Rwanda’s tourism sector is on a path to full recovery more than two years after the Covid-19 pandemic had a major impact on the sector, with more than 80 percent of the players reporting a rebound.
This was revealed on Tuesday during the celebration of World Tourism Day 2022 which was marked on September 27 at Kigali Convention and Exhibition Village (KCEV).
The event, organized by Mastercard Foundation, Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and Private Sector Tourism Chamber brought together players and stakeholders in the tourism and hospitality sector who shared their experiences.
According to Ariella Kageruka, Head of Tourism and Conservation at RDB, today more that 80% of the business in the sector which were affected by the pandemic are on a path to recovery- a development that gives a positive forecast for the industry.
“The recovery of the sector has been a deliberate effort, working on new innovations and ensuring that we remain operational in different ways. We are happy that even during the pandemic the MICE sector somehow continued to operate,” Kageruka said.
She pointed out Rwanda’s ability to host meetings and conferences even during the pandemic was key in keeping the sector going while efforts by the government and partners ensured that the sector picked itself up as the pandemic subsided.
“If you recall well, even as the Covid-19 pandemic went on, Rwanda managed to host international conferences, concerts and events related to sports, which is was not a coincidence,”
“Rwanda put an effort in the infrastructure and other facilities that enabled that to happen and the partners and organisers of these activities were convinced by what we were doing to ensure the safety and protection of everyone,” Kageruka said.
With the sector recovering steadily, Kageruka said that there are many activities lined up ahead including hosting The Basketball Africa League (BAL) tournament again as well as the Veterans World Cup and UCI Road World Championships in 2025, all of which present a positive outlook for the sector.
Speaking during the event which was celebrated under the theme “Rethink Tourism,” Frank Gisha Mugisha, Director General of Rwanda Chamber of Tourism said that Rwanda is positioning itself to tap into the available opportunities as things get back to normal.
“Before the Covid-19 outbreak, 2019 had proved to be the best year for the sector, with over 165,000 people working in the industry, but all that was set back. Over 18, 000 jobs were affected, including over 8,000 women and youth who lost their jobs,” Mugisha said.
He pointed out that as the sector recovers, players in the industry have to do things differently, factoring in innovation and diversifying into other untapped areas, especially domestic tourism, to be less vulnerable to future shocks.
Théodore Nzabonimpa, who owns Beyond the Gorillas Experience Ltd, a tourism agency, said that there are many opportunities for people to tap into, including trekking of mountains and hills, cultural sites and many more which can increase domestic tourism.
Ngabo Karegeya, the founder of Ibere rya Bigogwe Tourism company presented the opportunities he identified in his home area, where he entices people to visit Bigogwe area and experience traditional lifestyles based on cattle keeping and visit the rock known as Ibere rya Bigogwe.
Sector on a rebound
RDB figures show that in the first six months of this year it earned $11 million in revenues from parks, while in 2021 and 2020 it earned $6 million and $5.9 million, respectively. In 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic, the parks generated $21.9 million.
The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted tourism, with numbers dropping by over 70 percent. The numbers now show optimism for a recovery, with revenues increasing by 25% year-on-year, from $131 million to $164 million.
Kageruka said that there is hope that tourism will recover from the effects of Covid-19 quickly, buoyed by the growth in domestic tourism where more Rwandans are showing more interest in touring the country.
In general, tourism is a sector that has already shown that it has a big impact on Rwanda and Rwandans because in 2019, it earned more than $500 million, up from $300 million in 2014. At the same time, the jobs it provided went from 89 thousand to 164,000.
Supporting the hospitality sector to grow
Speaking at the event, Rica Rwigamba, the Country Head, Mastercard Foundation highlighted how investing in the tourism and hospitality sector cannot only contribute to its growth but also provide thousands of jobs to your people, citing ‘Hanga Ahazaza’ as an example.
“Just five years ago, the Mastercard Foundation announced an investment of $50 million with the aim of increasing employment opportunities for young people while expanding the tourism and hospitality sector in Rwanda,”
“Today, we are happy. We are happy because during the past five years, we have worked with 14 organizations represented here today, and with the great support from the Government of Rwanda through the Rwanda development Board to achieve that goal,” Rwigamba said.
She pointed out that they had a bold target of equipping 30,000 young women and men with the skills they need to transition into jobs in the tourism and hospitality sector.
Despite the challenges along the way, Rwigamba said the programme has been able to create the next generation of young leaders in the tourism sector who are now at the forefront of the recovery process.