The landlocked central African state is sticking to its tourism strategy for future international event success, with new hotels leading the virtual way, writes Paul Colston.
Rwanda has surprised many with its global tourism PR campaign in recent years, not least in the sponsorship of global brands, including a £30m (US$39m) three-year shirt sponsorship deal signed in 2018 with Arsenal Football Club in the UK.
“Rwanda wouldn’t have occurred to me as a place for tourism, so perhaps you do need to shock people,” Kelvyn Gardner, the head of international development at the Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association, said at the time.
The mountainous central African country is trying to put its troubled past behind it and speed development, Covid pandemic notwithstanding. The capital, Kigali has, in recent times, witnessed the construction of many top-class hotels and the Rwanda Development Board is confident the country can double its revenue from tourism (which currently makes up over 5% of GDP) to over US$800m in the next few years.
Tourism is the country’s No.1 foreign exchange earner and tourist numbers grew 8% on the back of the PR campaign in 2019, according to Rwandan officials who are placing a post-Covid stake on high-end travel (thanks to the mountain gorillas of the Volcanoes National Park) and hosting conferences.
The establishment of the Rwanda Convention Bureau in 2014 heralded some rapid growth for the MICE industry and the market, pre-Covid at least, was driven by the expansion of Rwanda Air, the national flag carrier; the opening of the Radisson Blu Hotel & Convention Centre, Kigali, the first conference hotel in Rwanda, and, most recently, Kigali Arena, a multi-functional sports hall, signifying the synergy of the travel and tourism industry.
The infrastructure development paired with strategic international marketing campaigns, have enabled Rwanda to become a sought-after meeting destinations in Africa, ranking second most popular destination for international events on the continent, according to the ICCA rankings, points out Hanna Moges, director of marketing and communications at Radisson Blu Hotel & Convention Centre, Kigali.
“However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the travel and tourism industry, the MICE sector in Rwanda was put in a temporary standstill, with a ripple effect on private sector support services such as accommodation, suppliers and event organisers. After months of unprecedent disruptions, the industry’s flexible and adoptive nature allowed for virtual and hybrid meetings to be the most practical meeting mechanisms,” she says, adding that the convention centre was at the forefront of efforts to introduce alternatives for organisers and bring together the best in technology and heightened health and safety measures.
The Hotel and Convention Centre recently received the SGS certification for implementing a series of cleanliness and hygiene procedures, having undergone on-site testing, including in-situ Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) and RT-qPCR testing methods – part of the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol.
“Adding to these strict safety measures, designated hybrid meeting rooms at the Kigali Convention Centre (KCC), equipped with the latest in technology, are proving to be demand generators for both local and international events.,” Moges notes, pointing out that the 3rd Africa Tourism Leadership Forum, Africa Green Growth Forum, 13th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union Heads of State and Government on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and Smart Africa board meetings, were all hosted using the KCC hybrid event set-up.
“Until things ‘get back to normal’ or evolve to new dimensions in the post pandemic world, the MICE industry’s survival will depend on, among other things, openness to technological solutions, innovative services, and cost management,” Moges concludes.