Kigali — The Rwanda tourism sector recorded a massive 54 percent growth in 2008, generating about $214 million, $17 million more than what was raised in 2007, an official end of year statement from the Rwanda Office for Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN) reveals.
The increased revenues are mainly attributed to the high turn-up of tourists from 826,374 in 2007, hitting the 1 million mark in 2008, an estimated 30 percent increase.
According to the statement, the number of tourists coming to Rwanda is estimated to increase by up to 1.14 million by the end of this year.
Speaking to The New Times on phone, Chantal Rugamba, the Deputy CEO of Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in charge of tourism, said that with continued investment by the government, Rwanda's tourism sector is expected to continue growing in 2009 to remain as the country's leading foreign exchange earner.
"We are mindful of the global financial crisis which might directly or indirectly affect the sector but we are looking forward to aggressively market our destinations so that we can hit the expected mark of 1.14 visitors," said Rugamba.
ORTPN is among the seven government institutions that were merged to form the RDB which is supposed to officially start its activities early this year.
Rugamba said that investments in the industry especially the increase in the number of hotels around the country from 148 hotels with 2,391 rooms in 2007 to 163 hotels with 3,552 in 2008 have bolstered the sector.
Also investments in accommodation improvements in different tourist destinations in the country especially in Kigali, Kinigi, Akagera and the recently launched Nyungwe National Park have heavily contributed to the growth of sector.
She added that plans are underway to diversify the sector next year to explore different tourist destinations the country has to offer. Some of the new tourist projects include canopy walkways in Nyungwe and a cruise boat on Lake Kivu among others.
Nyungwe forest, gazetted to become a national park boasts of 13 primate species, 275 bird species (of which 25 are endemic to the mountainous Central African region), 250 tree species, and 148 varieties of orchids.
Nyungwe is one of the region's most distinctive natural attractions and is fast becoming Rwanda's leading tourist destination.
The forest park home to the rare Colobus Monkey got a $5 million grant from the United States will also have a first class hotel by the end of this year which is to be constructed by Dubai World, a Dubai based Hotel Consortium.
According to Rugamba, ORTPN intends to invest the money back in the economy to benefit the Rwandan community as part of the Social Corporate responsibility.
"As an institution, ORTPN and her partners have assisted Rwanda's communities through social responsibility initiatives including: supporting children orphaned by the Genocide in Nyamata at the Ntarama Genocide Memorial, and assisting earthquake victims in the Western Province through moral and financial support," she said.
Rwanda Tourism industry has tremendously grown since 1994 and it was recently voted among the "Top 10 Countries to Visit in 2009" by Lonely Planet, one of the worlds leading travel guides.
Rwanda, renowned for 'Kwita Izina', an annual gorillas naming ceremony which attracts tourists from all over the globe underlines the success of Rwanda tourism and environmental conservation.
Apart from generating 343,000 jobs in 2008, a 26 percent increase from 2007, revenue collected from tourism industry also benefited local communities through a Revenue Sharing Scheme which grants 5 percent of its revenues towards supporting community projects to improve their welfare.