Akagera Park management launched a new Day Visitor Centre complete with a tented boarding facility. Launched on Tuesday, the new 14-bed Rusizi Tented Lodge is located right at the heart of the Akagera National Park.
The accommodation facility will supplement the Akagera Game Lodge, the main hotel inside the Eastern Province-based park. The centre, on the other hand, incorporates the park reception, a café souvenir shop and education centre. The infrastructure was set up with financial support of the US based Walton Family Foundation.
The Foundation has disbursed $500,000 per annum, from 2010, to finance the construction of the facilities under a five-year financial assistance programme that will total $2.5 million upon completion.
Rob Walton, the chairman of the foundation, and his wife, Melani Walton, attended the ceremony. Walton Family Foundation is a philanthropic organisation with a strong focus on conservation and biodiversity protection.
According to the park’s officials, the new infrastructure is part of an integrated tourism development plan aimed at increasing revenues for the park’s long-term sustainability. The Minister of Trade and Industry, Francois Kanimba, who presided over the function, said new infrastructure was an important step towards the park’s achievement of self-reliance.
“The Park has been performing well in the last three years or so…we expect it to do more, so that it can stop relying on aid. I also commend the support of Walton Foundation; local investors should borrow a leaf,” he said.
Kanimba noted that revenue from the industry is progressively increasing. “Tourism will remain number one for many years. It earns the country over $280m per year. This explains why we are committed to supporting the industry,” said Kanimba.
Jes Gruner, the Manager of Akagera Park, the largest in the country, noted that proper management and infrastructure development drastically increased the number of tourists. “In 2011, we had 20,000 tourists. In 2012 they increased to 23,000. The park has seen 40 per cent increase in visitor numbers and 73 per cent increase in revenue over the last three years,” he said.
Akagera Park, African Parks and Rwanda Development Board partnered to form the Akagera Management Company (AMC). This is a 20-year joint management agreement with a vision to restore, develop and manage the park to international standards.
Rica Rwigamba, Head of Rwanda Tourism and Conservation, RDB, said that tourism industry would increase its revenue by a large margin at the end of the year 2014. “We want our revenues to increase to $317million by next year,” she said.
Akagera National Park was founded in 1934.