Last month, Rwanda Development Board, in collaboration with the Embassy of Rwanda in the UAE, organised a webinar inviting key travel trade from the region to rediscover the Central East African country’s treasures as it opens for tourism.
Titled Rwanda Open For Tourism, the webinar was hosted by Sammy Musa, Managing Partner, Gulf Reps Ltd and his team, in cooperation with TTN Middle East, with key regional travel agents and tour operators in attendance, along with potential travellers.
The panellists included His Excellency Emmanuel Hategeka, Ambassador of Rwanda to the UAE; Belise Kariza, Chief Tourism Officer, Rwanda Development Board (RDB); Bonita Mutoni, Chairperson, Rwanda Tour & Travel Association (RTTA); Philippe Zuber, CEO, Kerzner International; Timothy Njihia, Country Manager – UAE, RwandAir; Mohammed Al Rais, Deputy Managing Director, Al Rais Travel; Haya Yasmeen, Presenter and Producer MBC 1 TV Travel with Haya Segment; Nasir Khan, CEO, Al Naboodah Travels; and Facundo Rua, Managing Director, Fursan Travel.
His Excellency Ambassador Hategeka kicked off the webinarby sharing a historical background of Rwanda following its liberation in 1994. “Under the visionary leadership of President Paul Kagame, Rwanda has become in the last two decades, the second-fastest growing economy and the second-biggest Mice destination in Africa, the fifth safest country globally, with Kigali being recognized as the cleanest city on the continent.
"With great weather all year long, and an open visa regime, anytime is the best time to visit Rwanda"
– Emmanuel Hategeka
“Rwanda has become the first in terms of government transparency in Africa, with zero tolerance for corruption.
“Rwanda leads in gender equality with 61 per cent women in the parliament and a gender balanced cabinet at 50 per cent. Besides this, Rwanda is an evergreen, neat and clean country focused on conservation, conscious of the environment and sustainability. Rwanda is a plastic-free country. Non-biodegradable plastic bags are not allowed in the country since 2008. So, if you are traveling with a plastic bag, you are given an alternative on arrival.
“Tourism is Rwanda’s biggest foreign exchange earner with close to two million arrivals in 2019, generating an annual revenue of $498 million for the country’s GDP. With great weather all year long, and an open visa regime, anytime is the best time to visit Rwanda.
“Like all other countries in the world, Rwanda has been affected by the global covid-19 pandemic. But the country has deployed all measures necessary to stop the spread of the virus, and we continue to do so.
“We were the first country on the African continent to implement a complete lockdown in March 2020, followed by mass testing, contact tracing, isolation, treatment and mass awareness of hygienic practices as guided by the World Health Organization and all health experts. Rwanda is among the very first few countries to receive the world's first ever global safety and hygiene stamp, launched recently by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC),” the ambassador concluded.
Belise Kariza, chief tourism officer, RDB, the next panellist, added: “Rwanda has a well-deserved reputation when it comes to commitment to conservation. Rwanda’s gorilla and forest tourism programmes generally serve as high quality models for the integration of conservation and development regionally and around the world.
“Rwanda is an eco-tourism destination – 90 per cent of our product is based around wildlife, so it is key that we protect wildlife. All our central park staff have been tested and screened to ensure the safety and health.
"Rwanda has a well-deserved reputation when it comes to commitment to conservation"
– Belise Kariza
“We have 15 species of primates and one of them, of course, is the mountain gorillas. We are the home of several hundred bird species. We also adventure based. We have four national parks - Akagera National Park - home to the big five; Volcanoes National Park - the home of our primates, especially the Mountain Gorillas, Nyungwe National Park - my favourite one for the Canopy walk; and the soon-to-open Gishwati Mukura National Park, which is home to chimpanzees, golden monkeys and African blue monkeys.”
It is easy to overlook that a country so focused on conservation, also has excellent 4G connectivity, with 98 per cent of the country covered, adds Kariza. Rwanda has good infrastructure and a transport network of highways, helicopter services, and, of course, the flag carrier RwandAir, which the country has heavily invested in.
A LOT TO SEE
“It's important to highlight that Rwanda is not just a gorilla trekking destination. It is a 10-day 9-nights destination minimum - there's a lot we've got to offer,” Bonita Mutoni, Chairperson, RTTA, said addressing the TOs and TAs in the audience.
“You'd have to stay one night in a designated Kigali hotel when you arrive in the country - for HNWI clients, we have meet and greet services on arrival and they'll be taken to the VIP lounge from where they would transfer to their designated hotel. Day two would be the Kigali Genocide Memorial, from there proceed to Akagera National Park in your chopper for an afternoon game drive.
"Rwanda is not just a gorilla trekking destination. It is a 10-day 9-nights destination minimum trip"
– Bonita Mutoni
“Although the roads are in good condition, depending on your clients and their budgets, you can certainly do a helicopter scenic transfer to the park, which offers fantastic area views of the game while you're landing in the park.
