Rwanda tourism official speaks

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Rosette Rugamba is the deputy CEO of the Rwanda Development Board and head of the Rwanda Office for Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN ).

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Rosette Rugamba is the deputy CEO of the Rwanda Development Board and head of the Rwanda Office for Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN ). He recently chatted exclusive with eTN to discuss relevant issues pertaining to Rwanda tourism.

eTN: What were the objectives for this year’s Kwita Izina gorilla naming festival?
Rosette Rugamba: First to celebrate the International Year of Gorilla by naming 18 baby gorillas born in Rwanda since last year. Every birth is an important step towards achieving our vision to see the mountain gorilla’s move from being one of the world’s most endangered species to being some of the world’s best protected animals in wild and natural surroundings; celebrate our government efforts that have ensured tourism flourishes in a secure and enabling environment; celebrate and applaud many individuals and organizations who are involved every single day in the preservation of the gorillas and wildlife in general using the platform of this flagship specie; and attract international recognition both in terms of conservation and tourism, and attract tourists to come visit the country during the exciting Kwita Izina ceremonies

eTN: Were your expectations fulfilled?
Rugamba: Yes, Kwita Izina, once again, was an incredible success and created awareness at both the national and international level. With a huge turn up of conservationists, scores of top government officials, thousands of Rwandans, hundreds of international visitors and media, there is no doubt it kept the momentum and generated enthusiasm for the protection of the few remaining mountain gorillas in the wild

eTN: Rwanda is still best known for gorilla tourism, what other attractions does the country have for visitors?
Rugamba: We have amazing and diverse natural attractions in our 3 national parks with a variety of wildlife, and an assortment of flora and fauna. Primates discovery trip: 13 types of primates can be seen in our national parks notably amongst them golden monkeys, chimps, colobus monkey. Game drives in Akagera national park, where one can see the big mammals. For bird lovers, there are over 670 bird species of which 44 are endemic species that include the most sought after birds like Shoebill, Turaco, giant lobelias. For those that love mountain climbing, we have five spectacular dormant volcanic mountains where, besides gorilla trekking, other guided mountain treks are also possible. We also have nature walks through the dense Nyungwe forest which is East Africa’s largest Afro mountain forest. There are over 200 different types of trees and flowers which also include the famous wild orchids that one can see and 13 types of primates including Chimpanzees. Camping is ideal in the 3 national parks and Kigali City Tour- whereby one can visit the different historical sites around Kigali including Kandt museum, Kigali Genocide memorial site. Numerous lake ideal for water sports on Lakes Kivu, Ihema, and Muhazi.
For non-nature lovers, we have a cultural tourism package where one discovers the over 500years cultural history and discovery of the unique Rwandan folklore of traditional music, dancers, dressing, beautiful handicrafts, and our national museum.
Rwanda’s capital city has become very suitable for conferences, and the country hosts sporting events like the Peace Marathon, Mountain Gorilla Rally, and mountain and wooden bike race.
eTN: Has your tourism product diversification taken hold and is showing significant results already?
Rugamba: Yes, new products have been introduced to reduce the demand on gorilla tourism. This includes
• Launch of Nyungwe as a national park which welcomed 4800 visitors in 2008
• Conference tourism: This generated 6 percent of the total tourism revenues generated in 2008. We anticipate that conference tourism will generate US$ 28M by 2010
• Kigali City Tour: over 2,600 visitors have been received since its launch
• Birding: Following the birding launch in 2008, we have launched an awareness campaign in 2009. We anticipate birding to contribute US$ 12M by 2012
• Culture tourism: after elaborating the more than 500years of cultural evolution, we anticipate US$ 31M to be generated from cultural tourism by 2010
• Other products like canopy walks in Nyungwe, Lake Kivu tourism, Rubavu city tour, cave tourism are soon to be launched and hope to generate more income

eTN: ORTPN, which you are heading, was merged into the RDB. How did this affect ORTPN? Was that major change successful?
Rugamba: We have welcomed ORTPN’s infusion with other government institutions to create Rwanda Development Board and believe this will enact structural and cultural reforms to accelerate Rwanda’s strategic growth and fast track development, which is consistent with Rwanda’s Vision 2020. Key to this strategy, RDB will lead the government’s efforts to create an enabling economic climate that will make Rwanda a compelling global hub for business and investment.

