7 February 2018

Rwanda: Could Golf Be the New Tourism Frontier for Rwanda?

analysis

The country's only golf facility, the Kigali Golf Club, is the youngest in the East African region, and one of the youngest in the world. Established 30 years ago, it is still work in progress in all aspects of the word.

But in an unprecedented leap of faith by the Government of Rwanda, together with its stakeholders, the sector's fortunes could soon turn around for the better.

This comes as government and stakeholders begin to mull the possibility of nurturing the nascent sector into a core tourism product.

On Tuesday, February 6, various government and private sector representatives converged at the Kigali Serena Hotel to hammer out approaches to making Rwanda a top golf destination.

Represented at the meeting were key players in the tourism sector like the Rwanda Development Board, the sector regulator; Rwanda Convention Bureau, as well as golfers from the Kigali Golf Club, local and regional tourism and hospitality service providers, and representatives from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), among others.

Participants agreed that golf tourism in particular, and sports tourism in general is a lucrative niche that country should tap into:

"In Rwanda's case, this is a strategic niche area to tap into, given that Rwanda looks at high value, low volume tourism targeting the high end tourist market," said Geoffrey Manyara, the UNECA Senior Regional Tourism adviser for Eastern Africa.

"This should involve concerted efforts by government, private sector, and all the key stakeholders like RwandAir, the corporate sector, hospitality sector coming together so that it's a holistic approach."

Universally, golf tourism is a fast-growing segment of sports tourism, which further entails two components; sports, and tourism. A combination of the two results in a sports tourism concept.

"It's a known fact that sports tourists, which includes golf tourists spend 20 per cent more than the conventional tourists. So it's a very crucial sector that a country like Rwanda needs to start targeting," Manyara noted.

Presently, the global golf tourism market is estimated to be worth $ 100 billion. Of this, however, Africa only receives 3 per cent.

It is this huge untapped potential that Rwanda seeks to tap into.

"We need to market Rwanda as a preferred MICE destination. We need to get all the Foreign Direct Investments, all conferences; we need to bid for all the regional and international events, including sports events," explained Gabriel Byuma, from Rwanda Convention Bureau's Destination and Marketing Department.

Over the years, Rwanda has seen its rankings improve phenomenally as a continental MICE destination of choice.

MICE is an acronym for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions.

In 2013, the country ranked 21st, 13th in 2014, 7th in 2015, and 3rd in 2016.

This is according to the International Conference Association (ICA) rankings of the top 10 African meeting destinations.

"The struggle continues. We have to aim even higher because we still have a bigger milestone to achieve," Byuma said.

Recently, the Kigali Golf Club embarked on major upgrade and expansion works in preparation for the golf tourism boom. From the pioneer five members at its inception in 1987, the club presently boasts more than 200 members.

"We have grown from a 3-hole golf course to an 18-hole course, with nine already operational while we are in the process of finishing the other nine this year," said Louis Kamanzi, the president of the Kigali Golf Club.

In addition, the club is slowly transitioning into a multi-discipline sports club, with redevelopment of the clubhouse already underway to accommodate other sports disciplines like tennis, squash, and swimming, and a health spa.

Kamanzi decried the myth that golf is a rich man's game, saying it has affected the turnout of people seeking membership.

"We have never had civil servants seeking membership. This is because of the myth that golf is for the rich and that if a civil servant is perceived to be rich they will be investigated for corruption." He appealed to the Ministry of Sports and Culture to help address the issue.

Other challenges include shortage of female golfers, and legal issues pertaining to the local golf union.

Under current laws, a union is only considered to be one if it has members from at least three different clubs. The Rwanda Golf Union has only one golf club.

Davis Kashaka, the captain of Kigali Golf Club, highlighted the need to market the sport "as a package or attached to another tourism package like cricket, cycling, national parks, and hotels".

Speaking on the potential of golf tourism in the country, Kashaka reiterated that peace and security are the biggest national asset for the sector's growth;

"We need to market Rwanda as a golf destination beyond the East African region, with a particular focus on Asia where people love to move in big numbers (China, South Korea, Japan). More golf courses should be established with championship grade facilities to attract top notch golfers. Let us also train more of our people in golf course and club management and hospitality."

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