President Paul Kagame was yesterday recognised for his efforts in promotion of sustainable tourism and conservation.
The award was by the World Travel Market, an annual world leading tourism and trade fair currently underway in London, England.
The event organisers observed that Kagame had made bold decisions in conservation, investing in infrastructure and making Rwanda an attractive destination for visitors and investors.
Speaking from the World Travel Market (WTM-London), Kagame said Rwanda is in the process of increasing connections to the rest of the world to further position the country as a leading destination.
“We are also finding ways to multiply Rwanda’s connections with the rest of the world which is what this award represents,” he said.
The process of opening up the country, he said, is also replicated across Africa.
“This is a story that is being repeated across the continent as Africans increasingly take charge of our future,” he said.
Among the ways that the country is increasing its accessibility to tourists from all across the world include the expansion of national carrier destination.
“It is getting easier to travel to Africa, RwandAir now flies to 24 destinations on the continent and beyond, including London,” he said.
The national carrier has also been in the process of growing its fleet size through acquisition of modern aircraft. It launched a hub in Cotonou, Benin to further facilitate access across the continent.
The accessibility is further supported by accommodative visa policies such as ‘visa on arrival’ for African passport holders and select countries beyond the continent.
The President said sustainable tourism efforts have involved a large section of Rwandans who protect the environment as well as invest in infrastructure needed to grow the tourism sector.
“We have been working hard to protect our natural environment while building the infrastructure for our visitors and citizens,” he said.
Growth in the tourism industry, he said, has proven to be a driver of shared prosperity as the government ensures that citizens are direct beneficiaries.
Among the approaches for shared prosperity include a revenue sharing scheme whereby communities living around Rwanda’s national parks receive a percentage of the tourism receipts.
This scheme has transformed communities through the construction of schools, health centres and the ability to earn a living through the tourism sector.
“These good results have been possible because Rwandans have made a mindset shift from dependence to dignity and self-reliance. This is why, for example, former poachers are today the most dedicated protectors of wildlife,” Kagame explained.
Rwanda at World Travel Market
At the tourism summit, Rwanda is represented by Rwanda Development Board and 17 private companies in the tourism sector.
Speaking to The New Times Rwanda Development Board chief tourism officer Belise Kariza said the Rwandan private sector is represented by players from hotels, aviation sector (RwandAir and Akagera Aviation) as well as tour operators.
She said, while at the forum, they have observed growing interest and curiosity about the country.
“We are trying to increase the business for Rwanda as a tourism destination and show what the country really is as opposed to the perceptions. We do this in several ways, including face-to-face interactions, audio visuals and virtual reality videos. A lot of people we are meeting are very eager and come ready to learn about the destination,” she said.
Beyond showcasing popular attractions such as gorilla trekking, Kariza said they were also exposing delegates to other attractions, including cultural tourism and Rwanda as a key regional destination for what has been termed MICE (Meetings Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions).
Participation in the summit, she said, was appropriate as it comes at a time when international tourism operators are looking to expand markets while Rwanda is looking to attract more visitors.
The annual tourism fair has attracted over 50,000 visitors, over 5,000 exhibiting companies and over 3,000 members of the international media.
From the forum, Rwanda is targeting a share of the $7 billion industry deals the forum facilitates annually.
The tourism sector remains one of Rwanda’s top earners raking in $404 million in 2016 and expected to generate about $440 million this year.