By Joseph Oindo
The third and final trip organised by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) for local tourists and journalists took place in Rubavu district, previously known as Gisenyi. The campaign to promote local tourism, dubbed Tembera U Rwanda, started in Huye in October, moved to Nyungwe Forest in November, and finally to Rubavu from December 17-18.
Following RDB’s aggressive initiatives in promoting domestic tourism, local tour operators have welcomed such efforts, saying this is the right dose of medicine Rwanda needs to cure its fledgling domestic tourism to spur industry growth.
Greg Bakunzi, the founder and managing director of Amahoro Tours, says that apart from sensitising the locals about loving and touring their own country to see the compelling beauty Rwanda has to offer, what has been lacking is aggressive marketing of local Rwanda tourism products in the local media.
“Rwandans love their own country, but lack of awareness of the entire attractions the country offers continues to hamper the growth of domestic tourism. What’s needed is more of such campaigns like Tembera U Rwanda,” says Bakunzi.
He adds that local tourists should also be offered direct initiatives like discounted hotel prices and lower park entrance fees among other stimulus packages that would attract them to tourist sites.
During the Rubavu trip, which started at 8:30am at RDB headquarters in Gishushu, Kigali, local tourists and invited journalists were able to see the breathtaking beauty of the agricultural countryside, together with the beautiful scenery of Rwanda’s fabled rolling hills travelled along the twists and turns of the road to Gisenyi town, 160km from Kigali City, on a journey that took three hours.
Arriving in Gisenyi was a whole new experience for some of us. After taking our lunch on arrival at the modest La Corniche Hotel, we immediately took a one-hour boat ride to Timbiri, an area only accessible by boat, passing through several scenic islands found on Lake Kivu.
However, what fascinated most people was the way the locals here, cut off from most forms of modernity and civilisation, are able to find homegrown solutions to their unique problems.
For example, here they produce coffee that they sell to the local market by using just rudimentary methods. The mostly women farmers bring their coffee beans to the main Timbiri coffee making centre, from where they are threshed, winnowed and boiled to make the final product that tastes just like the kind of coffee drink you may find in any Starbucks outlet.
According to Eunice Hakizimana, the leader of Timbiri coffee making cooperative, they have managed to create sustainable income for the locals through coffee making, since they not only sell their produce to Gisenyi and other parts of Rwanda, but also to tourists who are usually on their way to different idyllic islands on Lake Kivu. Tourists normally come to Timbiri to have “a unique coffee experience.”
The following day, we were treated to a fun day at the scenic and calm Lake Kivu, taking part in various daylong activities such as kayaking, boat riding, swimming, beach football and volleyball, among other water sports provided by Lake Kivu Serena Hotel.
Rubavu has a diverse set of assets that position it favourably as a tourism destination and a future growth point. That this beach town is located near both Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and DR Congo’s Virunga National Park makes it an alternative accommodation base for leisure travellers in search of the region’s premier attraction: mountain gorillas.