President Paul Kagame has said that the African tourism sector can accelerate its pace of growth by increasing regional and continental collaboration which would ease movement of citizens.
Kagame was speaking Tuesday at the opening of the 41st Annual World Tourism Conference which is currently underway in Kigali.
The three-day forum is convened by The Corporate Council on Africa and Africa Travel Association to look into how tourism can be utilised as an engine for economic growth and job creation through innovative business models, new technologies and strategic partnerships.
Kagame said collaboration in areas such as open sky policies, appropriate visa regimes across the continent and visa free movement among others can play a huge role in facilitating the growth of the sector in Africa.
“We need more cooperation on the continent in order to increase the numbers of visitors as well as facilitate trade and investment within Africa.
Implementing existing agreements on open skies and easing visa restrictions are steps in the right direction,” the Head of State said.
In light of this, Kagame said that Rwanda had begun implementing initiatives such as as the passport free travel to encourage intra-African tourism and the single tourist visa alongside some members of the East African Community.
“In Rwanda, we also want to strengthen the collaboration in our region and across the continent. A single tourist visa and passport free travel between Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda is already a reality. So is visa on arrival for all Africans,” he added.
The President observed that tourism continues to be a major foreign exchange earner for a number of African countries, including Rwanda and has potential for further growth.
Tourism last year earned Rwanda $404 million with receipts expected to grow by 10 per cent this year to $440 million.
Among the prerequisites for the desired growth and progress, Kagame listed strengthening good governance that enables countries to manage environments that support tourist attractions as well as the revenue they generate.
Highlighting Rwanda’s approach in this, President Kagame said that the government had made sure that the communities around parks and other attractions play a crucial role in conservation as they are direct beneficiaries of these natural resources.
“Rwandans, especially those living around the parks and other attractions have become indispensable in conservation. This is because they understand the value of natural resources and benefit directly from incomes and community projects,” he said.
Other approaches to boost tourism include investments in services and infrastructure aligned to the sector.
“We are investing heavily in services and infrastructure to support the development of the sector. Our national carrier RwandAir continues to expand to destinations in Africa and beyond and we will soon have a more modern base, when the new Bugesera International Airport is completed.
“We are also working to improve the road network and working to invest in conference facilities,” the President said.
RwandAir currently serves about 23 destinations with more set to be launched in coming months.
Florizelle Liser the President and Chief Executive of Corporate Council on Africa called on countries to give more priority to the tourism sector saying that it not only brings in value but also ensures resource distribution across economy.