In the decades since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which left more than a million dead, much has changed. The country has unified to pursue a dynamic agenda that features a new universal healthcare policy, a strong education system and gender equality – Rwanda has more women in its parliament than any other country. The country has emerged as one of the safest not only in Africa, but also the world. On top of all this, tourism is thriving.
In 2016, tourism overtook Rwanda’s prosperous coffee industry to become the top foreign exchange earner
In 2017, Rwanda’s tourism revenues amounted to $438m, making up almost half of all services exports, and in 2016, tourism overtook the country’s prosperous coffee industry to become the top foreign exchange earner. In the coming years, the sector is expected to continue to grow at an annual rate of 10 percent.
Rwanda’s beautiful national parks are some of its tourism industry’s best assets. For example, visits to national parks alone generated $18.7m in revenue in 2017. Within the bustling capital city of Kigali, Rwanda has carved out a niche as a regional and international conference hub with the world-class Kigali Convention Centre (KCC), part of the Radisson Hotel Group.
The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) ranked Rwanda as Africa’s number three tourism destination for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions. Over the last decade, revenue generated by MICE grew by 180 percent, and the number of delegates visiting Rwanda for such events jumped from 15,000 to 28,300.
The country’s flagship conference space, the KCC, is one of East Africa’s newest and most comprehensively designed facilities. It opened its doors in 2016, a year in which a number of four and five-star international hotel brands also launched in the region, including Radisson Blu, Park Inn by Radisson and Marriott Hotel. In the two-to-five-star bracket, Kigali boasts around 3,500 rooms.
Despite all this competition, the KCC stands out as a venue in Kigali. The centre is a tremendously flexible conference space with three floors, four purpose-built function halls and more than 14 meeting, banquet and special event spaces spanning 32,610sq m.
The venue’s size makes it suitable for everything from large-scale conventions to small and medium-sized meetings, social events such as weddings and concerts, and exhibitions or trade shows. Together with first-rate in-house catering, security and cleaning services, state-of-the-art audiovisual and onsite car parking, the KCC goes above and beyond to ensure the needs of its occupants are met.
Over the past few years, a number of high-profile events have taken place at the KCC, including the 27th African Union Summit in 2016, the African Hotel Investment Forum in 2016 and 2017, the Next Einstein Forum Global Gathering in 2018, and the African Green Revolution Forum in 2018.
Through the success of these events, Rwanda has demonstrated that it is increasingly the destination of choice for international conferences in Africa. In 2020, the convention centre will take its place on the world stage once again when it plays host to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, a gathering of the leaders of 53 countries mostly made up of former British colonies.
Rwanda’s MICE sector is supported by excellent business infrastructure and good air connectivity, thanks in part to the rapid expansion of RwandAir, the country’s national carrier. While RwandAir has enhanced connectivity in the region, six other international airlines from Africa, Europe and Asia have flights into Kigali, including Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, KLM and Brussels Airlines.
Kigali’s new Bugesera International Airport is also currently under construction to expand passenger capacity and routes to help Rwanda meet its growing tourism targets. Construction began in 2017, and the first phase is expected to be completed in 2019, at which time it should be able to support a million passengers each year.
Entering Rwanda is now easier than ever, as travellers can purchase a visa on arrival, without prior application. High-speed 4G LTE wireless broadband is also available throughout the country to support an increasing number of business travellers.
Rwanda’s international reputation received another boost when the World Economic Forum ranked it as the second safest country in Africa and the ninth safest in the world in 2017. The country has a zero-tolerance policy for corruption and was named the third least corrupt country in Africa in the 2017 Corruption Perception Index.
The Rwanda Convention Bureau (RCB), which is a member of the ICCA African Chapter, plays a vital role in promoting the country as the premier destination for MICE activities. The bureau is a one-stop service for information, assistance and unbiased advice on hosting and organising business events in the country.
For international event planners and buyers, the RCB delivers comprehensive services through every stage of the planning and implementation of an event, from international conventions to general assemblies, conferences and incentive trips.
The RCB has also put together a local directory to connect event planners with the right venues, hotels, professional conference organisers and destination marketing companies, along with all the support services they might need. The bureau is always ready to support organisers with event bid preparation and presentation, event budgets, the provision of promotional material and much more.
While business travellers may come to Rwanda for its premier event space, they will stay for the plethora of natural attractions, such as Volcanoes National Park, which is home to a third of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.
Although Rwanda is a small landlocked country – it is only a 10th of the size of the UK – it is home to a host of flora and fauna. At the top of the country’s highest volcano, the 4,507m Mount Karisimbi, live 14 species of primates, including chimpanzees and golden monkeys.
There are said to be more than 700 bird species in the country and over 100 different species of orchids, plus more than 4,000 hectares of bamboo forest. Rwanda is also known as the ‘land of a thousand hills’ for the stunning rolling green hills that fill its landscape.
Aside from gorilla trekking, popular attractions include the Congo Nile Trail, coffee and tea experiences, community-based festivals and so-called ‘big five’ safaris, where travellers can hope to catch a glimpse of lions, leopards, rhinoceroses, elephants and buffalo.
Rwanda’s small size means it is easily traversed, allowing tourists to enjoy its range of stunning landscapes – from rainforests to savannahs to cities – all within a couple of hours’ drive from the capital.
The country is often praised for its cleanliness and the warmth of its people, and has big plans to diversify its tourism offerings in the coming years in a bid to boost revenue. In less than a quarter of a century, Rwanda has made strides to overcome its fraught past. With a prospering tourism sector and a leading event space, the country’s future looks promising.