The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) has embarked on an exercise to transform a famous cave in Musanze district into a tourism site.
This was disclosed by Rica Rwigamba, the head of Rwanda Tourism and Conservation at RDB, while touring the site together with tour operators to assess the progress on Friday.
Located in Musanze district, the decades-old cave is about 2km. She said works are already ongoing. A meeting between tour operators and the department of tourism and conservation is scheduled next month to seal the cooperation to promote the place as a tourist site.
“We have been planning this for a while, our target is to increase tourism products; caves are part of products attracting tourists. We want to discuss with tour operators to help us let tourists know about our new products,” said Rwigamba, adding that within a month, they will announce the price of touring the cave after the consultations with tour operators.
Rwigamba also urged local leaders to help in conservation of the cave by preventing people from dumping wastes or anything which can pollute in the cave.
So far, the inside of the dark cave depicts a picture of a house with several rooms and corridors. The floor is paved and there are some stairs to ease movement.
The cave is said to have been a result of volcanic eruption decades ago.
Residents said they expected the cave to benefit them because they will get jobs. “The cave has been lying idle for years. Now people have started benefitting from it, some are guides there, others are cleaners, we hope as tourism grows more people will get employed,” said Pacifique Nshimiyimana, an area resident
Tourism was identified as a priority sector to achieve Rwanda’s development goals as set out in Vision 2020.
The cave is the newest tourism product in Rwanda; with plans to turn several other caves into tourism sites in the future, according to officials.
Last year, Rwanda’s tourism sector generated $281.8m (Rwf178b) up from $251.3m (Rwf159b) in 2011, according to 2012 Tourism Report by the RDB.
Meanwhile, RDB is also set to introduce hiking as another tourism product, Rwigamba announced.
“The country is hilly. There are people who like mountain climbing,” Rugamba said.
How well do you know your capital city? Even some of you who were born here have not discovered many of Kigali’s jewels. The Society Magazine team has done the hard work for you and it presents to you the best places to visit Kigali.
Home of art: Ishyo Art Centre and Goethe Institut, Kacyiru:
This is a platform for all artists, arts lovers, culture professionals, activists, critics, entrepreneurs and everyone else who is passionate or just curious about traditional and/or contemporary modes of artistic expression.
Ishyo also hosts different events related to fashion, plays, music and different other aspects of culture. It usually hosts experts from different countries to train and work with Rwanda artists, encouraging cultural diversity and improving skills. It is also home to the Goethe Institut – well known for its movie night every Tuesday evening. You will find a lot more than movies as it also organises brainstorm debates every last Thursday of the month.
Kigali’s skyscraper: Kigali City Tower:
Kigali City Tower is located in the city centre. This blue, curvy building with a protruding stick like part of it at the top can’t be missed as it is our only real sky scraper. It is the tallest building in the country with 18 storeys of well designed architect and beauty.
From the outer look it may not look that big but when you enter, it might take you all day just to see everything in it, ranging from supermarkets, offices, restaurants, boutiques, gadget shops, radio stations and do you know what else? Rwanda’s new 5D cinema is also there.
Mamba Club, Rwanda’s only bowling alley:
There is no way you can classify Kigali City treasures and not mention Mamba Club. It’s located in Kimihurura in front of Top Security headquarters. It is a bar and restaurant and even has several health fitness facilities ranging from a swimming pool, a hot yoga facility and it is Rwanda’s only bowling alley.
Besides the bowling alley and comfortable lounge, there is an area with sand to play beach volleyball. In other words you don’t need to go to Gisenyi to enjoy beach volleyball. Bowling is an American game that is enjoyed by both children and adults. It’s relaxing and fun especially if there are two teams competing.
It is a wonderful place for people of all age groups. For example during birthday parties for children, bouncing castles are set up for the children to have fun.
Kigali Public Library:
Like a diamond that has many facets, Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda has many faces. For those who prefer the literary one, I am sure you cannot leave without visiting the Kigali Public Library.
Located in Kacyiru opposite the American Embassy, the standard fare from everywhere is 200 Rwandan Francs, except of course for those who live in Kacyiru. The building stands proud and majestic facing the sun and proving the UNICEF report that almost seventy five percent of Rwandans are literate.
The library has several sections including children and teenagers and adult sections which all have several collections and reading areas.
