Over 45 conferences have already been confirmed for 2018 among them are 25 major conferences. These include, African Agriculture Revolution Summit (AGRIVIVE), the Mo Ibrahim Foundation Good Governance Meeting, Transform Africa Summit and Africa Investment summit which will be held in April and May, 2018 respectively.
“Our conference tourism strategy is bearing fruit.” These were the words of President Paul Kagame in his State of the Nation Address earlier this month.
Although the 2017 figures on tourism revenues aren’t yet consolidated, RDB expects a 10% increase from 2016. Available statistics show that Rwanda has doubled tourism revenues from $200m in 2010 to $404m in 2016.
One of the reasons for the increase in revenue in Tourism is Rwanda focusing on the area of meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE).
Athan Tashobya looks at the events that shaped the tourism sector in 2017
MICE on the move?
In 2017, Rwanda hosted 169 international meetings which brought tens of thousands of customers to our hotels, restaurants and our national airline and $40m was injected into the economy, according to Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
RDB affirms that going forward; the country will position itself as a leading destination for tourism, conference and meeting destination in Africa.
Rwanda Convention Bureau in partnership with RDB will next year increase the economic impact of the MICE sector to the GDP by securing a greater share of regional and international events and delivering these to international best practice standards.
Sunday Times understand that over 45 conferences have already been confirmed for 2018 among them are 25 major conferences. These include, African Agriculture Revolution Summit (AGRIVIVE), the Mo Ibrahim Foundation Good Governance Meeting, Transform Africa Summit and Africa Investment summit which will be held in April and May, 2018 respectively.
Rwanda Development Board introduced the Rwanda MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) strategy 2014 in a move that was intended to reinforce the tourism industry. From that time to date, the country has hosted thousands of regional and international guests among them going ahead to visit several tourism destinations across the country—consequently leaving behind a significant share of their finances into the national GDP.
While leisure tourism remains a vital part of the national tourism strategy, business tourists have been shown to spend up to three times more than leisure visitors, RDB says.
Introduction of Big 5 and Crested Cranes
In May, Akagera reintroduced 10 Eastern rhinos from South Africa after 10 years of extinction, which made the park regain its status as the home of the big five game animals. In the same month, the park management also introduced two new male lions which took the lion population to 19.
The park management also recently installed LoRa Network throughout Akagera “making it one of Africa’s first Smart Parks”. LoRa can be described as a wide-area network solution that promises kilometers of range with very low power consumption, a perfect fit for the Internet of Things.
About 130 Grey Crowned Cranes were rescued from homes and reintroduced back into their natural habitat, mainly to Akagera Park, since 2015. Conservationists were concerned that two bird species in the country, the Grauer’s Swamp Warbler and the Grey Crowned Crane, are increasingly becoming endangered due to marshland degradation and domestication for the latter.
While Swamp Warbler are slowly multiplying due to efforts to restore marshlands, Grey Crowned Cranes’ hope of breeding and increasing in population is being hampered by human interests in domestication of the gracious birds, conservations say.
As a result, 30 Grey Crested Cranes were rescued from homes around Kigali and reintroduced to marshland in Akagera National Park in September... and the exercise is still ongoing in series.
Prince Harry appointed African Parks President
Last week, Prince Harry was appointed as the new African Parks President.
African Parks are the operators of Akagera National Park (in partnership with RDB) technically putting Akagera under Prince Harry’s list of facilities for his stewardship.
African Parks is a conservation NGO, founded in 2000, that manages national parks and protected areas on behalf of governments and in collaboration with local communities across Africa. With 13 parks under management, they oversee the largest area under conservation for any one NGO on the African continent.
In March, a 51-minute documentary called “Return of the Lion”, which talks about the restocking of lions in Akagera National Park premiered at Century Cinema in Kigali.
Several people, including high-profile dignitaries and conservationists, graced the premiere of perhaps the biggest conservation stories in Rwanda’s history. Notable among the guests was former Prime Minister and current Ombudsman Anastase Murekezi and his family.
The documentary which was done by Metanoia Concepts, and sold to the National Geographic Wild focuses on the journey of seven lions from South Africa to Rwanda, and how they coped with the environment before they regained their status as the kings of the jungle.
According to the storyline of the producers, Return of the Lion is a tale of hope, courage, challenges, survival, resilience and rebirth of not only the lions in the savannah park of Akagera, but it also resonates with Rwanda’s story of survival over the two decades since the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
New gorilla permit tariffs
Rwanda Development Board announced this early an increase in the price of gorilla permits from US$750 to US$1,500 for all visitors effective immediately.
