Kigali hosted 18 conferences last year compared with Kenya's 13 and Uganda with 10.
Rwanda has raised its revenue target from Meeting, Incentives, Conferencing and Exhibitions (MICE) for this year by 36 per cent after a year that saw the country tie in third position with Kenya and Egypt for the number of meetings hosted in the continent.
According to the International Congress and Convention Association’s statistics report for 2016, Rwanda was globally ranked in position 71 alongside Egypt and Kenya, way ahead of Uganda and Tanzania which tied in position 84 and Ethiopia in position 79.
Industry players attribute Rwanda’s rapid rise to a robust marketing campaign and the opening of two high end properties: The Carlson Rezidor managed Kigali Convention Centre and the Marriot Hotel in mid-2016.
The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) has set new targets for the segment, raising revenue projections from the $47 earned last year to $64 million in 2017.
According to RDB chief executive Clare Akamanzi, the segment is expected to grow exponentially because previous performance is likely to support the country’s bid for new business.
“I think we have done well, if we were targeting $47 million last year, that represents 10 per cent total revenue from tourism that particular year, because we are projecting about $440 million in total revenue,” said Ms Akamanzi. She added that the current volume of traffic, suggests that numbers will treble in the coming years and the country just needs to fast track sector development to secure more bids for hosting conferences.
So far, all the 18 conferences hosted last year were in Kigali compared with Kenya which hosted only 13 conferences and Uganda with 10.
Ms Akamanzi said tripling the numbers over the next few years is going to be linked to leisure tourism particularly gorilla tourism.
Rwanda has hosted 80 events since 2014, driven by the Rwanda Convention Bureau that was specifically created to promote MICE.
Another 20 big events are expected before the end the year, Youth Connect Africa in July; the Africa Travel Association World Tourism Congress and the Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony among others.
Ms Akamanzi said the country was off to a good start following its ranking as the third conference destination in Africa last year.
South Africa with 125 meetings, 62 of them in Cape Town alone, was in the lead, followed by Morocco with 37 meetings, 19 of them in Marrakesh.
“Obviously South Africa was very high, because they have been doing this for many years, but we have done well, for a country that has just finished a convention centre, and having invested in RwandAir over the past five years,” Ms Akamanzi said.
But, the countries and cities could have hosted more meetings than what is indicated because the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) only counts meetings attended by at least 50 participants, are organised on a regular basis and move between three countries.
“We are encouraging Rwandans to think about what else can be done when tourists visit for conferences,” she added.
Rwanda is moving to cast the net wider by bridging the gap between the high-end five-star facilities, the lower-end facilities and the middle ranked hotels such as the four star Park Inn by Radisson, which opened in Kigali last month.