Rwanda, the new preferred East African Destination – Interview with Ms. Rica Rwigamba, Head of Tourism and Conservation at RD

Why is Rwanda becoming a preferred destination for tourists?

For a couple of years, Rwanda has been doing a lot to showcase its touristic sites. Not only new attractions have been added to the existing portfolio, new facilities like hotels and restaurants have also opened. People feel safe to travel to Rwanda due to the peace and security that Rwanda enjoys and which makes it one of the safest countries in Africa. I can also add to this the warm hospitality which is characteristic of Banyarwanda, a clean environment as well as a possibility to have an all-in-one experience in Rwanda; from game reserve to high altitude scenery and indigenous species like mountain gorillas.

Talking about touristic sites in Rwanda, which are the major ones?

Well, we have the Volcanoes National Park; home of the world’s remaining Mountain Gorilla. This park attracts more than 50% of all our park visits. The Akagera National Park with hippos, giraffes, elephants, zebras and crocodiles; it is also the largest park in Rwanda and has more than 500 bird species. We also have the Nyungwe National Park with 13 primate species with the now famous Canopy Walk. Apart from parks, we also have Kivu lake and with the new Thousand Hills Trail previously known as the Congo Nile Trail which will give an opportunity to tourists to discover the various activities at the shores of Lake Kivu, from Rubavu to Rusizi. A lot of people also like to visit the cultural towns of Huye and Nyanza as well as Lake Muhazi.

Tell us more about the Thousands Hills Trail…

This new addition to the existing attraction was previously known as the Congo Nile Trail. It is a 227 Km hike stretching from Rubavu to Rusizi with various activities including biking, camping, sightseeing and many others. The Trail is a unique experience as the visitor is basically walking along the divide of the two major African rivers; Congo and Nile. The hike also gives an opportunity to visit tea plantations, fisheries along the lake, historic sites like the Shangi Post but also meeting with local populations and having a unique western Rwanda experience.

What is the state of the tourism infrastructure like hotels and restaurants in Rwanda?

We have increased our room capacity to more than 5000 within 237 hotels today. We have not only focused on the increment in number but also in quality and standards. In fact, we are completing a classification of accommodations in Rwanda and by the end of the year; we will present the first batch of this classification’s result. For a sustainable classification process, we now have 11 Rwandan certified assessors who meet the EAC Classification standards. These assessors will be doing the assessment on a regular basis to check if the requirements are met but also to encourage professionalism and raising standards for this demanding and ever upgrading sector.

What about professionalism in the industry practitioners?

As you know, tourism is the largest foreign exchange earner with more than $ 200 million per year. It is thus imperative to keep up this trend by having professional and qualified practitioners starting from tour guides, hotel staff but also waiters, drivers and many others who interact with tourists on a day-to-day basis. With institutions like the Rwanda Tourism University College and the Akilah Institute we now have a growing number of certified practitioners and the quality of service is improving.

We also noticed that the shift towards a private-sector led tourism sector with the investment and business friendly environment that is being facilitated by the Government will allow the market to continue growing and become more vibrant and professional.

Finally, what to expect soon in the tourism sector?

As I said earlier, we have the announcement of the accommodation classification that will come out by the end of the year. We are launching the Cave Tourism in Musanze Northern Province by the end of next year’s second quarter; we will also unveil new destinations especially in cultural and events tourism. We are promoting Domestic Tourism by encouraging Rwandans to discover and visit their country and new incentives will be announced to encourage this move. We will also continue to proudly represent Rwanda in various Tourism forums to attract more tourists and so far this has proven to be effective, not only due to the number of visitors that it attracts but also due to the visibility that Rwanda attractions have been gaining over time.

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