By Our Reporter
A few years ago, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) announced an $860-million tourism income target by 2017. “Rwanda gears up for surge in tourism demand,” RDB announced in a press release.
And despite opposing views from industry experts, RDB’s Tourism Department stood by the goal.
“The target for the tourism industry in Rwanda is to grow by 25% per annum and we believe that it is achievable,” Faustin Karasira, then acting head of RDB’s Tourism Department, told this reporter on June 8, 2015.
While it is true that tourism revenues have been increasing for the past decade, it is also noteworthy to consider that RDB has been consistently missing its annual target of 25 per cent growth, recording an annual average of just 10 per cent, according to RDB statistics. In fact, in the past three years, tourism revenues have been increasing at an average of 4 per cent per year, if RDB’s statistics are anything to go by.
The 2016 results are not yet available, but data from RDB indicates that in 2015 the country attracted 1.3 million tourists and $318 million of their cash. RDB recorded $305 tourism income in 2014, $293 in 2013, $282 in 2012 and $251 in 2011.
To reach its $860-million target in 2017, this will mean that RDB has to more than double tourism revenues in just a year’s time, something it has not accomplished in the past years.
Now local industry players are predicting that the industry could stagnate if RDB doesn’t come up with better strategies to keep interest in visiting Rwanda strong.
“I am not seeing anything new and better being put in place to attract people. I have only seen good hotels that 2016 attracted but where are the customers? Infrastructure has improved but what is the strategy to attract customers?” asks Darius Dosantos, the founder of Kings Travel Centre
Greg Bakunzi, founder of Musanze-based Amahoro Tours, is optmistic but insists innovation is needed to grow the sector.
“There is hope that the tourism industry will grow further in 2017, as long as we come up with new products to sell,” he says. “RDB needs to come up with more new products and market them on top of gorillas as this is the only way we can attract more tourists.”
Towards the end of last year, as one of the strategies to increase tourism revenues, RDB launched the Tembera U Rwanda domestic tourism campaign, which was meant to encourage Rwandans to take more holidays at home.
But according to Dosantos, external marketing is the most important thing that RDB should focus on if momentum is to be continued in 2017.
He says: “Africa will never generate revenue from internal marketing and domestic tourism. Africans don’t have disposable income to put in that pleasure. All that is needed is a strategy to attract foreign tourists. India, for instance, attracts all types of tourists: medical, business, etc. What is Rwanda’s strategy?”
Well, we sought answers from RDB’s Tourism Department but our persistent emails were ignored.
Shot in the arm
Towards the end of 2016, Rwanda’s tourism got a shot in the arm when American luxury and lifestyle travel magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, named Rwanda its second-best destination for travellers to Africa in 2017. Rwanda was ranked as No. 14 on Condé Nast’s “Best Places to Travel in 2017” list, behind 13th-place Zimbabwe, the only other African country on Condé Nast Traveler’s list.
Rwanda made it to this list because of the expected opening of Wilderness Safaris’ Bisate Lodge near the Volcanoes National Park, which Condé Nast described as “one of the most anticipated hotel openings on the continent.”
In fact, it’s the opening of new hotels that greatly boosted Rwanda’s tourism in 2016. The conference tourism sub-sector registered its best performance ever, attracting more than 20,000 conference visitors.
“Rwanda has never gotten meetings like it got in 2016 and, if you look at the 2017 calendar, it’s still undoubted that 2016 holds water,” says Kings Travel Centre’s Dosantos.