By Travel News Rwanda Staff
Over the past few years, tourism has been Rwanda’s major economic growth driver, raking in more than $300 million per year in terms of revenue.
In fact, Africa’s tourism sector, in general, has been growing at an impressive rate. In 2014, for instance, a total of 65.3 million international tourists visited Africa – up from 17.4 million in 1990, meaning that the sector quadrupled in just 14 years.
In 2014 alone, Africa recorded $43.6 billion in tourism revenue and the sector is currently estimated to account for 7.1% of all jobs in Africa.
However, now the United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s (UNWTO) Tourism Highlights 2016 indicate that international tourists to Africa have decreased by an estimated 3 per cent – from 65.3 million visitors in 2014 to 53.4 million in 2015. Receipts from international visitors subsequently reduced to $33.2 billion.
But there is hope. According to UNWTO, international tourist arrivals are projected to grow by 2 per cent to 5 per cent in 2016. To achieve this, however, the continent will have to harness the potential of cultural tourism, given that Africa is very rich in culture and tradition – materials that are essential in stimulating rapid growth in tourism.
This cultural diversity creates variations in artistic performances and cultural practices across the continent, meaning that foreign tourists can enjoy lots of cultural activities and norms as they traverse the continent.
“Africa has been focusing on wildlife for a very long time,” says Greg Bakunzi, the founder of Red Rocks Intercultural Centre in Musanze, northern Rwanda. “Now it’s time for us to promote our culture, our history.”
According to Bakunzi, none of the big tourist destinations such as France and Italy has national parks but they only rely on their culture and history to attract hordes of visitors.
“Africa has national parks and unique cultures, meaning that we have more tourism products to sell than those countries,” says Bakunzi. “What we lack is proper branding that can appeal to international tourists.”
Indeed, as Rwandans converge in San Francisco, California, on September 24 to celebrate the Rwanda Cultural Day, now is the time for us to take advantage of our historical practices, traditional ceremonies and customs, traditional food and beverages, arts and crafts, events and festivals as well as dance and music, to keep interest in visiting Rwanda strong.
The capital Kigali itself has a couple of interesting cultural and historical sites with a huge potential to pull in visitors. Kigali boasts several cultural outlets to explore, including local markets, artists’ co-operatives and historical sites.
Visitors to Kigali can check out historical sites such as the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Gisozi, which is regarded as the best known and most visited memorial site in Rwanda – quite unfortunate that one of Kigali’s best attractions is a result of the unfathomable 1994 mass killings.
Rebero, Nyanza and Camp Kigali memorial sites can also be recommended for visitors to Kigali who are interested in learning more about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that left an estimated one million people dead.
Kigali’s other treasures include the city’s art galleries and workshops such as the Inema Art Centre and Uburanga Art Studio, which are home to an array of artists who are pushing Rwanda’s art scene forward.
Tourists can also visit local markets such as Kimironko, where one will find mountains of flour and spices and a variety of Rwandan food. Talking of traditional Rwandan food, visitors can try the several local restaurants that straddle the city, an ideal opportunity to sample authentic Rwandan food.
Sites of Rwandan kings
A better insight into Rwanda and its culture and traditional practices comes from a visit to the sites of Rwandan kings. There is Queen Kanjogera’s place of burial in Gicumbi district, King Kigeri V’s residence near Lake Kivu, King Rwabugiri’s residence in Nyamasheke district, the burial place of kings in the Northern Province, the king’s resting place in Nyamasheke district, the King’s Palace Museum and the royal burial place in Nyanza district, among others.
The country’s social calendar also features fascinating, regular events such as Fespad, Jamafest, Kigali-Up, Primus Guma Guma Superstar music contest, the Rwanda Christian Film Festival, the Rwanda Film Festival, Kigali Fashion Week, Kwita Izina and the Umuganura Harvest Festival, among others.
With all these events and the many cultural sites across the country, there is no doubt that Rwanda has a vast potential in cultural tourism that needs to be exploited.