The number of business travellers who lodged in the country last year increased by 24 per cent, with the government attributing the development to the new strategy to focus on business travellers as supplement to those that come to the country for leisure.
Last year, Rwanda Development Board (RDB) launched the Meetings, Incentives Conferences and Events (Mice) as a way to promote diversify in the tourism sector.
Consequently, according to statistics released by the board, yesterday, the country in 2014 recorded 19,085 conference tourists, up from 15,441 in the previous year.
The two major events that boosted the figures last year are the African Development Bank annual general meetings in May and the World Export Development Forum in September.
The revenues from the tourists, recorded by the Directorate of Immigration and Emigration, contributed to about 10 per cent of the tourism sector’s total revenues last year, according to RDB.
“The business travelers’ category is estimated to have contributed almost $29 million (about Rwf20 billion) to the tourism sector in 2014,” reads part of a statement from RDB.
Cashing in on conferences
Commenting on the figures, Charles Muia, the Serena Hotels country manager, said the conferences significantly boosted the tourism sector’s revenues and that many businesses cashed in on the visitors that came during the year.
“It’s measured at 10 per cent from the hotel bookings but if we were to look at the actual money brought in by the conferences that the visitors spent in restaurants, supermarkets and the likes, the gross would definitely be higher,” he said.
In general, last year, tourism raked in $304.9 million (about Rwf218 billion), a four per cent increase from the $293.6 million (about Rwf210 billion) generated in 2013.
Rwanda hosted a total of about 1.22 million visitors in 2014, compared to around 1.122 million in the previous year, an annual increase of 97,000 visitors.
The RDB statement noted that tourists from European markets had increased by one per cent, while visitors from American and Asia Pacific countries had decreased by six and eight per cent, respectively.
In spite of that, visitors from the US were the most at 24,488, followed by India with 13,008 visitors, then the United Kingdom with 12,320, Belgium with 8,733 and Germany with 8,228 visitors.
RDB has been trying to diversify its tourism sector by promoting Rwanda as a destination for business travellers, through its MICE initiative.
The move is in a bid to reduce the sector's dependency on the mountain gorillas as the main tourist attraction.
Muia said Kigali presents a big potential for conference tourism, especially when the Kigali Convention Centre is completed.
“Kigali is very safe, clean and has less traffic which gives it a lot of potential to host these events. What the government should do is to keep on pushing until the convention centre project is finished, then it will help all of us to sell,” Muia said.
He urged RDB to provide an estimate of exactly when the Kigali Convention Centre will be finished for them to start selling the destination.
“With the Kigali Convention Centre, we would only need three to four big conferences per year for the tourism revenue t0 double from what we are receiving right now.”