“Head up to Volcanoes National Park, where you can enjoy a guided walk in one of the local villages to experience daily activities like cultivating, basket weaving, local beekeeping, butter churning etc. Day five is reserved for the Mountain Gorilla trekking experience, followed by relaxation. Next day, transfer to the park headquarters for Golden Monkey trekking, followed by an evening option to visit the Karisoke Research Centre.
“On day seven, head to Nyungwe National Park. We will definitely encourage the tea experience, you can really immerse yourself in Rwandan culture, go into a tea plantation and pick tea with the locals. Next couple of days will be spent in the park tracking Colobus Monkeys and chimpanzees. The trip ends in a day in Kigali, experiencing a coffee masterclass, shopping and purchasing souvenirs.
“With the luxury resorts that we have in the destination, guests can completely unwind, get into wellness and veganism and relaxation, at the same time, enjoy a spot of adventure, trek the primate. I certainly encourage you to sell the destination as a standalone one because we offer all of these incredible products,” concluded Mutoni.
ONE & ONLY
Speaking of incredible products, One & Only Nyungwe House, bordering the natural tropical forest of Nyungwe, opened in December 2018 with its unique culinary experiences and an amazing wellness approach. Last year, another luxury resort, One & Only Gorilla Nest opened, offering visitors an ultra-luxury destination resort at the foot of the Volcanoes National park.
"We must say that the genuine approach of the services and the professionalism of our colleagues in Rwanda is second to none"
– Philippe Zuber
“The luxury of space that our both lodges offer is just absolutely overwhelming,” Philippe Zuber, CEO, Kerzner International, said. “If you go to One & Only Gorilla Nest, you have your private cabin chalet, which comes with a very generous space, but the access to the outside is really very lavish as well. This gives a sense of privacy and unique services, which fits in well with all of the activities. We must say that the genuine approach of the services and the professionalism of our colleagues in Rwanda is second to none. I just want to recognise that we are very proud of all of our colleagues who are working on the destination.”
“Rwanda is absolutely an amazing destination for our GCC guests, who will be totally amazed by the greenery, the flash of the nature. It's something which is absolutely outstanding.”
Timothy Njihia, Country Manager – UAE, RwandAir, who also represents Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and Pakistan, said: “At the moment, the only direct scheduled flights to Rwanda from the Middle East are through RwandAir. The Dubai – Kigali route, which restarted on August 1, has shown some promise and we expect the pace to pick up further over the winter season as more and more people start travelling again.
RwandAir now connects Dubai four times a week, with a fifth, sixth and eventually daily flight expected to be added soon. RwandAir has already recommenced flights to Lagos and Abuja (Nigeria) and Accra (Ghana), and flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town (South Africa), and Entebbe (Uganda) are expected to start in October, subject to border re-opening and approval. Things are moving in the right direction.
"The future of air travel would be defined by the trust we built today, and I believe this is what we are doing post pandemic. We're trying to build trust"
– Timothy Njihia
“The future of air travel would be defined by the trust we built today, and I believe this is what we are doing post pandemic. We're trying to build trust. We are trying to show everybody that it is safe to travel.
“Your safety is a priority, whether on ground or in the air. And for that, we developed what we call a five steps guide on what to expect on Kigali international airport. And, of course, on board our flight. That five-safety guide goes with before you fly, what you need to do. You need to check in four hours before what do you need to do on arrival at the airport, inside the terminal, on board our aircraft and on arrival.
“RwandAir has always worked to ensure you feel safe on the ground and in the air as we resume our passenger services, we have reinforced health and safety measures at Kigali International Airport and on board RwandAir flights to minimise the risk of Covid-19 infection and comply with all regulatory instructions. We recommend that you check in online in order to avoid queues at the airport, all passengers and staff will be required to wear facemasks at all times inside the airport premises and on board the aircraft.
“A thermal camera will check your temperature as you enter the terminal building. Customer handling desks are fitted with glass screens and hand sanitisers. You can use our handy self-check-in kiosks to help reduce contact. We have placed social distancing signs throughout the terminal to help you maintain physical distance at the check in counters, our staff will be wearing face masks and gloves. All surfaces, including check in counters and self-check-In kiosks, are disinfected regularly. Robots will remind passengers and staff to comply with health and safety measures.
“At the security checks, screening bins are disinfected continuously to ensure your safety. Our barcode readers will help speed up boarding. And minimise contact, we have been working hard to prepare our aircraft and our crew for your return. Aircraft are regularly disinfected. All our aircraft are fitted with high efficiency particulates, absorbing HEPA filters that remove over 99 percent of germs. All our cabin crew will be wearing personal protective equipment on board a flight and are very ready to welcome and serve you, you will notice some changes to our onboard service.
“For added safety, we have moved our in-flight magazines and other reading materials from the bucket. We look forward to welcoming you on board, RwandAir Stay safe, RwandAir flight and dream of Africa.”
