Rwanda’s latest domestic tourism campaign dubbed “Tembera U Rwanda-Jump on the Bus” is geared towards marketing attraction sites to domestic tourists. And it is registering success, according to Rwanda Development Board (RDB), writes Joseph Ondiek
Just recently, this writer was part of a team of journalists from a cross section of media houses in Rwanda that accompanied a group of some 100 local tourists for the second installment of the campaign on a two day trip to sightsee the beauty of the country’s flora and fauna at Nyungwe National Park.
During the trip, apart from the Canopy walk-which has become the main attraction at Nyungwe National Park, bird watching enthusiasts were able to see the colorful beauty of several species of birds like the Rwenzori Turaco, a dazzling creature with superb painted glossy green and blue crest, blue chin and throat and orange-yellow eye-ring that are endemic to the forest. The local tourists also visited the Isakura Tea Plantation for a crop to cup experience and saw how some of the country’s globally exported finest tea is cultivated during the green tea farm visit.
Then there was the monkey business. A group of monkeys, where we were told there are some 25 species of monkeys in Nyungwe Forest, sat around the roadside as they fearlessly took their first meals of the day, digging the ground for plant roots. They were not intimated by human presence, more so the photos that journalists took of them and which can grace many a postcard for their sheer beauty.
RDB’s domestic tourism officer, Umar Abineza says the campaign is to run until the end of the year and that so far it has met with overwhelming success.
To register for one of the trips, all one has to do is send an email to [email protected] expressing interest. During the campaign, RDB is providing free transportation and entrance to national parks, but travellers pay for other services such as accommodation and meals. However, according to Abineza, hotels are offering discounted prices to local travellers during the campaign.
Although the country has unique culture, spectacular geography composed of rolling hills, an amazing host of wildlife and is generally a spectacular tourist destination, earlier data from RDB shows that Rwandans themselves have yet to embrace fully their own unique country.
The locals accounted for 61% of total number of visitors to Akagera National Park, 37% to Nyungwe National Park and a paltry 14% to Volcanoes National Park.
It is in this light that RDB has now embarked on aggressive campaign to sensitise the locals on what the country has to offer, which the Chief Tourism Officer, Belize Kariza says is also part of the country’s World Tourism Day celebrations.
“This year’s World Tourism Day theme, ‘Tourism for all’, is a call for all of us to change our medieval way of thinking that tourism is for the rich, for international travellers, but rather everyone can be a tourist in his local environment and discover his country’s rich biodiversity, history and unique culture,” Kariza said.
As a key economic driver in the country, tourism contributes more than US$300 million to the economy each year with a good number of Rwandans employed in the industry.
Local tour operator Greg Bakunzi of Amahoro Tours says that such initiatives are extremely important in raising awareness on the beauty of Rwanda’s heritage, adding that they also liaise with RDB through initiating such innovative programs like environmental conservation and cultural tourism.
Belise Kariza said the hope is that the general public in Rwanda will continue to embrace “Tembera u Rwanda” and the interest in exploring the country will continue to grow.
“The campaign period should not mark the culmination of these domestic trips as we would like to realise partnership opportunities between public and private sector companies through continuous collaboration locally and regionally. These efforts will ensure that this initiative is not only beneficial to Rwanda but the entire region,” she said.
RDB is confident that domestic travel will step up to grow by at least five per cent each year. But with the domestic travel market currently contributing around 20 per cent of the total tourism revenues, RDB has intervened with a Rwf 150 million push to encourage Rwandans to take more holidays at home.