The volume of tourist inflows from India to Rwanda continues to grow exponentially, thanks to the ever-improving bilateral relations between the two countries.
In December this year, Rwanda will receive its largest single Indian tour delegation in the country to date, with at least 100 Indian nationals already confirmed to make the trip.
The group will visit in the first week of December. The delegation will consist of 25 students, a 15 member women's cricket team, 46 religious pilgrims, and a 14-16 member business delegation.
"It will be an exciting India Week, so to speak, with a student's group, women cricketers, pilgrims, and the business delegation," explained Clarence Fernandes, chairman of Rwanda Renaissance, an organization that organizes and facilitates travel for Indians visiting Rwanda.
Fernandes was in the country last month to make advance preparations for the upcoming visit.
The 25 students will be visiting Rwanda to attend the National Children's Summit that is slated for December 7th in Kigali, and also to take part in a "Study Rwanda" program.
The program, according to Fernandes, is designed on the basis of the Study India Program, which schools and colleges in the UK have held for the last couple of years in the two Indian cities of Mumbai and New Delhi.
"The structure of the Study Rwanda program will be based on the existing program which takes place with British students coming to India," he further explained.
Meanwhile, the 15-member women's cricket team will be here to play cricket matches with Rwandan women cricketers. This will be on the 9th and 10th of December and, Fernandes explains, "the idea is to have as many as 100 Indians at the stadium to cheer our cricket team."
Also travelling with the delegation will be a 14-16 member Indian business delegation who will be in Rwanda to explore trade, tourism and investment opportunities in the country.
Lastly, the group will have 46 pilgrims who will be headed to Kibeho in Nyaruguru district for a spot of religious tourism.
"Kibeho is a tourism product which has immense potential. We brought in 46 pilgrims in September last year, and another 22 in April this year, so we're going to bring in 46 pilgrims this time and they'll be there for the cricket matches on the 9th and 10th, then they will proceed to Kibeho for the pilgrimage," Fernandes revealed.
He further explained that all members of the delegation will make use of RwandAir's direct and nonstop flight from Mumbai to Kigali:
"We are sure this will be an exciting event for tourism in the country and it will also showcase the various facets of tourism products the country can offer.
It will be exciting from different angles: the first time a students' group will be coming in, and they have in principle already confirmed 25, though it might go up to 30. But our target is to cross the magical figure of 100 delegates in Rwanda during the first week of December 2017."
He attributed the high numbers to the mixed basket nature of the tour delegation:
"For example last September we brought 46 pilgrims, and it was all under one segment -the religious tourism segment. This time we're looking at a mix of four different segments; students, sports, religious tourism, and business tourism.
All four put together will give us the magical figure of 100, and that's what accounts for the sharp increase in terms of the total number of Indian visitors to Rwanda. It will be impactful because they'll all be coming at the same time. Imagine at the cricket matches we will have 100 Indians flying in from India, besides those Indians that are already living in Rwanda who will also be there as well. We do believe this will increase the visibility of Rwanda as a tourism destination, be it for business or leisure or religious or sports tourism."
Because of the magnitude and unique nature of this particular tour excursion, Fernandes explains, "we'll definitely have our Indian High Commissioner fly in from Kampala, Uganda, unless of course by that time we have our own Indian High Commission in Rwanda because that is on the cards. This will get wide coverage in Mumbai also, because this is something special. It can serve as a very good marketing tool to bring home the message that Rwanda is safe and secure and it's easy to do business here, and that the country has got a charm of its own."
However Fernandes is weary of the rigorous Visa regime that awaits the delegation:
"The first challenge is to collect 100 passports from 100 individuals scattered all over Mumbai. The next challenge is to handle the laborious task of having to fill 100 application forms, when it can all be done with the click of a mouse. The third challenge is to courier 100 passports to New Delhi which entails ten separate shipments because one courier consignment will not carry more than ten passports.
It's not only in Rwanda but is a worldwide norm that couriers don't take more than ten passports in one consignment, and this is done for safety reasons. The next challenge is when the passports return from the high commission with the visas stamped. We have to again redistribute 100 passports to 100 individuals who are in Mumbai, and that calls for more time, money and energy, which can all be avoided if we're able to apply online for group visas."
Fernandes reveals that he faced serious challenges in September last year when he had to send 46 passports to Delhi, and again in April when he had to send 24 passports to Delhi. His wish is that come December, it will be possible to apply online for group visas.
"At the moment if I want a group Visa I have to send the individual passports to the Rwanda High Commission in New Delhi. So it's my humble request that the immigration department enables us to apply online for a group visa."