Rwanda’s tourism sector has been bullish, thanks to high-level meetings held in Kigali in 2016.
About 20,000 visitors attended events in Kigali, giving the sector a much-needed boost. It also helped new international hotel brands and the Kigali Convention Centre (KCC) get a foothold in the market.
While the global hotel brands Marriott, Radisson Blu and Park Inn opened their doors to the public, the game-changer was the KCC.
Between June and November, the country hosted 16 big conferences.
They included the World Economic Forum, the African Union Summit, Transform Africa, the Global Africa Investment Summit and the African Nations Championship.
According to data from the Rwanda Development Board, (RDB), the 27th African Union Summit pumped an estimated $4.2 million into the economy while some $2.4 million was received from the WEF.
The government aims to earn $150 million per year from meetings, incentives, conferences and events (Mice). As such, Kigali targets to increase the number of hotel rooms from 8,000 currently to 13,800 in 2017.
The Mice concept is geared towards boosting tourism earnings. In 2013, the country earned $49 million from hosting international meetings. Tourism on the other hand, earned the economy some $340 million in 2015, an increase of 10 per cent from 2014.
The boom in conference tourism comes at a time the country’s export receipts are falling while imports are burgeoning due to massive capital investments in construction coupled with a depreciating Rwandan franc.
The government has invested heavily in infrastructure including building inter-city roads, renovating the airport, facilitating the construction of five-star hotels and inking a deal to build Bugesera Airport, 25km outside Kigali. The airport is expected to handle 4.5 million passengers a year, which is seven times the current traffic.
The aviation industry is critical to the growth of tourism and hospitality. The government has been investing in the national carrier RwandAir, and still continues to do so. In 2016, RwandAir acquired two airbuses and a Boeing 737-800NG, bringing its fleet to 11 aircraft.