The Uprise of Rwanda’s Tourism since the Genocide

Since the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Titsi the government started rebuilding the country, and tourism was considered as a major pillar that the country would use to bring in the so much needed foreign exchange, but also change the image of hopelessness that the international community had of the country.

First the government worked hard on restoring peace and security in the country, invited back all her nationals who had gone off as refugees in neighboring countries and especially secured the Volcanoes National Park in Musanze district, Northern Province, the home of the endangered mountain gorillas, which today is Rwanda’s prestige and pride.

After the genocide, destination Rwanda was difficult to sell due to the fact that tourists perceived the destination as a dangerous one to travel to. The genocide gave Rwanda a very bad image to the outside world.

Today things have completely changed and the land of a thousand hills is now an established tourist destination attracting hundreds of travelers flowing in to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

In recent years, Rwanda’s tourism sector has achieved tremendous growth within just the past 15 years, growing from a sector earning $62 million a year sector in 2000 to $303 million a year in 2014 — a boom that has been driven by the country’s political, economic and social revival. Tourism is currently the country’s highest foreign exchange earner after tea and coffee.

This achievement is highly associated with security, good infrastructure and sanitation. otherwise insecurity and bad transport infrastructure scares off tourists.

Reflecting back at Kenya a traditionally successful and lucrative tourism destination, has suffered from the effects of insecurity at its Coastal circuit, which has almost killed off the sector.

According to the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), 1.17 million tourists visited Rwanda last year, mainly drawn by the prospect of seeing mountain gorillas, especially the silver backs — an endangered species found in the Volcanoes National Park.

The majority of Rwanda’s travelers come from the US, India, Britain, Belgium and Germany. American tourists contribute 20 per cent of Rwanda’s total tourism revenues, according to RDB.

Revival efforts and standards established in Rwanda

To revive the sector after years of stagnation, the government embarked on an aggressive marketing campaign geared towards showcasing mountain gorillas of the volcanoes national park which is part of the Virunga chain of volcanic mountains that straddle Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the Volcanoes national park, from many who have had the chance to see eye to eye with the gorillas, gorilla trekking is considered a unique product and is sold to tourists at a premium of $750 per permit per person (Uganda charges $600). However, Rwanda’s pride is in the ability for one to ably do a 1 day gorilla trek and fly back home, which is impossible for Uganda.

In 2005, RDB introduced the Kwita Izina festival as a highlight of the tourism year. This is an annual baby gorilla naming and conservation ceremony aimed at creating awareness of efforts to the critically endangered species. This festival has inculcated community ownership of gorilla tourism.

Since the inception of Kwita Izina a decade ago, RDB says the country’s mountain gorilla population has grown from 370 in 2005 to about 514 in 2015 and is the country’s biggest tourist attraction. Rwanda earns $10 million annually from gorilla tourism alone, RDB says.