19 November 2012

Rwanda: Tourism Moots Alternative Attractions

Kigali — Rwanda's new image of a peaceful, attractive and progressive country might be managing to attract hundreds of thousands of tourists per year but many still find the place too limiting to stay longer than a couple of days.

Rwanda's image is to thank for the booming tourism sector yet statistical analysis indicates that it could do much better only if Rwandans invested in more recreational infrastructure to give visitors reason to stay longer.

"Getting tourists stay longer is still our biggest challenge," admitted Rica Rwigamba, the Director of Tourism and Conservation unit at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB)

In 2011, Rwanda was visited by 0.9 million people earning the country revenue receipts of US$250 million.

According to Joel Rudasingwa, a researcher and statistician at RDB, Rwanda is already on course to surpass last year's number of visitors as 0.8 million tourists had already turned in as of September 2012 indicating a 14% increment compared to 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," noted Rudasingwa during a meeting with the Rwanda Association of Hotels and Restaurant Owners.

In collaboration with investors in the hospitality sector the RDB tourism department now wants to make tourists have more to spend on while in Rwanda hence increasing on their stay in the country.

Both RDB and the hoteliers admit that entertainment and the general leisure industry need to be supported because currently, while the numbers show a huge interest to visit, efforts must be put to entice visitors to stay some more while spending, a sure way of increasing revenue earnings.

Currently, entertainment expenditure by tourists accounts for only 5%, Transport 10% while shopping takes 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 Karere, the Chairman of Rwanda's association of hotels and Restaurants.

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?" wondered Karere.

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.

It's generally accepted that East Africans are out going and like to spend same as Americans who want to let their hair down whenever they come to Africa on their holidays. 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 US$241.6 million surpassing the target of US$165 Millions by 46%," revealed Rica Rwigamba.

More investment in the sector is expected to 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 and not far from the target of 10000 rooms by 2019. However, many of these are yet to be categorized with the first exercise having managed to classify about 30 facilities.

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 to address the issue of scarce qualified personnel in an industry still dominated by Kenyans.

Customer remains the other flaw in the hospitality sector with many visitors complaining about the level of client handling. RDB has invested heavily in trying to address the issue with several trainings organized to help hotel owners and managers improve yet the former have been found to show less interest in the trainings leaving them to managers whose job turnover is alarmingly high that their new found skills are barely put to work.

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