You don’t have to wait for your pension pay cheque to afford a dream holiday or to travel around the world. Travelling for a holiday or as a tourist has been made easy and affordable-thanks to the sprouting tour and travel companies and deliberate efforts by government to encourage tourism.
Last year, Rwanda Development Board launched the Tembera U Rwanda domestic tourism campaign in a bid to encourage Rwandans to take more holidays at home.
Since the launch of the campaign on October 1, thousands of Rwandans have toured some of the country’s best attractions.
RDB closely works with travel and tour companies to ensure that domestic tourism is a worthwhile investment, giving people the opportunity to discover the country.
This is what Laura Kagame, a Rwandan living in Uganda dreamed of when she started TravelNeza, a company that deals in leisure travel. She was not only passionate about travel but also the need for low income earners to have a chance to travel within the region and embrace domestic tourism as members of one EAC bloc.
She put her passion into action and started a tour and travel company and two years down the road, her company has seen many young people’s dream of travelling become a reality.
With her growing brand that saw her win an award as the ‘fastest growing company’ by RwandAir, she opened a branch in Kigali a month ago to meet the needs of Rwandans in need of pocket friendly tour and travel packages.
Also with the introduction of the ‘East Africa Tourist Visa’ in 2014, it makes it easy for East African citizens to tour countries within East Africa.
Eva Gara, the country director at TravelNeza Rwanda, notes that barely a month since its opening in the country, there has been significant growth of travellers and potential bookings.
“We are trying to encourage people to travel within East African countries since it has been made easy with both offices in Kampala and Kigali setting up packages for these destinations,” she says.
She, however, notes that Rwandans are encouraged to embrace domestic tourism, not because it is affordable but because it is also important to first “know about your home.”
“We also offer East African tourists all packages that include airport transfers, visas and other excursions in any part of the world. We try to organise these packages around the holiday season for people to go to London, Bangkok, Dubai, Mombasa and Zanzibar, staying in 4 to 5 star hotels, and enjoying mind-blowing tours,” she says.
“People think that travelling is a rich man’s thing but it isn’t, it is for everybody,” she adds.
Surprisingly, it is more costly to travel to destinations like Zanzibar and Mombasa than Dubai and this, Gara says, is because of the traffic that comes with destinations like Dubai, which is different from East Africa.
“It’s cheaper to go to Dubai than Mombasa and Zanzibar because of the traffic. If there are more people travelling to a certain destination then it will be cheaper.
“Rwandans don’t generally have the culture of touring. Most of those passing through our agency are on work related travels. But roughly, 50 people go for tours overseas through our company per year,” Jacky Murebwayire of Juncture Travel & Safaris, says.
Travelling made easy
Thanks to the many packages that come with tours and travel companies, travelling has been made easy.
“We find amazing packages for clients to be able to find the destination they want. Our aim is to give people a chance to travel to destinations of their choice at minimal prices,” Gara says.
This, Gara adds, is done by giving people a chance to pay in instalments towards their travel, which in turn gives them a chance to plan accordingly.
“Most people cannot wake up one morning and decide to travel for a holiday tour. It’s expensive and therefore requires planning. Once one has paid in instalments and the ticket, which is usually the priority, is paid for, then there would be nothing to worry about,” she says.
Murebwayire says, “The tour and travel packages we give are comprehensive and take into consideration what the clients really want. We make sure to give what is new to them in terms of tourism.”
To make it affordable, it is easier to travel as a group or in twos with family, friends or workmates because then costs are shared. It makes the travel easy, fun and affordable,” Gara explains.
She further explains that travelling to one’s dream destination is not popular because people lack proper planning.
“The biggest problem that Africans have is planning for their destinations and this particular company encourages people to plan ahead of time and pay early to commit.”
“We share the packages early so that there is initial planning. Even for the next year. By paying in instalments, it becomes a commitment,” she says.
Why travelling should be on one’s to do list
“My friends and I planned to go to Dubai early last year. When the idea came up, we laughed because it looked like we would have to save for a very long time to make it there. However, a friend told us about a tour and Travel Company based in Kampala that she used and everything just fell into place,” says Julie Mukamusoni, an accountant in Kigali.
