Experts make strong case for domestic tourism

Local tourists tour a waterfall in Nyungwe National Park during the Tembera u Rwanda campaign. Faustin Niyigena.

While countries often tend to focus on international tourism, a new report says domestic tourism remains the leading form of tourism representing an important tool for development.

Using the World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) annual economic impact data, a December 2018 position paper assesses the importance of domestic travel to 185 countries, considers trends driving this phenomenon and provides policy recommendations for the continued growth of domestic travel worldwide.

The paper titled “Domestic tourism: importance and economic impact” stated that domestic tourism is the key driver of the tourism sector globally, accounting for 73 percent of total Travel and Tourism spending (US$3,971 billion) in 2017.

Rochelle Turner, the Director of Research for the WTTC, told Sunday Times that travel and tourism is an important sector for Rwanda, representing 13% of the country’s GDP and 11% of its employment.

She said domestic tourism represents nearly 40% of the economic contribution that the sector makes in the country and Rwanda has averaged 14% annual growth in domestic spending over each of the last 10 years. 

“This growth has been enabled by the prioritization of sustainable tourism, with real and tangible impacts in terms of employment, community development and nature conservation,” Turner added.

Geoffrey Manyara, an ECA specialist on tourism, believes that “there is a lot” that can be done to promote domestic tourism in Rwanda. Courtesy

“The new parks, together with the development of other attractions and the supporting infrastructure, will help ensure that tourism growth can spread widely while at the same time, develop local and national pride.”

In 2017, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) acknowledged that the east African region harbors great but untapped tourism potential.  

Giving his assessment of domestic tourism in Rwanda, Geoffrey Manyara, an ECA specialist on tourism, told Sunday Times that domestic tourism harbours great potential in the land of a thousand hills.

Manyara said the Tembera u Rwandacampaign, as the case in Kenya, with Tembea Kenya, has had a positive impact.

However, Manyara said, it seems that the current products may not be well suited for the domestic market given that, for example, even before the increase of the gorilla permit fees,only 3% of the visitors were Rwandans.

He said: “It is often argued that locals do not have money to travel, but this argument does not hold water. As an example, Kenya has released its 2018 tourism report in which regional tourism played a key role in bolstering its tourist numbers to over two million compared to 1.4 million in 2017.

“Kenya received 34,758 tourists from Rwanda in 2018, and as of last year, Rwanda was the leading tourist market for Uganda. This is goes to show you the potential exists if we could get Rwandans to consume their own tourism products.”

Projected to grow at a rate of 25% annually, tourism is Rwanda’s largest source of foreign exchange earnings. The total revenue generated from tourism in 2017 alone was $438 million, constituting almost 50% of all services exports.

According to the WTTC paper, governments use domestic tourism as a tool to eliminate local poverty, generate employment and economic growth, upgrade infrastructure and alleviate pressure from overcrowding through, for instance, discretionary pricing policies and providing non-wage tourism benefits.

“Domestic travel helps address seasonality within regions, while also dispersing tourists to less visited rural areas, which tend to be overlooked by foreign visitors,” reads the paper.  

“China has been extremely successful in fostering domestic tourism, outperforming all other countries in domestic spending growth thanks to its growing middle-class and government’s support. China is now the leading domestic tourism market, up from 4th position in 2008, having accounted for 62% of absolute growth in this period.”

Local tourists enjoy a walk on the canopy in Nyungwe National Park. Faustin Niyigena.

Tourism is not just for the rich

Asked what can be done to bolster domestic tourism, Manyara noted that “there is a lot” that can be done to promote domestic tourism in Rwanda and efforts by RDB with Tembera u Rwanda, campaign are quite commendable.

“In addition, the step taken by the Head of State, for example with the Royal Tour I believe also targets Rwandans. Of importance, will be to demystify the notion that tourism is only for the rich. This is not true given that the majority of tourists from the West are not better off than Africa’s middle class.”

“The only advantage they have is that travel is very well organised resulting in economies of scale that companies then transfer to their clients. If tour operators could come up with packages, encourage payment in installments, then domestic travel could become more accessible with benefits from group bookings, and so on.”

Another issue that needs to be considered, he said, is the fact that the prevailing tourism products were originally developed with the Western markets in mind for most destinations in Africa.

“The time has now come to develop appropriate products for domestic markets. These could be based on events such as cultural, sporting and others.”

Pamela Giramata Gasana, a licensed Rwandan tour guide, observed that Rwandans wrongly think that traveling is only for white people or foreigners. Courtesy.

   Plan tours for employees

Pamela GiramataGasana, a licensed tour guide, also observed that “Rwandans think that traveling is for white people or foreigners only.”

“That is their mindset. Again, they think it is expensive which is not true because even in parks the price for foreigners is not the same with locals,” Giramata said.

Asked what she thinks can be done to entice more Rwandans into domestic travel, Giramata said public and private employers, charities, and other organisations, can plan tours for employees.

She said: “They don't have to do it all the time, if they can't afford, but at least once in a while. Once people travel and see the beauty in the country they plan other tours. I know all Rwandans know where they can travel but they actually don't want to go. But again, when you help them to make the first step everything falls into place.”

“I know this for fact because recently I guided a group of people who work at a local company on a hiking tour to Mount Bisoke. After coming back, some said they will go to Akagera next. What their company did was like a snap to wake them up. If all organizations would do the same thing and government keeps sensitizing people about benefit of traveling things will work.”

Giramata stressed that the Tembera u Rwanda campaign can attract more and more people when RDB keeps inspiring people to travel.

“Planning once in a while tours or annual tours for locals, like what they did last month for young people. That was a motivation, because people got exposed to the beauty of their country,” she said.

While China leads in absolute domestic spending growth, the WTTC paper noted that many developing countries have shown significant growth in Travel and Tourism domestic spending, as residents with rising disposable income begin to explore their countries.

Turner told Sunday Times that governments can help support the population to explore their country by making sure that domestic travel is affordable and that the necessary infrastructure is in place to help get people to the sights they would want to see staying in accommodation at an appropriate price. 

“This could involve policies to allow reduced pricing of accommodation or visitor attraction ticket prices for local people as well as providing funding for marketing and promotional campaigns to help grow awareness of the opportunities that the country has to offer,” Turner said.

Highlighting growth trends in domestic tourism spending, the position paper states that several African countries have also experienced a strong increase in both GDP per capita and domestic spending during 2008-17, notably Rwanda, Mozambique, Tanzania and the Ivory Coast.

The paper adds that: “Rwanda’s average 14% annual growth in domestic spending over each of the last ten years has been enabled by the prioritization of sustainable tourism, with real and tangible impacts both in terms of community development and conservation.

“While in many developing countries domestic tourism tends to be small in absolute terms, the rate of growth of Travel & Tourism domestic spending is high. To support and sustain the strong growth in the sector’s demand, capital investment in Travel & Tourism infrastructure is essential.”

On policies to raise the contribution of domestic tourism, the position paper points to elements including pricing and direct incentives.

By imposing a lower fee for domestic tourists and charging less in off-season months, authorities make tourism services more widely accessible to different social classes across the countries, create all year-round tourism and can help to alleviate pressure from over-crowding.

The authors also said resources to support domestic tourism can be given to organisations that will develop products and services that will suit the local tourist market, or in some cases, directly to the residents themselves.