There is optimism among top tourism officials that the general performance of the tourism industry that is seen to be on the rise, is very likely to enable the sector, to emerge as the leading earner of foreign exchange for the economy for the year 2011.
Officials at Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and other sector stakeholders are saying that there are high chances that tourism could take the top slot in bringing in foreign exchange into the economy, overtaking the tea and coffee sub-sector basing on statistics RDB is still tabulating for the year ending 2011.
RDB says that tourism sector is showing yet another progressive achievement, having registered slightly higher receipts this year, compared to the two previous years, due in part to new innovations and the launch of equally new products and increased bed capacity within the sector formal establishments, a combination of factors that saw the sector receiving more international awards and recognitions.
Consequently,the 2011 target of bringing in over $216 million is very likely to be surpassed, according RDB’s Head of Tourism and Conservation Rica Rwigamba.
“As at end of third quarter 2011, provisional statistics indicated that tourism had grossed $183.2 million in terms of earnings, further giving added optimism that we are very likely to surpass our set targets for the year 2011”.
The optimism of tourism emerging as Rwanda’s leading foreign exchange earner can also be seen when comparing statistics in terms of foreign exchange earnings from various sectors over the course of 2011.
RDB says that for the first quarter 2011 tourism over took Tea and Coffee as the country’s leading foreign exchange earner contrary to earlier fears by other analysts of an anticipated reduction in the number of tourists visiting the country.
Tourism receipts jumped to $56.6m in the first quarter of 2011 with a 5 percent rise from $44.4m in the same period last year which is seen as a recovery from $42m earned in 2009.On the other hand, National Statistics of Rwanda(NSR) says that Tea sector fetched $31.5m receipts while Coffee sector brought in $35.7m in the first quarter of 2011.
Meaning that, a comparison of both sources indicates the closing of the gap that tourism has been presenting against the traditional foreign exchange earners drawn principally from the agricultural sector.
The larger implication is that the results of first quarter, can be said to enable the tourism sector to be in a position to overtake the agriculture sector as Rwanda’s leading sources of foreign exchange, for the very first time in the country’s history.
Further still, the National Agricultural Export Board (NAEB) says that the Coffee sector is expected to fetch $73 million while the Tea sector is expected to bring in $61 million by Nov 2011 giving a clear indicator that Tourism is, indeed on course, to be the leading earner of foreign exchange for the year 2011.if at all its meets its set target of $216 million.
If such a new prospect comes to pass, the sterling performance of tourism, which is largely a service industry, means that aspirations by planners for the entire economy to be transformed into a true service oriented one is being realized- well ahead of time. Especially, given the fact that Rwanda’s tourism industry has been built from scratch in the last 15 years or so.
Bart Gasana the Vice chairman of Rwanda’s Tourism Chamber attributes the sterling performance to accelerated public and private investments that have been going hand in hand over time. He hastens to add that the performance can also be attributed to the country’s impressive strides in achieving national security, developing physical infrastructure as well as deepening hospitality and tourism sites.
“The impressive performance now tells us that we should focus more on issues of sustainability and further growth,” he said adding that with such a high growth, there is need to diversify the sector in terms of products to keep on track the performance.
Gasana notes that one way of ensuring the sustainability of the sector is the need to widen working hours for the hospitality and related entertainment sectors to enable visiting tourists to get more value for time and money spent while in the country.
The rise in the performance of tourism in 2011 is partly attributed to an increase in bed capacity within the sector that can be in turn be traced to investments flowing into the sector. RDB says that the number of hotels rose to 437 for the 2011 as compared to 361 establishments in the year 2010.
New products can also be said to have led to the reinforcing of better service offerings, which in turn boosted the industry’s performance in 2011 after the successful launch of the Canopy walk and bird watching in Nyungwe forest during the course of the year 2010.
For instance, industry experts anticipate that the Congo Nile Trail product that was launched in 2011, is expected to bring in an additional $154,667 into the tourism receipts.
This particular new product has been highlighted by tourism sector stakeholders as the single biggest landmark achievement for the year 2011, for the industry. The 227 Km stretch special product traverses the 4 districts of Rubavu, Rusizi, Karongi and Nyamasheke. The new product is expected to attract more than 200 tourists annually and it is also looked at as a benchmark to promote domestic tourism, thereby creating more tourism options for foreign tourists especially during the low peak seasons.
The new product’s other critical spillover is the generation of additional incomes to around 100 households living within immediate environment surrounding the product. It is expected that such households stand to earn well over $15,000 per month through employment in hotels and other associated enterprises supplying goods and services within the product.
The global service recognition for the sector continued in the year 2011, when Rwanda was for the 6th consecutive time to emerge among the top three Best African Exhibitors at the prestigious, 45th edition of the Internationale Tourismus Börse (ITB Berlin). In addition, The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness index- TTCI Report 2011- ranked Rwanda first in the East African region beating its counterparts in governmental policies towards biodiversity, conservation and a deliberate effort to fund tourism marketing.
The industry also received a boost after it was named among the top five “Emerging Destinations” during the 2011 Wanderlust Travel Awards. Further changes in the sector saw the formation of various industry associations that now fall under the umbrella of the Tourism Chamber.
The Association of Hotel, Restaurants and Bars, and that of Hospitality and Tourism Training Institutions, as well as the Association of Tour Guides and Tours and Travel Operators came into existence. The Associations have since teamed up with RDB to develop a strategic plan to re-brand the country’s tourism image.
The new branding exercise that will be officially launched in early 2012, will help
diverse and shift the current marketing strategy, that entirely highlights Gorillas as the main tourist attraction to exploitation of the cultural and domestic attractions.
However, despite the seemingly lofty gains registered , the sector was during the course of 2011, also ranked the last in the EAC by the TTCI Report 2011 in customer care prompting the government and stakeholders to step up efforts to tackle such a shortcoming that is seen as very crucial for the sustainability of the industry. Experts say that, improvement in customer care in Rwanda, would increase the tourism revenues by $40 million every year .
Through a partnership that was mooted in 2011, between stakeholders and the government, over 5,500 Rwandans received additional training on customer care with intentions of increasing industry output.