Rwanda: Rubavu in Fresh Bid to Diversify Tourism

5 November 2020

Emmanuel Nkusi, a resident of Kigali, is into the habit of hitting the road on weekends especially during summer and at the end of the year, heading to the northwestern city of Rubavu, popularly known as Gisenyi, for relaxation.

Like many people, he loves winding off on the sandy beaches of Gisenyi with friends and sometimes hits the sassy eateries on the lakeshores to enjoy the Nile Perch and local delicacies.

Gisenyi is unofficially Rwanda's resort city.

"I don't think any summer can pass without going to Gisenyi. The city is cool," he says. "I honestly can't think of any place that at least can be compared with what the city offers."

Nkusi particularly loves the vibrant nature of the city, lake tours, and the nightlife.

"But I would say you don't have much more than that, so you are compelled to spend a few days; maybe a weekend. There's literally no camping sites, no modern boats, and no other touristic places to go," he says.

In a bid to appeal to people like him, Rubavu District is embarking on a plan to expand tourism offering in the district to position itself as a more attractive destination.

Deogratias Nzabonimpa, the Vice Mayor in charge of Economic Development in Rubavu says the district has a lot of untapped tourism products that they think will play a key role in reviving the economy from Covid-19 impact.

"As part of the economic recovery, we want to leverage the unexploited tourism products and specifically promote domestic tourism," he says.

Rubavu is currently a popular destination for Rwandans and neighbours especially from the Democratic Republic of Congo's Goma town.

The district has initiated a programme to develop new attraction sites across the district.

It has already called on prospective investors to express interest to develop and operate three tourism products - Mount Rubavu Eco-Park, Rubavu Public Beach, and Mont Muhungwe.

"We have kick-started a process of looking for investors with potential and expertise, whether Rwandans or foreigners, to operate and modernize existing tourism sites in Gisenyi," Nzabonimpa says.

The programme

Rubavu wants the public beach to be developed to host international swimming competitions, introduce modern boats, as well as investors who can build floating hotels on Lake Kivu.

"There are currently no coffee shops on Lake Kivu, no public washrooms, basically no extra services beyond a few restaurants and bars around," the mayor says.

Mont Muhungwe, on the other hand, officials want to introduce products like beekeeping, bird watching, and develop it into a popular hiking destination.

The mountain currently offers majestic views of Gisenyi and Goma cities at the same time, as well as scenic views of Lake Kivu.

The district is also looking for investors to develop and operate Mount Rubavu Eco-Park, which already has bungalows, nature trails, picnic areas, and camping sites.

Jacqui Sebageni, a local tour operator, thinks this is a great addition to the country's tourism offering.

"Rwanda is known as a tourism and conservation story, but as operators we want people to stay more in Rwanda. This is a great move to achieve that," she notes.

According to the District, the highly anticipated programme has been initiated in collaboration with GIZ, a German development agency, Rwanda Development Board (RDB), Mastercard Foundation, and Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA).

Oreste Ntirenganya, the Managing Director at Hermosa Life Tours and Travel, says Rubavu and Karongi districts are great places when it comes to adventure such as kayaking, canoeing and boat riding.

"The diversification would be another addition beyond our national park reserves," he told The New Times in an interview.

Ntirenganya adds that the country is popular for mountain gorillas, and that any introduction of new products would give leverage to tour operators and help them appeal to more tourists.

Currently, he says, there are more local tourists especially local honeymooners who go to Rubavu and Karongi.

"I think any new product would be an addition to what we offer not just local but also international."

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