Nothing could be more true, considering Rwanda’s tourism development. Step by step, like pieces of a giant puzzle, the overall picture falls into place.
Blessed with a fantastic climate – some know it as the Country of Eternal Springtime – Rwanda does have great assets to offer classic leisure tourism. One could point to the strong cultural identity, the Akagera National Park, the Nyungwe Forest National Park, the scenic beauty of lake Kivu, excellent birding, the Virunga volcanoes and, probably best known, the mountain gorillas!
But in terms of numbers, with only a limited number of visitors allowed a daily gorilla trek, the overall yearly potential of guests for the great apes doesn’t even reach 20,000! Being such a limited resource, one can easily defend the concept of needing to apply steep entry fees … at USD 1,500 per visitor per trek; it certainly doesn’t come cheap and can’t be considered democratic. Even at full occupancy, it doesn’t allow to generate much more than USD 25M yearly.
But let us put the leisure market aside … as this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tourism in Rwanda!
Gradually, step by step, Rwanda’s current government has been laying the foundation of a far more interesting perspective for its tourism industry, with a clear focus on conferencing and something that could be referred to as institutional tourism.
A safe country, a functional and clean capital, water, electricity, proper roads, low pollution, no traffic jams, proper telecoms, good internet to name but a few … who would not dream of living and working in such a place? Put simply, compared to chaotic capitals like Nairobi or Addis Ababa, things simply work in Kigali!
The ability to host large international conferences has also become a reality and Rwanda can pride itself on being ready to welcome big events and deliver to excellent standards. The facilities are simply available.
Another important piece of the puzzle is falling into place at a rather fast pace now … making Kigali, which one can’t deny is extremely well located in Africa, a serious air travel hub for the whole of the African continent and even well beyond. After blowing new energy into its national airline, the government of Rwanda has serious ambitions and is rolling out an impressive plan of flight network expansion. Add to this the impressive destination reach offered by airlines such as Brussels Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Qatar Airways, KLM and Turkish Airlines, Rwanda has solved its accessibility challenge without which there is simply no tourism, neither leisure, institutional nor conferencing!
Unlike Tanzania, which has never been much of a team player, Rwanda, in partnership with neighbours Uganda and Kenya, has been part of the “one single tourism visa” initiative for visitors to Eastern Africa for quite a while now.
More recent initiatives of the government will make travel to, via and from Rwanda even easier when visa on arrival will be generalized … or perhaps it has already been done by the time this goes to print.
On a very personal note, it is difficult to understand why so many of the international institutions remain based in chaotic places when they have such a golden opportunity right next door. But perhaps people are reluctant to change even for the better.
If leisure tourism has obvious limits in a small country like Rwanda, having invested strategically in making the destination accessible and in providing sufficient hosting infrastructure, the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Events) segment promises good times … Spring is certainly coming!
The only question remaining is: When are you hosting your next event or conference in Kigali?