Plan by RwandAir to start flights to Guangzhou, China mid-this year will facilitate trade and boost tourism, government and private sector officials have said.
Jean de Dieu Uwihanganye, the State Minister in charge of Transport, said that national carrier will launch its flights to Guangzhou in May.
“There are a lot of expectations for both the airline and the country,” he said while confirming remarks by the Chinese envoy to Rwanda Henry Rao that a memorandum of understanding between the two countries, allowing RwandAir to fly to China, was about to be completed.
He added that the volume of trade between Africa and China has increased significantly, adding that RwandAir was targeting to “facilitate these trade exchanges, not just Rwanda but other African countries and China.
“There are currently a lot of business transactions going on between China and the continent and we think that Guangzhou route will help ease connectivity between Africa and China,” he said. The minister added: “As an airline, we are also trying to spread our wings to different parts of Africa.”
The flight to Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in Guangdong Province, China will be tagged on the Mumbai, India route, he noted. He, however, said they were looking at possibilities of having direct flights in the long-run.
Uwihanganye said that Rwanda enjoys good relations with China, noting that local businesses already import and export a lot of goods to and from China. “And as a country with a developed economy, we see more opportunities coming.”
In terms of profitability, he said, RwandAir is ‘well-positioned’ to operate more routes competitively as per studies conducted by the airline. It made its intent clear when it opened the Mumbai route early last year, followed by direct flights to Gatwick International Airport, London’s second-busiest airport, and later Brussels in Belgium.
It also started routes in West and Southern Africa over the course of the year. The national carrier also plans to start non-stop flights to New York in the US.
Business people laud move
Speaking to The New Times, Benjamin Gasamagera, the chairman of Private Sector Federation (PSF), said the move will boost trade, not just in Rwanda but across the region.
“The prayers of the private sector have been answered...When you travel to Guangzhou, you find many people from regional countries - DR Congo, Uganda, or Kenya. Therefore, the plan by RwandAir to operate more long-haul routes is good as it will attract regional passengers,” he said.
He added that the route is a “strategic and efficient line of operation” for the local business community. “China is now the factory of the world. There are more imports coming from China into the region, and the majority of products come from Guangzhou, which is one of the biggest trade hubs in China,” he noted. Therefore, with RwandAir flying to China, it will now be easier for importing businesses, he added.
Gasamagera said there are many Rwandans who import construction and manufacturing materials, among others, from China, adding that they currently spend a lot of time and money to travel to China as “one is required to make stopovers and transits when using other airlines”.
Commenting on the development, Bruce Shyaka, the chief executive of China Speed Cargo International, said the flight would significantly facilitate doing business between the two countries, as well as help reduce costs and inconveniences they presently encounter. “I am sure the number of local traders doing business with China will go up because now that they don’t have to worry about connecting flights and delays,” said Shyaka, who is also chairman of the Rwanda Diaspora in Guangzhou. He added that they have been finding it hard to lodge complaints in case they lost their luggage because of language barrier.
Bonita Mutoni, the Rwanda Tour Travel Association (RTTA) chairperson, said the impending launch of a new route opens immense opportunities for the country’s emerging tourism industry. “The hospitality sector is excited about the opportunities this presents us and we are ready to exploit them fully,” Mutoni said.
China is the leading global outbound market, with over 135 million global departures in 2016.
RwandAir currently operates 24 destinations across Africa Asia and Europe. The airline has carried more than 650,000 passengers in 2015 and projects to transport over three million travellers in the next five years.