Rwanda is making major efforts to stand out as a “high-end” destination in Africa. We asked Linda Mutesi, Tourism Marketing Manager at the Rwanda Development Board, what the actual strategy is of her nation with regard to tourism.
Rwanda is a very young country in terms of tourism – only about 24 years. It’s a small country and we are surrounded with neighbours that have been in tourism for a while. It has been an amazing journey for them, and we have learned a lot from the process, so what Rwanda has done specifically has been growing the tourism offering. National parks like Akagera had lost much of their wildlife, but recently we have been re-introducing species, such as the lion and the black East African rhino and even birds. We have great crowned cranes that were in people’s homes that have been brought back by the conservation team into the national parks to be wild and free. And while we are restocking the parks, we are generally building the infrastructure around them so they can grow into this diversified tourism offering. Overall, a lot of conservation work has been going on in all the parks, and efforts are ongoing to protect the mountain gorillas. A census was recently carried-out and the IUCN announced that mountain gorillas have now moved from being critically endangered to endangered – which is a huge milestone. They listed we have more than 1,000 mountain gorillas in the wild which is a huge breakthrough in conservation, thanks to the efforts that have been made over the past years. Uganda, Rwanda and Congo have what we call trans-boundary collaboration, for the monitoring of mountain gorillas, and we have rangers that cross borders as well to track these amazing animals.
There is a lot of community support as well, and thanks to this we have seen the mountain gorillas growing in numbers. But what does this mean for the parks? The parks are not growing in size. As a matter of fact, farmers had been encroaching with their land next to the parks. So, we have been working on expanding the Volcanoes National Park. It’s a very expensive venture, but the government is trying to look for money to expand the park. It means we have to take the people that are around the park and relocate them and then use that land for reforestation. These are really bold decisions that have been made by the government and moving people is not easy, but that is what really contributes to conservation success. It also means raising awareness for people to understand that if they have to move, it is for the well-being of the animals, but also the impact of tourism is actually reflected on me as an individual… I can do my business because of tourism revenue that is coming through. We give back 10% of our National Park revenues to families and communities that are living around the parks. We inject this money not to individual families, but into projects that have been proposed by these communities, so the impact is huge. That is one. Two, we are attracting high-end properties – not just attracting everyone to come and set up shop in Rwanda. These high-end properties understand conservation, so definitely in this kind of society there is going to be a balance, and that’s the second thing. We have properties like the One and Only Wilderness Safaris that have been doing this for a long time and understand conservation, so there is a balance between tourism and conservation, but they also understand luxury which is something we are also trying to work on. But the most exciting thing is the open visa policy, so that anybody from anywhere in the world can come into Rwanda and obtain a visa upon arrival. They don’t have to go through the excruciating process of sending their passports to the consulate in their home country. Obviously, there are soft assets, like safety. Something that a traveller would think about on their way to a destination, and this is key for us as well. We have been ranked by the World Economic Forum as one of the safest countries globally and that is really exciting for us as a destination.
So, it’s really a question of changing people’s perceptions and attitudes about the country?
It is. And we have been working on this for the last 23 years. There has been a lot of promotion of not just tourism, but also investment.
What are the key source markets for Rwanda?
Currently, most of our visitors are coming from North America, from the US in particular. We have some Canadians coming in but most are coming in from the US. The UK is our second source market and Germany is quite a big market. There are some emerging markets like Australia; France is a growing market for four Rwanda as well as is Belgium. Some people come to visit friends and relatives but many are coming for tourism. China is a key target market. We know very well that it is the trending market globally and while they are visiting Europe, they are also thinking of new destinations.
Rwanda- visitor guide