With strong focus on developing supporting infrastructure for tourism, Rwanda, a small landlocked country in East Africa, has grown its Meetings Incentives Conferences and Events (MICE) and leisure tourism revenues from $368 million in 2015, to $404 million in 2016, while targeting over $800 million tourism revenue by 2024.
Considering its small size and a population of 11 million people, Rwanda decided not to compete with its East African neighbours of Ethiopia in aviation and Kenya and Uganda in tourism. It rather adopted MICE as the product and invested in supporting infrastructure to woo global corporates and businesses to meet and spend their hard-earned money across the country.
Last year, the tourism sector raked in about $404 million, with the MICE initiative bringing in about $47 million. According to Belise Kariza, the chief tourism officer at Rwanda Development Board, a total of 32 major conferences were held last year with the number expected to grow further this year.
Backing government’s determination to make the country the conference hub of East Africa, the private sector is playing big in infrastructure development and not waiting for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). In 2007, three Rwandan corporate investors formed a company called Ultimate Concept Limited and pooled resources to develop and own a real estate complex, which comprises four major components: a 5-star hotel, Radisson Blu Hotel Kigali, with 292 rooms on six floors, conference center with seating capacity of 2,600, Kigali Information Technology Park, with 32,200 square metres (346,598 sq ft) of rentable office and retail space, and a museum on the bottom floor of the IT office park.
As well, Rwanda is among the top 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa that global hotel chains are targeting for investment since 2014 because of ease of doing business, security of investments and high return on investment.
The likes of Marriott, Radisson Blu, Park Inn, Wilderness Safaris and Golden Tulip are already making further inroads into the Rwandan hotel market, while Hilton, Hyatt, Kempenski and other international brands are set to launch their presence from the last quarter of this year, making the country the conference hub in East Africa.
At present, over 20 hotels are in the pipeline across Rwanda with three opening in 2018 to cater to about 40 major conferences and over 45,000 delegates expected in 2018.
So far, the country’s visa on arrival, which costs $US30 besides being hassle-free has increased it tourist arrival from 666,000 in 2010, 978,000 in 2015 to almost 2 million in third quarter of 2017.
The interesting thing is that Rwanda is flourishing after the 1994 genocide; the most bone-chilling tragedy in modern memory, which left a million dead and an entire country shaken to its core.