Regional and local tour operators are projecting a boom in the tourism and travel industry in 2024, after the sector showed signs of full recovery and resilience in 2023, putting behind the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and global crises.
Industry players in Rwanda and the region are looking to cash in on the increasing tourist numbers, buoyed by the country’s open visa policy as well as the single EAC tourist visa, which they hope will facilitate more people travel between regional countries, to make it a boon year for the industry.
Following a boom festive season, which saw a spike in tourism movements between Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Tanzania, leading into the new year, regional players in the tourism industry are projecting a successful year, with numbers of domestic tourists also expected to remain on the increase.
Though Rwanda is yet to release results of the sector performance for the entire 2023, operators are projecting an upward trajectory going by the performance of the first half, which saw Rwanda’s tourism sector generate US$247 million (over Rwf290 billion) in revenue during the first half of 2023, reflecting a notable 56% surge compared to the US$158 million reported during the same period in 2022, according to Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
Rwanda’s MICE sector boomed in 2023 and it is expected to flourish even more in 2024, with the country already lined up to host other major global events as it did last year, such as the Basketball Africa League (BAL) and Move Afrika again, tour operators are looking to capitalise on these developments to offer packages that give value for money.
Speaking last year at the end of the 23rd World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit, the CEO of RDB, Francis Gatare said Rwanda is looking to build on the 2023 gains to do even more in 2024, to boost the sector, which contributes heavily to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
According to the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR), in the third quarter of 2023, Rwanda’s economic landscape witnessed remarkable growth, with the GDP reaching Rwf4,249 billion, marking a substantial increase from Rwf 3,584 billion in the same quarter of 2022—an impressive surge of 7.5%.
The services sector, mainly tourism and hospitality, played a significant role, contributing 46% to the GDP, followed by the agriculture sector at 25%, the industry sector at 21%, and net direct taxes accounting for 7%.
With these positives, tour operators are eyeing a stronger performance in 2024, with the number of tourists already predicted to go up this year. Rwanda’s also experiencing a boom in domestic tourism, as more Rwandans and expats living in Rwanda, adding places to visit, including national parks, on their bucket list.
Domestic tourism products such as Ibere rya Bigogwe, mountain trails and camping have become common, especially among young people, while the youth are also increasingly finding cross border tours interesting, especially to neighbouring countries such as Uganda and Burundi, to experience nightlife. Tour operators are cashing in on this desire to travel by offering appropriate packages.
Frank Muzungu, Managing Director, Kigali Car Rentals, a tour company operating in Rwanda and across EAC countries, these opportunities, domestic or regional, can be leveraged to make it an even better year for the industry.
“We have seen domestic tourism increase as a result of awareness from government and private operators investment. Going forward, domestic tourism will be a big contributor to the economic growth of our country,” Muzungu said, adding that for them, adding products and offers that integrate both domestic and regional packages has been a gamechanger.
One of the things they’ve done include adding flexible offers such as the self-drive package where tourists or groups can rent cars, drive themselves and if they are exiting the country through another EAC country, they don’t have to drive back the car to Rwanda. They deposit at their outlet in the country of exit and proceed with their journey.
Darius Do Santos, of Darius Tours and Travel, a tour company that operates across East Africa says that post-pandemic 2023 saw an upsurge in international travels, with travelers across the globe exceeding over 975 million tourists travelled internationally between January and September 2023, an increase of 38%.
“Locally, international arrivals have been really good, but the challenge is individual travels have changed. Travel trends have changed compared to the previous years where individuals used to travel freely but after the Covid-19 pandemic, people no longer travel as they used to.
“For example, if you look at Rwanda, it has recorded the highest number of arrivals internationally in terms of MICE- meetings, incentives, conferences and events, compared to individual travelers,” he said, adding that countries which have diversified, to include MICE products will continue to receive more tourists.
Dos Santos argues that the region is still grappling with challenges, including insecurity on the Eastern border of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which restricts travelers to move as they wish and he hopes that all impediments that limit travelers from moving from one country to another will be resolved in 2024.