International Tourism Market
Over the decades, tourism has experienced continued growth and deepening diversification to become one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world. Modern tourism is closely linked to development and encompasses a growing number of new destinations. These dynamics have turned tourism into a key driver for socio-economic progress.
Today, the business volume of tourism equals or even surpasses that of oil exports, food products or automobiles. Tourism has become one of the major players in international commerce, and represents at the same time one of the main income sources for many developing countries. This growth goes hand in hand with an increasing diversification and competition among destinations. The contribution of tourism to economic well-being also depends on the quality and the revenues of the tourism offering. As the UN agency dedicated to tourism, UNWTO points out that particularly developing countries stand to benefit from sustainable tourism and acts to help make this a reality. As part of their 2030 forecast, the UNWTO expects global tourist arrivals to reach 1.8 billion from 1.184 billion in 2015 (CAGR 2.83%).
Regional Tourism Market
Travel and tourism has potential to propel Rwanda’s economy to new heights. The industry showed unprecedented growth past years and recorded its strongest performance of any in terms of export growth to maintain its position as the highest foreign exchange earner in Rwanda.
The country’s business-conducive climate and several recent reforms of the government’s travel and tourism policy such as infrastructure development and a high-end travel and tourism marketing strategy have contributed materially to the momentous growth experienced recently in Rwanda’s travel and tourism industry.
The industry has enormous potential to drive growth in its vibrant economy thanks to its natural beauty and wildlife attractions. With continued investment by the Rwandan government, growth in the travel and tourism industry is expected to remain positive. This is set to enable Rwanda to achieve its development goal as set out in the 10-year sustainable travel and tourism master plan called Vision 2020.
Gorilla’s and More
Rwanda and Uganda are the only two countries in the world where mountain gorillas can be visited safely at the moment. There is, however, more to tourism in Rwanda than gorillas. Besides the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda has two other national parks that offer, for example, a range of wildlife and biodiversity. Furthermore, the country has been particularly successful in attracting large numbers of business and conference travelers, mainly from the DRC as well as the neighboring countries of the East African Community (EAC). Local and foreign direct investments have been substantial. In terms of export revenue, tourism has already outperformed coffee and tea by a wide margin.
The government has shown a clear commitment to the development of the tourism sector and has established itself as a safe destination in the region.
The business environment has improved markedly, promoting private sector involvement. In addition, Rwanda has always seen tourism as an instrument to reduce poverty, for example by directly involving local communities.
Risk and opportunities
Despite the good performance of the tourism sector in Rwanda, several challenges remain. The main impediment cited by almost all actors in the sector is the large skills deficit, which applies to all areas. To accomplish the goal to turn Rwanda into a service oriented economy in general and for the tourism sector specifically, skills development is of utmost importance. Recently opened tourism schools haven’t served the sector adequately.
Further challenges include:
- There is an overreliance on gorilla tourism. The sector needs to be diversified and other attractions promoted further. This is particularly important as ultimately, Rwanda wants to establish itself as a stand-alone destination.
- Access to finance is still seen as impediment for the development of the sector. Banks seem to be reluctant to finance tourism projects. Stakeholders in the sector have been proposing the establishment of a guarantee fund by the government.
- Other sectors in the value chain need to be promoted further through the tourism sector to reduce poverty.
- The Rwanda Development Board and MINICOM have only a limited number of staff. Given the very ambitious agenda for the tourism agenda, sufficient staffing should be in place.
- Although road infrastructure in Rwanda is broadly adequate, the air transport connection to the country is still limited. A new airport is currently being planned, which could attract more international carriers to offer direct flight especially from Europe.
Rwanda has experienced a true post-conflict boom after the conflict in 1994. Growth rates have been high, the economic situation is stable and social indicators have improved. Tourism has been a significant contributor not only to export revenues, but also to the improved image of the country. In addition, tourism has from the onset been seen as a tool to reduce poverty and involve the communities.
The country has established itself as one of the safest destinations in the region and offers, besides a comprehensive offering for leisure tourists, sufficient opportunities for business travelers, especially from the eastern DRC.