Last year, Rwanda hosted 1.3 million visitors – up from 1.2 million in 2014 and 1.1 million the previous year. In fact, Rwanda has welcomed more than one million visitors in each of the past four years, with each year attracting a record total number for the country.
Travel News Rwanda’s Gilbert Mwijuke recently sat down with Faustin Karasira, Ag. Head of Tourism Department at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), to discuss the factors behind this impressive trend…
RDB data indicates a substantial year-over-year increase in foreign visitors. What factors have contributed to this trend?
First is the political will. There is a lot the government has been putting in place in terms of investment in the tourism industry, which is now paying off. In the last six years, the country has managed to establish two more national parks (Nyungwe and Gishwati-Mukura). Now we have a total of four national parks (including Akagera and the Volcanoes), which has augmented wildlife tourism.
The second factor is the credibility that Remarkable Rwanda enjoys across the world. Today, everyone wants to be associated with the successes of Rwanda – from all angles.
The third factor is the enabling policies such as the country’s visa openness whereby all African nationals and visitors from key markets – the UK, Germany, and the US – get their visas upon arrival in the country. In addition, visitors can also apply for visas online.
There are also other factors such as the growth of RwandAir. The national carrier is now providing quality services and many people are showing their preference to travel with the airline.
Then there is the overall marketing of Destination Rwanda, which is being done by the top political leaders, RDB, the tourism chamber (private sector members) and the media, including yourself. We also cannot ignore the contributions made by the Rwandan Diaspora community and friends of Rwanda. In fact, of late we have been seeing the promotion of Rwanda tourism becoming an inclusive responsibility.
We have also benefited a lot from the events that take place in Kigali because conference visitors share their experiences when they get back home. The best practice of MICE is that 40 per cent of the delegates always come back for leisure tourism, and that is the trend all over the world.
Lastly, regional integration efforts have also contributed a lot towards the growth of the industry. Now Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya are being marketed as one destination. We execute quite a number of promotional campaigns together, which helps each of the partner states to leverage on each country’s existing efforts. The East African Single Tourist Visa has also played a big role in the growth of our tourism sector.
There has been a lot of talk about the challenges to the East African Single Tourist Visa, such as the differences in national visa policies and regimes. Are you concerned that the multi-entry single tourist visa is at risk?
I’ll say no. See, before initiating the visa, the first thing that was done by the three countries was aligning their national policies to the requirement of this visa. So, I am not seeing any conflict between the national policies and laws with this initiative.
Second, it’s collective responsibility to market this initiative. Having the single tourist visa is one thing but making it known is quite another. As partner states we have even managed to put together a joint budget, not only to facilitate common activities that promote the visa but also our destinations.
We are also currently developing a vibrant tourism portal for the three countries. Here in Rwanda, we are not worried that this initiative is under any threat.
How do high-profile conferences such as WEF Africa and the African Union Summit play into the core values of Rwanda’s tourism efforts?
A few years back when we launched MICE tourism, the first objective was to diversify Rwanda’s tourism offerings.
The second was to come up with a strategy that sustains the tourism business during all seasons – high or low. For leisure tourism, the high season is the right time to do business. But for MICE you can have meetings throughout the year.
The third objective was to share our own best practices as Rwanda with the rest of the world. See, there are different areas where the country has made tremendous achievements, so we found MICE a strategic way to let the world know about our achievements such as good governance and reforms in doing business. When people come here for conferences, they not only discuss but also experience our achievements.
Hosting high-profile conferences means that it’s our efforts in different areas that are paying off. It’s also a vote of confidence in Rwanda by Africa and the world. It’s a case of the world joining the country to celebrate what has been achieved in the last 22 years and also offer a kind of support for the sustainability of these efforts.
Rwanda’s tourism has grown substantially under President Paul Kagame. Do you think that progress will roll back under a new administration?
I don’t foresee that because the foundation is strong. When you look at the many bookings that have been made by clients for 2018, 2019 and even 2020, it means that people have confidence in the sustainability of the industry. Tourism will remain a key contributor to the country’s economy for many years to come.
The whole commitment of our country is to not go back where we are coming from. We know the consequences and the price of failure and of success.
We may also remind ourselves that this is something that started in 2003, and it was a call by President Kagame. The first supporter of the industry is the president himself. So, why shouldn’t the industry support him?