Rwanda will this year market its tourist attractions to Russia and China in a new strategy that is expected to woo more leisure tourists to boost the East African country's tourism revenue.
The move follows the passing of a new tourism marketing strategy last year, which aims at helping the country to target potential markets and consolidate marketing efforts in the existing markets with the view to increase high-end tourists.
Rica Rwigamba, the Head of Tourism and Conservation Directorate at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) which is charged with fast-tracking Rwanda's economic development says that the country seeks to continue increasing the number of foreign leisure tourists who contribute at least 40% of the country's revenue collected from the tourism sector. Mountain gorillas in North West of Rwanda remain the major attraction to most western leisure tourists.
"This year we passed a new tourism marketing strategy and we have identified the need not only to diversify our products but also approaching new markets. Two main markets that we have identified are Russia and China because there are people who have the capacity to travel more and spend more money," Rwigamba said in December 2012.
She says that Rwanda will in 2013 have representatives in the two countries who will particularly be dealing with the markets there.
"We are targeting specialised tourism companies into these markets because they will be able to go and target tourists. We expect them to increase the number of tour operators as well," Rwigamba further explained.
Russia and China are increasingly becoming sources of both high-end leisure tourists and also mass tourists because of the increasing wealth among their populations and also their thirsty to explore new destinations like Africa.
However, Rwigamba added that more efforts will continue to be invested in retaining and developing the existing markets such as the United States, United Kingdom, Belgium and Germany to continue boosting the number of high-spenders from these markets.
More specifically, Rwanda is focusing much on exploiting the Germany and UK tourism markets. Germany continues to be the big spender in Europe whereas UK has developed deep interest and connection with Rwanda which provides a huge potential for Rwanda's tourism sector. But the number of tourists coming from the two countries to Rwanda is still small.
Currently, there are direct flights between Rwanda and some European countries such as Netherlands through KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Belgium through Brussels Airlines and Turkey through the Turkish Airlines.
Rwigamba says that Rwanda will continue to take advantage of these airlines and some European tourists that have developed deep knowledge on the Rwandan tourism market offers as an outstanding advantage for the country to attract more European visitors.
Tourism continues to be Rwanda's leading foreign exchange earner outpacing other export oriented sectors such as coffee, tea and mining in terms of revenue. This year alone, according to the National Export Strategy (NES), tourism revenue is expected to be US$261 million.
But between Jan. and Sept. 2012, RDB says that tourism revenue rose to US$210.5 million, representing an increase of 14% compared to the same period in 2011. The number of visitors also grew by 28% to 800,122 compared the same period in 2011.
Visitors from member states of the East African Community (EAC) and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) rose 34% to 639,536 while international visitors rose 4% to 130,586.
However, visitors from what RDB calls key markets such as the U.S. UK. Belgium and Germany are still few in numbers but they are considered big spenders.
RDB's statistics show that the number of Americans who visited Rwanda was higher than that of other individual countries considered as key markets.
At least 18,459 Americans visited Rwanda followed by 10,126 British, 7,675 Belgians and 7,103 Germans. Overall, leisure attracted 70,383 visitors while business attracted 295,322. Leisure visitors rose 19% while business visitors rose 17%.
Currently, the tourism sector is not regulated by anyone. Whoever has an idea to start a hotel, restaurant and bar or a tour and travel company starts it without a check whether the facility or company meets all the requirements to operate.
However, a legislation that will help to regulate the sector is underway. Rwigamba says that 2013 will see the tourism bill passed and the sector will then have to be regulated afterwards.
"With the tourism Bill, it will be clear in terms of regulating the sector," Rwigamba said, adding that the once the Bill is passed into a law, it will help to set licensing requirements, therefore creating positive impact on the sector especially on the quality of service.
The Bill provides charging of a training levy from the tourism players which will help to build the capacity of the staff in various disciplines but mainly on service delivery. It also provides a timeframe for the existing players to abide by the law once it is in place.
New animal species
This year, Rwigamba says that in order to increase products, the focus has been set on tea tours in Gisovu, and cave tourism.
Also, towards end of the year, a new animal specie will be stocked in the Akagera National park in the east of the country. The animal's name has however been made a secret.
The savanna park, which is home to giraffe, zebras, various bird species, buffalos, elephants and many other animal species, is currently being fenced with the target to complete the exercise in February.
The electric fence is expected to reduce the persistent conflicts between the animals that go outside the park and the people that live around it. Animals have continued to be blamed for destroying crops and killing people while people are also blamed for killing them.
Tourism emerged the highly attractive sector in terms of investment after recording new investment projects worth US$327 million between as of December 19, 2012. These will create at least 2,042 new jobs once they are implemented.
Rwigamba says Rwanda will continue to attract investments in the tourism sector. In this regard, she says that international hotel brands will be sensitised to open up accommodation facilities in the country. Already, some have started while others have shown commitment.
The Kigali Marriot Hotel will be unveiled this year. The U.S. based Marriot Hotel Group has a contract with Chinese and Rwandan five star hotel owners to manage it for over 20 years. Another brand, Radisson Hotels, will also manage a five star hotel that is currently under construction at the upcoming Kigali Convention Center. Hilton has also promised to open a hotel in Rwanda.
Rwigamba says that more local investors will be sensitised to allow international hotel management groups to take over management of their hotels in order to improve on service and brand building for higher returns.