When I recently asked the Seychelles’ Minister of Tourism what the secret of success was to drive the archipelago’s tourism industry to ever greater heights, year after year, Alain St. Ange, tongue in cheek, answered, “If I told you that, it would be a secret no more,” – and touche for that response.
The same question, of course, needs to be asked regarding how Rwanda manages to post growth, year after year, when looking at the state of the tourism industry in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and freefalling Burundi, where tourism has been all but wiped out as a result of political machinations. How does Rwanda achieve these annual increases and successes where others have faltered?
There are many answers to that, and it is an open secret that political discipline and uncompromising security measures, apart from principled leadership and a zero tolerance for corruption are at the very core of why the “Land of a Thousand Hills” outpaces regional neighbors. Equally high, though, features determined conservation policies which saw major efforts to raise forest cover across the country, allowing for the Rwandan government to finally elevate Gishwati from national forest status to national park status in the coming financial year.
The opportunity arose to obtain some hard facts once again from the Rwanda Development Board’s Tourism and Conservation Department, and they make for an amazing read.
Akagera National Park, the country’s only savannah park, managed by African Parks under a joint venture deal with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), remains the most visited park in the country with a visitor increase of 4 percent in 2014 over the previous year, although the highest growth rate of visitor increases came for Nyungwe Forest National Park with a rise of 30 percent, outstripping Volcanos National Park which came in second with an 11 percent rise in visitors.
Revenues subsequently rose to US$16.8 million from the 3 parks, a 19 percent rise from 2013 when that income was given as US$14.1 million.
Most notably though was the constant rise of Rwandan national visitors to the parks which for 2014 reached 18,223 entries compared to just 16,646 the year before, underscoring the effectiveness of an unfolding domestic tourism campaign by RDB.
Creative approaches, like the construction some years ago of a forest canopy walk at Nyungwe – former ORTPN CEO and later Deputy CEO of RDB, Rosette Rugamba, took the idea with her when she moved from Uganda back to her home country, after the Ugandans sat on the idea for too long – helped to create a hype and boosted demand for Nyungwe visits, and also the creation of birding areas outside the park, involving communities cooperating with RDB, and set the path for continued growth in visitor arrivals.
Rwanda has set its sights on a larger slice of the regional MICE market, and when the new national convention center and the two major hotels now under construction, the Marriott Kigali and the Radisson Blu Kigali, are open, it will no doubt inject further significant growth, cementing tourism’s number one status in the national economy.