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Rwanda tourism on full rebound after Covid-19

 

Tracking mountain gorillas in the Virunga is a peerless wildlife experience, and one of Africa’s indisputable travel highlights. COURTESY PHOTO

Kigali, Rwanda | THE INDEPENDENT | Rwanda has reported a tourism boom after easing COVID-19 travel restrictions. According to the Rwanda Development Board, the country has registered over 80% of its business attaining recovery after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

Ariella Kageruka, the head of Tourism and Conservation at the RDB said that Meeting, Incentives, Conferences and Events (MICE) has been one of the leading factors in driving the tourism recovery in the country.

“People in the tourism sector have returned to their jobs, more careers have been created and the number is higher than it was in 2019,” she said.

She added on that entrepreneurs and partners have also enabled the recovery process.

Rwanda has hosted several conferences and meetings that have attracted international visitors. From the Common Wealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in June to international sporting events like the Basket Africa League (BAL), the country has achieved a lot from the MICE sector.

Aside from MICE Tourism, Rwanda has received an incredible number of tourists who take safaris in its national parks.

Vincent Ngarambe, the owner of Lets Go Tours Rwanda said that the peak season has been quite busy and tourism has greatly recovered with some dates having no availability for gorilla permits, a requirement to visit the Volcanoes National Park Rwanda.

Andrew Gatera, the owner of the G-Step added on that the tourist numbers have been recovering after opening up to almost the levels before the pandemic.

“We witnessed a peak in the last three months, though it is going down again, it might stabilize later” said Gatera. Tourist arrivals to other national parks including the Akagera National Park and Nyungwe forest National Park have also increased and the past three months have seen a peak.

Makonzi Kiwanuka the director of Go Gorilla Trekking Ltd adds on that the success of events such as the recently concluded Kwita Izina is proof that Rwanda tourism is strongly rebounding. He says that as an African tour operator that specializes in gorilla trekking around Africa, the number of gorilla trekkers has slightly improved compared to what it was like just a year ago.

Tourism after COVID-19 breakout

Like other countries, Rwanda suspended tourism after registering its first coronavirus case in March 2020. The country swiftly banned tourism and hospitality activities. Primate tourism was suspended due to fears that the mountain gorillas and chimpanzees easily get human related diseases.

The East African country lost 10 million U.S. dollars which is over 10% of estimated revenues in 2020. During the time, conferences and conventions that were to be held between March and April that year were canceled due to COVID restrictions.

It should be noted that the country generated US$498 million dollars in tourism revenues in 2019. The tourism industry at the time employed about 165,000 people before the coronavirus lockdown grounded all activities. Meanwhile, about 18,000 jobs were adversely impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to official data from the Rwanda Development Board.

Early Signs of Tourism Recovery

Rwanda is one of the few destinations that have a registered tourism recovery in East Africa. The numbers of tourists visiting Rwanda though they have not yet reached the levels before the outbreak of the pandemic.

Despite the signs of recovery, Carmen Nibigira, a Kigali-based tourism analyst, warned that while COVID restrictions have eased, tourism may not return to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon due to the source market going through other shocks, citing recession and high inflation.

“The recovery from a two-year stop in the business sense of activity for tourism is very complex to understand due to other shocks. We thought COVID-19 was overcome but we entered the source market going through recession, high inflation and the world economy not doing well,” says Nibigira.

Carmen Nibigira has also cited the issue of inflation in Rwanda’s target international markets. For instance; he said that most of the Rwanda safaris are costed in USD. Previously, it was an advantage to most of the European Union tourists given the Euro was doing better than the dollar. But since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war; the Euro has depreciated making the safaris more expensive than they used to be for European Union tourists.

In conclusion the tourism boom in Rwanda that has been registered recently has mainly been due to MICE instead of the direct tourism bookings. Many stakeholders are high in hopes with expectations that direct tourism bookings will again pick up even better than it was before the pandemic due to the efforts that the government of Rwanda is putting in to ensure that the land of a thousand hills is visible to everyone around the world.

 

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