19 November 2012

Rwanda: Clean and Peaceful - but Rwanda Bores Tourists

Rwanda's image of being peaceful and clean attracted nearly a million tourists last year, but most could not stay longer than a day or two as they found the country extremely boring.

"Getting tourists stay longer is still our biggest challenge," said Rica Rwigamba, the director of tourism and conservation at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB). This calls for more investment in recreational facilities.

In 2011, Rwanda was visited by about 900,000 people and the country earned $250 million. According to Joel Rudasingwa, a researcher at RDB, Rwanda is already on course to surpass last year's number of visitors because as of September, 800,000 tourists had already visited the country, 14% higher than the number of visitors during the same period last year.

"Visitors spend most of their money on accommodations and food/beverages with 63% of tourism revenues being generated within hotels and restaurant," Rudasingwa said during a meeting with hotel and restaurant owners.

In collaboration with investors in the hospitality sector, the RDB tourism department now wants to ensure that tourists spend more while in Rwanda by finding ways of enticing them to stay longer whenever they visit.

Officials say there is need to support the leisure industry to entice visit to stay longer and spend more as a sure way of increasing revenue from the sector.

Currently, entertainment expenditure by tourists accounts for only 5%, transport 10% and shopping 22% of visitors' budget.

Accommodation and restaurants between them take the lion's share with 42 and 21% of tourists' expenditure.

"It's not that tourists deliberately don't want to spend on entertainment, there are simply no proper avenues for entertainment and even government departments have not promoted this element," said Denis Karera, the chairman of the of the hotel and restaurant owners association.

While hotels in Rwanda have of late benefited from international and regional conferences that have been hosted by Kigali, Karere blames the failure by relevant government departments to fix leisure moments for visitors to enjoy Kigali's night life and other entertainment avenues.

"They do the same when we travel abroad and we spend. Why can't our government departments do the same...include dancing, shopping and other recreation programs to make visitors spend more?"

It's estimated that of the roughly eight days that an average tourist to the EAC spends in the region, two days are spent in Kigali while the rest in either Kenya or Uganda, thought to have a more lively entertainment industry.

Studying tourists' country of origin could help the Rwanda Chamber of Tourism make Rwanda a less boring place for tourists through initiating a behavioral research.

Current figures indicate that majority of visitors to Rwanda are from within the EAC region and DRC while only 17% are from beyond with America and Europe dominating.

Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania have fast growing entertainment industries with musicians making a lot of money. As of September 2012, Uganda had hosted almost ten international artists to Rwanda's two. Night clubs in Uganda work week through while in Rwanda they are subjected to strict city rules and limited hours of operations factors that have discouraged heavy investment in that sub-sector.

"Fact is Rwanda is a small country that one can travel and cover within just less than 24 hours which means there have to be extra special facilities to give reason to a visitor to stay longer," explained Christine Calouro, an American who has visited Rwanda before.

Rwanda would like tourism to contribute 15% of its GDP by 2020 but this will mean finding more avenues to get the tourists stay longer and spend more beyond the ride to Virunga to catch a glimpse of the mountain gorillas.

The 15% portion of GDP would require the sector to grow 15% annually to beat another target of 22% of private investment in the tourism sector. Current figures show that the country is on track to achieve that.

"In 2012, we have already registered investments worth $241.6 million surpassing the target of $165 millions by 46%," revealed Rica Rwigamba.

This will increase the number of hotel rooms which has registered an up-ward growth in recent years.

New statistics from RDB indicate that there are 6,700 rooms in the country from just 680 rooms back in 2003. The target is 10,000 rooms by 2019. Many hoteliers in Rwanda still lament the high costs involved in meeting new EAC hotel standards finalized in 2010 upon which regional hotels will be analyzed to determine how many stars they qualify for.

Reports indicate that in Kigali city and Rubavu town, on the border with DRC for instance many facilities going by the name 'hotel' are actually private houses turned into commercial accommodation facilities to tap into the booming hospitality sector.

Besides that, another study indicates that more that 50% of hotel managers in the country are without formal education calling for an urgent need to improve their capacity.

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