“The package was great. It covered air tickets, hotel stay and airport pickups, we had dinner on a Dhow Cruise and enjoyed a dune bashing experience in the desert. It was so much fun. We paid in instalments and that way, we didn’t really feel the pinch. I never thought I’d visit Dubai but with these tour companies, it’s a lot easier,” she adds.
Lilian Mutesi decided to travel to different destinations that seemed eye catching on the Internet. In her mind, it was a theory of ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’.
However, her experience in some of these countries was phenomenal and in others, shocking. One thing she says she’ll never forget is the cases of theft and even filth in some cities that glitter on the Internet.
“Because of these beautiful pictures across the Internet, I always thought Rwanda was behind in terms of growth and that we were missing out on the fun that people in other countries experience. I was shocked on my arrival at some of these destinations when I was told to keep the car windows closed as theft was high,” she recalls.
Packages available for your dream destination
SUPER VALUE PACK
For as low as USD285/- per person, you can have fun at a 5 star luxury hotel in Dubai for five days and for nights, excluding air ticket, by TravelNeza. Validity is from May 26 to June 24.
KIGALI INDEPENDENCE WEEKEND
The package includes flights, 4 to 5 star accommodation, breakfast, and airport transfers and for four nights in Bangkok at a price of $1,220, Dubai at $690, London at $1250 and Seychelles at $1100, valid from June 30 to July 04 from TravelNeza.
A visit to Rwandan tourist attractions like the Bisoke Hike, Nyungwe Canopy Walk and Akagera Park go for as low as Rwf35,000 for Rwandans and East Africans and $100 for foreigners. These packages by Wilson Tours are usually monthly.
For Mutesi, this was a lesson for her to appreciate her country more but also, get acquainted with different cultures. However, she says, she advises people to travel when they are able to because there’s a lot to learn out there.
Gara asserts that besides travelling for fun, tourism in other countries enables one to broaden their mind to different cultures and beliefs and helps them learn.
“I believe that the more people travel the broader their outlook gets. Once you travel you see things that you don’t want to happen to your country or those you would love to emulate. It helps you appreciate your country more and see where your country is in terms of growth and it exposes you to new cultures and experiences,” Gara says.
Belise Kariza, the head of tourism at Rwanda Development Board, says that the number of Rwandans leaving the country for not just study and business trips but also tours is rising with the average number at 1.3 million while domestic tourism is as high as 1.5 million.
This, she says, is a promising number that shows that Rwandans have embraced the spirit of tourism since the launch of the domestic campaign last year.
Tourism is the leading foreign exchange earner and heavily relies on the hospitality sector. If the projected revenues from tourism are to be achieved, the hospitality sector must provide the best customer care expected of Rwanda. Rwanda Development Board (RDB) has projected that the tourism sector will fetch about $444 million (about Rwf370 billion) in 2017, up from $404 million last year.
The increase in revenue is largely expected to come from tourism promotion efforts as well as the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Events and Exhibitions (MICE) strategy.
YOUR VOICE: How can Rwandans benefit from travel?
Annet Agaba, businesswoman
Travelling to new places exposes one to different people, cultures, and lifestyles. It brings freshness in life, opens one to new insights and ways of seeing the world and other ways of living. This could give people a new purpose in their lives.
Davis Twiringire, businessman
Travelling brings about a whole new experience. When we travel, we may notice that some of the things we’ve heard about in the world are very different from what we were taught or conditioned to believe. Learning about other’s lives and customs deepens our understanding of ourselves and of the world. It teaches us to respect every culture.
Mariane Mutesi, accountant
Experiencing different cultures can be enlightening and educational especially when we travel to places that are so much different from our own. It helps us appreciate our culture and also duplicate the good that we learn from other people.
Joshua Tukesiga, entrepreneur
While we encourage more tourists to come to Rwanda, we on the other hand should embrace tourism, not just domestically but also internationally. There are a lot of lessons and experiences out there that need to be learnt that we cannot find while at home. Learning new things broadens our minds to bigger things.