The tourism sector has generated US$ 281.8 million in 2012, compared to US$ 251.3 in the previous year - an increase of 17%. The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) attributes this growth to the efforts made to extend the options available for the increasing number of tourists.
"Tourism continues to remain the first source of foreign currency," noted Clare Akamanzi, the acting CEO of RDB.
Apart from revenue, the number of visitors also rose in 2012 to 1,075,829 compared to 908,001 in 2011 (+22%). Part of the explanation, according to the RDB officials, lies in the longer opening hours of some of the border posts since October 2011.
"The increase in revenue from tourism was also positively associated with the arrival of investors in the sector," said Rica Rwigamba the head of tourism and conservation at RDB.
RDB registered US$ 323.8 million of investments in the tourism sector in 2012, an increase of 175% compare to 2011. This is attributed to big projects that were registered.
Rwigamba remarked that over the last two years investments were made in new products such as the Nyungwe canopy walk and the Congo-Nile trail. "Our focus has been on bringing more products in the market, and how to package them so that it increases the activities a tourist can enjoy in the country," she pointed out.
In addition, regulation was strengthened which will help the sector for example by licensing hotels.
Denis Karera, the chairman of the association of hotel and restaurant owners, said that hotel increased by 30% last year. This growth made possible to surpass the target that was set to have at least 6,500 rooms. "Today, we can comfortably accommodate up to 8,000 people in Kigali," he said.
The flourishing tourism industry has not gone unnoticed, and internationally respected hotel chains like Marriot, Hilton and Radisson Blue are for instance expected set up shop in the country and thus increase the number of existing rooms. International airlines, too, are discovering Rwanda, with KLM, Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways and South Africa Airlines now flying on Kigali.
At the same time, existing hotels and tourism establishments have embarked on a mission to improve their service through strengthened professional associations in the tourism chamber. "We are working hand in hand with the members of the chamber to improve customer service in the sector and solve the skills gap," Rwigamba said. "They are playing a key role in ensuring growth of the sector and meeting the expectations of the visitors to the country."
Single EAC tourism visa
Another factor contributing to the rapid growth of the tourism is the increased integration of tourism packages within the EAC. "90% of our tourists are combining Rwanda with Kenya, Uganda or Tanzania," explained Manzi Kayihura, the president of the Rwanda Tours and Travel Association.
He added, though, that more could be done at the EAC level to foster this integration, such as the establishment of a single tourism visa which has been in the pipeline for a long time without materializing.
"It's true that it has been talked about for some time, but I think it's a complex issue," said Rwigamba, adding that there is political will among all partner states.