The Rwanda Convention Bureau (RCB), has said the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions sector has generated about $160 million, contributing 12% to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with 591 event while hosting 110, 000 delegates in the country between 2017 and 2019.
Speaking at the 4th African Travel and Tourism Conference, with topic: “Is MICE a Viable Pathway For Tourism Recovery in Africa” and the first Pan-African virtual expo successfully hosted by Akwaaba African Travel Market, the CEO, Rwanda Convention Bureau (RCB), Nelly Mukazayire revealed that the East African country has already incurred losses close to $80 million till date due to the coronavirus pandemic.
She however stated that Rwanda has already achieved 50% of its set target for the sector in 2019 – 2020 year.
Nelly Mukazayire in her presentation at the Pan-African event said:
“This is really an important discussion as people in the MICE industry or business event because it is one of the most promising and leading sectors when it comes to innovative ways of creating revenues in our industries especially in African countries. And I will speak by our own experience in Rwanda. The MICE industry was started by the government of Rwanda in November 6, 2014 after the leadership realised that it is one of the sectors that can bring foreign currency in the country and contribute to the tourist revenues and uplift economies in general.
“Speaking about the experience we have had so far in business event or MICE in Rwanda, as I mentioned shortly Rwanda Convention Bureau was created in 2015 after the leadership realised that MICE industry or business event is one of the promising sectors for the creation of revenues. And for the last three years, we have been able to host 591 MICE events between 2017 and 2019. We have been able to host close to 110,000 delegates and created close to $160 million to the economy. Currently MICE contribution to the tourists revenues represent 12% and as it was with most countries this year, 2020 was a promising year: we had a target of $8 million that is for 2019 – 2020. And because of COVID which paralysed the economies and travels were closed, tourism was not functioning, since events were closed since March.
“We had our first case on the 14th of March 2020 in Rwanda and of course the country had to act and take measures that will protect peoples’ safety and health as a priority and everybody coming into the country. So because of that we have only achieved 50% of the target we had of 2019 – 2020. So, since then all events of course did not happen and one of the approach we had in Rwanda was to reach out to our partners and industry stakeholders to postpone rather cancelling and thinking of when net we are going to have those events and also trying to work with the industry on how we can recover quickly.
“So with that approach of postponing, of course there are events which did not happen and we have incurred a loss of close to $80 million till date. But again most of other events were postponed and we are having discussions to have them next year. Some of the notable events we have already recorded for include the CHOGM which we will have next year in June. We have the African Green Revolution Forum which one of the leading events in the agriculture sector and it is coming up in September next year. We have the Intra Africa Trade Fair, that is also happening next year in September and some others we are working with the organisers and shareholders and other partners in the industry to see when we can slot them.
“So briefly that gives a picture of where we are standing with the impact that COVID has had in Rwanda. To summarise it, looking at the immediate short term effect and the long term effect on the economy, for sure the first immediate and short term effect was to shut all activities – travelling, events happening, knowing the peculiarity of MICE event or Business event that is has an amazing chain. It touches different sectors, so when an event is cancelled or postponed for sure all the effects goes up to the agriculture sector, the person who was supposed to provide food for those delegates. It goes to transport, cars which was supposed to be used in the event. It goes to production, it goes to business or private sector companies which were supposed to be involved in certain events.
“Currently we have RwandAir which is flying to 26 destinations, of course with COVID travels were banned which affected again the income which was expected and also tourism. Tourism is also linked so much with business events of MICE. So those were immediate and I will link them with short term effects. But also in the long term you see all those multiplier effects affecting different sectors. So what the country has done so far in terms of responding to those realities, first and foremost was to respond to health, to protect people’s lives and safety. So guidelines were developed in terms of how people have to live with this pandemic.
“And we are all experiencing social distancing, wearing mask and using hand sanitizers and more advanced health measures in cases of infection or in cases of potential infection. But since June the business has been reopened, like the MICE business and domestic tourism. And we also had particular or specialised guidelines that have to be applied when you want to have an event. And with the opening of the airport on the 1st of August the guidelines were updated. In summary, to explain what would be your experience when you come to Rwanda, the country is open to business, MICE, domestic tourism and international tourism.
“And upon arrival into the country you have to have a valid negative COVID test when you arrive at the airport. And there are other measures you go through to ensure that you are safe and even the safety of the people you are encountering in the country. You go into another transit facility where we carry out another COVID test and within 24 hours you get your result. And if you are negative of course you continue with your activities and if you happen to be infected, you have a medical team that is available to facilitate and guide you on the next step to ensure that you are well treated and you are safe and even the people around you.
“In terms of supporting the industry, the government of Rwanda has established what we call economic recovery fund. This is a fund where different sectors have access including the hospitality sector, transport and different sectors that have been affected by COVID. So, it gives facilities in terms of funds to these sectors. And again we are working hand in hand with our local stakeholders to do home grown events, creating some events which are adapted to the locals or domestic market to attract people in the region and globally.
“In every situation there is always also an opportunity , so we saw it as a push and that is something we can do and I believe we can combine efforts as Africans to think very much into that line and work together and collaborate in that line. I will mention one of the home grown initiative in South Africa like Meetings Africa, this is one of the home grown initiatives which we can create some destination events but where we also give out our own narrative on image as Africa as a destination.
“So we are also learning and putting a lot of effort in that line as Rwanda but this is also a call to brothers and sisters across Africa that we start thinking in that line on how we can even create more and more home grown events that speaks to us, speak about us, encourage or invite the world to us but also portrays who we really are to the world. Not only attracting events from other places or not only looking at association events, which we will still do in the MICE industry and very key but against reinventing another approach and work more and more into creating events that are also aligned with our priority sectors. We should create events that will at the end of the day speak as investment opportunities or also innovation opportunities in our sector or in our countries. “