Which other bodies were merged to form RDB?
Rugamba: The Rwanda Development Board, established by law in September 2008, combines eight government agencies: the Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN); the Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency (RIEPA); the Privatization Secretariat; the Rwanda Commercial Registration Services Agency; the Rwanda Information and Technology Authority (RITA); the Center for Support to Small and Medium Enterprises (CAPMER); the Human Capacity and Institutional Development (HCID); and Impact Assessment department of the Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA).

eTN: Figures given at Kwita Izina spoke of nearly a million visitors to Rwanda last year. Which are your main arrival source markets?
Rugamba: The top five non-African tourist generating markets are USA, UK, Germany, Belgium, and Canada.
How many of those are ‘true’ holiday visitors as described by the UNWTO?
Rugamba: Holiday visitors accounted for 6 percent in 2008 and generated 42 percent of the revenue, including 9 percent for the first quarter of 2009.

eTN: While attending Kwita Izina we could witness a very large crowd of ordinary Rwandans cramming into the show ground, all showing keen interests. Do you attribute this to successful community programs by ORTPN and the educational efforts by ORTPN to create goodwill and support for conservation?
Rugamba: This is a result of sensitization over the years, a successful revenue sharing policy whereby 5 percent of our revenue goes back to the community that live close to the parks, and to date over US$1 million has been given, concerted efforts from government, administration of Northern Province, national park authorities, and representatives from community like Volunteers in Conservation, wildlife clubs among schools etc.

eTN: How closely does ORTPN cooperate with the counterparts in the region in regard of wildlife management and conservation cooperation and about tourism promotion and marketing?
Rugamba: We have signed Transboundary collaboration with DRC and Uganda on gorilla conservation (Virunga Massif Transboundary collaboration). Some of the accomplishments have been setting up of a permanent core secretariat, securing the funding of 4 million Euros from the Dutch government and sharing of Gorilla revenue for the cross border Gorillas.

Using this model we have signed an MOU with Burundi for the management of Kibira –Nyungwe ecosystem and have initiated talks with our counterparts in Tanzania on management of the Akagera Basin ecosystem. About tourism promotion and marketing, what we all must recognize is that the private sector started this initiative long time ago, all we are doing us Governments is to facilitate this initiative. Joint marketing initiative is already underway and will in the near future see the joint participation of the region at international tourism trade fairs we are targeting 2010 to start looking at having an East African Village at major overseas trade fairs.

eTN: What is your view on a single tourist Visa for the entire region, is it not long overdue?
Rugamba: This is perfect timing since Rwanda is now a member of the East African Community. I agree with you its long overdue, the current trend is that the tourist want a variety to see, a hassle-free travel across the region and East Africa can offer that variety. What we should realize is that in this case we are competing with Southern Africa or any other regions that may exists, and by creating single Visa we are making East Africa more attractive as a region.

I must add as well that our president as the current chair of EAC called upon all the 5 countries to fast track the East Africa single tourist visa.

eTN: Finally, what is your vision for Rwanda tourism and wildlife conservation in coming years?
Rugamba: To develop and promote a range of diversified tourism products, to ensure that that we decentralize tourism by developing the five destination management areas proposed in our 10-year master plan and strengthening the participation of the private sector.
To see mechanisms in place that will integrate all the stakeholders involved in conservation and tourism, in order to contribute to the national economy and the government’s mission of environmental protection and poverty reduction, that tourism and conservation must co-exist without one hindering the other.
To see Rwandan parks restocked with wildlife while park boundaries for the Volcanoes National Park are expanded and more tourism facilities in place in collaboration with private sector.
eTN: Relatively few international airlines are presently flying into Kigali. What are your plans to bring more’ seats’ on the market?
Rugamba: It’s true this is a known challenge; Rwanda being a land locked country makes it even worse. As we build the volumes we are engaging in many different initiatives, one as a government we are working on a New Airport in Bugesera which will be bigger and able to accommodate more and bigger aircrafts. Secondly in the short term our government’s strategy is to boost the local airline Rwandair to serve as a feed to other major Airports around us and improve connections. Thirdly is to encourage the airlines that are already here to increase frequency. We are grateful to Brussels Airlines that have just increased their flights to 4 a week, Ethiopian that flies 5 times a week and a double daily flight of KQ to Nairobi and Rwandair that flies twice a day to Entebbe. Finally with the support of many private and government agencies we are always looking for new entrants.

eTN: Many amongst the Rwandan tourism stakeholders attribute the successes of the past few years to your leadership and vision for ORTPN. Where do you see yourself in a few years time, maybe in politics?
Rugamba: I enjoy what I do, tourism becomes a way of life and when you are privileged to work where you have a lot of government support and a very motivated staff who only need skills building and a private sector that is willing to invest in this new emerging sector it makes the challenges that you encounter bearable! We are in a country where there is positive energy so you go by that.

My ambition is to eventually go into the private sector and contribute to the success of tourism in our country in that role.

eTN: Dubai World signed a major MoU with Rwanda to develop a hotel and golf course in Kigali, build a new lodge at Nyungwe, rehabilitate and modernize the lodge in Akagera etc. How is this unfolding in view of the present global economic and financial crisis as a similar deal with the Comoros seems to have been put on hold for the time being?
Rugamba: Just like many businesses around the world were hit by the global financial crisis Dubai World was not spared especially the fact that they had a very aggressive Africa investment program. In Rwanda, they have maintained two major projects that are a high end lodge in Nyungwe and the Gorilla Nest Lodge in the Volcanoes National park area.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.