Rwanda: big on conservation
Rwanda is slowly being recognised around the world as a sustainable, clean destination to visit. It has been rated the second safest country in Africa and the ninth safest country globally. It has an embassy in the UAE and a consulate now in Dubai, which opened two years ago. The UAE embassy also operates in Rwanda.
We spoke to Dalila Yasmin, Charge d’affaires, General Consulate of the Republic of Rwanda in Dubai, for more insight into Rwanda and why it will work as a tourist destination in our region.“Rwanda is perfect for a four-night, five-day trip and we are a destination for families, so the GCC is a great fit. “Rwanda Air provides a direct flight to our capital Kigali from Dubai. Not just the local Emirati population but the expatriate communities living in Dubai are always on the lookout for a new destination to travel to: and that’s what Rwanda is.” Key tourist destinations in Rwanda include Volcanoes National Park, Nyungwe Forest, Lake Kivu, Akagera National Park and Kings Museum in capital Kigali. There are some luxury properties in the pipeline for this East African country, but some luxury properties already flourish in capital Kigali, the Marriott, for instance. Outside the capital, hotels of note include safari experts Serena Hotels and Nyungwe House, in partnership with One & Only, located alongside ancient rainforest, within the lush green expanse of a working tea plantation. Too much cannot be said about the Bisate Eco Lodge, a luxury lodge close to the Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda, where you can trek to see to the magnificent mountain gorillas. Hollywood celebrities have already sampled a taste of this property. Bisate Eco Lodge has its own conservation project on the side, planting trees in the forest. In fact, Rwanda itself is big on conservation and quite keen on staying far away from over tourism. “The local community is involved in everything we do. We don’t have poaching in our forests because 10 per cent of everything that we receive goes back to the community.” GORILLA SIGHTING Last year, The Rwanda Development Board doubled the price of gorilla permits from $750 to $1,500 for all visitors, to preserve the quality of visitor experience and conserve the natural habitat. “We don’t want to kill the experience with too many people. We are not looking for mass tourists. We cannot be a country about conservation and go mass at the same time, it just won’t work. We are unique and exclusive.” These gorilla permits can be discounted if tourists visit multiple Rwandan parks in the low season or if you are part of a Mice group. Special permits of up to $30,000 are also available for three days. As the demand for gorilla sighting is quite high, gorilla permits should be booked early too as they sell up quite fast. Volcanoes National Park is home to 10 mountain gorilla groups and each group can only have one group of eight people visiting a day for only one hour. “Personally, I like the Volcano area, the peace and the calm there. It’s the place I go to when I want to hear nothing; it is the closest to silence I have ever been. The mist in this area is quite particular, I never quite get used to it every time I experience it. It just takes your breath away,” says Yasmin. It is a mist without the cold, of course, she reassures, and from within that mist emerge the mysterious mountain gorillas of the Volcanoes National Park. Experts believe that there are only 870 mountain gorillas in existence today, and one-third of these are in Rwanda. MARKETS “Traditionally, Europe and the US have been the most important feeder markets for tourism in Rwanda but Africa itself is not far behind. As airline connectivity improves within the continent, and with Rwanda’s national carrier spreading its wings to new destinations, tourism numbers from the rest of Africa are on the rise.” The GCC is now going to pick up. Qatar Airways connects Kigali to Doha, Turkish Airlines also connects Kigali and so does Etihad, with a partnership with Kenya Airways. There may be an Emirates or flydubai connection too, perhaps sometime in the future, she says. Rwanda Air connects Dubai with Kigali four times a week. Last year, the GCC sent 1,020 visitors to Rwanda. From the UAE, there were only 192 visits to the country. “Personally, I feel this number isn’t too bad because we didn’t make a massive effort to push tourism in the region. And, it is not a top-of-the-mind destination. It’s interesting because these 192 visitors were pushed only by demand, not by offers from travel agents or airlines. This ATM, we have specific packages for tourism, business and Mice, tailor made to the region. We are better prepared this year.” There is a familiarisation trip for travel agents right after ATM at the end of this April. Come September, Rwanda tourism also has plans to host small groups of the travel trade to interactive breakfasts, introducing them to the destination and educating them, getting their detailed feedback. Visa is on arrival for all nationalities and comes at a cost of $30 for 30 days. There is also an East African visa, which covers Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, costs $100 and lasts 90 days. “The mountain gorillas are the main attraction in Rwanda as they are unique. However, national parks in Rwanda are smaller in expanse than those in Kenya and Tanzania, which means that the chances of spotting animals are much higher in our parks, during one of your morning or evening safaris. Our flavour is a little different from our neighbours. “Apart from the gorillas, we have 130 different species of primates, the golden monkeys are one of them. However, kids under 13, are not given gorilla permits. People also come to Rwanda for its unique history, some come for bird-watching. “I like to say that we have ‘The Big Six’, The Big Five and the mountain gorillas. Very few countries have ‘The Big Six’,” she says with a smile, playing – The Big Five – a popular African safari terminology that stands for five animals: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and cape buffalo. * Rwanda Development Board is at stand AF5230