The year 2019 looks brighter for the country's conference tourism sector, which is expected to fetch $74 million by June, according to Rwanda Convention Bureau.
Nelly Mukazayire, the Chief Executive Officer of RCB, said this yesterday during a media round table briefing
So far, in the 208/19 fiscal year the industry generated $52 million in accommodation revenue from 35,000 international delegates.
"2019 looks brighter with a calendar that has a number of events listed with numerous notable international conferences, among them the Africa Fine Coffee and Exhibition starting tomorrow [Wednesday] and expected to bring in 1,500 international delegates and the Africa CEO forum scheduled for March 25 to 26 bringing together top CEOs from across Africa," Mukazayire said.
She added that: "We also have the Africa Health Agenda International Conference in March and in April we have the RAM KATHA KIGALI and the Global Gender summit. Not to mention the International Conference on AIDS and STI's in Africa (ICASA), which is the biggest event on our calendar so far, expected to receive between 7,000 and 9,000 delegates. This is happening in December."
The year 2018 was billed as a milestone for event creation and management for the new agency.
A total 201 events, notably African Union Summit, Next Einstein Forum, Mo Ibrahim Good Governance Meeting, as well as the SWIFT African Regional Conference and the Transform Africa Summit were hosted in Rwanda.
Others are the Africa Green Revolution Forum, the GSMA Mobile 360 Africa, Youth Connekt summit, and the 5th International Conference on Family Planning, which in particular registered one of the largest number of international delegates, of more than 3,800.
Airlines, hotels, restaurants and other players in the tourism industry continue to be the biggest winners in conference tourism.
Aimable Rumongi, the chairperson of the association of professional conference organisers (RAPCO), said the conference tourism sector most likely registered far more than $52 million since earnings by hotel owners, tour guides, farmers and others in the chain are not properly captured.
Mukazayire agreed with this assessment and admitted work is being done to improve the manner in which such data is computed.
Rumongi is optimistic that more can be achieved in the sector.
Moreover, he warned that other countries are not sleeping and that Rwandans, especially the youth must dig in, be creative, innovate more and gain more.
According to him, there are much more untapped opportunities in the conference tourism sector.
"We are facing stiff competition. When international delegates come here, many often wonder how small Rwanda has achieved what it has achieved in such a short time. But Rwandans need to know that [other] countries are not sleeping. We have a big role to play in doing what we have to do so as to attract more visitors in the years to come," Rumogi said.
In the 2019/2020, RCB targets $88 million.
To achieve that, Mukazayire noted, there are strategies in place including: continuing to be aggressive in marketing Rwanda as a tourist destination, which will require collaborations with private and public institutions and embassies to sell the country.
"The Rwanda Convention Bureau intends to assert itself as key event organisational destination body within not just the country, or the continent, but globally," said Mukazayire.
Monday's inaugural media round table discussions shed light on RCB's mandate as well as progress of the conference tourism sector to date.
The media round table, officials said, is a new strategy to strengthen partnership with media in line with promoting Rwanda as a conference destination and it will now be held quarterly to update the media on the progress of conference tourism sector developments in the country.
Rwanda boasts a range of world-class conference and accommodation facilities, including the flagship Kigali Convention Centre that opened its doors in 2016, the Kigali Conference and Exhibition Village and the Intare Conference Arena.
A number of four and five-star international brand hotels such as Radisson Blu, Marriott Hotel, Park Inn by Radisson, and Onomo Hotel have also set up shop in Kigali adding to the already existing hospitality facilities.
RCB officials noted that non-governmental organisations and the private sector are the largest generators of international meetings.
"The initiative to host an international meeting most often comes from the local counterpart. That is why RCB also wants the local association-marketplace to be strengthened and will make efforts to raise better awareness of the potential the MICE tourism holds within their specialty so that they can share tailored information with us," said Mukazayire.
Emmanuel Nsabimana, the head of hotels regulatory services at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), said they are playing their role, especially when it comes to regulation so as to enhance the sector and spur growth.
"We set standards and are interested in how we make sure we have better services. We need to make sure we have things that differentiate us from others."