Rwanda’s tourism sector is experiencing a boom thanks to the government’s new approach to a sector that was until recently on the verge of total failure. Like any other sectors of the economy, the tourism sector was gravely affected by the 1994 genocide and war. But unlike the rest of the sectors, it had to take a combination of creativity, marketing, image building and most importantly, time. The tourism sector was officially re-launched in 2003 with the government’s approach taking a new twist.
A new strategy was put in place as the Rwandan government recognized tourism as the leading sector. The government’s tourism body- (Office Rwandaise de Tourisme et des Parcs Nationaux- ORTPN) was reformed and given a new and dynamic Director. The results are overwhelming. Only two years after the people of Rwanda can look back and give a pat on each other’s backs…
Between March 10 and March 15 Rwanda participated in the prestigious annual International Tourism Board (ITB) exhibition held in Berlin, Germany. Participants from Rwanda included: ORTPN- the body in charge of Rwandan tourism and national parks, International Tours Travel, Volcanoes Safaris, Primate Safaris, Concord-Magic Safaris, Thousand Hills Expeditions, Intercontinental Kigali Hotel and Kivu Sun Hotel. This event provided an opportunity for Rwanda to prove that with good governance, peace and stability, any country can rise from its past to shine among its peers. Rwanda beat several other countries to the fourth position. Most of these countries like Kenya are traditional tourists’ destinations, with a century-old tourism infrastructure and without a history of conflict.
The exhibition is an opportunity for countries and tourism stakeholders to showcase what they have to offer and conclude tourism deals. It is also a learning experience. ITB-Berlin this year attracted 180 countries, 10,000 exhibitors (tour operators, booking systems, travel destinations, airlines, hotels and car rental companies), over 142,000 visitors and over 75,000 trade visitors. At such exhibitions ORTPN gets to know the tourists views on the country, what they think of Rwanda, what they love about it, where improvements need to be made whether in the hotel or service sector and a lot more.
The New Strategy
ORTPN has now started putting in place a strategy in line with the 2020 Vision. There is a tourism working group and a strategy firm called On the Frontier has been commissioned to provide their expertise to this end. The year 2010 has been decided as a mid-term target. That is when it shall be evaluated whether there have been tangible benefits made.
The target is to generate a minimum of US $100m in direct and indirect receipts coming from tourism as revenue, by 2010. Basically, this is to say that if Rwanda can get about 70,000 visitors by 2010 with each spending a minimum of US $ 1,500 per week, US $ 100m can be raised. ORTPN believes this is very achievable. So every year, a target of expected visitors has been set and so far, the expectations have been met with commendable success. But Rwanda’s strategy does not target only the numbers but also the length of stay. Rwanda was able to learn from her neighbors like Kenya and borrowed a leaf from what happened in Mauritius and Kenya in 1995 where the two countries managed to generate US$ 500,000 but Kenya had received 800,000 visitors and Mauritius had 80,000 visitors.
Rwanda is a small country going for eco-tourism. The Government is looking for high-end tourism and the bottom line is going to be working on the length of stay. Limited numbers that are staying for a long time is what is targeted thereby increasing the receipts. The ultimate goal is to put less pressure on resources, conserve environment, and also be able to address the current issue of making sure that the benefit of tourism in terms of money is actually visible.
The current trend is not to out compete other countries but rather to become an added destination. ORTPN is determined to make Rwanda a compliment to the region. That is the initial strategy and experts’ eyes will be watching closely to see how it evolves. Clearly, this was dictated by where the country comes from. The government does not expect people to fly directly into Rwanda.
So the new strategy is to position Rwanda as a complimentary destination to the people who are already coming into the region. That is working very well even with the products that Rwanda currently has. For instance, between Kenya and Rwanda people are actually saying they want to start with the Masai Mara and end with the gorillas. Or start with the gorillas and end with the Masai- Mara. In terms of tourism it becomes one trip. Analysts say Kenya has outsold itself and in terms of this they really need something new to offer.
When they approach clients and say they can add Rwanda to the destination, it is easy for them to sell. As the ORTPN’s dynamic director describes it “It becomes a win-win situation” because Rwanda was able to tap into the clients that were already coming into Kenya, which is already a well-known destination. This is done with other countries like Uganda and Tanzania too.