Rwanda’s tourism sector is reopening for tourism activities and has announced the resumption of international travel for visitors arriving by charter flight, effective 17 June 2020 and for visitors arriving by scheduled commercial flights as of 1 August 2020. There are no restrictions on international visitors based on nationality or point of departure provided health and safety requirements are met. All tourism activities, including primate trekking within national parks, have now resumed.
Tourism is the largest source of foreign exchange in Rwanda and is the biggest contributor to the national export strategy. The sector attracts foreign direct investments with major international hotel brands setting up in the country. Before Covid19 pandemic, Rwanda was emerging as the regional and international conference hub where I attended many business forums, while representing the Tony Elumelu Foundation (2014-2019). So, it is heartening to read the news that Rwanda is welcoming tourists from across Africa and the world.
Tourism is one of the largest industries worldwide, and prior to Covid19, was the second fastest growing sector in Africa. Travel and tourism contributed about US$177 billion to the continent, representing 7.1% of its GDP and directly or indirectly supporting 24.6 million people with the jobs created by hotels, airlines, tour operators. Several small and medium scale enterprises relied on the sector by providing food, transport and souvenirs to tourists.
When the Covid19 pandemic hit, national lockdown efforts forced airports, hotels, restaurants and tourist spots to close to prevent the spread of the virus. Combined with the tourism sector’s reliance on international visitors to drive revenue, as well as small local tourism customer bases and global lockdown measures, the industry was brought to a standstill. The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) predicted a 20-30% decline in global international tourist arrivals in 2020, and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) estimated that nearly eight million travel and tourism jobs were lost in Africa due to the pandemic, predicting a worst-case scenario of a US$120 billion loss in GDP contribution.
Compared to 2019, when the continent received 71.2 million tourists, and African tourism experienced a 6% growth between January and May 2019, UNWTO notes that tourism for international arrivals in 2020 contracted to minus 47%. Over 90% of 306 safari operators surveyed in Africa had seen a 75% decrease in booking requests and actual bookings due to the pandemic.
It is necessary to revive the tourism sector in Africa because it plays a vital role in energizing economies and fuelling economic transformation. Its benefits range from livelihoods improvement to export diversification. With their rich histories and natural wonders, many African countries are gaining attention as sites for cultural, heritage and development tourism. Tourism has the capacity to drive employment for low skilled workers and economic inclusion for women and youth; many poverty alleviation initiatives are tied to tourism through youth and women empowerment programmes. International tourism can introduce similar amounts into African nations as private and public sector investments and development assistance funds from foreign governments and development agencies. Numerous countries show promise to become or stay vibrant hosts for tourists and tourism-driven investment and entrepreneurship. Tourism also supports conservation, with proceeds from safaris, treks and hikes contributing to funding for many national parks and heritage sites
Rwanda is a prime tourist destination, boasting of several cultural, natural and historical attractions and comprehensive tourist packages. Notable tourist attractions include gorilla trekking at Volcanoes National Park, Mount Karisimbi and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, tracking chimpanzees, hiking and canopy walks at Nyungwe Forest National Park, safaris at Akagera National Park, and tours of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the King’s Palace Museum, and the Rwanda Ethnographic Museum. Visitors can also relax at several lake spots, including Lake Kivu, Lake Ruhondo and Lake Burera.
The Rwandan Development Board, which leads on tourism, is ready to welcome visitors and has adapted health and safety guidelines to protect tourists and operators. There are also promotional offers available for domestic and foreign visitors at National Parks until 31st December 2020, such as gorilla permits and special packages for groups, families and corporates on other attractions at the Volcanoes and Nyungwe National Parks.
As a precaution, all visitors are expected to test negative for COVID-19 (only with a SARS-CoV 2 Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction test) performed within 120 hours prior to arrival. Visitors will take a second test on arrival and prior to visiting any attractions, and results will be received after 24 hours, during which time they will remain in designated hotels at their own cost.