Officials from Rwanda Convention Bureau are upbeat, and they have reason to. Visitor numbers are up as well as the hotel room occupancy rate.
Rwanda’s gamble with MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events) was a long shot in a region that had been dominated by Kenya as a meeting destination of choice. But perseverance paid off in the long run. Today Kigali rivals MICE greats; Durban, Casablanca, Sharm el-Sheikh and Nairobi and it is just starting to make its footprint in the sector.
A few years ago, Rwanda was in dire need of hospitality facilities; hosting 1,000 delegates was like walking on water; it needed a miracle. Hotel rooms were still few and customer care was a foreign language. The mention of the word “tourists” conjured up images of gorillas only.
The aggressive revamping and improving the country’s potential is paying off, but we are not there yet. People have not really cashed in on the tourism potential. For example, there are no dedicated tourist night food scenes like the ones found in Mombasa or Malindi yet a majority of tourists are what they call “foodies”- those who live for an adventure of the palate and the plate.
By now Kigali Convention Centre and other popular conference hotels should be suffocating under the weight of curio shops and local merchandise. Maybe it too early to complain, but we should be conscious of every bit of opportunity that presents itself.
But whatever the challenges, Kigali has time on its side. Unlike other countries that built their tourism industry by trial and error, Rwanda will not need to re-invent the wheel; many people have taken the trial run on its behalf. People just need to grab their chances when there is still time.