More tourists discover Rwanda but investment and capacity still lacking
Recent innovations in the tourism industry such as the canopy walk at Nyungwe National Park have helped to ratchet up revenue from foreign tourists, effectively reversing the decline experienced in 2009.
The head of tourism at the Rwanda Development Board Rica Rwigamba said that a number of innovations such as the introduction Nyungwe National Park canopy walk and bird viewing had helped attract more international visitors to Rwanda. There has also been improvement air transport with the coming of new airlines. RwandAir that has spread its wings to new destinations such as Dubai has also helped bring in more tourists, Rwigamba said.
Recent statistics from the department show that in 2010, the country received US$ 200 millions from tourism – a 14% rise from December 2009. Growth was also noted in the first half of 2011.
During the first half of the year, Rwanda hosted 405,801 visitors – a 27% increase compared to the same period last year. This brought in an estimate revenues worth US$ 115.6 million compared to US$ 90.6 million generated last year during the same period.
According to Rwigamba, one of the turning points in Rwanda tourism is what was expressed in Tripadvisor, the world’s largest travel site, which reported that it has seen a 656% increase in the number of Britons wishing to visit Rwanda.
“This means that some showed interest to visit, some managed to visit or some just got the information they needed for future use,” Rwigamba explained.
The country also saw big investments in hotels and restaurants during the first half of 2011 worth US$ 69.3 million.
“New products recently launched in Nyungwe as well as the world class accommodation known as Nyungwe Forest Lodge has seen figures in the park double over the past months,” she said.
She added that new bird routes had been launched in Bugesera in order to promote bird watching as a new tourism product in Rwanda.
While foreigners are showing a lot of interest in visiting national tourist sites, Rwandans have showed little appetite in touring their own country.
For instance, foreign tourists accounted for 69% of the visits compared with 22% by Rwanda nationals. Foreign residents accounted for 9% of the visits in 2010.
To encourage Rwandans to visit, authorities are charging reduced rates for locals visiting national parks. For example, Rwandans pay Frw 5,000 for the canopy walk while foreigners pay US$ 60.
Rwigamba called for more initiatives such as capacity building through classification of hotels. “Rwanda now has certified East African assessors and with their knowledge, they will assess the existing structures and give standards to meet international ratings,” she said.
More effort is needed to encourage investments in the sector especially in accommodation and development of more products mostly in areas outside Kigali like around water bodies. There is also need for collaboration with institutions of higher learning to ensure that graduate of tourism courses are well equipped to do their job, she added.
With Rwanda joining the East African Community, it is now possible for more visitors from member countries to enter the country without visa restrictions. “This issue has been tabled at the EAC and Rwanda is in favor of the resolution and is committed to ensuring a breakthrough and eventual implementation of a one EA entry visa,” she said.
She called for collaborative efforts among East African tourism bodies and private stakeholders to market joint packages such as regional investments into tourism and leverage publicity from the EA countries.
Apparently, all of these improvements that have been realized over the last years contributed in making Rwanda more visible at international level as a top tourist destination.
Rwanda was recently appointed as the first country in East, Central and North Africa to become a member of the International Council of Tourism Partners (ICTP), enhancing its reputation as one of the favorite tourist destinations in the world.
The ICTP is a global alliance of responsible destination cooperation and marketing in tourism that promotes best practices and being on its list is considered as a sign of excellence.
“I have been following the development of tourism in Rwanda over the years, and I’m impressed with the activities, involvements, and contributions the destination has been making,” remarks Juergen Steinmetz, the ICTP chairman. “Rwanda has been conducting itself as a responsible member of the global tourism industry, and is a very special destination with a great future,” he added.