Rwanda tourism sector turns to domestic market for survival and recovery

Rwanda mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. / Sam Ngendahimana.

The tourism sector which has taken a hit from the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the country’s top foreign exchange earners and is expected to take longer than the rest of the economy to recover which necessitates implementation of a robust domestic tourism initiative.

The sector’s best chances for survival in the short and medium term lie in the domestic tourism, according to The Economic Recovery Plan, covering the period May 2020 – December 2021.

 

Globally, international tourist numbers could fall 60-80 per cent, according to United Nations World Tourism Organization.

 

East African Community States are projected to lose over of $5.4B for 2020 given the projected long-term closure of seaports and airports with about 6.2 Million foreign tourists not travelling to their preferred EAC destinations.

 

With revenue streams in the sector currently affected and most facilities operational and having had to lay off workers, the government will work with the local sector to drive the adoption of domestic tourism.

This will among other things require reviewing facilities rates to make them more affordable for Rwandans as well as setting discounts.

“While many of the tourism activities are already affordable and already have discounts for domestic tourism, some higher additional discounts should be considered,” the recovery blueprint notes.

For some attractions such as Gorilla trekking which is priced as a premium packages, stakeholders will consider local rates for a specified period of time before the global market opens up.

The new strategy will also encourage group travels with discounted rates for the domestic market to encourage flexibility and higher volumes of consumption.

The tourism stakeholders are also considering flexible approaches such as annual passes which will be introduced to some destinations to ensure sales for these services and encourage small groups like families to travel.

The recovery plan which also includes hotels will see Rwanda Development Board work closely with the Tourism Chamber to develop and constantly evolve a domestic tourism strategy.

The strategies will seek to among other things expedite the recovery of payments of debts from various institutions owing them money, which will help to improve cash flow problem.

Local hotels will also create packages and discounted pricing for Rwandans, EAC residents and AU member country citizens to encourage overnight stay in all tourism destination management areas.

“The prices need to be adjusted realistically to attract domestic market customers, which will imply reductions of up to 80% for some of the most high-end hotels,” the recover blueprint highlights.

Hotels and tour operators will be supported to work out a mechanism of ensuring they guarantee a certain number of hotel rooms to be able to offer affordable packages as well as introducing discounted vouchers to tourists can provide immediate liquidity.

The efforts will also require support through innovative marketing campaigns targeting both domestic tourists at the same time maintaining the high perception and recognition of the Rwandan brand globally.

The government will rollout multiple marketing and visibility campaigns targeting local and global tourists showcasing offers and packages available.

Experts say that the model could enable the sector stay afloat in the short term and medium term prior to the resumption of global markets. In a recent virtual meeting of industry stakeholders, Anita Mendiratta, an Advisor to Secretary-General of The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in the United Nations   said that survival of the sector calls for readjustment of business models to accommodate local clientele.

At the same forum, Carmen Nibigira a regional tourism policy analyst said that regional countries are likely to be the key source markets in the medium term driven by the growing eased free movement of people across the continent as well as rates that are affordable for African tourists.

cmwai@newtimesrwanda.com

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