Rwanda is the official tourism partner of English football club Arsenal after signing a deal estimated to be worth £30 million (about $40m).
Arsenal players will sport “Visit Rwanda” on the sleeves of their shirts for the next three years.
“The deal will among others highlight Rwanda’s tourism offerings such as the national parks, which are attracting record number of tourists due to growing numbers of wildlife including black rhino, lions, zebra, chimpanzees and the famous mountain gorillas, as well as the investment opportunities in the country,” a statement from Rwanda Development Board said on Wednesday.
RDB chief executive officer, Clare Akamanzi, said Rwanda hopes the partnership will draw high number of tourists and investors.
“We're thrilled to be partnering with Arsenal and showcasing the vibrancy and beauty of our country. Rwanda is a country pulsing with energy, creativity and innovation,” she said.
She highlighted some of the country’s tourism offers including the unique mountain gorilla tracking in Virunga, an ecosystem on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Others are water sports, cycling, hiking and bird watching.
"In addition, we are telling investors to Visit Rwanda and discover why we are the second fastest growing economy in Africa, growing at 7.3 per cent per annum," she said.
Arsenal's chief commercial officer, Vinai Venkatesham, said the country has been transformed in recent years and “Arsenal’s huge following will bring Rwanda into people’s minds in a new and dynamic way.”
“The Arsenal shirt is seen 35 million times a day around the world and we are one of the most viewed teams around the world. We look forward to working with the Visit Rwanda team to further establish the country as a tourist destination,” he added.
The football club’s first team, the under-23 and women’s players, will don shirts with Visit Rwanda logo on their sleeves from the start of the new season in August, Mr Venkatesham said.
The teams will visit Rwanda and club coaches will host coaching camps to support the development of football in the country, Ms Akamanzi said.
The sponsorship deal also includes Visit Rwanda branding on LED boards during match day and interview backdrops.
Both RDB and Arsenal did not disclose how much the deal is worth, but sources close to the deal say the sponsorship cost £10 million ($13.3m) a year, or $40 million in the three years.
“While we cannot disclose the amount, the partnership cost is part of our marketing budget to promote Rwanda and attract investors and tourists,” Mr Sanny Ntayombya, head of communications and marketing at RDB told The EastAfrican.
“We expect the partnership to deliver far more long-term in terms of investment and tourism than the actual cost of the partnership. It will also bring other benefits – such as using Arsenal’s expertise to further improve footballing skills among men and women in Rwanda itself,” he added.
According to RDB, Rwanda received 1.3 million visitor arrivals in 2017 with some 94,000 of them visiting the country’s three national parks, Nyungwe, Akagera and Volcanoes.
Mountain gorillas, only found in Rwanda, Uganda and DRC, are the main attraction in Volcanoes Park with tourists paying $1,500 for a tracking licence.
Tourism is the country’s largest foreign exchange earner and has generated 90,000 jobs, RDB said.
London-based Arsenal, a top-flight Premier League team, is the sixth-largest football club in the world.
In East Africa, it is considered to have the largest fan base among English clubs, according to a BBC survey.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame is an ardent fan of the club and has often criticised its performances and former coach Arsene Wenger for lack of success.