English football club, Arsenal have been advertising “Visit Rwanda” on players’ sleeves for the past year. The campaign, which was controversial at its launch, has lifted overall tourism numbers by 8%, according to Rwandan officials.
Kigali and Arsenal signed a 3-year deal worth £30 million (€34 million) deal in May last year.
And it is working, according to the Rwanda Development Board (RDB): The number of tourists from England alone has climbed by 5% compared to the previous period.
Despite initial criticism over Rwanda’s massive investment in a football club, the deal appears to be bearing fruit.
“Before the partnership was signed, 71% of the millions of Arsenal fans worldwide did not consider Rwanda a tourist destination, at the end of the first year of the partnership, half of them considered Rwanda a destination to visit,” said Belise Kariza, head of RDB’s tourism department.
Kariza says the overall value of the partnership, based on TV viewership and social media, is estimated at €36 million euros according to statistics by Nielsen, Blinkfire Analytics and research agency Hall and Partners.
Some social media users have accused Rwanda of ploughing crucial developmental aid into the coffers of an English football club.
According to a tweet from the presidency, President Paul Kagame says “Critics say that this is not how we should invest our money. In a very short time, I want to tell you that we have more or less made what we have spent more or less profitable, and that we expect much more.”
Kagame is also a self-confessed Arsenal fan, as his tweets reveal.
Rwanda is banking heavily on a tourism windfall to develop its economy. In particular, the country is betting on high-end travel (thanks to the mountain gorillas of the Volcanoes National Park) and hosting conferences.
These activities generate nearly €430 million per year, amounting to nearly 5.47% of Rwanda’s GDP (€7.6 billion in 2017, according to the latest IMF figures).
By Théau Monnet