Burundi’s tourism team at this year’s ITB had reason to smile as they bagged the runner-up spot as second Best Exhibitor from Africa behind neighbors Rwanda. One of the five member states of the East African Community, precious little was known so far about the country as their tourism industry lived in apparent isolation and made little concerted and coordinated effort in past years to become more visible and claim their rightful share in tourism arrivals.
There is hope though that things have changed to the better with the appointment of a new team in Bujumbura, cognizant of the fact that the tourism industry has the capacity to create jobs faster than any other economic sector; attract foreign investment in hotels, resorts, and safari lodges; and can vastly improve the foreign exchange earnings for the country.
Ms. Carmen Nigibira, the new Director General of the Burundi Tourism Office, used the run-up to ITB 2014 and the presence of the Burundian team in Berlin to make a series of announcements which set a new tone and revealed a new trend for the country, when she said: “I am humbled by the new opportunity given to me and the new team at the National Tourism Office of Burundi. It is my belief that with sustained efforts towards achieving a common goal and working harmoniously as a team that we will be able to achieve more for Burundi; to attract more tourists, more investments; and change the image of the country locally, regionally, and internationally. Our commitment is to work with both the public and private sector in Burundi to first and foremost help re-brand our country as a favorable tourism and investment destination that should be the pride of all Burundians.”
Carmen then went on to elaborate on a number of key areas, spelling out her agenda vis-a-vis regional cooperation, and most notably about the just-launched regional tourist visa which now applies for visitors to Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. In her communication she went on to state:
“We also seek to learn and work closely with our counterparts within the East African region and our message to them is simple. Burundi is part and parcel of the East African Community. We remain committed to working together with our counterparts in the region to ensure that tourism in East Africa is continually developing.
“Come and make your unique experience in Burundi and share it, adding value to the regional economies and improving the lives of our people while at the same time giving visitors to this region a whole new experience. It is in this spirit of regional cooperation that saw Burundi take part in last year’s Magical Kenya Travel Expo in Nairobi, Kenya, and we reiterate our commitment to continue working with regional tourism bodies to better our tourism offering across the region. We want to complement the existing tourism offerings from the region and in the process, develop a product that is unique to this destination.”
Related to the single tourist visa, Burundi has taken the following position:
“We laud our Kenyan, Ugandan, and Rwandan counterparts for the recently-launched single tourism visa for East Africa. We think that this is a huge first step towards joint marketing campaigns for East Africa and will go a long way into helping market East Africa as a single tourism destination. Burundi is committed to making this happen, and we will be joining the single tourism regime as soon as we are able to meet some set guidelines and requirements. Looking ahead into 2014, we want this to be the year that Burundi fully embraces itself and walks out of the dark shadows of the past.
“We have seen an increased investment in the tourism sector in Burundi that has mainly been driven by local investors who have shown a strong sense of belief in the tourism prospects for Burundi. We do not take this for granted, and that is why we are currently embarking on a tourism inventory process that will see us identify and develop our tourism product so that it first attracts the Burundian people and the expatriate community residents in Burundi, and then going further to attract the regional and international community to Burundi. But that should not stop you from coming to Burundi; we welcome you with open arms and hope you get to share with your friends, family, and the entire world your own unique Burundian experience.”
At the same time Burundi launched a new magazine, aptly titled “Beautiful Burundi 2014” which over the space of 88 pages gives the hitherto most comprehensive information and updates about tourism attractions and opportunities in the country, again a sharp contrast from past days when Burundi kept her sunny sides hidden in almost obscurity. Anything from culture to art, from music to fashion, from adventures to natural attractions are covered, with the general economy and other country specific topics also receiving ample exposure.
A good start for sure for the new team in Bujumbura which will have their work cut out in coming months to raise the country’s profile in the region and beyond and finally put Burundi on the map so that visitors can see what they missed in the past when coming to East Africa and giving this little gem a miss. The country’s only national park of Ruvubu and the nature reserve of Rusizi near the capital of Bujumbura will be just two of the many places tourists can visit, besides exploring the shores of Lake Tanganyika or the south of the country where the Karera Falls are located inside the Nyakazu-Nkoma national monument, playing a round of golf, or shopping for the unique arts and crafts.