Remarkable Rwanda is a small landlocked country perched amidst central and Eastern Africa. Famously nicknamed the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’, Rwanda boasts a myriad of geographical wonders including 5 towering volcanoes, numerous rivers, and 25 lakes, and is a proud home of the furthest source of River Nile. The country lies 75 miles south of the equator and one of the hottest tourism destinations in sub-Saharan Africa.
The ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’ presently boasts a home to world’s most endangered apes in Volcanoes national park, lush undulating hills, Africa’s biggest protected tropical forest in Nyungwe national park, agricultural plantations, 14 species of primates, one third of Africa’s bird species, three National Parks (including Akagera national park – one which is home to Big 5 mammals), islands, beach and resorts on the shimmering Lake Kivu, artistic crafts, graceful dancers and one of the most warm and hospitable people in Africa. A number of Community-Based Tourism initiatives have sprouted across all national parks to offer travelers alternative local experiences with natives and learn their traditional norms and behaviors.
The outstanding culture and traditions of Rwanda are captivating, including music, dance and drama, a developing contemporary art and craft industry which includes pottery, painting, weaving, jewelry, wood carving and metalwork.
Various genocide memorial sites, museums, standing monuments located in many regions across the country give a clear sneak peek of Rwanda’s dark history characterized by genocide, terrorism, and civil strife.
A landlocked country that is now home to 11 million people faced an unimaginable massacre in the year 1994 which saw between 800,000 – 1,000,000 people lose their lives within a period of just 100 days.
The genocide caused tourism numbers in Rwanda to dwindle drastically and visitation was apparently nonexistent with only 61 visitors in national parks. And Volcanoes National Park, known for mountain gorilla tracking and the country’s main source of tourism revenue remained closed until 1999 due to insecurity within the park. The perception of insecurity after the 1994 genocide and recurring civil wars was a serous discouragement for visitors for several years.
That year posed a dangerous and negative impact towards tourism which saw the industry decline almost to nothing; However in 2 decades the government has been reviving tourism in the aftermath of genocide, a mission that has been so successful and both the country and industry’s image has been restored making Rwanda a number one tourism destination, not only in East Africa but the world over.
The tourism sector and entire economy of Rwanda have equally grown consistently and impressively since 1994, and now the industry is the country’s largest foreign exchange earner. From January to September 2012, tourism receipts totaled $210.5 million, compared to $184.4 million in receipts over the same period in 2011, a 14% increase. Between 2011 and 2012, the total number of visitors increased by 22% to 493,744 visitors, the number of leisure tourists raised by 16%, and the number of business visitors had an 8% increment.
In the bid to rebrand Rwanda as a haven of comparative stability and peace and a deliberate target marketing strategy was devised by the government to raise visitor numbers and rebound tourism statistics.
The Rwandan government partnered with OTF Group, an international strategy and competitiveness advisory firm 2001 to develop a lasting strategy for Rwanda’s tourism sector. And Rwanda decided to focus on high –end markets with highly innovative tourism products and developed destinations as opposed to their regional competitors specifically Uganda and Kenya; this later resulted into an upsurge of tourist numbers and advanced their competitive advantage regionally and globally.
Additionally, Rwanda’s cultural tourism is highly developed and lucrative as well as ecotourism and business tourism. In addition to setting clear goals in terms of both visitation and receipt statistics, the government decided to deliberately target three main clientele for their high-end tourism products: eco-travelers, explorers, and individual business travelers.
In addition to strategically increase tourist numbers and related revenues, Rwanda has also attracted several foreign investments, majorly in the hospitality industry. From 2012, tremendous investments have been undertaken worth US$200.6m. Several international brands have been attracted to invest due to prevailing peace and relative security, these include Marriot international which has so far invested over $65m to build a 254 room hotel in the heart of Kigali, Radisson Hotels and wilderness camps – owners of the luxurious Bisate lodge on the edges of the Magnificient Volcanoes National park in Musanze.