Over one and a half months ago, the government kicked off an exercise to classify hotels in line with the EAC standardization requirements.
So far, over 189 hotels have submitted their applications. Of these, only fifty fulfill at least 50 percent of the essential items required for them to qualify to be classified.
Twagilimana Callixte, the Inspection Manager at the Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Parks, who is overseeing the classification exercise, says that a majority of the hotels that have sent in their applications will have to upgrade up to 100 percent before they can be classified.
He further says that early screenings of the applications indicate that only 11 meet all the 20 essential items they need to be classified.
But this is not totally unexpected considering that it is only now that tourism activities in the country have started to coalesce into any meaningful shape, the instability of yesteryears having worked to deny the tourism sector a chance to grow.
The whole import of the classification approved by EAC Council of Ministers in 2006 is to attract more capital into the region by ensuring high quality tourism facilities and better management of the hospitality industry.
It is also geared towards ensuring that tourists enjoy the same facilities and services in the region as well having a well-developed and orderly industry.
The mandatory requirements for classification include possession of an occupational permit, qualified and experienced management and departmental heads, medical examinations for all workers, and a valid operating license and hotel insurance among others.
The classification will also pave the way for a joint marketing and promotion of EAC as a single tourist destination.
Locally, the categorization is expected to raise the quality of the services in the hotel industry as most hotel owners will be striving to improve their services and facilities to either qualify for classification or to be elevated to a more prestigious category.
Twagilimana says that classification will also help the government in the planning process as well as in the formulation of policy to help further grow the hotel industry in the country.
With the signing of the EAC Common Market Protocol being less than a week away, and plans to jointly market EAC as a single tourist destination being part of the deal, the question on many stakeholders’ minds is what this portends to the their businesses and by extension the tourism sector. .
Twagilimana says that the hotel industry in Rwanda has all it takes to hold its own against competition from other hotels in the region.
“We may not end up end up having as many five star hotels as the other countries inn the region, but we are confident that our tourism industry will continue performing well. This is because most visitors go for the services and not classification,” he says.
And the enthusiasm of hoteliers in Rwanda to be part of this new bold era of unified standards and joint marketing of tourism in the region gives further credence to Twagilimana’s assertions.
While the deadline for submission of applications was supposed to be end of October, it had to be extended at the request of hotel owners who feared that they might be locked out of the exercise.
This is an indication that hoteliers in the country are finally waking up to the reality that they need to improve their competitiveness if they have to survive in the business.
With tourism being the country’s leading foreign exchange earner, everything seems to be riding on the eventual success the exercise.
It is for this reason that Rwanda Development Board (RDB) tourism department has promised to help market the hotels that would have been classified by the end of the year.
According to Twagilimana, this will be done through listing of the hotels on their website which is linked to the EAC website dedicated to marketing tourist activities in the region.
Also, Rwanda has a head start as far as being competitive in the tourism business in the region is concerned having recently bagged a key award at the annual World Travel Market (WTM) Exhibition in London. Rwanda beat 600 selected exhibitors to scoop the Best Stand Personnel award.
RDB tourism department will obviously be looking to cash in on the award to further package the country as a premier tourism destination.
The submission of applications for hoteliers who wish to be classified is expected to be concluded by the end of this month with the actual classification scheduled to take place between the 1st and 15th of December.