Tourism is Rwanda’s top foreign exchange earner. The sector raked in Rwf251 billion last year. Following the launch of the Meetings Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Events (MICE) strategy in 2014, the government has been promoting the country as a regional conference hub.
Back in 2013 there was talk of developing cultural sites as key tourist attractions, and some like the Rulindo cultural centre have since been constructed. These are of course in addition to the traditional attractions, including flora and fauna in game parks, gorilla trekking and birding.
However, with unpredictable global economy and other shocks that affect foreign tourist arrivals, a multi-pronged strategy is needed to ensure the sector’s growth and sustainability. That is why tourism planners at Rwanda Development Board and other public and private sector actors should devise new strategies to attract more local and regional tourists.
Experts agree that domestic tourism is the future of the sector. As the country seeks to take the tourism industry to the next level, having initiatives that encourage Rwandans to visit and enjoy the various tourist attractions across the country is the way to go. This is especially so since local tourism base cushions the sector, and the economy generally, in case of shocks on the global arena that affect arrivals from abroad.
This market segment has significantly supported countries like the US, China, the Netherlands, and Germany, for decades. Kenya’s tourism industry, which was battered by shocks occasioned by terrorist attacks in 2014 and last year, is slowly getting back to its feet partly due to aggressive campaigns encouraging Kenyans to visit their national parks and other tourist attractions. This followed cancellation of hundreds of bookings by foreign visitors following terrorist attacks. Local tourists have somehow kept the industry afloat albeit with challenges.
Therefore, for Rwanda, which is targeting $860 million in tourism revenue by 2017, promoting domestic tourism should not be an option.