Over the past ten months, I have had a rare opportunity to explore China’s vast territory. By air, water, road and train, I have criss-crossed this Gargantuan Country and learnt a lot about the nation and its people.
The locals I have shared with about my experiences in China’s remotest areas are often positively envious of the amount of ground I have covered in a short spell of time. Well, these are rare opportunities that my job affords me. No wonder journalists are a respected lot here.
Over the past week, I was in East China’s Jiangxi Province. For the Chinese, this province, with a population size about four times that of Rwanda, needs no introduction; it was the cradle of the Chinese revolution.
Its capital, Nanchang, was the birthplace of the People’s Liberation Army. The imposing Jinggangshan Mountains was China’s first revolutionary base.
With a forest cover of about 63 per cent, the province is ‘beautiful beyond any singing of it’. It is no wonder, therefore, that it has been selected as the main tourism province in China.
Home to the Tengwang Pavilion (one the famous three pavilions in China), the Huang Ling, a popular destination known as the most beautiful village in China, the Sanqing Mountains with their unique landscape, Jingdezhen, China’s home of porcelain and Donglin Temple with the world’s tallest Budha statue, Jiangxi Province’s experiment on tourism is minting millions.
Last year alone, the province received over 32 million tourists, raking in 16 billion Yuan in tourism receipts. The extent to which tourism promoters here go to make a tourist’s experience a memorable one is perhaps one area where Rwanda could learn from.
There is no doubt that Rwanda has taken giant strides toward unlocking its tourism potential. The annual gorilla naming ceremony (Kwita Izina) is now on the world tourism calendar. Tourists have heard the call and responded. In 2013, the country hosted over 1.3 million visitors generating US$294million, according to Rwanda Development Board.
I have been to 28 of the 30 districts of Rwanda and, from my tourism experience in China, Rwanda will have to do more if it is to continue enjoying a relatively big share of the tourism cake.
One area that needs to be addressed is how information about the different tourist attractions is packaged and delivered. In this day and age, tourists need information about places they visit in all forms; audio, video and print. There is little documentation about the touristic spots in the country.
Information is largely delivered through word of mouth and most times the message has been lost in translation. In the many different tourism spots I have visited in China, I have carried home info-packs detailing the history of the places visited in print, video and audio.
Tourists need maps to be able to locate which areas they are visiting. Why is all this important? It is now not uncommon to find most tourists writing blogs, many share their experiences on different social media platforms, so the information provided can actually be used to promote a given tourism site in addition to enriching a tourist’s experience.
There is need for more investment in tourism infrastructure and in services that tourists need. Two years ago I explored the Congo Nile trail that took me through the districts of Karongi, Rutsiro and through to Rubavu. It is such beautiful scenery but the lack of decent lodging, poor food, lack of detailed route information and maps was the downside of my five-day trek.
Tourism activities are supposed to be leisure undertakings, a time to relax and enjoy that beauty that nature provides. Most facilities are quick to provide free Wi-Fi connection but what they forget is that this could be the very weapon that will be used against them if they provide a poor service.
When tourists are dissatisfied, they will tell the world about it. It is easier to attract new tourists than it is to get them back, especially if they have had a bad experience. One bad experience can ruin the entire industry.
Tourists who come to Rwanda have perhaps been to other different places. A Chinese tourist enjoying the canopy walk in Nyungwe forest will perhaps have been in a cable car to the top of the Sanqing Mountain. What the tourism mangers in Nyungwe do to make the canopy walk a memorable experience for this tourist is what will make the difference.
In this increasingly competitive sector, Rwanda will have to put its best foot forward to survive and thrive.
The writer is a Foreign Resident Correspondent in Beijing, China