Burundi is set to become the tourism gift of East Africa.
This is the way Dr. Marina Novelli, a principal lecturer and expert in tourism development from the University of Brighton, UK foresees tourism development in the country. During her visit, she undertook a rapid assessment of the status of tourism and potential development.
“A nation of endless natural, cultural and human resources and growing security cannot miss the opportunity of looking into tourism as a way to diversify its economy and use its resources effectively,’ Novelli said.
Invited by two of her former students, Justine Kizwera and Carmen Nibigira, who have recently returned to Burundi to work in the service sector and the tour operating business, Dr. Novelli spent two weeks in Burundi undertaking an opportunity study for tourism development.
She focused on an assessment of the existing and prospective tourist sites, human resources capacity and ways in which to build a sustainable tourism value chain that benefits the wider community.
The current sector is characterized by the dominance of business tourism, with leisure tourism mainly linked to an increasing domestic market, visitors from the East African region and the resident expatriate community.
Currently, the major tourism product is the Lake Tanganyika shore which is being increasingly equipped with hospitality infrastructure and other services to serve the increasing demand for recreation by the lake.
The international market is still very sporadic and in many ways undermined by the negative travel pieces of advice published by foreign travel bureaux.
Novelli was to find a pleasant surprise when she landed in this tiny but resourceful country. A vibrant nightlife with new cafés, restaurants, a cinema, nothing compared to what she expected whereas in other African destinations she was often forced to retire to her hotel room for security reasons.
During her visit up-country, she discovered a variety of sites which made her define this destination as ‘a nation of vibrant opportunities’.
A cheese making farm, Fromagerie Saint Ferdinand near Ngozi; a honey making cooperative, Grenier de Miel; a breath taking drumming site, Gishors near Gitega; a wood craft making workshop, Lazar Rurerekama; bird-watching at the north lake district – Lac Aux Oiseaux; the hot springs and water falls near Rutana; home-stay accommodation and home-made food in Gitega; the working villages and rural settlements; to name just a few, were amongst the most attractive locations visited. Novelli identified as the key priorities to turn Burundi into a successful tourism story the immediate development of training programmes to respond to a growing hospitality and tourism sector; the development of the sector hand in hand with a sustainable land management strategy; conservation of the environment and the crucial role to be played by the rural communities.
In a context where tourism is an extremely competitive sector, any new upcoming destination needs to offer excellent value to visitors through the delivery of excellent services and a diversified portfolio of activities; and this can no longer happen without evident local benefits.