Preparatory activities in the run-up to Saturday’s 11th edition of the annual Kwita-Izina festival (gorilla naming ceremony) have kick-started in earnest.
The tourism flagship event has grown steadily over the years and has seen prominent dignitaries, celebrities and key tourism players attend the annual ceremony.
As part of the activities, last evening, Rwanda Development Board (RDB) was due to launch a wildlife exhibition at the Kigali Public Library that will run until September 6, while a community library in Bisate, Northern Province, constructed in partnership with Karisoke Research Centre and the Revenue Sharing Funds was also launched.
Other activities include a high level forum on wildlife conservation to be held in Kigali today. The conference is expected to include a business-to-business meeting (B2B) between local tourism operators and their international counterparts.
The main event, to take place at the foot of Volcanoes Mountain range in Musanze, Northern Province on Saturday, will feature Igitaramo, which is usually marked by Rwandan traditional dances, story-telling and cultural performances.
Tourism business partners such banks, community shops and tour operators in the Northern Province are also expected to exhibit at the event.
A Kwita-Izina tennis tournament and ‘Crazy Night of Gorillas’ event will also feature.
Genesis of Kwita-Izina concept
Traditionally, Kwita-Izina is a Rwandan ceremony of naming a newborn.
In a bid to raise awareness at the national and international levels about the protection of the mountain gorillas and their habitat, the former Rwandan Office for Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN) launched the annual gorilla naming ceremony in 2005.
The ceremony’s main goal is to help monitor each individual gorilla and their families in their natural habitat. The naming ceremony was created as a means of bringing attention about the importance of protecting the mountain gorillas and their habitats in the Virunga Mountains in the north of the country.
Over the years, 189 gorillas have been named.
The names are important in the process of monitoring each individual gorilla in their families and habitat.
According to official documents, “since 2007, tourism has been the leading sector in foreign exchange earnings for the country.”
The government seeks to grow tourism revenues by 25 per cent per annum as projected in the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy 2.
Significance of Kwita-Izina
According to official documents, gorilla tourism is the country’s top foreign exchange earner.
In 2005, gorilla tourism fetched $26 million, but showed a sharp increase in 2011, bringing in revenue of $252 million.
Visits to the gorillas have also increased significantly over the years. In 2005, ‘gorilla tourists’ numbered about 10,500; however, the number has grown over the years to about 23,400 people in 2010.
Gorilla visits have created employment opportunities in the Virunga national park in form of guides, trackers, and anti-poaching agents.
A few private tour operators also offer community-based tourism activities such as village walks, banana beer production, and volunteer opportunities in local communities.
Contribution to tourism
Among other things, Kwita-Izina being the flagship tourism event has increased the sector’s relevancy remarkably.
Tourism generated $293.6 million in 2013, compared to $281.8 million in 2012, an increase of 4 per cent.
The industry continued to grow in 2014, when it generated $ 304.9 million, becoming the country’s largest foreign exchange earner.
A report published in April in this year showed an increase of 4 per cent in 2014 from $293.6 million generated in 2013.
Official documents show that 2014 had an additional 97,000 visitors, bringing the total number of visitors to 1.22 million, compared to 1.12 million visitors in 2013.
According to the Directorate of Immigration and Emigration, revenues from tourists who came into the country accounted for about 10 per cent of the tourism sector’s total revenues in 2014.
European tourists increased by one per cent, but American and Asia Pacific tourists decreased by 6 per cent and 8 per cent respectively, official figures show.
Other income-generating tourism projects include eco-tourism, mountain climbing, bird-watching as well as historical and cultural museums, among others.
Since 2005 when Kwita-Izina event was introduced, over Rwf800 million has been spent towards supporting various projects which benefit communities around the park, including infrastructure development such as construction of classrooms and distribution of water in communities, according to Prosper Uwingereri, the National Volcanoes park warden.
The money was also used to support vulnerable people, most of them who used to be poachers and were a threat to the wildlife.
The money from what was dubbed ‘revenue sharing’ between the Government and area residents - 5 per cent of what tourists pay - is used to support various projects which benefit communities neighbouring the park.
Uwingeri said local residents also are supported under various cooperatives, ranging from farming to arts and craft.
He also said RDB works with partners to support communities around the park.
The success of tourism has put Rwanda at the forefront of progressive conservation of natural resources. More efforts are also being put in conference tourism as the implementation of MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) strategy continues to take shape.
Facts about kwita-izina
- The gorilla naming ceremony was launched in 2005.
- Over the years, 189 gorillas have been named.
- According to official figures, gorilla tourism is the country’s top foreign exchange earner