Rwanda’s tourism industry has registered significant gains over the past few years, thanks to the government efforts and initiatives to promote the sector. However, local tour operators say more still needs to be done to take the industry to greater heights, especially harnessing the potential presented by domestic tourism. Some of the industry players say domestic tourism may act as a catalyst to spur the sector’s growth.
Daniel Kasule, the business development manager The Travel Group Company, says though domestic tourism has been overlooked, it is a significant market segment that can help improve tourism revenue if it is fully exploited. He calls on the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to give local tour operators incentive packages so that they are able to offer Rwandans low rates to encourage local people to visit tourism sites across the country.
“Rwanda is a small economy compared to her regional counterparts. The government should, therefore, take the initiative to promote this market segment because it is also a significant avenue through which the country’s GDP can be boosted,” says Kasule.
To achieve this, Kasule proposes a raft of measures, including solving the challenge of low access to information. He argues that the majority of Rwandans do not have enough data on the country’s tourist attraction sites, and entry charges and benefits for local visitors, among other issues.
He says there is also need to give sector players, especially operators who promote domestic tourism, some incentives. He argues that such a move could help reduce the cost of operations, and encourage operators to charge locals who want to visit different sites at an affordable rate.
According to data from RDB, the cost of gorilla trekking is Rwf30,000 for Rwandans, inclusive of park entrance fees.
However, Kasule says this is too high for the average Rwandans who want to take part in tourism activities, like gorilla trekking.
He urges RDB to partner with local tour operators to aggressively market Rwanda’s rich tourist attraction sites, saying this will raise awareness among Rwandans on the need to visit the country’s parks or other sites. He adds that this is necessary because many people still have the misperception that tourism is for foreigners.
Greg Bakunzi, the director of Amahoro Tours,says there has been tremendous growth in domestic tourism especially as a result of innovative initiatives that majority of Rwandans have not experienced before like camping and cultural tours.
“All what we need is awareness of our products, which RDB should market.”
Bakunzi says the main challenge they face is lack of awareness about the new initiatives among locals.
“RDB should put more efforts in marketing such ventures because they are crucial if we are going to promote domestic tourism,” he says.
Bakunzi says they charge Rwandans visiting tourist sites low fees compared to what foreigners pay. He says the future of the sector is in domestic tourism.
This is so true as Kenya’s tourism sector has been able to withstand shocks after visitors from the US and Europe stayed away over the past two years following terrorist attacks in the country. The country’s tourism agency was forced to change strategy and promoted local tourism which kept it afloat.
Rwanda’s tourism sector was the top income earner with $317 million (about Rwf227 billion) last year.
According to the 2014 tourism report released by RDB, Regional visitors (from the DR Congo and EAC) accounted for almost 1,062,000 visitors to Rwanda in 2014, an increase of 10 per cent compared to around 962,000 recorded in 2013, according to a 2014 report by RDB.
Protais Kwitonda, a local tour operator, says it’s known regionally that foreigners are big spenders, and they contribute a lot in terms of foreign exchange.
However, he notes that the best way to promote tourism in general is through engaging in domestic tourism.
“When locals, for example students, visit our compelling attraction sites, they’re going to take photos and selfies which they splash on their social media pages. Consequently, many people will be aware of such places and this is a cheap avenue of promoting tourism,” says Kwitonda.
It is encouraging to see that many people are now taking advantage of some of the initiatives the government is putting in place to promote domestic tourism.
Esther Uwase, who visits different sites regularly with her family, says some of her friends ask her visiting national parks and cultural sites.
“This clearly shows that Rwandans do not understand what the sector is all about, and their role as domestic tourists. Therefore, it is essential for stakeholders to organise forums to educate the public about its benefits and eradicate the misconception that it’s for only the rich and foreigners,” she says.
The attract local visitors, the tourism agency set preferential rates for locals on park entry fees. For example, Akagera National Park charges nationals Rwf1,000, while foreign residents part with $5, and foreign visitors who are non-residents pay $10.
Kasule encourages operators to devise means of encouraging more Rwandans to benefit from the industry, arguing that the country (of thousand hills) belongs to Rwandans, “therefore, they should take their time to revel in its beauty.”