peter’s High College in Gloucester UK.
She has a BA in travel management from the University of Brighton, UK (2005) and a Masters in Art in tourism destination management from the University College of Birmingham, UK.
Nibigira started working in the tourism and travel industry in 2000 as a housekeeper before graduating from college. She has worked in various capacities in the industry and managed tour operation companies in Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda, as well as an international hotel in Tanzania. Her work has taken her all over the world but her over 18 years experience in the hotel and tourism industry has been in Africa and Europe.
Between 2015 and 2017, she served as the regional co-ordinator of the East Africa Tourism Platform, and is a former director general of the Burundi National Tourism Office.
Nibigira has conducted tourism and hospitality-related trainings in Uganda and the DR Congo, and has consulted for and advised governments and non-governmental organisations on tourism planning, strategy and business competitiveness in West and Central Africa.
She worked at the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, Switzerland, as an academic assistant and researcher, before joining Clemson University in 2012 where she is currently a PhD candidate in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management. Her area of research is the policy and political economy of tourism, and the socio-political fabric of emerging tourism destinations.
Nibigira publishes widely on tourism development in East Africa, and is an advocate of inter and intra-regional travel. She is an avid reader, traveller and mother of two boys.
She was conferred the “African Women in Tourism Leadership Award” and was voted one of the top 100 influential women in travel in 2017. She is a reputable TV and radio voice on tourism and travel matters, as well as women in education.
What’s your off-duty passion?
I’m passionate about women and education. I consider myself a progressive feminist. I started mentoring about eight years ago when I noticed there was a gap in the tourism industry.
In 2010, I was managing a hotel property in Tanzania. I realised we were only two women in top management at the hotel. The rest of the women were at the bottom of the organisational chart, housekeepers and cleaners, with no prospects of career growth.
Since 2010, I have mentored about 50 girls and women through opportunities to work with or for me, or associations with people who are in my circles. I call people when opportunities arise, I encourage them to apply and we rehearse the interview process; I then push my friends to hire women.
What would you have been if you were not into what you are today?
Probably a physiotherapist. My father was a medical doctor and I wanted to be one too, or the closest I could get to that profession.
What signifies your personal style?
I don’t follow fashion trends. I buy classic and versatile items that can take me from the office to a dinner party. I love African brands. Asiana Collections in Rwanda is one of my favourite designers. I also like Vivo Activewear from Kenya. Much of my jewellery is from Kenya. My computer carrier bag too.
How do you manage your wardrobe?
My clothes are simple and my shoes have to be comfortable. I buy good quality shoes. I wear silver, not gold, and not more than two rings at a time to keep it simple.
I love colour. Blue, grey, red, and I love white shirts because I can pair them with anything.
While in East Africa, where are you most likely to spend your Saturday afternoon?
In a coffee house in Nairobi, either hanging out with friends or reading a book or newspapers. I am spoilt for choice in Nairobi; from Art Café or Le Grenier à Pain. sometimes I attend a concert or go to the theatre.
Describe your best destination yet in East Africa?
It has to be the Fairmont Mt Kenya. It’s so beautiful. When I visited, I could hear birds singing, horses trotting by, it had rained a little bit so the air was fresh. Coming from my room up to the hotel, I could see Mount Kenya in the distance, it was so perfect I had to stop and just enjoy it.
Do you have a must-visit list?
Alaska and South America. Alaska is the closest I can get to Antarctica for its unique natural attractions. I want to go in the summer, when its lush green. South America is full of ancient history, and I would love to go to Machu Picchu.
What do you think is East Africa’s greatest strength?
The wildlife, culture and the people. Even though our stories are singular, united as one we are stronger and we need to implement policies that foster integration.
What is your best collection?
A few art pieces and paintings from my travels. Every time I visit a new place, I try to bring something back home to remind me of that place.
What’s the most thoughtful gift you have received?
A North Face branded raincoat from my former professor in England. She knew I loved nature and I had just finished my studies and was returning home to Burundi, so she took me out to a café and later to shop where she bought me a rather expensive raincoat. This was in 2010, and I still have it. It is a practical and thoughtful gift, and I have grown to appreciate the high quality brand.
What’s the best gift you have given?
Holidays to my family and friends. I believe in making memories and sharing experiences. I have taken them to Diani, Zanzibar, Lamu, Amsterdam, Bruges and the south of England. I once took my family to Tanzania on holiday by road, and we saw Mt Kilimanjaro. One time my children and I stayed in the presidential suite of a hotel in Bujumbura, and they loved it.
What interesting book have you read recently?
Grit by Angela Duckworth. I would recommend it to those seeking purpose in their work or education. As much as talent counts, effort counts twice as much.
What is never missing from your fridge?
All types of cheese and marmalade. Growing up in Burundi, our cuisine had a strong French influence. The smellier the cheese the better. My dad loved cheese. I usually have two small blocks as a snack. I always have a premium brand of orange marmalade.
By SUSAN MUUMBI