The building also has an African section that includes history and literature, an internet café which enables the readers to have access to the Library and a reference section.
Genocide Memorial Gisozi : We Remember:
Most people around the world know our small country as the home of one of the most atrocious massacres that have ever been carried out between brother tribes. The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi left over a million dead and many others wounded. With this background, one cannot expect to come to Kigali and leave without visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
Located on one of Kigali’s hills, the memorial tells the story of what happened in very few words but many pictures and videos Beautifully decorated, the centre stands on the site of 250,000 mass graves. The centre is a must visit if one is to learn the root of Rwandan persistence and optimism.
The oldest buliding: Kandt House:
The museum is dedicated to Dr. Richard Kandt, a German doctor and explorer who embarked on the exploration of Rwanda in 1897, searching for the source of the Nile River.
The Nature History Museum aims at examining the richness of Rwandan nature. This museum showcases many specimen and replicas of natural wonders of the country.
As the only national museum in Kigali, do not dare attempt to leave Kigali without visiting it at least once.
kLab: Where ICT came to life:
For a country that is striking a fine balance between technology, business, innovation and preparing the next generation of IT leaders in Africa is what kLab does. kLab, a community of technology wizards and entrepreneurs is one of the spaces that play an important role in growing and supporting the Rwandan ICT entrepreneurs community. By transiting at kLab, techpreneurs are coming up with viable ICT solutions, being able to sell them and earn a living out of it.
But this space isn’t only for experts, it also has different programs of mentorship, capacity building, networking events and inspirational talks. So let your inner nerd come out!
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.
The Workforce Development Authority (WDA) has earmarked Rwf500m to promote and professionalise art in the country.
Jerome Gasana, the WDA director-general, revealed this at a symposium on arts and craft organised by the Authority and the Rwanda Arts Initiative.
It drew artists, teachers, government and private institutions to discuss the way forward to develop arts and craft.
According to the State Minister for Primary and Secondary Education, Mathias Harebamungu, the first step is to expand the arts school of Nyundo (Ecole d’Arts de Nyundo) in Rubavu district, Western Province, to train more students.
The school will later have branches countrywide to nurture talent.
“Artists can’t be professionals unless they sacrifice and put more effort. The appealing arts products should market artists and the country,” said Harebamungu.
WDA has toured the country to meet talented people and gather their views on what can be done to equip them with skills to generate income like other paying professions.
The Education Ministry has set a curricula to cover arts and craft in primary and secondary schools.
The minister urged artists to define arts, be original, innovative and critical thinkers before seeking government support.
According to Gasana, the drive targets not only students, but other persons whose talents have not been tapped.
He said expanding schools of arts and craft will be done in Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centers (IPRC) are spread country wide.
“Promoting arts and craft is our priority. We want every artist to be competitive at international level,” Gasana said.
He said WDA is looking for qualified teachers in arts and crafts.
Michel Saba, an expert and staff from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Burkina Faso, who was invited to participate in the symposium, said arts and craft has in his country to the extent that artists earn a lot from it and contribute significantly to national development.
Saba said his country has been developing the arts industry since 1969.
Florence Boivin Roumestan, a Canadian consultant, said she has seen a lot of potential among Rwandan artists.
“Artists should work as a team, organise themselves and do lobbying so that the government supports them,” she said, stressing the need for arts schools and individuals to inculcate respect of copy right law of other artist.
“Rwanda, our beautiful and dear country / Adorned of hills, lakes and volcanoes / Motherland, would be always filled of happiness…”
Despite being an ideal tourist destination, many Rwandans have continued to ignore the beauty of their country while foreigners remain the best story tellers of the country’s beauty and wonders.
When Joe McDonald and Mary Ann, an American couple landed in Rwanda in 2003 for the first time, their main destination was the home to the rare mountain gorillas, the Volcanoes National Park.
On January 5, they celebrated their 75th visit to the gorillas.
“We decided to come very often and our 75th visit is not the last. We will keep coming until we reach hundred times and more,” Mary Ann disclosed adding that every year they make up to three visits to the country and five rounds in the park.
The couple has spent around US$ 1m in the visits with the friends they brought on board.
“There is no other place in the world where you can be so close to large wild animals and be safe,” McDonald told The New Times shortly after completing their record breaking visit on January 5.
