Reconsider visa fees for foreigners

Editor, I request the Government of Rwanda to reconsider its decision to impose a $30 single entry, 30-day visa fee on nationals of countries formerly exempt from such visas, including the United States effective November 1, 2014.
Visitors at the arrivals section at Kigali international airport last September. (John Mbanda)
Visitors at the arrivals section at Kigali international airport last September. (John Mbanda)

Editor,

I request the Government of Rwanda to reconsider its decision to impose a $30 single entry, 30-day visa fee on nationals of countries formerly exempt from such visas, including the United States effective November 1, 2014.

The issue is not about the cost or affordability.  Most visitors I know can certainly afford $30.  Rather the question is more one of friendliness, of welcoming, of accessibility.  I cannot list how many friends and colleagues I have enthralled by recounting Rwanda’s unparalleled progress in every sector, including agriculture, education, infrastructure, IT and health care.

No one should forget about Rwanda’s commitment to accountable, accessible and truly representative governance, the country’s great natural beauty and the warm welcome that Rwandans give to visitors.

Such accounts are almost invariably met with “wow, what an amazing place Rwanda must be—I should definitely visit.”  And I’m proud to say that many indeed have, in turn themselves become our ambassadors in preaching what Rwanda has to offer its visitors.

Arriving at Kigali International Airport has always been an efficient exercise—a quick form to be completed, a friendly exchange with an immigration employee and a stamp in the passport and no-hassle pass through customs.  That’s it.

Anyone who has crossed other borders can attest how unique and pleasant this experience is for visitors to Rwanda.  A true differentiator, and one for which the country can be justifiably proud.  This doesn’t happen by mistake; it is a planned approach and impression, and it is definitely not lost on Rwanda’s many visitors.

But now on top of that we have the (understandable) temperature check and separate form to be filled on arrival due to Ebola concerns.  As well as the need to now fumble about for a $30 payment for a short stay, single entry visa, and the attendant delays that this can entail for planes full of passengers, who often seem to arrive at the same time.

I know that this decision to impose a new visa requirement and fee can certainly be justified with “but other countries do it, and even charge more”, including, of course, the United States.  And that is undoubtedly true.  But it is not my point.  Rwanda rightly prides itself in cutting a different path.  It is not like every other country, and that is a good thing.

In this age of things like random acts of terrorism, and Ebola, any potential obstruction to increasing Rwanda’s revenue from the tourism sector should be carefully considered and balanced.

In my opinion, Rwanda should be the natural “hub” for tourists coming to East Africa.

Having to go through visa and payment requirements, both upon arrival in Kigali and then again upon the return border crossing from, say Uganda, Tanzania, or DRC, to catch one’s flight home in Kigali, could well serve as a reason for visitors to instead start and finish their visits entirely in Uganda or another surrounding country.   Is the $30 per visitor revenue worth it?

Mark L. Neil

Boston, Massachusetts, USA

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