Posts Tagged ‘Tourism’

TOURISM: RWANDA’S MAJOR FOREIGN EXCHANGE EARNER

By George Kalisa

Rwanda’s experience shows that the road to total liberation of the people has neither been straight nor smooth. Faced with the challenge of improving the lives of Rwandans in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, President Paul Kagame has met barriers ranging from political to economic ones, a high ranking government official has said. The international perception of the country was a major hold up to efforts to the liberation of the Rwandans from all forces that denied them human dignity. The world knew Rwanda for the genocide.

However Kagame and his government have triumphed over a sea of problems and Rwandans are already reaping the fruits of Kagame’s vision says Rosette Rugamba, the deputy chief executive officer of Rwanda Development Board in charge of Tourism and conservation.

The enterprising President looked at tourism as a potential sector in reconstructing the economy hence the re launch of the industry in 2003 on two definitive fronts – domestic and international tourism.

Domestic tourism focused on creating a culture of appreciation of the intrinsic value of and benefit of the sector to the economy while international tourism positioned Rwanda as a high end destination that put conservation and the environment first.

Rugamba adds that the security and stability in the country spur growing investment in the sector.

“The journey of the tourism sector in Rwanda started with the vision of our President six years ago. We are now harvesting six years of solid investment in destination tourism positioning, continuous improvements in the product backed by unwavering government support. With out doubt, the peace and security we enjoy in this country have been enabling factors,” Rugamba said.

Rugamba says although they have achieved many successes, Rwanda has not yet realized its dream tourism industry, adding that more innovations are needed.

“While we celebrate where we are today, we all believe that we still have a long way to go. The year on year growth is testimony that we are doing something right as a nation, “Rugamba said in an interview.

In 2003, only 16,000 visitors went to Rwanda compared to 980,577 in 2008. By June 2009, 440,000 visitors had been to the country. The increase in the number of visitors has meant increase in revenue and expansion of tourism infrastructure and tour operator agencies over the years.

Revenue upped from $8m in 2003 to $209m in 2008, while hotel rooms increased from 650 to 4,256.

Currently, Rwanda boasts of 189 hotels compared to just 30 in 2003. Besides being the number one foreign exchange earner for three consecutive years, the sectors competitive performance globally has improved ten fold the country’s image.

For the third time Rwanda was this year voted best African exhibitor at ITB Berlin, the worlds largest tourism trade fair. It was also voted among the “Top 10” tourism destinations in the world by Lonely Planet (2009), a travel guide in the United Kingdom. Early this year, Rwanda mountain gorilla trekking was ranked among the top green travel experiences in the world by the latest Rough Guide’s publication, 500 New Ways to see the World.

Rwanda’s gorilla experience was also listed in the publication Unforgettable journeys you must take before you die by Steve Watkins and Clare Jones as one of the 50 things you must do before you die.

The influx of international celebrities into the country is evident of growing tourism. These include; Jack Hanna (world’s conservation icon), CNN founder, Ted Turner and Catherine Crier.

Gorilla naming ceremony: it is one of the sector’s land mark innovations and one of the most recognized conservation events on the world tourism calendar.

Kwita Izina, as the gorilla naming ceremony is locally referred to, was launched in 2005 by Kagame. A total of 105 baby gorillas have been named since Kwita Izina ceremonies started. The annual ceremony has attracted high profile people locally and internationally, including Hollywood celebrities and world renowned conservationists. Kwita Izina is a celebration of successes in protecting the mountain gorilla and the environment it lives in.

Over $2m has been raised through the event and has been spent on supporting the communities that live outside the mountains of the Virungas.

Rugamba says Rwanda expects tourism revenues to hit $278m by 2012, adding that in the offing is a 10 year master plan, an initiation that will take the sector to greater heights.

New Products
: Central to Rwanda’s tourism strategy has been the development of new diverse products. They include avi tourism, Nyungwe National Park, Akagera Savannah Park and conference tourism.

In 2008, we launched the birding product (avi tourism) at the birding fair in UK, says Rugamba. Rwanda hosts over 700 bird species of which 44 are endemic to Rwanda. It is anticipated that birding will contribute 10% to Rwanda’s tourism receipts by 2010. The Nyungwe forest trails are offering nature hikes and an opportunity to see over 13 primate species, including chimpanzees.

By the end of the year, two lodges will be opened in Nyungwe and the canopy walk will be launched in the heart of the forest, the first of its kind in Eastern Africa.

The government is currently restocking and up grading accommodation facilities in Akagera National Park.

Rugamba discloses that a 20 seat leisure boat will be commissioned on Lake Kivu in October. The boat will enable tourists to visit islands on the lake.

Commenting on conference tourism, Rugamba said; “Our fastest growing product has to be conference tourism. Rwanda has become a much sought after destination for multi sectral, regional, continental and international conferences. In the first half of 2009, 189,857 (43%) of the visitors who came to Rwanda came for business purposes. In 2010, we hope to have set up a convention bureau to manage and coordinate conferences”.

Rugamba added, “With Rwanda becoming part of East Africa, we shall continue to work on promoting East Africa as a single destination and working on fast tracking of the East Africa single visa. The East Africa standards are already in place and Rwanda has started preparing the hotels for classification”.

More Tourists in 2008, though a decline is evident in 2009

TEA Agencies,

Kampala, Uganda

 A total of 844,000 foreigners visited Uganda in 2008, representing a 32% increase over 2007. As a key contributor to Uganda’s GDP tourism accounted for 3.7% of the total. Despite this increase, it is clear that Uganda’s tourism industry is now facing difficult times as a result of the financial melt down.

The tourism industry is especially vulnerable to financial slow downs with consumers spending less on travel products and experiences in the short and medium terms. Expenditure on accommodation and

Gorilla Permits, Uganda’s trump card has decreased drastically as visitors choose more affordable safari options.

There was growing optimism that Uganda would soon achieve the 1 million foreign visitor mark by 2012. However, with the current economic melt down experienced globally and domestically, the effect on Uganda’s tourism industry is likely to be worse.

The unstable fuel costs and fluctuating dollar rate means that long-haul tourism is on the decline, particularly for middle income tourists. This has already had an effect on Uganda’s tourism industry.

As long haul travel becomes increasingly unaffordable, the integration of the East African region is now paramount for the region to achieve its tourism targets. However, reasonable controls such as some degree of protection for the Ugandan tour operators should be taken into consideration as we go into the final stages of the East African re integration.

The drop in visitors from all major source markets including UK and USA is now evident. According to research firm Trip Advisor, 58% of UK consumers are likely to or have already been influenced by the economic down town when it comes to choosing a holiday this year.

Tour operators in Uganda must now guard, at all costs, against pricing itself out of the global market as this destination now competes, on affordability levels, with Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.

With the deepening of the global financial crisis and economic slowdown, there is a rise of new challenges ranging from safari cancellations to souring inflation rates now believed to have settled at 14.8%.

These challenges thus call for a cash injection so as to help in facilitating tourism research, marketing and work force issues for the better of Uganda’s Tourism industry.