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The East African : Jun 28th 2015
The EastAfrican VI MAGAZINE JUNE 27 - JULY 3, 2015 cove≥ sto≥y Rwanda tou≥ism on the ≥ise, outg≥o The ove≥ one million annual visito≥s to the count≥y have the option of going fishing on Lake Kivu, doing the spectacula≥ canopy walk in the Nyungwe National Pa≥k, and hiking o≥ taking a guided walk among the he≥ds of elephant and bu≠alo in the Akage≥a National Pa≥k, which is also home to about 525 bi≥d species, w≥ites GILBERT MWIJUKE that would not only bring in muchneeded foreign exchange, but also change the image of hopelessness that the international community had of the country. The government worked on restor- A ing peace and security in the country, and especially secured the Volcanoes National Park in Musanze district, Northern Province, the home of the endangered mountain gorillas. “Rwanda was difficult to sell in the first years that followed the end of the genocide because tourists out there perceived it to be dangerous. The genocide gave Rwanda a very bad image abroad,” said Greg Bakunzi, who started working as a tour guide in the country in 1997 and is currently the founder and managing director of travel concern Amahoro Tours. Two decades later, things have completely changed and the country is now an established tourist destination. Rwanda’s tourism sector has en- joyed tremendous growth in the past 15 years, growing from a sector earning $62 million a year sector in 2000 to $303 million a year in 2014 — a boom that has been driven by the country’s economic and social revival. Tourism is currently the country’s highest foreign exchange earner after tea and coffee. Bakunzi attributes this to security, good infrastructure and sanitation. “Bad transport infrastructure and single tourist visa is not working for us because not many tourists are interested in visiting all the three countries.” Darius Dossantos, Kings Tours and Travel ‘‘ insecurity tend to keep tourists away; in Rwanda, all these components are fine,” he said. Kenya, on the other hand, which The has traditionally had a very successful and lucrative tourism sector, has suffered from the effects of insecurity at its Coastal circuit, which has almost killed off the sector. According to the Rwanda Devel- opment Board (RDB), 1.17 million tourists visited Rwanda last year, mainly drawn by the sprospect of seeing mountain gorillas, especially the silver backs — an endangered species found in the Volcanoes National Park. The majority of tourists to Rwanda come from the US, India, Britain, Belgium and Germany. American tourists contribute 20 per cent of Rwanda’s total tourism revenues, according to RDB. s Rwanda started rebuilding after the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, tourism was considered one the economic pillars The revival To kick-start the sector after years of stagnation, the government began by aggressively marketing the mountain gorillas, which are only found in the Virunga chain of volcanic mountains that straddle Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Gorilla trekking is considered a unique product and is sold to tourists at a premium of $750 per permit per person (Uganda charges $600). However, Rwanda’s pride is in the ability for one to do the gorilla trek day and fly back home, which is impossible for Uganda. In 2005, RDB introduced the Kwita Izina festival as a highlight of the tourism year. This is an annual baby gorilla naming and conservation ceremony aimed at creating awareness of efforts to the critically endangered species. This festival has inculcated community ownership of gorilla tourism. Since the inception of Kwita Izina a decade ago, RDB says the country’s mountain gorilla population has grown from 370 in 2005 to about 514 in 2015 and is the country’s biggest tourist attraction. Rwanda earns $10 million annually from gorilla tourism alone, RDB says. Gorillas aside, the over one mil- lion annual visitors to Rwanda also have the option of going fishing on Lake Kivu, doing the canopy walk in the Nyungwe National Park, or going on a guided walk among the herds of elephant and buffalo in the Akagera National Park, which is also home to about 525 bird species, according to recent RDB data. Last year alone, Rwanda earned $16.8 million from 67,696 visits to its three national parks, with the Volcanoes National Park raking in 93 per cent of all revenues generated from the parks. Quest for more Now RDB wants to attract more tourists and earn at least $860 million from tourism by 2016. “The target for the tourism indus- try in Rwanda is to grow by 25 per cent per annum; and we believe that it is achievable,” said Faustin Karasira, the head of the tourism department at RDB. Karasira cites the East African sin- gle tourist visa as one of the innovations that will boost growth in the tourism sector. The new $100 visa, which was introduced in February last year, allows multiple entries to Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda for 90 days without added costs or bureauc- 1,560 appl But the RDB is n tourism. It ucts such tourism, tourism grow tou a r “Almost troducing the marke both the p keep contr industry,” The Con The Kigali Convention Centre under construction. The centre will be completed in 2016 and will have a 2,600-seat conference hall, a hotel and several bars and restaurants. All pictures by Cyril Ndegeya racy. However, tour operators say the visa may not add significant value to Rwanda’s tourism sector. “The single tourist visa is not work- ing for us because not many tourists are interested in visiting all the three countries,” said Darius Dossantos, the business development manager at Kings Tours and Travel in Kigali. Dossantos argues that the single tourist visa is expensive for most tourists who come with only one or two East African countries in mind, given that the cost of a one country-entry visa is after all just $50. Out of the over five million tourists who visited East Africa last year, only by tour op RDB has p a 10 day, from the 2 s district an Karongi b district. “That is says Dossa the Congo fo country f those who rillas, for spend in money the revenue.” Dossant The spectacular Canopy Walk in Nyungwe National Park.
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Jul 5th 2015