Officials in the tourism department in the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) say they have never registered such a record from any Rwandan. Not even for ‘smaller’ wonderful packages such as the canopy walk in Nyungwe and the game safari in Akagera that are sold by various tour operators.
But although the number of tourists in general increased from 18,865 in 2009 to 27,000 tourists in 2011, according to statistics from RDB, Rwandans always lag behind their foreign counterparts in visiting parks, except in the Akagera National Park where about 10,362 Rwandans were registered to have visited the park, compared to 8,649 foreign tourists, in 2011.
There are also fewer Rwandans visiting the six museums and 80 historical sites in the country.
Statistics from the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda (IMNR) indicate that by June 2012, of the 151,000 visitors to the six museums, 100,666 were Rwandans, an insignificant number considering their target is 600,000 local and foreign visitors.
Despite a steady increase in the number of park activities bought by Rwandans – 10,263 and 13,172 in 2010 and 2011- RDB believes they are still very few.
The explanations offered by Rwandans for not visiting the various tourist sites are diverse, including the most common one that prices are very high.
Most people The New Times talked to said they visit some of these sites only when the companies or institutions they work for plan to visit the parks, usually once a year. Otherwise, a family can barely plan a visit to a tourist site.
According to Innocent Bahati, a civil society activist, many costs involved such as transport, entry fees, picnic and sometimes accommodation make visiting tourist sites expensive.
“I feel that Rwandans, like most Africans, would rather visit places outside their own country,” observed Darla Rudakubana who visited Rubavu Beach once, adding that she has only started thinking of Rwanda as a tourist attraction recently.
To visit a park, a Rwandan resident pays about Rwf 5,000 and Rwf 30,000 against US$ 60 and US$750 for foreigners in Nyungwe National Park and Volcano National Park respectively.
In museums, the entry fee for locals is Rwf 1,000 against Rwf 6,000 for foreigners. Unfortunately, there is no fee set for the historical sites, regrets Alphonse B. Umulisa, the Director General of IMNR in charge of cultural tourism. And yet, most Rwandans don’t visit these either.
But Rica Rwigamba, the Director General of tourism and conservation at RDB, says the issue of price is an excuse because someone can spend much more on a night out with friends and family.
“We are conscious to make it accessible for Rwandans when it comes to price so I don’t think it is the impediment. More awareness, education and change of culture that tourism is for foreigners is what is needed. That’s our priority and we trust it will improve further and bring more local tourists.”
Working with schools for study trips and marketing destinations are some of measures that Rwigamba thinks will increase the number of local tourists.
Her views were echoed by Paulline Uwera who works with a telecom company in Kigali.
“The only problem we are facing here is the mindset. People think tourism belongs to the wealthy that have time to waste and money to spend,” she says. This should be the case. Rwandans need to be proud of Rwanda. And what better way than to know the country’s most beautiful and historical sites.
SOME OF RWANDA’S ATTRACTIONS
*Gisozi Genocide Memorial site
*Murambi Genocide Memorial site
*Rukari Kings Palace
*Huye Ethnographic Museum
*Natural History Museum
A critical examination of the tourism sector shows that 2012 was an impressive year.
With the sector generating $232 million by October 2012, compared to $204 million in 2011, it was the biggest foreign exchange earner.
The reason for the continued growth of tourism is the country’s security and stability that attracts visitors keen to see and enjoy the country’s various attractions.
President Paul Kagame, in his State of the Nation Address recently noted that it is critical that we strive to provide excellent service and customer care so that visitors to Rwanda leave as good ambassadors who will return and also encourage others to visit.
That aside, ensuring long term development of the tourism sector should be the country’s priority. This can be achieved through creating more tourism avenues to minimise pressure on Mountain gorillas and the national parks which are Rwanda’s traditional tourism attractions.
For example, Rwanda should promote heritage tourism. There should be a deliberate effort to encourage people to come and experience the unique places and activities that represent the stories of Rwandan tradition.
Heritage tourism is said to be the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry as the trend tilts towards an increase in specialisation among tourists.
There are many tourists who seek adventure, culture, history, archaeology and interaction with local people.
