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Rwanda has the opportunity to lead

June 25, 2013

When one visits Akagera National Park and looks at the newly operational Ruzizi Tented Lodge, one keeps on wondering how can you build such a beautiful place where you are not only pampered by the views around you, but you know it is real eco-friendly. The fact that they operate all electrical appliances, heavy duty freezers and even water pumps with captive solar power demonstrates, if required one can go far in trying to continue innovation.

The trend in tourism is changing globally. We lived in times, where we could take a one hop flight to go to Europe or North America but had to change planes multiple times to travel to a country in the region. Now that is changing. There are more regional airlines than ever before adding planes to their fleet and connecting to more destinations like RwandAir. In Asia, tourism in Cambodia has grown due to more Thais, Malaysian, Vietnamese and Singaporeans traveling to Cambodia. Nepal’s major tourism earning comes from its domestic, Indian and Chinese tourists. Turkey is attracting regional tourists like never before. The spending patterns of tourists are changing so as to the demographics. More young people are traveling than ever before as connectivity is improving, so as the cost to get to a destination.

The growing number and changing profile of tourists will impact future growth and development of tourism. In Nepal, everyone initially came for the Everest and trekking in the Everest and then in the Annapurna region. Now there are young tourists who come in search of adventure tourism and eco-tourism destinations. Younger people manage to take to more difficult terrain and get more opportunities to go places. A similar parallel can perhaps be drawn for Rwanda, where in addition to the iconic gorilla tourism like Everest for Nepal, there would be opportunities to draw more tourists especially from the region to explore eco-tourism destination. Eco-tourism requires a tremendous amount of political will and enforcement of rule of law, which Rwanda definitely is on the forefront.

In Nepal, many Nepalis especially from the rural areas use to always refrain from going on trekking as they used to always say that they have been walking all their lives for livelihood be it fetching stuff from the markets, water, firewood or taking animals for grazing. Today’s generation growing in urban areas don’t know what is the world of walking around and more younger people are taking to trekking, walking and cycling in the hills of Nepal. We can see that happening in Rwanda, where a large number of growing urban population of children, in couple of years will want to interact with nature and will start taking keen interest in eco-tourism exploring the beautiful country they live in. The drawing of attention to the canopy walk within the Nyungwe Forest National Park, shows that if there are products, people are willing to explore.

There is an opportunity for Rwanda to take leadership in development of Eco-tourism not only in East and Central Africa, but to emerge as a model for tourism development in Africa. Rwanda has demonstrated with managed gorilla tourism, as to the implementation of rules and promotion of conservation. It is possible to replicate this in slightly larger scale. The exploration of the Cable Car Project in Karisimbi and linking to an eco-tourism corridor could be another great leap in development of another product that will complement and boost the gorilla based tourism.

They key steps for Rwanda will be to be able to get international tourists flying in directly from different parts of the world rather than being an extension of another neighboring destination. These tourists should be able to have enough to do for five to six days in Rwanda before flying back. In addition the icing on the cake will be for more tourists from the region as well as other parts of Africa visiting in the years to come as the continent unleashes itself economically.

Sujeev Shakya, is a CEO of beed management, Nepal, a management consulting firm and columnist the The Kathmandu Post. He is currently in Kigali for an assignment.