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Africa is the logical next step for many businesses, but the challenges are daunting, says Tom Stevenson

Gorillas In Rwanda

Your next business trip is somewhere exotic, and your employer is sending you halfway around the world for a few days of business… and all you will see is the hotel and the office. Or, could you sneak in a small holiday afterwards to explore?

If your employer is quite relaxed and you have spare holiday in hand, this could be a great opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Have a quiet word with the travel office and ask them to delay your return (hopefully at no extra cost) and apply for a few days vacation. You can tack on a side trip and make bookings for accommodation, while returning to your original starting point to go home.

Make a plan
But what if this is not as easy as it sounds? One solution (but you can’t bank on it) would be an overbooked flight. You simply volunteer to take your return journey the next day and give up your seat to a passenger with more urgent needs (and less of a desire to go exploring). Graciously accept the offered cash compensation (which pays for your side-trip), and with a bit of luck you’ll get bumped off the next day too and have another fun outing, subsidised by the airline. This has happened to me several times when I used to travel between London and New Delhi not long ago. A second possible scenario is to accept hospitality from a client or business associate who ‘persuades’ you that you really must visit Victoria Falls if you travel to Lusaka, you simply have to see Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail if you go to Lima, and no visit to Cairo would be complete without going to the Valley of the Kings. And yes, this client/business associate will be extremely offended if you refuse; we may even lose his business as a result. So there really is no other option, is there?

Thirdly – but not necessarily recommended, as it may really happen – is to get sick at the end of your trip. You really cannot travel until you feel better, so can you therefore delay your departure? And the beach would surely be much more conducive to recovery than a downtown hotel room.

Irreplaceable experiences
Whichever way you do it, a few days holiday after the rigours of a business trip can be a unique opportunity to explore a place you might otherwise never visit, to relax after work, and to make new friends.

I was working in Kigali, Rwanda – a small, attractive and quiet African city, but hardly exciting or unusual. I had one free day, having finished work the night before with a return flight the following evening. A colleague suggested going to see the mountain gorillas – famous from the movies ,and known to be an endangered species. We got up at 3am, drove to the hills and joined a small expedition trekking to reach a gorilla family deep in the jungle.

We spent a magical hour watching their antics in the wild and taking hundreds of photos.

They’re 95 percent like us – scratching, picking their noses, slapping their children, fighting for the best seat, doing battle for the choicest fruits and vegetables, and trying to find a comfortable place to lie down for a quiet nap. Jealous, bitchy and argumentative, they behave like neighbours on any street corner – just bigger and slightly less hairy.

We trekked back out of the jungle, ate a slap-up breakfast which was washed down with Rwanda beer, and set off to the airport, picking up our luggage from the hotel on the way.

We were rather smelly and sweaty even before the long journey home, having no time to change, but this really was taking advantage of that extra day after business.

Many colleagues have returned from a business trip jaded, weary, and in need of a vacation after a swift red eye flight. Granted, these trips are intentionally for corporate endeavours, but while the temptation may be too great to resist, not everyone gets the opportunity to explore far-flung lands, where wild gorillas sleep in the mist. n

Dr Stephanie Jones is Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Maastricht School of Management, and often travels for business

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