Rwanda is gifted with a rich historical, natural and cultural heritage which if properly harnessed, can potentially improve the socio-economic situation of Rwandans and provide employment through heritage tourism.
Apart from the national museum in Huye, there are other equally important museums and heritage sites in the country as well as intangible heritage like our traditional music which can help boost tourism in Rwanda.
It therefore requires the documentation of these sites and incorporation of the information into tourism itineraries or guides.
Eleven years ago, in 2011, Mary Ann and John McDonald hardly knew that a sovereign state called Rwanda existed. Only with the aid of American newspapers and online travel articles did they acquaint themselves fairly well with the country and, more so, its immense tourism endowments.
Talking of tourism endowments, the couple’s interest was specific and well-defined: gorilla tracking.
Against this background, the couple made its first trip to Rwanda in 2003. Mission: gorilla tracking and photography. Nine years on, and the sport of gorilla tracking has become almost more than just a mere hobby of the couple’s; it’s an addiction!
What else would one say of a couple that has so far made a record-setting 75 gorilla treks in the deeply endowed Volcanoes National Park in the Northern Province? And that’s not all. Anne McDonald remarked thus after their latest trek, which ended last Friday: “We felt one time was not enough, so we decided to come very often and our 75th visit is not the last. We will keep coming until we reach a hundred times and above.”
For his part, Joe McDonald said: “Tens of treks after our first expedition in 2003, we can honestly say that the magic hasn’t disappeared, the excitement is still as great, the experience still as unique and wonderful as it was at our first trek. We can’t wait to return and continue our experiences in what may be the most intimate and rewarding wildlife experience in the world today.”
Joe and Mary Ann McDonald are the most popular and active husband-wife nature photography team in the US today. The couple spends at least half of each year in the field, leading photo safaris to Africa and other remote destinations.
The couple spends most of its time leading and facilitating photo tours, safaris and workshops across the globe. Typically in a year, they cover at least six different continents. And Rwanda is by far the dearest to them among all places they have been to.
“There is no other place in the world where you can be so close to large wild animals and yet still be safe. These are animals that could take one’s head off but they are gentle,” remarked Joe as the couple concluded their latest expedition on Friday.
There was a triumphant and heroic mood in the air as locals gathered at the bottom of the Volcanoes Park to meet and greet the couple. The couple was bedecked in traditional Rwandan garb, in which they were crowned as a sign of their majesty in a small ceremony.
This particular visit was the third this year alone. On each of these visits, they bring a long at least six new tourists, who they offer practical skills in gorilla photography. “We basically get people through websites and articles, we invite them and we come together to share experiences of the wild. As they come they get hooked and some have returned on their own,” remarked Anne.
Touring aside, the couple is carrying out research into the life of the rare mountain gorilla species. They have collected numerous pictures, documenting gorillas’ lives.
Part of the reason for this particular undertaking is the fact that at present, the mountain gorilla is an endangered species. There are about only 720 mountain gorillas left in the wild, most of them concentrated in the rugged mountain slopes of five dormant volcanoes preserved by the Volcanoes National Park. Rwanda’s share of the mountain gorilla population is the largest, with over three hundred primates, while the rest are scattered between the DRC and Uganda.
“Gorillas are so big, so powerful and so gentle. Their strength is the most interesting; how they break bamboo and how they climb the mountain. Gorillas in Rwanda are so special and deserve visiting,” remarked Joe, adding; “We are so impressed with the country, how much progress it has made, how friendly the people are, how wonderful the roads are and, of course, how spectacular the gorilla photography is. The experience of trekking is fantastic, and the people are always so warm and friendly that you know that your tourist dollar, your business and visit, is appreciated.”
Joe contends that; “The shooting is one of the most moving and exciting experiences you’ll ever have. It’s exciting, intimate, and you’ll never suspect an hour can go so fast, or that so much can be crammed into that one hour.”
The photos they capture appear regularly in calendars and publications of the National Wildlife Federation, World Wildlife Fund, and numerous other companies globally.
Joe has been photographing wildlife and nature since 1966, starting with images of pet turtles, lizards and snakes he made in high school. He is 60 years old, and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, plus a Masters in Media degree. He taught high school biology for 6 years before completely devoting his time to photography.
His wife Ann has been photographing wildlife and nature professionally since 1990, after attending a photo workshop run by Joe, who would become her future husband. Since then, she has been published in most American natural history magazines. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology.
