Inside Akagera National Park, Giraffes walk with the gracefulness of a royalty, Zebras gallop with the liveliness of a spring. They are home in this Eastern Province’s plain savannah, a friendly place for animal habitat.
Hippopotamuses make their way through the water, while others are bursting in the sun to enjoy warmth after spending some time in cold water.
The six-hour drive inside the park offers spectacular view, making the 110-kilometre ride from Kigali city to the park worth every nano second of it.
Adding to the already fascinating animal population, including over 2,000 zebras in the park, more touristic animal species were brought in the park, including lions in 2015, and rhinoceroses, in 2017.
That makes the 1,200-square kilometre Akagera park the host of the ‘big five’ game animals – lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceros, and buffalos – diversifying what Rwandans and internationals can see when they visit the park, according to Linda Mutesi, the tourism marketing manager at Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
Mutesi said ‘Tembera U Rwanda’ (Travel Rwanda), one of the main domestic tourism campaigns, is playing a significant role in raising the prospect of domestic tourism toward achieving the sector targets.
She was speaking during the start of the second phase of Tembera U Rwanda drive organised in Eastern Province, to tour around the Akagera destination last weekend.
The initiative intends to encourage Rwandans and foreign residents to travel around the country and getting to know all tourism spots and bolster the tourism sector.
Since the initiative started in 2015, domestic tourism market has grown by 17 per cent, Mutesi said, citing data collected on the national park statistics for Akagera, Nyungwe, and Volcanoes.
She said, under the initiative, sector profilers hope to see a 30 per cent growth rate for the sector.
“We are seeing some interest, an increase in the domestic tourists. I think the more we showcase to them, the more they will come, and I hope they will come with families and friends and show them these places and have fun in the country,” she said.
Akagera is a national and a safari park, where people can get to see a variety of animals including antelopes, giraffes, zebras, crocodiles, hippopotamuses, various bird species, among other creatures.
There are about 10 lakes in Akagera National Park.
The Tembera U Rwanda visit covered various activities, including the solar power plant in Rwamagana District, the women opportunity centre for women engaged in handcrafts products, and the tour of the Akagera Park.
“We are seeing interests gradually, it is a culture we should cultivate such that people come and visit parks and other tourism-based sites,” Mutesi said.
Data from RDB shows that, until July 2016, domestic tourism was low compared to international numbers in national parks, apart from Akagera National Park where Rwandans represented 61 per cent of park visits.
In Nyungwe, domestic visits stand at 37 per cent, and 14 per cent in Volcanoes National Park.
Domestic tourism charges
International visitors pay $40 (about Rwf32,000) entry fee for adults, while children pay $20. However, children under five do not pay.
East African citizens, Rwandans, inclusive, pay Rwf5,000.
To get a guide, a visitor pays $40.
Akagera received about 35,000 tourists last year, according to Daniel Nishimwe, the managing director of Guide & Car Rent, a cooperative that offers guiding services to tourists visiting the park.
Nishimwe said the park management has also introduced community-based tourism whereby tourists could come and visit people in their communities for tourism services, including observing the banana wine value chain, beekeeping and honey production and processing , and spend time with the community to learn more from them.
Queen Kalimpinya, the third runner-up of the 2017 Miss Rwanda, said she saw giraffes, elephants, chimpanzees, and other animals in the park, and got to know about their lifestyles, which she said is a rewarding experience.
“It’s a good experience that everyone needs to know,” she said.
On the importance of biodiversity conservation in parks, Kalimpinya said: “living creatures in parks have life like us. They are of great importance because they even bring us tourists who visit Rwanda and bring in foreign currency.”
RDB targets to generate about $444 million in revenue from tourism. The sector raised about $404 million in 2016.