Tourism: Rebrands using sport, film to reclaim top spot

Saturday September 02 2023

A fan looks at the website of England's Arsenal Football Club that shows Rwanda's new tourism promotion logo in Kigali on May 23, 2018. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | AFP


East African countries are spending dearly to lure more tourists to their shores, a response from numbers that had dwindled in the recent past following a series of global shocks.

Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have all been launching various marketing campaigns, aimed at tapping new visitors or reminding the old guests of the value they will continue to enjoy.

And officials in the capitals say the money is a good spend with a promising return on investments such as partnering with sports clubs, using airlines’ reach, film or even working with other tourism stakeholders.

This week, Rwandan officials were defending their tourism promotion agreement with Bayern Munich, the football club in the Bundesliga, Germany.

Read: Rwanda defends Bayern Munich deal

Bayern will depict the ‘Visit Rwanda’ label on their jerseys, offering visibility to a global audience that follows the German league, as well as the UEFA Champions League that the team participates every year.


At a press conference on Tuesday, Clare Akamanzi, chief executive officer of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the agency charged with marketing the country to foreign investors, and tourists, said the Rwanda generates enough money to pay for these partnerships.

“We can afford it. It is not excessive,” she said, but refrained from mentioning how much Rwanda paid Bayern Munich, citing contractual confidentiality.


“The money we get just from gorilla permits is enough to pay for these partnerships and other activities to promote tourism. We are funding these deals from tourism,” she said.

Rwanda says these marketing programmes can pay for themselves, making business sense of partnering with established sporting institutions. Bayern became the third such sporting entity to be roped into the ‘Visit Rwanda’ campaign.

Read: Asia dominates deals in Rwanda despite wooing Europe

English premier league team Arsenal (to which President Paul Kagame is a great fan of) and French football club PSG also wear the label in deals signed previously.

“Gorilla tourism is the fastest growing. While the rest of the country grew at 56 per cent, gorilla tourism grew at over 76 per cent. This is why we can afford this deal,” she said in Kigali.

“I do not think there is a price on a country’s visibility. This is a long-term plan; you may not get benefits immediately but in the next few years, you can start to see the benefits,” Sports minister Aurore Mimosa Munyangaju, doubled down.

A survey by RDB showed that the probability of tourists choosing Rwanda due to its partnership with Arsenal escalated from 35 percent in 2019 to 41 percent in 2020.

However, no survey has been released since the lifting of Covid-19 lockdown measures three years ago.

Kenya has been making frantic efforts in the past five years to increase and maintain its tourists' numbers locally and abroad, but some have yielded very little.

Rwanda isn’t the only one doing this. Kenya had tried renowned supermodel Naomi Campbell. With an estimated annual revenue of $1 billion annually from tourism, Kenyan officials had wanted more.

And in 2021, Kenya signed up British model Naomi Campbell to promote tourism and help rebuild confidence among foreign and domestic travellers.

Read: Model Naomi Campbell inks deal to market Kenya

Ms Campbell was to advocate for tourism and travel internationally for the Magical Kenya brand to increase and sustain demand for holidays and investment in Kenya as a tourist destination. It didn’t quite work out as the deal, sort of, collapsed on low budget, despite then Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala describing the deal as exciting.

Tanzania, under President Samia Suluhu tried something new: A President appearing in a film, in the wild, describing the wonders of her land. Aired for the first time early in 2022, officials say it has borne fruit already.

For example, when a trainload of 68 tourists from South Africa arrived in Dar es Salaam in January, local officials attributed it to the film, ‘Royal Tour’ first aired in New York to an audience.

Such train tours are annual in Tanzania, but Gladstone Mlay then Acting Director of Marketing for Tanzania Tourist Board said the film had helped establish an expedition that tourism players could tap. The country earns some $2 billion from tourism. It wants to triple the numbers by 2025 from the current 1.1 million visits per year.

“The arrival of the tourists is the outcome of the documentary of the Royal Tour starred by President Samia Suluhu Hassan,” Dr Mlay said.
Travelling on a package, they toured Dar and other key destinations.

The film initially targeted North American tourists. Launched in April 2022, it was screened in cities in the US before finally premièring in Dar and Zanzibar.

Read: Royal Tour documentary showcases Tanzania's tourism gems

The opposition

Yet not everyone agrees to marketing deals. Rwanda, and the clubs, for example, have faced criticism. This week, human rights groups lampooned Bayern Munich for engaging a country they labelled as low on rights.

Wenzel Michalski, the director of Human Rights Watch Germany said Bayern Munich’s alliance with Rwanda “is a very, very bad choice...

“Anyone who thought that FC Bayern would change sponsors for human rights reasons has now been severely disappointed.”

“The partnership with Rwanda is also a very, very bad choice. This is a country where human rights are trampled on,” he said in his address to journalists on Tuesday. Bayern Munich had quit a deal with Qatar Airways following pressure on how the country treated migrants and other minorities.

Human Rights Foundation released a statement condemning the deal as “an instance of the club lending credibility to another oppressive regime striving to cleanse its violent transgressions through sports.”

In response, Yolande Makolo, Rwanda Government Spokesperson said: “This HRF tantrum proves Rwanda is absolutely on the right track with our Visit Rwanda partnerships to promote tourism and young football talent — ultimately generate wealth and well-being for Rwandans. We are doing business with the world. A whole monitor is upset. Too bad,” she said.

Jan-Christian Dreesen, FC Bayern CEO, said the partnership was agreed upon until the summer of 2028.

After the Campbell deal collapsed, Kenya tapped media-buying agency Dalh-Mac Group, to market Kenya’s destinations in travel.

In partnership with Kenya Airways, the campaign offer flight booking options as well as partner travel itineraries that suit different interests and budgets from seven tour operators (Africa Answers, African Travel, Audley Travel, GAdventures, Goway, Intrepid, and Kensington Tours).

Read: NGUGI: No one can market Africa’s beauty more than its own stars

This had been shown in the tourism strategy for Kenya 2021-25. But officials want to cut out marketing spending in three traditional tourism source markets that didn’t respond, to free advertising budget in favour of five new markets like China, UAE, Saudi Arabia and South Korea that it says have high potential for visitors and revenue.

The Tourism and Wildlife ministry said will turn from Italy, Switzerland and Japan due to the lower share captured in previous efforts and use the money on the targeted new source markets.

“Kenya may start by tailored marketing campaigns for the 1-2 countries with the highest potential within each category: US, UK, China, UAE and Saudi Arabia,” said the ministry in a new strategy paper.

Earlier this year, Kenya launched a massive media campaign in Western countries. The tactic targeted print media with sponsored commentaries and stories on Kenya’s overall economic and political stability, an indirect marketing for tourism as well. The returns are yet to be determined especially as the country also maneuvers its post-election narratives.

“FC Bayern can become active on the African continent and gather important experiences. “The new platinum partnership is aligned with long-term goals. We will promote ‘Visit Rwanda’ and help Rwanda grow in sports with projects for youth football.”

Travellers can then explore Kenyan culture, gastronomy, ecotourism and engage in adventure activities, cultural events, wildlife safaris based on what the operators serve.