Interview with Belise Kariza, Rwanda Tourism

Rwanda Development Board
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Belise Kariza, Chief Tourism Officer, Rwanda Development Board

Belise Kariza, Chief Tourism Officer, Rwanda Development Board

Rwanda continues to position itself as high-end eco-tourism destination for visitors, says Belise Kariza, predicting a 10 pc growth from the Indian outbound market.

An emerging offbeat destination, Rwanda has made significant strides in the Indian outbound market, by launching competitively priced direct flights. India Outbound magazine finds out in a conversation with Belise Kariza, chief tourism officer, Rwanda Development Board (RDB), about the new strategies they are employing to expand their reach in the very promising Indian outbound market.

How important is the Indian outbound market for Rwanda Development Board?

India was by far the top source market for Rwanda in the Asia-Pacific region where we received approximately 12,562 tourists in 2016.

Considering that India is one of the second largest outbound travel markets in the world and that RwandAir commenced direct flights between Kigali and Mumbai in April 2017, we hope travellers from India to Rwanda will increase and directly impact tourism.

What are the challenges you face in the Indian market? Does the visa procedure facilitate Indian tourists? Do you think the Ebola outbreak is still affecting tourism?

The Indian market is an emerging one for Rwanda. It is quite diverse culturally, which is a welcome challenge for us.

We will definitely continue to profile the Indian visitors and ensure that we share all information on our unique destination with travel trade within the area. The visa process in Rwanda is also very efficient, as once the application is done online, the receiver gets a notification through the same system.

The Ebola outbreak is no longer a threat or challenge as health protective measures were put in place to prevent the disease. In addition, Rwanda is not in close proximity to areas in west Africa that were affected by Ebola.

According to the International Congress and Convention Associations (ICCA), Rwanda jumped from seventh to third place in the latest 2016 ranking of business tourism in Africa. Will this help in boosting Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) tourism from India?

Rwanda is increasingly becoming a destination of choice for international and regional meetings, hence the rise to the third position in Africa based on ICCA rankings. We believe that this should increase confidence for event planners from India and the rest of the world to bring their MICE businesses to Rwanda.

India is among our target markets and now with RwandAir flying to Mumbai, and India opening an embassy in Rwanda, in addition to Rwanda’s streamlined visa policy, and the presence of superlative MICE infrastructure in Rwanda, we foresee an influx of MICE businesses from India.

Rwanda Convention Bureau, a private institution mandated to promote and attract MICE events to Rwanda is working closely with the Rwanda embassy in New Delhi to explore the available MICE opportunities in India.

Rwanda is a relatively lesser known destination in the Indian market, as compared to other African destinations. How does Rwanda distinguish itself from its neighbouring countries to attract tourism?

According to the World Economic Forum report of 2017, Rwanda is ranked among the top 10 safest destinations in the world. Cleanliness and banning of plastic bags are another aspects that make the destination unique as a pro-green and environment-friendly destination. Rwanda is mountainous but its modern road network has made every part of the country easily accessible, leaving no opportunity unexplored with an average of three hours to get to any part of the country.

Capital city Kigali, nestled in the rolling hills of Rwanda, also called ‘Land of thousand Hills’

Capital city Kigali, nestled in the rolling hills of Rwanda, also called ‘Land of thousand Hills’

What is the Unique Selling Point (USP) of Rwanda? Can you describe a typical itinerary to follow?

Rwanda is a remarkable and safe country that has grown tremendously over the past few years. It has great infrastructure with an excellent road network throughout the country, allowing for convenient access to its rich biodiversity. Rwanda’s top unique experience is tracking the iconic and endangered mountain gorillas in the north of the country. Some other endangered primates like golden monkeys, chimpanzees and endemic birds have also found a safe habitat in Rwanda’s ecosystem. A typical three-day itinerary for mountain gorilla trekking could be as follows:

•Day one: Arrival to Kigali; Kigali city tour (including museums and the Genocide Memorial)

•Day two: Buhanga Eco Park and Musanze caves

•Day three: Mountain gorilla visit; Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village visit; departure from Kigali

The cost of gorilla tracking adventure was recently doubled from USD 750 to USD 1,500. What effect will that have on tourism? What was the reason behind doubling the cost of gorilla tracking?

The revised gorilla trekking fee, from USD 750 to USD 1,500, was recently announced to all visitors, effective from May 6, 2017. The move aims to ensure long-term sustainability of conservation initiatives, whilst enhancing visitors’ experience, and also economically empowering communities living near Rwanda’s National Parks by providing a greater share of tourism revenue to fund development projects. The tourism revenue contribution will increase from five pc to 10 pc, which will quadruple the absolute revenues received by communities. The increased tariff will also increase budget financing and community activities that will impact the lives of a lot more Rwandans.

Additionally, a new package for visitors who wish to enjoy the personalised/exclusive experience while visiting a gorilla family has been introduced at USD 15,000 (maximum eight people). This experience includes complete exclusivity, personalised service in briefing, park management presentation, and behind-the-scenes conservation components such as interactions with researchers and gorilla doctors.

A discount of 30 pc also applies during the months of November to May for tourists who book an itinerary that includes visiting either Nyungwe or Akagera National Park in addition to gorilla trekking; the package applies for a minimum stay of three days. Delegates registered for an international conference in Rwanda will be eligible for a 15 pc discount on gorilla trekking if a pre or post conference tour is booked beforehand.

Pertaining to the Indian outbound market, what are your expectations (qualitative and quantitative) and predictions for the coming years?

Rwanda continues to position itself as high-end eco-tourism destination for visitors, and we anticipate and welcome more tourists from India to experience our diverse attractions. We expect a 10 pc growth in this market.

What are your promotion and action plans for the Indian market?

RDB has identified India as an emerging market for leisure tourism and MICE travel market, we are planning to participate in different travel trade shows, and road shows in different cities of India. With RwandAir flying directly to Mumbai, this will be pivotal in deepening trade relations between the two countries as well as boosting tourism arrivals, from India specifically, and from Asia as a whole.

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