Tourism: Is Rwanda really worth the hype?

Travelers tracking majestic Silverback gorilla: Butterfield 

Rwanda is fast becoming one of Africa’s economic powerhouse despite its relatively small population, the mountainous country is situated in central Africa and its beautiful landscapes are green and encompassed by stunning hills, gardens, and tea plantations. 

Known as the “land of a thousand hills,” the nation’s history, stunning scenery, and warm & friendly people offer unique experiences to every visitor, making it a compelling destination for tourists in Africa.

In 1995, tourism revenues in Rwanda amounted to USD 4 million, representing only about 0.31 percent of the gross national product—a time when the country was recovering from the tragic Rwandan genocide of 1994.

The genocide, a brutal ethnic conflict primarily targeting the Tutsi ethnic group, occurred between April and July 1994, resulting in the mass slaughter of an estimated 800,000 people.

Twenty-eight years after the genocide (2022), effective leadership has transformed the economy, positioning Rwanda on the trajectory to becoming the fastest-growing economy in Africa.

The country’s dependence on tourism surged. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism sales reached $635.90 million, constituting 6.1 percent of the gross national product (GNP).

However, in 2020, tourist receipts plummeted due to the pandemic. Of the $635.90 million in 2019, only $212.00 million remained, marking a significant 67 percent decrease for Rwanda.

In 2021, each tourist spent an average of about $562 on a visit. Official data indicates that Rwanda’s tourism revenues rebounded to $445 million U.S. dollars in 2022, a remarkable 171.3 percent increase from the previous year. Nature-based tourism is identified as a potential driver for the country’s economic growth.

Importantly, Rwanda attracted approximately 110,000 visitors to its national parks in 2022, marking a substantial 142.4 percent increase from 2021. The country aims to elevate tourism receipts to $800 million by 2024, prompting the question: What makes Rwanda so attractive to tourists?

Inspired by these statistics, I became more curious to find out about the peculiarities of the “land of a thousand hills.” The geography, the culture, and the people. What are those striking places or events that give one a fulfilling tourist experience?

Aside from being a country blessed with unique wildlife, fascinating attractions, and other tourism delights that render it a paradise-like status on earth, Rwanda boasts beautiful, diverse cultures, a unique history, and wonderful national parks, making its tourism sector a major foreign earner.

National parks, genocide memorial sites, cultural sites, museums, festivals, recreational areas, plantations, landforms, major towns, etc., are some of the exciting features that draw tourists glued to the streets of Rwanda. 

National parks, including Volcanoes National Park, Akagera National Park, and Nyungwe National Park, showcase a variety of animal, bird, and plant species amidst landforms like lakes, rivers, and mountains. Rwanda gorilla tours, encounters with the big five animals, canopy walkways, and stunning views of Lake Kivu offer exciting experiences within these parks.

Post-Rwanda patriotic front victory and the end of the genocide, several genocide memorial sites, such as the Kigali Genocide Memorial Site and Murambi Genocide Memorial Site, were established to commemorate the lost souls of the 1994 genocide, providing profound insights into Rwanda’s history.

At this point, I would like to answer the question as reflected in the title: Is Rwanda really worth the hype? But before I  do, you might want to run through this article again. This time, considering how the tourism sector has grown over time and its due contributions to the economy.

Revenue generated from the tourism sector has not just contributed to economic growth but also created jobs. A World Bank Press Release in 2023, projected that for every $1 million (about Rwf 1,050 million) that nature-based tourism activities inject into the economy, an additional 1,328 new jobs could be created. 

With these very glaring facts and figures, Rwanda has not just been a site for tourist attraction in Africa, tourism has and continues to generate a substantial amount of revenue for the country, contributing to her economic growth and development, and reducing the rate of unemployment. Permit me to say, “Rwanda is really worth the hype and you should pay her a visit someday”.

Looking ahead, Rwanda’s commitment to sustainable and nature-based tourism positions it as a key player in Africa’s economic landscape. As the nation strives to achieve ambitious tourism revenue goals, it invites the world to explore its national parks, engage with its vibrant cultures, and bear witness to the transformative journey that has made Rwanda a fast-growing economy on the African continent.

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