Rwanda currently has three five-star and seven four-star hotels up from two five-star and four four-star establishments in 2012.
This is according to the latest grading and licensing exercise by Rwanda Development Board. The board graded and licensed hospitality operators in accommodation, restaurants, tour operators and tour guides, among others.
A total of 75 tourism facilities had applied for licences and grading with 67 making the cut, among them 50 hotels.
The facilities awarded five-star category yesterday include Kigali Serena Hotel, Kigali Marriott Hotel and Radisson Blu Hotel.
A five-star hotel or restaurant has the highest rating and is considered a top notch, world-class facility in areas such as hospitality and service delivery.
Four-star facilities include Lemigo Hotel, Hotel des Mille Collines, Ubumwe Grande Hotel, Hotel Golden Tulip La Palisse (Nyamata), Gorilla Golf, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge and Lake Kivu Serena.
At least 19 hotels received three-star category, 18 fell into the two-star category while one was ranked as a one-star facility.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, a recent entrant onto the local hospitality sector, was ranked as a four-star lodge.
The grading exercise is in compliance with 2014 tourism law which was gazzetted and passed by cabinet in October 2016.
The exercise is expected to drive facilities to continuously improve in terms of quality as they are reviewed every two years with possibilities of upgrading or downgrading.
For instance, in the last grading exercise in 2011, Nyarutarama-based Manor Hotel was ranked as a four-star facility but has since dropped to a three-star category.
To receive licences and respective grading (for hotels) facilities made applications via a web portal www.tourismregualtion.rw and deposited an application fee of Rwf80,000.
Following submission of registration documents, the facilities were subjected to physical inspection by a team of hospitality experts.
All hospitality and tourism businesses in the country will henceforth be required to be licenced under one of the five categories; accommodation establishments; restaurants, bars and nightclubs; tour operators, guides and travel agents; tourism information centres; and cultural tourism facilities.
Rwanda Development Board chief tourism officer Belise Kariza said the licensing grading exercise, which is of international standards, is aimed at ensuring regulation and standards in the sector.
“Star grading is one way to show the world of the quality of the local hospitality sector and what we can offer,” she said.
The increase of hotels under the various categories, Kariza said, is indication that the sector is growing both in terms of number of players and quality.
She said operators in the country across the various categories have until June 2018 to apply for licences and grading.
The Minister for Youth, Rosemary Mbabazi, called on operators to train young people and help improve skills in the sector to ensure that they have a pool of skilled labour force to hire from.
She added that the ministry would be keen to work closely with local operators to identify skills gap in the sector.
Hospitality sector players are upbeat about the exercise, saying it is set to increase their competitiveness in the country and across the region.
Francine Havugimana, the vice chairperson of the Chamber of Tourism at Private Sector Federation, said that, with the grading, players will be in position to help members establish special training and support needed to upgrade their facilities.
The move is also in line with complying with an East African Community agreement to market the region as a tourism destination as certification is based on international standards.
The exercise, however, did not license AirBnB, an innovation that makes it possible for people to rent out extra space in their homes to visitors and tourists.
Recently, the platform seems to have caught the attention of Rwandan home owners with a number of them putting up their houses and apartments for rent on the platform.
The tourism sector remains the largest driver for the local service sector and one has emerged as the country’s largest forex exchange earners.
Last year, the sector generated $404 million with projections that it will fetch $444 million in 2017. RDB is working on positioning the country as a high-end tourism destination to increase revenue receipts.
RDB chief executive Clare Akamanzi said that, in coming days, they plan to license over 500 players in the local sector.