(eTN) – The latest World Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report has just put Rwanda ahead of her neighbous in the East African Community, reaching the best marks. This is a glowing endorsement of Rwandan government policies towards tourism and conservation with lip service being overtaken by action and growing funds allocations for marketing, unlike in neighboring Uganda, which slipped a few places backwards to the chagrin of the country’s private sector.
Rwanda’s impact on the global tourism scene has many reasons, apart from the country’s natural attractions, the main cause for the impressive sectoral performance is thought to be rooted in President Kagame’s direct and keen interest in all matters pertaining to conservation and the tourism sector, which has grown into the number one foreign currency earner and has become the economic locomotive for the country.
Said one regular source in Kigali: “Our government appreciates that tourism is spreading good news about Rwanda around the world. Many of our visitors are of substance back home and can act as conduits for us when it comes to trade and investment promotion, because they have seen us in action when visiting as tourists. The Rwanda Development Board gives tourism and conservation a very high priority and government takes many measures to ensure our continued competitiveness in tourism in the region. Our latest re-forestation policies will create more biospheres where it is needed and allow more tourism products to be launched, besides Nyungwe which became a national park a few years ago and is now a magnet for visitors besides our gorillas.”
Kenya’s success in making 2010 the “best year ever” for tourism is rooted in spending big bucks abroad in existing, new, and emerging markets, and yet the private sector there continues to insist that more funding is needed to match the country’s main competitors from the African continent. Said a senior stakeholder from Nairobi to this correspondent: “Egypt has had a bad spell, but you just wait and see how much money they will pour into promotions and marketing this year and next year to make those bad memories of demonstrations, etc., go away. We must match this dollar by dollar if we want to continue to grow our tourism industry. South Africa is still on a high note after the World Cup last year, and they are also spending a lot of money, and they are now close to introducing a SADC common tourist visa. We here in East Africa need that also to make our region attractive to visitors, and I only wish our neighbors could have matched our reduction in visa fees. But the main issue is a good budget to go out and promote Kenya to the world at every opportunity, and we are lobbying government to increase allocations in the next budget.”
In Uganda, though, the mood is one of bewilderment, considering the many natural attractions the country has to offer to visitors, the improved infrastructure and the increased connectivity by air to the four corners of the world. Commented one stakeholder in regular contact: “How can Rwanda get ahead of us? We had a head start on them and still they overtake us. We have more parks, more air connections, more birdlife, and still? Maybe it is because of fragmentation of the sector, too many cooks so to speak, and few with capacity to create the vision we need to succeed in coming years. And, of course, our government has been deceiving us over their financial support. It is lacking everywhere, the tourist board does never have enough money to pay for much more than running their office and go[ing] to a few trade fairs. UWA [Uganda Wildlife Authority] is in crisis because of the minister’s actions. The school in Jinja is without a governing law after over 3 years. All we get is once in a while a ‘big event,’ which has not even been very broadly discussed with the sector, and then they claim that ‘we support you.’ Some years ago we had a 6 month CNN campaign, and it worked very very well, but then there was never any follow-up at all, and the benefits went out of the window. Maybe we can get an active new minister who can support the sector in cabinet?”
Rwanda, though, is rightly proud of their continued growth and achievement, and as one senior stakeholder put it: “We require no visa from most countries visiting us. That means no hassle for them, open doors, and a friendly welcome. Our main attractions can all be reached easily from Kigali. Our road network has very much improved, and the new parks are making a big impact. I think our message that we are committed to biodiversity and put[ting] the environment first has taken hold. We are increasing competence and skills very deliberately amongst the tourism workforce, and our national airline has helped to spread Rwanda’s message further and further abroad. All in all, we deserve our ranking, and it is an incentive to do even better next year.”