Among others, 12 percent of the entire workforce was in the tourism sector directly and indirectly while more than US$60 million was earned from Meetings Incentives Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE).
As COVID-19 emerged in 2020, the tourism was among most hit hard sectors where revenues dropped to about US$121 million while revenues from MICE shrank to US$4 million. However, the year 2021 gives optimism for the situation to return to normal.
From January until November 2021, Rwanda earned US$134 million from tourism, translating into 19% growth compared to last year.
As at November 2021, arrivals at the airport also increased by 36% in 2021 compared to last year. MICE also increased by 50% this year.
Restaurants and hotels have not been left behind economic recovery where they have registered 62% and 32% in economic growth respectively.
Appearing in televised discussions on the impact of COVID-19 on the tourism and hospitality sector, the CEO of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), Clare Akamanzi has explained that the figures reflect how the sector is on the right path of recovery.
“If you compare with 2019 figures as the best year we have had ever, we are still not where we want to be but I think we are beginning to see signs that we are progressing well. The future is promising, Visit Rwanda continues to be a strong brand, on dairies of a lot of people who want to come and visit and continue to showcase the country to the world,” she said.
The General Manager of Onomo Hotel, Emile Nizey has observed that the economic growth was higher than expected in 2021.
As part of efforts to revive the tourism sector adversely hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, Rwanda slashed gorilla trekking fees by between 86% for Rwandans and 67% for foreigner living in Rwanda.
Before the discount, gorilla trekking fees was US$1500 set in 2018 up from US$750.
Today, Mountain gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park costs foreign nationals $500, Rwandan citizens and foreign residents pay $200 while international visitors on chartered flights pay $1,500.
Why Rwanda removed three-day quarantine for specific visitors
The new guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 Omicron variant which is believed to spread faster obliges all arriving passengers to undergo three-day quarantine at designated hotels. The CEO of RDB, Akamanzi has however explained that the directive doesn’t concern everyone.
“When we announced our new regulations recently, we exempted tourists that are visiting national parks from three-day quarantine. It is not all tourists. I think it clear that it only concerns tourists visiting national parks.That is not all international tourists. There are many tourists coming to Rwanda for business dealings, conferences and visiting families. All those are categorized as tourists,” she said.
“The one that we are exempting from the quarantine is only a small segment of tourists visiting national parks. And why did we do that? This whole exercise of managing the economy in the pandemic context has required a very difficult, complex but continuous balancing effect.
You are balancing managing the health, making sure that you are really curbing down the spread of the pandemic but also want to encourage in a safe way as much economic activity as you can because we need the economy to run, we need lives but also livelihoods, “added Akamanzi.
Akamanzi explained that tourists visiting national parks have the least health risks which she attributed to different reasons.
“First of all, they are very few. Out of 500,000 people that visited Rwanda last year and 1.6 million visitors in 2019, only less than 20,000 visited gorillas. It is a very small number. If you look at those who visited national parks in Nyungwe and Akagera , it is about 6,000 in total ,” she revealed.
With Omicron variant, Akamanzi said that it is expected to be a small number.
Moreover, she explained that many of them are fully vaccinated or have even received the booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
“Secondly, the survey that we have done shows that many of them are not just fully vaccinated but they also received the booster shot. You will find the demographic of the people that are coming to see our national parks, is usually middle to a little bit elder categories. These are people that will make sure they are fully vaccinated before their travel and have even the booster shots. So, the risk of contracting of spreading is a lot lower," she revealed.
Akamanzi explained that the third reason is to revive the economy considering the fact that the small number attracts huge revenues than other travelers.
On average, Akamanzi underscored that a business tourist spends about US$200, a conference tourist spends about US$300 per day while a tourist visiting gorillas spends US$1300 a day which might reach US$6000 in one trip.
“You can achieve the economic input with few people and less health risks with this category of people compared to bigger numbers,” she said.
Despite the removal of the quarantine for the segment of visitors, COVID-19 test is mandatory where are required to go for PCR test on the first, third and seventh day of their stay in Rwanda.