Which tourism attraction are you most interested in? Don’t answer me. I am only asking for a friend. It is a question you will find in the bottom right corner of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) website; there are six options to choose from; Mountain Gorillas, Canopy walks, Museums, Lake Kivu, Bird watching or Parks?
My sense is that, RDB should add a seventh option; ‘none of the above’ or even an eighth…‘other.’ It is possible for someone not to be interested in any of the available options.
But they could be interested in something else that is currently not on offer yet one that Rwanda could explore the possibilities of making it available in the near future.
In other words, RDB should leave room for suggestions, from its site visitors. It’s good for data collection purposes.
Early this week, at a reunion dinner hosted by the Chinese Embassy in Kigali, we found ourselves talking about tourism in Rwanda… and in China.
We discussed China’s Pandas and the possibility of loaning a couple of them to Rwanda (my idea); after all, it is an old practice by China which even gave birth to the term, Panda diplomacy.
During the chat, I learned that the embassy is planning what Ambassador Pan Hejun calls ‘a once in a lifetime’ group tour to see Rwanda’s legendary Mountain Gorillas.
Have you been to see the gorillas before?
A senior diplomat asked one of my Rwandan colleagues.
“Yes, almost a decade ago,” he responded.
When would be the best time to visit? The diplomat enquired further.
“I would say in the rainy season. Tumbling over during the trek makes the trip more adventurous in my view,” he answered.
Huh? He looked on in disbelief.
Anyway, our Chinese friends have chosen to do the tour shortly before the rains come. The muddy tumble would never appeal even to me.
The ticket fairs are said to be relatively high for non East Africans but there is agreement that it is worth every penny and there is a visible rush from around the world to pay.
You can hardly find a weekend that is not overbooked. But Mountain Gorilla tourism has one shortcoming.
After a single visit, a tourist is like a python that has just swallowed a buffalo. After the ingestion, there is no desire to eat for the next few months.
Very few people have visited the Mountain Gorillas more than once. My Rwandan colleague is a good example. His last visit was almost a decade ago. When is his second tour? Not soon.
While gorillas remain the main cash cows driving Rwanda’s revenues from the tourism sector, there is no argument against a need for diversification.
Looking at RDB’s current menu, you realize that to enjoy most of them, one has to travel out of Kigali city.
But let us examine France, United States, Spain and China, the world’s leading tourist destinations, in that order.
A huge number of their attractions are city based. As a result, there is huge international appetite to visit Paris, New York, Madrid and Shanghai.
While I have not been to any French or Spanish cities before, I have been to New York, Beijing, Shanghai and London; once in any of those cities, it is easy to see why people flock to them.
From eye candy sites to great shopping stores and heavenly leisure parks, it is hard not to fall in love with these cities; before leaving, most visitors will already be planning their next trip.
We could bet on this, but I am sure a City of Kigali official would choose a holiday in Dubai instead of a resort park in Kicukiro.
How can we make Kigali a top tourist attraction? What tourism attractions does Kigali have currently?
A friend is working on a ‘Remarkable Kigali’ Magazine in partnership with City of Kigali. Hopefully, the publication will provide some insights on the subject.
In the meantime, here is an idea shared by one of the Chinese diplomats at the dinner. It is founded on the fact that Kigali can’t have what is in Paris, New York, Madrid or Shanghai.
They are great cities, alright. But Kigali could find a golden opportunity in what they don’t have; great weather. If you have lived in the above named cities, winter is certainly one of the things you loathed most.
During winter, those who can afford, especially the elderly, often run to warmer places around the world. Most of Africa is naturally gifted with great weather.
But few countries have invested in deliberate effort to package and sell this ‘African warmth to those who are in great need of it.
It is an opportunity that Rwanda could consider exploring; marketing Kigali’s warmth to freezing pensioners in Asia, Europe and America.
Every person I know from Europe, USA and Asia that has lived in Rwanda before, has, among other things, fallen in love with the weather.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a dry or rainy season for it appears there’s always a natural equalizer that balances the heat and coldness making this, our city, a paradise.
Here is what must be done; protect the environment, build leisure parks and holiday resorts, promote showbiz industry, relax local administrative regulations, ease city movement, maintain current security and involve locals in city planning.