It has been six months since the National Tourism Office of Burundi restructured with the mission of promoting and marketing Burundi as one of the key travel and tourism destinations within the East African Community(EAC) region and on the regional tourism industry scene.
There is a lot to say about the tourism potential of Burundi and this is the message the new Director General of the National Tourism Office of Burundi (ONT) wants to send to the world: Burundi is open for tourism development and investment, thanks to our now more regulated institutional framework, the private sector dynamism which enhance the working conditions conducive for investment..
East African Burecently interviewed the newly appointed ONT Director General Ms. Carmen Nibigira who, with lot of passion, shared with us the tourism and investment potential that Burundi has to offer.
She said: "Burundi has lot of potential and is a hidden treasure nestled in the heart of the EAC and Africa."
According to Carmen, not only is Burundi endowed with natural resources but also with their unique assets vested in its people and their legendary hospitality and warmth.
Over the last few years, Burundi has made tremendous efforts in peace building, development and integration within the EAC, a regional trade and economic block that includes Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi.
"Over the last few years, Burundi has initiated far-reaching regulatory and economic reforms that are meant to enhance the growth of our economy. With such reforms, Burundi has made positive strides in enhancing the ease of '"Doing Business'" through the creation of a one-stop shop business registration and trade licenses unit that is meant to expedite the process of new companies registering and opening their operations in Burundi. We are proud to say that, since March 2012, it is possible to register your business in Burundi in one single day and for less than 30 $US,." said Carmen.
"Some of the tangible indicators can be demonstrated by the increase in hotel bed capacities around the country from around 800 three years ago to over 2,000 today. Most of these hotel beds are located in Bujumbura the administrative and commercial capital of Burundi and this is growing as we continue to witness an increase of new hotels coming up all across the city including international brand," explains Carmen.
The private sector, Carmen noteds, has been at the forefront of this dynamic development of not only the tourism sector, but also other sectors of the economy and they have welcomed the new incentives from the government through the Burundi Investment Promotion Authority (API).
Explains Carmen: "The National Tourism Board (ONT) in its mission is committed to promote and market Burundi as a tourism destination with a direct focus on the EAC region, "principally because Burundi wants to complement the existing tourism products from the region as it works towards developing its own niche products that will profile the uniqueness of our destination.." We would like to register Burundi in the same framework experienced within EAC trade, services and most important integrated efforts towards a sustainable tourism sector,." she said.
According to Carmen, Burundi as a tourism destination is setting out to be part of an integrated regional tourism setup where Burundi can play a critical role in complementing existing and new products. The different parks existing in Burundi can be easy be fitted into the same framework of the existing one in EAC, the lake experience, rich culture and leisure side of Burundi can all fit into the new dynamism of the region. With its warm climate, the capital of Bujumbura on the shores of the Lake Tanganyika, the Rusizi NationalPark situated just few minutes' drive from the city.,
"Burundi has a lot to offer as a getaway destination.
"A great way to combine the lake, wildlife and a cultural experience within one city and one day, this is one of the best assets that our country offers," she further explains.
"Around the country from East to West, Burundi is positioned to offer a great introduction to Africa, an immersion into the rich and varied culture of Burundi through the royal drummers, dances, heritage through a breathtaking landscape, music, dance, gastronomy and colours. With its three national parks Kibira, Ruvubu and Rusizi including protected areas, Burundi has a wide selection of wildlife, unique ecosystems as well as some of the most endemic bird species that can only be found within the Albertine Rift Valley that stretches along the western perimeter of Burundi. We also have a variety of primate species that include the chimpanzees found within the Kibira National Park," Carmen explains with conviction.
Currently, there are efforts to encourage conservation of the environment and protection of the fragile ecosystems around the country. Sustainable tourism based on the ground of conservation is what we are all pushing for according to Carmen, and is at the heart of the Burundi national tourism values.
She adds: "With the support from the national Iinstitute for Eenvironment and Cconservation (INECN) and other donors from Pays De La Loire (France), Wildlife Conservation Society, the UNDP, the World Bank and Trademark East Africa, the efforts are made to protect the fragile ecosystems while at the same time opening up the national parks to visitors and engaging communities and local administration to understand the role conservation and tourism play in terms of not only developing a sustainable tourism product, but also creating investment and employment opportunities for our people."
Without one or the other tourism will not stand a chance hence partnerships between ONT and INECN as well as other government agencies in promoting Burundi as a tourism destination are being seen.
Carmen further explains the linkages that they are creating and encouraging with a vision to drive the tourism industry in Burundi even higher.
"The role of the private sector in the tourism industry can not be underestimated. Through the Tourism and Hotel Association in the Chamber of Commerce, tourism is given a voice. The new management of ONT is working very closely with the Tourism and Hotel Association to helpdevelop the tourism sector whereby the tourism office acts as an interface to facilitate the work of the private sector. "We are working together in advocacy to not only engage with the government in a positive way, but to also help attract donors and investors into Burundi."
"There is not a doubt in my mind that tourism is on the right track in Burundi. We are now at the threshold of positively impacting the future of the tourism sector in Burundi. This will be achieved with all stakeholders involved in the development and to work hand-in-hand in developing the sector. Today, we have planted the seeds with the promise of a tidy yield tomorrow and Burundi is announcing it is open for business, trade and investments not only in the tourism sector, but in many other sectors of the economy as well," Carmen adds.
With these, notes Carmen, Burundians are increasingly seeing themselvesas represented in the tourism sector and, most importantly, are becoming key actors, ambassadors and beneficiaries of the tourism industry in Burundi. Their key role is seen through different dimensions of medium, short and long term partners and stakeholders. Tourism is seen as the center for community inclusion, job creation, local development as well in general a sense of pride of our shared country: Burundi
In her parting shot, Carmen notes that the tourism sector in Burundi is still raw.
"We are calling on investors to come take another look at this promising country. We have a great lake where watersports can be developed such as sport fishing; we have a large population of chimpanzees and endemic bird species for nature lovers; we boast a rich cultural heritage around which we can develop cultural and community tourism; not to mention sports, music and our renowned gastronomy and the taste of our local produce like coffee and tea. Our national parks are still lacking supporting infrastructures such as accommodation in terms of lodges and adequate amenities, we believe our neighbors in EAC who are ahead of us in this sector can come and partner with us in this exciting journey. Burundi is a plain canvas ready to be painted and written on.
Our rallying call remains the same - come to Burundi now. Kaze IBurundi," Carmen says.