Two months ago, a new campaign was unveiled to encourage Rwandans to visit the country’s rich tourism sites spread across Rwanda. The launch of the Tembera u Rwanda initiative on September 29 marked a turning point in the local tourism sector as the drive is targeting Rwandans and foreigners resident in Rwanda.
It is one of the efforts geared toward making the sector less reliant on foreign visitors, as well as increasing earnings from the local tourism market segment.
The drive, spearheaded by Rwanda Development Board, is expected to push up the numbers of local tourists and boost businesses around local tourist destinations.
“Rwanda is one of the most acclaimed destinations in Africa and it should be appreciated by its residents,” Belise Kariza, the RDB chief tourism officer, said at the launch of the drive. We invite Rwandans to bear witness to the remarkable experience we sell to the international market, Kariza added.
The Rwanda Tour and Travel Association chief, Joseph Birori, agrees, saying the move will help develop the domestic tourism market. In an interview with Business Times, the association president said Tembera u Rwanda campaign will take domestic tourism in Rwanda to the ‘next level’. He added that the initiative will open up the sector to new the opportunities that this market segment presents players, including artifact makers.
“We are very optimistic that the Tembera u Rwanda initiative we will turn around the fortunes of the tourism industry and increase its contribution to national GDP through improved earnings,” he said.
Birori noted that, as key stakeholders, local travel operators were working with RDB to promote awareness and sensitisation about the country’s tourism sites so that “Rwandans can explore and discover more about their country.”
Birori, also the managing director of Primate Safaris, a local tours and travel agency, said the drive has already ‘stirred up’ interest among the population, adding that the numbers of local visitors had been growing steadily over the past months.
“So far so good…We are impressed by how Rwandans have embraced the idea of domestic tourism; more and more people are eager to explore places. We are confident the numbers will keep growing,” he pointed out.
He, however, called for more efforts, noting that there was need to for mind-set change to ensure tour and travel become part of the culture for this market segment to be sustainable.
RDB statistics indicate that only 14 per cent of Rwandans visited Volcano National Park in the first half of the year, 37 per cent toured Nyungwe National Park, while 61 per cent others went to Akagera. Of the over 28,000 tourists that visited Volcano National Park, Rwandans accounted for a small percentage.
Last year, the tourism sector recorded $342 million in earnings, and the country targets a 25 per cent increase in tourism receipts annually. This ambitious target is hinged on ability to prop up the domestic tourism market segment, according to RDB.
To achieve this, the local tour and travel association has designed special packages for Rwandans and foreign residents to visit different sites over the weekends.
“These special packages are pocket-friendly because we want to encourage individuals, families and groups to visit and partake of the country’s beauty and historical sites. It shouldn’t be only foreigners to enjoy the beauty of our country. It’s our heritage, let’s enjoy it and support the industry and communities at the same time,” Birori noted.
He adds that the packages will make it possible for Rwandans to tour different parts of the country with ease, at their convenience, and at an affordable cost.
For instance, foreigners pay $60 (Rwf50,100) for the famed canopy walk in Nyungwe or hiking on Karisimbi, while Rwandans part with only Rwf5,000, he explains.
Entry fee for Akagera National Park for nationals is Rwf4,000, $5 (Rwf4,175) for foreign residents pay $25 (Rwf20,500), while internationals pay $35 (Rwf28,700).
Wilson Habimana, the managing director of Wilson Tours and Travel Agency, said the firm receives over 35 reservations every weekend, majority of which are made by local tourists who, not only want to experience the canopy walk, but also the 10km hike to Ishumo waterfalls in Nyungwe Park, as well as go camping there. The number, he said, has risen marginally from about 28 people previously.
“We have designed competitive packages, which allow people to experience the beauty of the country at an affordable cost,” he said, adding that tour operators have also intensified a campaign to encourage Rwandans to embrace the culture of travelling and visiting different parts of the country to appreciate its marvels.
Habimana also said that many people are not aware of what the country offers visitors, local or foreign. In addition, with Nyungwe Park hosting East Africa’s only canopy walkway, domestic tourism experts say the facility should be marketed locally and to the region to attract more visitors to partake alluring view of the park and wildlife and flora.
Tour operators, like Wilson Tours and Travel, charge around Rwf35,000 per person for locals and East Africans, and $80-$130 (Rwf66,800-Rwf108,550) for non-East Africans for a return trip from Kigali to Nyungwe/Akagera National Park. This fee caters for transport, snacks, lunch, and guides.
Experience of a lifetime
Bella Akaliza visited Nyungwe National Park a fortnight ago. She said the adventure was both “enlightening and fascinating”.
“It’s a shame that it took me 25 years to experience this beauty. What with the melodies intoned by the various birds, the rare tree species, and not to mention the breathtaking walk on the canopy and dining with the monkeys? It swept me away…I am in love again; in love with my beautiful country,” said Akaliza.
She says besides the breathtaking sights and sounds, one is able to network and make new friends while touring Nyungwe National Park.
“It’s obvious that there is a lot more to learn, discover and experience our beautiful country. That’s why I urge other Rwandans to save and sacrifice a little to visit other parts of the country.” I have promised myself to visit a place at least each month.
Manzi Tuyishimire, who went for the canopy walk recently, was surprised that there are many Rwandans going out to explore their country. “It is encouraging that more local people have picked interest in visiting different places of the country unlike before when it was only foreign tourists and students doing field work who were visiting our parks and other sites,” Tuyishimire noted.
Like most of the other non-traditional practices and activities in the country, people’s attitude toward domestic tourism is a big challenge.
According to tour operators, travelling and visiting parks and other attractions is still considered a preserve of foreigners (read Mzungu thing) and well-to-do Rwandans. Habimana, however, says this issue is being tackled through continuous sensitisation and campaigns like Tembera u Rwanda initiative.
“Government and all the stakeholders in the industry are committed to promoting domestic tourism to make more sustainable and mainstay of the sector,” Habimana said.