Eastern Province and Rwanda Development Board (RDB), last week launched an initiative to promote potential areas to uplift domestic and international tourism.
Akagera National Park, the country’s most visited national park, is the only income-generating tourism attraction in Eastern Province.
However, the province has way more natural, historical and cultural areas that only need promotion to start generating revenue.
District leaders at the tourism conference.
“Eastern Province has many opportunities for tourism development, there are many lakes, the national park, natural beauty, attractive landscape, and there are many historical places; both recent and ancient history,” explained the Governor of Eastern Province, Fred Mufulukye.
One of most recent historical sites include where the liberation struggle started, most importantly Nyabwishongwezi, where the Late Fred Rwigema died at the beginning of the struggle in 1990.
Non-governmental organisations and private sector attended the meeting aiming to develop more tourism sites in Eastern Province
“When you observe every district of this province, you find unique beautiful areas that can promote tourism,” he said.
“When you estimate, residents of this province who visited the park were very few. This province has a population of nearly three million, every district around 500,000, but still, few have visited the park,” Mufulukye noted.
Raising awareness among residents was key according to the provincial official.
Governor Fred Mufulukye said Eastern Province has many tourism potentials, and developing the identified sites will contribute to national tourism industry
“We need to raise awareness to make people know these places, even though we are talking about them, most residents do not know them, that is the reason for this meeting; to see how we can work together to make most of the opportunities,” said the governor.
The first step was identifying the potential touristic areas in the province, according to both RDB and the province’s officials, and the meeting was about how the areas can be promoted generate income.
Among other natural potentials, the Eastern Province has 31 lakes including 10 lakes located in Akagera National Park.
“I do not believe it is a question of cost, but a question of willingness. It is our duty to explain everything to the residents about the particularity of these places. If they get that custom, the cost will not be a problem at all”.
“For example, visiting Fumbwe hill (a historical hill in Rwamagana District) does not require anything, visiting Ngarama Rock (a three-hectare historical rock in Gatsibo District) requires nothing, visiting the lakes does not require anything. Like I said, we have 31 lakes, except 10 of them located in the national park, the rest do not require anything to visit them, except transport to get there,” he discussed.
Akagera National Park attracts more visitors than any other national park in Rwanda, and the strategic location makes Eastern Province a transit hub for business and leisure traffic from Tanzania and Uganda.
Belise Kaliza, chief tourism officer at RDB, announced that the national park generated $1 million last year, from 44,000 people who visited it. 60 per cent of the park’s visitors were Rwandan nationals.
“Tourism in Eastern Province is going well, and the reason of today’s meeting was to see how we can create more tourist packages,” she said.
“When you look at the map of Rwanda, there are many cultural and historical places, especially the liberation history. And when you look again at the map, you find that the liberation history is concentrated in Eastern Province,” she continued.
“This place has a lot of tourism potential to be developed by both central and local government, but, most importantly, to be implemented by private sector,” she said.
Technical teams of RDB, the province and districts will discuss with the private sector and identify priorities.
“We have visited many sites, but we cannot work on all of them at the same time,” she conceded.
“We will, say, in five years, ten years ahead, we are going to put emphasis on these five sites,” she stated.
The next phase is to find the priorities and develop them.
Tourism industry growing
Kaliza told the media Friday that different efforts were made to grow Rwanda’s tourism sector.
There were actions that needed to be taken before the promotion started, she said.
“The first priority was that tourists find it easy to reach Rwanda, that is why we have opened our borders, so that people get visas upon arrival,” she explained.
Kaliza cited that Rwanda has upgraded Kigali International Airport, and that a new airport in Bugesera is under construction. Investment was also made in RwandAir; now the airline flies to around 26 destinations, and is planning to fly to the USA and China.
“You have to establish an ecosystem before you start promoting yourself,” she noted.
Now the stage Rwanda is at in the industry “is to make known to all that Rwanda is ready to be visited”.