Several commentators took to social media, to say the least, accusing the enforcers of “uninformed decision” among other claims... But if the current revenues figures are anything to go by, then it seems commentators are the very people who were “uninformed”?
In May/July 2016, there were 6,079 gorilla permits sold compared to 6,583 gorilla permits sold in 2017 for the same period, which corresponds to 8.3% of increase.
“The reception of the revised tariffs by the public has therefore been conceding to the rationale behind the amendment and we have not recorded any change in tourist numbers or earnings for that matter,” RDB told Sunday Times.
The revised tariffs, according to RDB, were a gesture of enhanced conservation efforts in the country, especially through the improvement of people’s livelihoods by the 10% tourism revenue sharing policy.
RDB has maintained that they also positioning local gorilla tourism market as a high-end low volume destination, as a measure of protecting the endangered mountain gorilla species in its habitat,
“We continue to appreciate the increased demand especially from the international scenery, even as we continue to come up with promotions and activities that will inspire similar interest among the local population.” They said in a statement.
As a result to increase in the price for the Gorilla permits, RDB also moved to increase tourism revenue ratio from 5% to 10%, “mainly because we (Rwanda Development Board) believe the communities around the parks have contributed to the success of conservation in Rwanda and their efforts have to be acknowledged.”
RwandAir launches nine new routes
In 2017, the national carrier, RwandAir, embarked on the next step in its expansion programme by adding six more destinations on the African continent and two in Europe and one in Asia.
The airline opened new routes to Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire, Harare in Zimbabwe, Lilongwe in Malawi, Cotonou in Benin, Khartoum in Sudan and Bamako in Mali.
RwandAir also expanded its operations to European markets, starting flights to London, Brussels and Mumbai.
This has have played a significant role in the rise of visitors in Rwanda and consequently a rise in tourism revenues for Air visitors.
Available figures from RDB indicate that the tourism revenues for air visitors have increased by 7% (Jan-July 2016/17).
“Although the arrivals by air account for 13% of the traffic, they generate 57% of tourism revenues.” RDB says.
In terms of revenues, these air arrivals generated USD 145million, compared to last year’s USD 135.2 million it corresponds to 7% increase.
High-end lodges tapping into Rwanda’s tourism strategy
Last September, President Kagame presided over the inauguration of Bisate Lodge – the word bisate meaning ‘pieces’ in Kinyarwanda— located right next to Volcanoes National Park. It provides a high-end base to visit the famous mountain gorillas as well as the lesser-known, but very beautiful, golden monkeys.
Bisate’s classy architectural and interior design is borrowed from Rwandan building tradition of the Royal Palace. Built on about 30-hectare plot that was previously farmland, Bisate adds 12 high-end guest rooms of which, 6 are twin-bedded villas.
Bisate joins another young but equally breathtaking luxurious safari lodge, Amakoro Lodge. Amakoro Lodge, located in Kinigi (facing Sabyinyo volcano) is an extension of Songa Africa – a tourism company—constructed with the latest energy efficient technology with a focus on the conservation of nature.
They come to compliment the already established high-end and luxurious safari lodges such as Virunga lodge, Ruzizi tented lodge in Akagera park, One&Only Resort among others.
Several others are in pipeline including Singita Kwitonda Lodge.
You need no visa to visit Rwanda in 2018
This is how it is stated, “to all citizens of the world, effective 1 January 2018, Rwanda will grant you a 30-day visa upon arrival without prior application.”
Before that, only nationals of African countries and few others were getting visa upon arrival.
Indeed, Welcome to Rwanda!
Tembera u’ Rwanda campaign paying off?
Domestic tourism campaign christened “Tembera u’ Rwanda” was launched in September 2016 in Huye.
The aim of the campaign, according to RDB, was to increase awareness amongst Rwandans about attractions and also encourage them to travel within the country with the ultimate goal being instilling a traveling culture amongst Rwandans.
Hundreds of Rwandans have indeed took part in the event.
“With the campaign according to 2016 data there is a 17% increase in travelers and hopefully to increase with 2017.” RDB states.
Kagame awarded for his efforts in promotion tourism
In november, at the World Travel Market, an annual world leading tourism and trade fair currently underway in London, England, President Kagame was recognised for his efforts in promotion of sustainable tourism and conservation.
The event organisers observed that Kagame had made bold decisions in conservation, investing in infrastructure and making Rwanda an attractive destination for visitors and investors.