The tourism industry is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world and Rwanda in particular. Being a multi-sector service industry, it brings together several sectors of the economy such as transport, hotel industry and banking among others hence tourism can play a key role in building peace and reconciliation in Rwanda according to a report by the Swiss Peace foundation.
In Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, tourism was negatively affected and poorly managed as tourism sites such as national parks were invaded by militias killing staff which shut down tourism activities. The violence that took lives of more than 800,000 people within 100 days weakened culture values leading to cultural erosion and decline of cultural tourism as well.
In the post conflict period, Rwanda prioritized the tourism industry focusing on key issues including aggressive marketing, public/private sector partnerships and local community engagement and empowerment. This was intended to reverse the negative image of the country in the international travel media and also create social change among the local people who were widely affected by the genocide and civil war.
However, tourism was unable to recover quickly as expected soon after the genocide ended. This was because of several social challenges such as many refugee numbers, insecurity in national parks, social injustice hence Rwanda was not able to attract high numbers of tourists as well as rebuild peace.
Gorilla tourism was popular among many tourists and had the potential to bring revenues for the government prior to the genocide. In the aftermath of the conflict, the Rwanda office of tourism and National parks was created to increase tourist services and security in national parks for the benefit of both the local communities and tourists. Today Rwanda attracts a considerable number of tourists interested in gorilla tours in the Virunga, within the northern side of the country.
Rwanda’s emerging emphasis on tourism’s role to build social change, conserve the environment and bring economic stability by reducing poverty is slowly gaining agreement among local communities, the private tourism business and tourists themselves. The Rwandan tourism board the leading tourism development organization is tasked to respond to the increasing tourist needs by developing nature friendly products and also create awareness among tourists while expanding community tourism development initiatives.
In the process of rebuilding peace in Rwanda through tourism, all tourism stakeholders are argued by the Swiss Peace study to create initiatives that include corporate social responsibility and inclusive business models. For instance establishment of joint tourism business ventures between tour and travel agents and local communities that support groups of people such as women and children who were affected much by the genocide and civil war.
From an economical point of view, another strategy that intends to address challenges of the peace building process in Rwanda was the revenue sharing scheme. The revenue sharing scheme started in 2005 where 5 % of tourism revenues funds community projects such as roads, schools, clean water, jobs in conservation and tourism, health care centers and sustainable agriculture. This has created a lasting relationship between local communities, national parks and other tourism stakeholders. Despite all these fundamental issues, there is still a gap in addressing problems for those communities far away from the national parks. It’s also not clear whether the peace building process through tourism focuses on Tutsi-Huti reconciliation leaving out the Batwa pygmies.
A new form of tourism called dark tourism was initiated in order to increase local people and tourist awareness about the negative effects of genocide and war that took place in Rwanda. Genocide tourism in Rwanda has been institutionalized through creation of genocide memorial sites, museums. These have further sensitized local people and tourists how to prevent conflict through tourism and peace building.
The Swiss Peace therefore concluded, if peace building was to be attained in Rwanda through tourism, it calls for both non government and government bodies to engage their activities in social-economic transformation, reconciliation based on ethnic justice and political security.
Today, Rwanda is a politically safe country, earlier this year it has hosted both the world economic and the African Union summit.