Growth is still hampered by the quality of accommodation and services - RDB
The tourism sector recorded 9 percent growth in the first semester (from January to June) this year generating $87.3 million against $80.1 million registered last year during the same period. The growth has been attributed to improved performance of the hospitality component of the sector.
“Last year was not the best in tourism because of the economic down turn generally the industry has started picking up again,” Rica Rwigamba, the Head of Tourism and Conservation at Rwanda Development Board (RDB) told Business Times in an interview last week.
Rwigamba also pointed out for this year there has been a significant increase in tourists to Volcanoes National Park than recorded in the previous two years.
“When we talk about these numbers it is important to add that we are including the business travellers who do not necessary come here as tourists but come for conferences or in transit; that is also a big number,” she explained.
Last year saw a drop in visitor arrivals which are categorized into leisure and holiday travellers, visiting friends and relatives, business and transit with arrivals falling to 699,000 in 2009 from 765,000 in 2008.
However Rwigamba observed that growth is still hampered by the quality of accommodation and services within the sector.
“The number of rooms is still small but because we are promoting Rwanda to be a high end tourism destination this has to come with quality accommodation and services,” she said.
The number of hotel rooms currently stands at approximately 4,500 country wide, with only Serena Group of Hotels and newly constructed Nyungwe Forest Lodge offering five star services.
“We also have Milles Collines that recently renovated and there we other hotels like Liaco (former Novotel) that are planning to renovate. We hope that by the end of this financial year we should have seen some major improvement,”
According to the Official, planned strategic investments such as construction of Marriott Hotel and the ongoing construction of convention center together with a five star hotel will come in to bridge the existing gap in the tourism sector.
Rwigamba also observed that Rwanda’s recent launch of the Standards Criteria for Classification of Accommodation, Restaurants and other tourist facilities with the East African Community (EAC) will hugely benefit the sector.
“We want to make sure that we have the right standards of rooms. The numbers may sound good (at approximately 4,000) - this sounds like a big number but in reality -it is what kind of standards they have,” Rwigamba explained.
RDB’s Tourism and Conservation office has already carried out an inventory of the most likely accommodation to be classified basing on the essential items as approved by EAC.
Among the minimum standards in the EAC standards criteria includes basic guidelines to start up a hotel business and details of classification, especially standards of safety, hygiene, environment and service.
It also includes occupational permits, valid operating license, drainage, sewage disposal, safe deposit, water supply and fire safety as well as non tangible elements such as style, elegance, comfort, finish and luxury.
Government expects to generate $206 million from tourism this year, up from $174 million last year.