Rwanda’s Tourism Sector Flourishes with Record Revenues and Visitor Growth

Rwanda’s tourism sector experienced a remarkable resurgence in 2023, with revenues soaring by 36 percent, from $445 million in 2022 to $620 million (approx. Rwf798 billion), according to the 2023 Rwanda Development Board (RDB) annual report. This significant growth, fueled by 1.4 million visitors, marks a full recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, surpassing 2019 revenue levels by 124 percent.

The success is attributed to concerted efforts to promote domestic tourism, which contributed $47.7 million to the overall revenue. Visits to national parks played a substantial role, generating $35.79 million in 2023. Notably, Volcanoes National Park saw a 38 percent increase in visitors, followed by Akagera National Park with a 24 percent rise, and Nyungwe National Park with a 10 percent increase. Nyungwe’s designation as a World Heritage site in 2023 further boosted its appeal.

Marie Grace Nishimwe, Director General of the National Land Authority, highlighted the broader benefits of the sector’s growth. The RDB’s revenue-sharing scheme disbursed Rwf2 billion to communities surrounding the national parks, funding 54 agricultural projects, 43 infrastructure projects, 8 projects for rural shops, housing, and artisans, and 6 community enterprise initiatives.

Michaella Rugwizangoga, Chief Tourism Officer at RDB, credited the growth to the strategic positioning of Rwanda as a high-end, low-volume, eco-tourism destination. Over the past two decades, Rwanda has actively participated in global tourism business fairs such as ITB Berlin, We Are Africa, and ILTM, engaging international tourism buyers and attracting top hospitality brands like One&Only, Singita, Radisson, and Marriott.

“Rwanda’s partnerships with global hospitality brands and the promotional efforts of Visit Rwanda have been instrumental in achieving this growth,” Rugwizangoga stated. She also noted the sector’s resilience and potential for continued growth, as evidenced by strong performances in the first quarter of 2024.

The leisure tourism segment saw a 48 percent increase from 2022, generating $236 million in revenue and surpassing pre-pandemic levels by 19 percent. The Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Events (MICE) industry also thrived, with revenues reaching $95 million from 160 events and 65,000 delegates.

Rwanda’s investment in infrastructure, promotional strategies, and a visa-free regime has bolstered its reputation as a top destination in Africa. The sector’s impressive recovery positions it closer to achieving the $800 million revenue target by 2024, as outlined in the National Strategy of Transformation (NST1).

Despite challenges in service delivery within the hospitality industry, RDB has been proactive in addressing these issues. In 2023, 400 entities were inspected to ensure quality standards, 275 were monitored for regulatory compliance, and 15 hotels were reassessed for star ratings.

Francis Gatare, CEO of RDB, emphasized that priority investments in key sectors such as the green economy, infrastructure, ICT, health, and conservation are vital for fostering inclusive growth and resilience. “The tourism sector, representing 10 percent of Rwanda’s GDP, can achieve its ambitious targets by enhancing visitor experiences, promoting Rwanda internationally as a premier destination, and developing new products related to religious tourism, culture, and heritage,” Gatare concluded.

As Rwanda continues to innovate and invest in its tourism sector, the outlook remains optimistic. The achievements of 2023 demonstrate the sector’s resilience and its critical role in Rwanda’s broader economic development.

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