Royal Balloon launches Rwanda’s first hot air balloon

Rwanda is one of the countries that have aggressively fought the spread of Covid-19 around the world.

About nine million people (60%) have received at least their first vaccine injection and about two million have already received their booster injection.

President Paul Kagame has personally played a significant role in engaging world leaders to seek permanent solutions to the pandemic.

He was able to secure vaccines not only for Rwandans, but was also at the forefront of advocating for equitable access to vaccines in developing countries, especially in Africa.

In a more serious effort, in September 2021, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) on behalf of the Government of Rwanda, signed a collaboration agreement with the International Financial Cooperation (IFC) which will see developments in vaccine manufacturing capacity and will contribute to the expansion of vaccines. manufacturing in Africa.

Subsequently, Rwanda signed an agreement with the German pharmaceutical company, BioNTech SE, to start manufacturing vaccines and other drugs in Rwanda.

More so, these measures against the spread of the pandemic have yielded tangible results, but the pandemic has not failed to dismantle the economy, especially the tourism and hospitality sector which succumbed to complete shipwrecks.

However, RDB has been trying to make adjustments to see how the sector comes back to its knees, a sector that brought in around US$500 million to the economy in 2019.

Notably, as the pandemic hit the sector, it inadvertently triggered the appreciation and exploitation of domestic tourism that had traditionally been undermined. A lesson has been learned that investment and promotion of domestic tourism makes a substantial contribution to revenue generation for those involved in the tourism and hospitality sector.

Looking ahead, as the world increases measures against the pandemic, ‘Covid-19 survivors’ begin to search the world for safer and more organized destinations to run to, two years after multiple closures and travel restrictions .

In fact, data from the Rwanda Reservations Center indicates that a boom is expected soon. This phenomenon is also being experienced at a time when Rwanda is a complete package of a destination rather than an extension for East Africa as some tourists previously viewed it.

And, the recent announcement by the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, the Rt.Hon. Patricia Scotland that member countries have agreed to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali in June 2022, despite being postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is a vote confidence that Rwanda is now a safe country.

Taarifa spoke with players in the tourism and hospitality sector. They see the light at the end of the tunnel. According to Paul Muvunyi, president and representative of Abarcombie and Kent (A&K) in Rwanda and owner of 3B Group of Hotels, following the government’s efforts to revive the sector, “establishments are registering a high number of reservations more than even before the pandemic, in 2019.

“We appreciate RDB’s support and efforts to continue promoting the country as a premium tourist destination,” Muvunyi said. “We also appreciate the government’s continued efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. »

Meanwhile, in February 2021, RDB produced a physical and ecotourism master plan near Akagera National Park. From the perspective of the conceptualization and structural plan that Taarifa saw, with respect to land use, the general zoning was worked out into two main areas, one being the potential of the eastern part for development of ecotourism facilities, while the other is zoned as a conservation core. zoned.

Nearly two hundred hectares have been designated. The demarcation is detailed and avant-garde. Some animals such as zebras, impalas, bushbucs, warthogs, waterbucs and klipspringers will have some spare space in the area.

Facilities currently being set up, such as the Akagera Safari Camp, will soon open their doors to the general public. This area has modern infrastructure like roads, water, electricity and high speed internet.

According to Clare Akamanzi, CEO of RDB, much progress has been made over the past decade as Rwanda has truly become a premier destination for investment, innovation and tourism.

This, she says, “is the result of key initiatives that the government has pursued and to which RDB has contributed, including; Visit Rwanda, meet in Rwanda, start in Rwanda and do in Rwanda.

At the end of 2019, Akagera National Park received more than 50,000 visitors a year, up from around 10,000 in 2010 when RDB handed over the park to a South Africa-based conservation group, African Parks Network (APN).

In 2011, the park received 20,657 visitors, which represents a substantial increase of 35% in the number of visitors to the park compared to 2010. In 2012, the park received 23,048 visitors, an increase of 12% compared to 2011 and an overall increase of 24% at the time.

The APN officially took over the management of the park in January 2010 and promised to ensure the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources.

Without the pandemic, Akagera would earn much more. Visits fell from around 50,000, which generated US$2.5 million, to 15,844 in 2020, down 68% from 2019.

Meanwhile, in other parks, Nyungwe Park’s revenue reached more than US$21.1 million (19 billion Rwandan francs) in 2018, while more than 5,000 tourists visited the National Park of Virunga in 2019, generating nearly US$7.5 million, to name a few.

Now, while those numbers paint a bright future as the pandemic slows its position, much remains to be done.

Specifically, in the area of ​​policy adjustments to facilitate the recovery of the sector and attract local and international investment.

Consider this, Akagera National Park has a maximum of 123 accommodation rooms inside and outside the park combined. The largest is the Game Lodge with 68 rooms. This is a fundamental flaw that requires prompt action. Local investors tried to play their part.

Akagera Transit Lodge has 13 rooms right at the entrance to the park. Akagera Rhino Lodge, a unique ecotourism experience overlooking the park has only 7 rooms and Akagera Safari Camp, a mix of safari and modern actiture also overlooking the park and a rare view of Lake Ihema, will open soon with 35 rooms . There is certainly a serious shortage of rooms.

In the meantime, these facilities also claim that they would get more revenue from park tourists if RDB made adjustments. “If a tourist is spending a night at our lodge and needs to rest before taking a morning tour of the park to view carnivores or take a boat trip to view birds, they must purchase another permit for a visit nocturnal because the park closes at 6 p.m. and a tourist who does not have a room inside the lodges of the park must go out,” explains Longi Mfizi Nkaka, owner of the Transit Game Lodge (Vegas).

However, there is a fatal logic for tourists.

Akagera enjoys a unique ecological setting. It is home to all kinds of biodiversity. It is the only national park in the region with the Big 5 and other animals.

“A tourist should be allowed to enter several times within 24 hours because these animals have a different way of life, a tourist should organize visits to the park at different times of the day,” says Nkaka.

Another concern is that Akagera Park only has one entrance. For tourists staying in hotels located in a geographically different place from the main entrance, they are forced to travel tens of kilometers to the existing single entrance (main entrance).

Example, tourists staying at Epic Hotel in Nyagatare, must drive all the way to Rwinkwavu. It is therefore necessary to create other entries.

“The adjustments will make us a distinct and unique destination, but will also increase revenue for hotels around the park. It could be Nyungwe or Akagera,” says Nkaka.

Akamanzi told Taarifa that she would look into the matter and act accordingly. “I need to investigate further,” she said.

Nevertheless, Rwanda, sooner or later, will be one of the few countries that will emerge as a winner after Covid-19.

But this is not enough, both government and industry players need to improve the quality of services across the value chain to cement the ambition to become a premium destination. At the same time, the government must revise its policies to maximize tourism’s contribution to economic development.