AL RAIS TRAVEL
Mohammed Al Rais, Deputy Managing Director, Al Rais Travel, which has been the GSA for RwandAir since March 2011, reiterated that Kigali was, in his opinion, the cleanest city in the world, not just in Africa. He praised the safety and security of Rwanda, the friendliness and welcoming nature of its people and ease of doing business with them,
"I have been to Rwanda four times, twice for business and twice for leisure. I'm happy to go again and again, though I'm not a person who repeats countries"
– Mohammed Al Rais
“It is very safe place, you do not feel like you are a stranger. Rwandans are very welcoming, very charming. I also participated in the Umuganda, which is the last Saturday of every month, where the whole population goes out and does community service. On my last visit, I joined the Umuganda - you really wouldn't find this experience anywhere else - and it's open to everyone, no registration or formalities of any kind.”
“I have been to Rwanda four times, twice for business and twice for leisure. I'm willing to go on the fifth and the sixth time, though I'm not a person who repeats countries, I always like to change to see new places.”
TRAVEL WITH HAYA
Haya Yasmeen, Presenter and Producer, MBC 1 TV Travel with Haya Segment, recently did a poll on her own Instagram and Rwanda came out as number one. “There is definitely no hesitation when I’m asked about my favourite place - it is Rwanda, which not only met my expectations but exceeded them. As a person who supports sustainable travel, I am so impressed by Rwanda – right from the ban of single-use plastic to the protection and conservation of wildlife, and the empowerment of women, the big presence of women in the Parliament and the number of businesswomen.”
"There is definitely no hesitation when I’m asked about my favourite place - it is Rwanda, which not only met my expectations but exceeded them"
– Haya Yasmeen
“Our trip started with the Kigali Genocide Memorial and I think that set the tone for us because it was one of the most inspiring and emotional experiences. Heart breaking, but at the same time, it really shows you how resilient the people of Rwanda are.
“The Gorilla Trekking, which was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, is definitely not the only tourism product that Rwanda has to offer, but it is a must do. Nyungwe Forest was beautiful was well. We did chimpanzee trekking but our timing was a bit off. We were an hour late, which eventually meant that the chimpanzees had moved and our two to three hour trekking experience ended up being about eight hours. We cried, we fell, we almost gave up. I asked if there was a chopper that could pick us up. I think experience was life changing - it pushed me beyond my limits, mentally and physically.
And when we saw the chimpanzees after this struggle, it was magical.”
AL NABOODAH TRAVEL
Nasir Jamal Khan, CEO, Al Naboodah Travel, reminded the panel that confidence in a destination was top priority for a tourist, especially now with the healthcare safety and security concerns, and Rwanda has demonstrated that it qualifies by being one of the first countries to be certified by WTTC.
“The trend has shifted from visiting well-known destinations to places that are less congested, open, fresh, green, offer the best of relaxation, shorter flights, economical packages, hassle-free visas, investment opportunities, and halal food, and Rwanda ticks all these boxes as well.
"The UAE is a country which has an amazing potential to generate business for any country. We just need to drive it in the right direction"
– Nasir Jamal Khan
“What we need to do here as travel agents and tour operators play a vital role to promote any destination but travel agents alone cannot promote any destination. The tourism board, the travel and tourism agencies here and the tour operators, inbound tour operators and the hoteliers and the service providers in Rwanda, they have to be in touch continuously. We have seen in the past, many countries, many destinations, many people come around, they come in once and then you don't see them - this is not going to help. I'm very glad to see that Rwanda is very active - the ambassador himself is involved. This raises the confidence level for all of us, especially after the pandemic when people are very conscious about their spending.
“I would recommend fam trips for the travel agencies - these are your supporters in the market. They should have a first-hand experience. I also recommend that the tourism board, together with RwandAir, should come up with special or discounted rates for the travel agents and their families.”
Facundo Rua, Group Chief Technology & Product Officer and Managing Director OTA Business, Fursan Travel, one of Saudi Arabia’s leading provider of leisure and corporate travel, meetings and events, and GSA services, said: “The average age of Saudi Arabia is about 29.9 and if you talk about Riyadh, it is about 23 years old. This population is very young and they tend to marry early too. And with that in mind, I think there's a massive opportunity for Rwanda to improve what South Africa did in terms of packages for honeymooners to target this segment.
“To summarise, content will be crucial - having the right content in the right language, in the right tone is crucial. We need to work together with the tourism board and with the DMCs in the country to ensure that the offering goes to the right customer segments and not to just anyone.
"Rwanda has done so much, yet the right message is not reaching the right people. We have a responsibility to hear this message"
– Facundo Rua
“Secondly, finding the right balance when it comes to pricing is key - because while we have clients who like the VIP treatment, we also need to find segments of budget, especially for the youngsters who are more adventurous and would like to go to the country and do some trekking.
“Thirdly, we need to ensure how can we give back to the community when we are in Rwanda, not just by sending travellers, but what are other things that our travellers can do?
“Rwanda has done so much, yet the right message is not reaching the right people. We have a responsibility to hear the message so the right offering comes to clients.”
By Rashi Sen
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