The Rwanda Development Board in partnership with Google has conducted the mapping exercise of Rwanda’s tourism attractions with the objective of increasing access to tourism information on the web.
Google mappers during the Rwanda Tourism MapUp 2012 exercise. (photo Bruno Birakwate)
The so-called Rwanda Tourism MapUp started in Kigali before continuing to Musanze and Rubavu where key touristic features and attractions were mapped to be added to the Google map list.
The mapping will cover hotels, restaurants, road networks, entertainment facilities, banks and forex bureaus, business and shopping centers, historical sites and geographic features among others.
”Rwanda is proud to be the first African country to work with Google, citizen mappers and tourism operators to systematically map all tourism facilities and attractions,” said Rica Rwigamba, RDB’s head of tourism and conservation. “The aim of this exercise is to increase discoverability through search engines where more tourism destinations are chosen by travelers worldwide.”
According to Rwanda’s sustainable tourism development master plan, the Internet is now firmly established as the most important means of communication in global travel industry. It is estimated that around 70% of travel decisions are made using websites.
Forty participants including professional mappers, GIS experts, university students and tourism operators took part in Rwanda Tourism MapUp, and it is planned that updates will be made regularly.
In 2011, tourism sector overtook coffee and tea to become Rwanda’s top foreign exchange earner. This was facilitated by increased flight frequencies by national carrier RwandAir and the arrival in Kigali of new airlines such as KLM. Collaboration among tourism stakeholders when promoting and marketing tourism and increased PR campaigns also boosted Rwanda’s tourism sector, which earned an estimated US$ 216 million in 2011.
Tourism sector has topped Rwanda’s exports with 25.5 percent over the total exports score of 31.7 percent revenue into Rwanda’s economy.
Figures published by Ministry of commerce indicate that the fast growing sector earned the highest figure at US$251 million in 2011.
Presenting the state of the Rwanda’s economy Francois Kanimba, the Minister of Trade and Industry, said that exports increased by 31.7 percent, from US$564.6 million in 2010 to US$743.5 million in 2011.
Kanimba said it was mainly mainly boosted by improvement in the mining, tea and coffee sectors, as well as receipts from tourism.
However, imports were still 33.9 percent higher than exports, owing to poor performance by local industries which made it inevitable to increase imports.
Imports skyrocketed to over US$1.08bn in 2011 compared to the previous year’s US$1.05bn.
“We still have a lot of work to do in the local industrial sector; many industries are struggling to operate and indeed, some of them may close down,” Kanimba said.
“However, government policy is to facilitate those that can be revived to cut their costs of production and begin contributing to local production, which in turn will help to reduce importation.”
According to Kanimba the government decided to bail out 25 local medium scale industries and 15 small ones under a programme that will continue through 2012 to bridge trade deficit.
Ten new plants commenced operations in 2011 as well as a number of small food processing plants in the rural areas hence contributing to the overall performance of the economy.
He also said that there was no tangible gain from the East Africa Community’s (EAC) resolution to impose taxes on sugar imports from outside the bloc yet the region faced a heavy sugar scarcity.
“We requested our EAC counterparts to consider the removal of taxes on sugar imported from outside the bloc as an incentive to increase supply and stabilise sugar prices in the local markets,” Kanimba said.
EAC imposed taxes on sugar imports from outside the bloc to protect sugar traders in the region.
However Rwanda’s trade with EAC has improved with exports to the region elevating to US$107 million by September 2011 from US$105 million in 2010.
“Among other things, regional trade was facilitated by the opening of Nemba One Stop Border Post with Burundi following the 24 hour operations at Gatuna. Other border posts to commence construction in 2012 include Kagitumba-Mirama Hills and Rusumo Border,” Kanimba added.
The government also expressed optimism on key bilateral investment deals with Congo Brazzaville, North America and China.
Under the Bilateral Investment Treaty with the USA signed in 2008 by President Paul Kagame and former US President George W. Bush, Rwanda was able to export products worth US$52 million in 2010.
Under the agreement, Rwanda has the opportunity to export over 5,000 units of products duty free into North America.
On top of that, China opened up its market for up to 4,000 products from Rwanda on duty and quota free basis.