On the heels of the regional tripartite single tourism visa system, stakeholders in the sector have embarked on an ambitious plan to overhaul the potential of Lake Kivu to boost sector revenue.
The lake is arguably one the most beautiful water bodies in EAC.
Improving tourism infrastructure around Lake Kivu, in Western Province, will boost the tourism industry in the country thus increasing revenues from the sector, officials have said.
Lake Kivu is arguably one of the most beautiful water bodies in the region, offering wonderful sceneries exemplified in the radiant panorama the lake affords a viewer checking out the surrounding lush and hills.
However, tourism around Lake Kivu is still not fully exploited and still needs to be revamped, according to officials.
Rica Rwigamba, the head of tourism at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), told The New Times that although domestic tourism in the areas surrounding Lake Kivu is quite developed, there is need to bring in more tourists.
That will require diversifying products available alongside the lake and improving infrastructure, mainly the hospitality industry.
The apparent need to revamp tourism in the area and boost its revenue is what pushed the government to commission a study on which activities could stimulate the flow of local and international tourists to the western part of the country.
The study, commissioned by the Ministry of Trade and Industry and RDB, took over a year to complete and was conducted by German experts.
The Kivu-belt tourism sub-master plan, as the study is known, was developed “in order to transform the region around Kivu into one of the most competitive tourist destinations in the region,” according to Rwigamba.
On Wednesday, officials from various ministries and government institutions met with Karongi business community to discuss the implementation of the master plan.
They also toured the areas which have been identified as strategic for the set up of tourism-related infrastructure.
Timely for Single Visa policy
These developments are timely as they come in the face of the new single tourist visa system agreed upon by three East African Community partner states; Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda.
The single visa policy, that seeks to boost tourism in the region, allows a tourist to pay for only a single visa and access borders of the tripartite states. The visa policy takes effect in January.
The study focuses on five districts surrounding Lake Kivu, namely; Karongi, Rubavu, Nyamasheke, Rusizi and Rutsiro.
However, it gives much weight to Rusizi, Karongi and Rubavu as the regions with high potential of attracting tourists.
The plan suggests the establishment of hotels, spas, golf courses, resorts, marinas and conference halls, among others.
According to Rwigamba, investing in tourism infrastructure development will stimulate other activities, including the making of artefacts, streamlining maritime transport, boosting sports activities on the lake and fishing, among others.
“With this master plan not only are we bringing investors, but also we are having a plan to market this area much more,” Rwigamba said, describing it as “a very important milestone” in the development of tourism in the country.
She also said the plan is in line with the country’s programme to diversify tourism products so that when people come to visit they have a lot of products to choose from, which she said would also see an increase in revenues from tourism.
The Kivu belt attraction
The Kivu belt adds to the existing Congo-Nile trail, a 227-kilometre stretch from Rubavu to Rusizi districs via Karongi and Nyamasheke districts in Western Province. The 10 days hiking trail offers many delights for a tourist, such as coffee and tea routes and natural beaches along the shores of Lake Kivu, among others.
It also adds to Nyungwe National Park, in the south-western part of the country, which offers tracking chimpanzees and bird watching, and canopy walk, among others.
“The Kivu belt is a good addition [to the existing tourism products] because people will be able to do different [tourism] activities in this region,” Rwigamba said.
According to officials, efforts are being made to lure investors for the implementation of the master plan.
The Kivu belt tourism sub master plan puts the cost of investment in the area at between $50 (about Rwf32 billion) and $80 million (about Rwf52 billion).
Addressing Karongi business community on Wednesday, the Minister for Trade and Industry, Francois Kanimba, urged them to seize the opportunity to develop the planned infrastructure in the area.
He said it should be a prime responsibility of locals to invest in the area of tourism development rather than waiting for foreign investment.
“It is time for everyone to start thinking of which investment they can do to interest tourists,” Kanimba said, promising the areas returns on their investment.
“This part of the country has huge investment potential. So you should seize the opportunity and start investing,” he added.
In a subsequent interview, Kanimba said government will remain a partner in the development of tourism along the Kivu belt, mainly by looking for investors and creating awareness among the local business community to invest in the sector.