FIRSTHAND: When the new tourism chief unravelled Rwanda's tourism potential (PHOTOS)

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Tourists in one of the segments of Musanze Cave. (Faustin Niyigena)

Belise Kariza, the Chief Tourism Officer (CTO) at Rwanda Development Board (RDB), spent last week visiting various potential tourism destinations, across the country, a tour she dubbed #CTOonTheMove.

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Kariza was greeted with heart-shaped trench along Karongi waterfall. (Photograph: Belise Kariza)

Kariza, 31, was appointed the Chief Tourism Officer —by the Cabinet, in September, 2015, replacing Amb. Yamina Karitanyi, who is currently Rwanda’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

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Inside the cave, tourists walk on different stones including stairs from volcanic flows. (Faustin Niyigena)

The week-long tour which ended on Saturday, was aimed at introducing the new Tourism boss to her staff, but most important, to get herself acquainted with Rwanda’s diverse tourism destinations.

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Buhanga Ecopark Nkosi na Bikara, where one of the coronation ceremonies of Rwandan Kings used to take place 800 years ago. (Photograph: Belise Kariza)

“The purpose of the tour was to get to know more and assess Rwanda’s diverse attractions, know what to improve and get acquainted with the RDB staff at the different sites,” she said.

Kariza covered about 90 per cent of the already established tourism attractions in the North, West and Southern provinces.

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RDB staff briefs people on how to behave inside the cave. (Faustin Niyigena)

From trekking the mountain gorillas, to kayaking in the Lake Kivu (Rubavu), to going down to Karongi through the Congo Nile Trail and Kariza also visited various tourism attractions along the Kivu Belt.

“Karongi in particular is a true holiday destination with its lake scenery and the boat house,” Kariza narrated, adding that she mesmerized by Kamiranzovu Waterfall. I ended my tour along the heritage corridor with visits to Kibeho, the Art Museum in the intellectual city of Huye, and various other attractions along the way.”

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The inside view shows the main entrace of 2KM distance of Musanze Cave. (Faustin Niyigena)

Discoveries from the CTO tour

Other than meeting the 44-year oldest Silverback, Kariza says that she also experienced the uniqueness and diverse experiences scattered all over the continent, right in one Rwanda.

“Based on the 7-day tour, I definitely confirm that Rwanda tourism is a hidden treasure that should be discovered, experienced, shared and protected for all generations to come. Rwanda is often referred to by some as a small Africa and for a good reason. Because, it offers one unique and diverse experiences scattered all over the continent,” she said.

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Fern tree, in Nyungwe Forest, used to be the favourite meal for dinosaurs. Could it be that the forest survived Ice Age. (Photograph: Belise Kariza)

From the magnificent mountain gorillas to primates, mysterious flora and fauna, birds to the great relaxing Lake Kivu region; safe to visit and swim, Kariza got the picturesque cultural experiences in Huye.

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Exit of one the segments which leads to the next segment entrance. (Faustin Niyigena)

“What Rwanda has goes beyond what the continent is offering as tourism experiences. I therefore urge civil society, youth and business community to take this opportunity to invest in this industry,” she says.

Kariza toured Buhanga Eco-Park in Musanze and discovered the rich history behind it.

“Locals say, it was a right of passage for all the Kings of Rwanda. There is a mystery that surrounds the park from the giant trees, the pathways, the spring ‘Nkosi na Bikara’ that dries up during the rainy season and fills up during the dry season, and so much more.”

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The inside view shows the main exit of 2km distance of Musanze Cave. (Faustin Niyigena)

Through Cave Tourism in Musanze caves for what she described as a “Quite, surreal experience,” she headed for Kimbiri Traditional Coffee tour.

“It was fascinating to experience the traditional coffee making process,” said Kariza.

Areas to improve

Sector players say that least is known about the adventurous beauty of Rwanda; however, Kariza said that, RDB is now doing a lot to promote Rwanda as a tourism destination, through attending several tourism fairs around the globe and using social media as a communication platform, among others.

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Light can only be seen near the entrances and exits. (Faustin Niyigena)

“The joint marketing programmes with Kenya and Uganda under the Northern Corridor Integration Projects, as well as the One Single Visa, are all efforts to promote the three countries as one destination, plus the role of media and establishment of marketing representations in key markets for different market niches, and coming soon the Remarkable Rwanda app,” she says.

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Kariza grinding coffee in traditional way. (Courtesy)

Kariza acknowledged that, the drive for “exceptional customer care” is still lacking, “but it is something that we are continuously encouraging through trainings and behavioural change campaigns.”

She calls on Rwandans to explore the magnificent places that Rwanda has to offer, believing that this will create awareness among locals on the beauty of their country.

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The first road after exiting the cave. (Faustin Niyigena)

Highlight of the CTO tour

Even though Kariza says that every corner she visited had something different to offer, she was humbled by the passion the guides, trackers, porters and park wardens have for their work.

Another wonder moment was discovering how many bird species are endemic in the Albertine Rift.

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Kariza met the oldest silverback (44 years) in the world. (Photograph: Belise Kariza)

“More than 140 species of orchids and four of them are endemic and new to science.

“Moreover, how the community is highly involved in the conservation efforts is quite refreshing. And they also contribute to their own economic development. Rwanda is really magnificent,” Kariza added.

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