The government is pushing forth a vision to finance own budget by gradually reducing donor dependence. To do this, government has to up its game plan in harnessing local sources of revenue.
You only get quantity and quality milk from a cow that you nourish well. This means to make the most of the lucrative tourism industry, the government has to continue devising measures to improve the sector.
Tourism is the country’s top income earner bringing in $304.9 million (about Rwf223 billion) since 2014 and its potential continues to grow with more initiatives being put in place by the government through Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
After successfully hosting the eleventh edition of baby gorilla naming ceremony, Kwita-Izina, earlier this month, the tourism sector continues to put in place various initiatives to grow the industry.
They are all part of a wider programme that RDB has in place to grow the tourism sector. Among these are Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events/Exhibitions (MICE) initiative.
It was created and launched last year as part of the government’s seven-year programme to continue building on the achievements in the areas of good governance, justice, economy and social wellbeing.
According to Faustin Karasira, the head of tourism department at RDB, the sector has the ability to contribute immensely towards the development of the economy.
“We were asked to diversify and add more business in the tourism sector by leveraging on Rwanda’s success story. We, therefore, established the Rwanda Convention Bureau, which monitors and handles all matter related to the MICE strategy,” he said.
According to the 2014 tourism report, Rwanda hosted 19,085 conference visitors compared to 15,441 in 2013. This corresponds to an increase of 24 per cent.
MICE fetched home revenues worth $29 million (about Rwf21 billion) in its first year of operation but this was still short of target.
“Our target was $32 million but we didn’t hit it. However, we are optimistic that we shall improve because our target is to make $207 million (about Rwf152 billion) by June 2018, but this is subject to completion of various projects that will add value to the tourism sector,” Karasira said.
He added that they were putting more efforts in the MICE strategy by bidding to host conferences and events.
MICE expects to reap from the Transform Africa 2015, Interpol International Conference and the World Economic Forum next year, among others.
However, Karasira noted that they can’t achieve the strategy without a vibrant private sector.
“Currently, we are in the final stages of training event organisers and we have established Rwanda Association of Professional Conference Organisers (RWAPCO) and an interim committee is already in place,” he said.
Karasira said the association of 20 companies will help to solve the problem of finding qualified conference organisers, which has been a challenge for companies that wanted to host conferences.
“We have encountered various challenges, among them readiness of the industry, linking professional conference organisers and clients and looking at companies’ logistics and ability to handle conferences. We learnt a lot from hosting the Africa Development Bank annual meeting. So, we are looking at various solutions to the challenges we faced in our first year,” he said.
Single Tourism Visa
Karasira said the Single Tourism Visa under the auspieces of the three-state Northern Corridor Integration Projects had a huge impact on the tourism sector.
He added that the Northern Corridor tourism boards have joint marketing ventures that have also increased the visibility of touristic attractions in the participating countries.
“For instance, at the just-concluded Kwita-Izina, we had Ugandan tourism companies exhibiting at the event.
Right now we are in talks with the Uganda and Kenya tourism boards to have exhibition stands during the Pope’s visit to Kampala (November),” he said.
He added that it would be a good time to showcase places such as Kibeho – which is popular with Catholics – and urge people to come and visit the site. Although Karasira said they still need to maximise their branding and marketing strategy, the joint packaging strategy between Northern Corridor countries (Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda) has improved the tourism sector.
Karasira noted that, last year alone, leisure tourists from Kenya increased by 50 per cent, thanks to the single tourism visa.
According to the 2014 tourism report released by RDB, regional visitors (DR Congo and EAC) accounted for almost 1,062,000 visitors to Rwanda in 2014.
They increased by 10 per cent compared to around 962,000 recorded in 2013 and they account for 87 per cent of all visitors.
As RDB’s tourism department designs packages to attract more visitors to the country, the government has a spot of bother in the niggling fact that accommodation facilities that are available within the Kigali city cannot handle the ever-growing number of visitors.
The 8,600 rooms currently available in hotels in Kigali are not enough, which could surprise many coming at a time when 100 hotels face auction over unpaid bank loans.
Karasira said this is not true and that they are handling the problem.
“Rwanda Hotel Group is not an association but a registered company that comprises of 18 hotel owners who decided it was better to work as a company. When I saw the story, I called the chairperson, Sylvestre Mupende, and he said that they don’t have 100 hotels and that he didn’t say the number,” he said.
“The problem was with some members of the group who had issues with paying off their bank loans but they had talks with hotel owners and the respective banks and the issue was being handled.”
Karasira said RDB always intervenes and helps in such situations through various channels.
“We always advocate for them. We can facilitate talks between the banks and businesses, we normally ask banks for a grace period and banks have been very supportive, which is commendable. We also offer advisory services and even do direct intervention. We always help because it’s in no one’s interest to see a business fail,” he said.
Karasira said there should be no fears of auction because information was still being gathered by the banks and that they would soon have another meeting to finalise it.
While Rwanda is preparing to celebrate World Tourism Day in Rulindo under the theme, “1 Billion Tourists 1 Billion Opportunities,” RDB is continuously putting in place initiatives to complement the already existing ones to further grow the tourism sector.
“We are working on a “Focus and Dominate” strategy that includes aggressive marketing and product diversification. So far, we have kayaking and House Boat experiences at Lake Kivu, Gishwati-Mukura is now a national park and very soon we shall open cultural centres in Rulindo and Rebero in Kigali,” he added.
Karasira said they plan to make the ‘Conversation on Conservation’ an annual event that will always bring together key tourism players, opinion leaders and conservationists, among others.