Last month, Rwanda Development Board, in collaboration with the Embassy of Rwanda in the UAE, organised a webinar inviting key travel trade from the region to rediscover the East African country’s treasures as it opens for tourism and business in general.
Tourism is Rwanda’s biggest foreign exchange earner with close to two million arrivals in 2019, generating an annual revenue of $498 million for the country’s GDP.
“Rwanda is an ever green, peaceful, safe, clean and beautiful country, home to the rare mountain gorillas, who we conserve with love and respect,” His Excellency Emmanuel Hategeka, Ambassador of Rwanda to the UAE, tells TTN in an exclusive interview prior to the virtual meeting.
“From trekking the majestic mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park to going on a savannah safari to spot the ‘Big 5’ in Akagera National Park, Rwanda has diverse offerings for all tourists. In fact, people say that we have ‘The Big 6’ game in Rwanda - the lion, the black rhinoceros, the elephant, the leopard, the cape buffalo and, of course, the iconic mountain gorilla.
“Apart from visiting national parks, tourists can also enjoy a variety of fun outdoor activities such as kayaking, cycling, hiking and birdwatching,” Ambassador Hategeka says. “Any time is the best time to visit Rwanda, the Land of a Thousand Hills. We have great weather throughout the year, we have the friendliest, most welcoming people, we are indeed the best kept secret of East Africa. We look forward to welcoming guests from the GCC this year and the years to come.”
Rwanda’s registered investments from the UAE amount to over $110 million in the sectors of tourism, mining, transport, and logistics. A big chunk of this investment value goes to high-end luxury properties, One&Only Gorilla's Nest, a five star hotel at the foot of the Volcanoes National park which will reopen on September 1, and One&Only Nyungwe House another five star boutique hotel bordering the natural tropical forest of Nyungwe. Other investments include the state-of-the-art Kigali dry port, which is owned and operated by Dubai World. This in itself is a stamp of approval and open invitation to UAE nationals and residents alike to Visit Rwanda.
However, close to 200 visitors from the UAE visited Rwanda in 2019 and mainly for holiday, business and conference missions, and the ambassador would like to see this number increase manifold. “We have done well but we need to do a lot more. Not just from the UAE, we need to see our visitor numbers increase from all over the GCC. We see a huge number of visitors head to Saudi Arabia from Rwanda every year for religious tourism and naturally they meet many friends and new acquaintances.
Sometimes leisure tourism can be influenced by your friends in another country. We would love to see more visitors from Saudi Arabia come to visit Rwanda and experience Rwanda’s attractive holiday offers but also see their friends met during mecca pilgrimages, for instance.”
Rwanda has emerged as the second-best destination for mice tourism on the African continent. Investments in hospitality infrastructure, good roads, open visa regime and an efficient national airline have all contributed to attracting large numbers of conference and business travellers.
Like all other countries in the world, Rwanda has been affected by the global Covid-19 pandemic and has deployed all measures necessary to stem the spread of the virus. “Rwanda was the first country on the African continent to implement a complete lockdown in March, followed by mass testing, contact tracing, isolation, treatment, and mass awareness on hygienic practices as guided by the WHO – we take safety very seriously,” said Ambassador Hategeka. “Rwanda is among the first few countries to receive the world’s first-ever global safety and hygiene stamp, launched recently by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). The safety stamp means that Rwanda has adopted the global standardised health and hygiene protocols that were devised following the experience of WTTC members dealing with Covid-19.”
As of August 22, the country has recorded 2,889 cases, of which 61per cent have recovered, with 11 deaths.
Rwanda has reopened for domestic tourism since June 17, 2020. International tourism has also resumed as of June 17 for visitors travelling with charter flights for both individuals and groups. Commercial flights to Rwanda have resumed on August 1 this year through the flag carrier Rwandair, which connects with Dubai thrice weekly at the moment.
“As travel bans and restrictions are being relaxed, RwandAir resumed its commercial passenger services from August 1. Most flights started with selected eight African routes where travel restrictions have been eased and borders have reopened and most importantly, flights to the airline’s long-haul destination of Dubai recommenced with a thrice weekly service and more destinations will gradually be added to the network.”
To ensure the safety and health of passengers, crews and staff, airport operations will adhere to guidelines developed by the Ministry of Health and ICAO council recovery recommendations.
Citizens of the African Union, Francophonie and Commonwealth countries are exempt from applying for visas when visiting Rwanda and don’t pay any visa fees. All others are eligible to get a 30-day visa upon arrival without prior application. Visa fees cost $50 for a single entry or $70 for multiple entries. Applications may also be submitted online at the Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration website or at the Rwanda Diplomatic Missions of the country of residence before departure.
During this period as the whole world grapples with COVID-19 pandemic, all travellers arriving in Rwanda are required to present a negative Covid-19 certificate on arrival. The only accepted test is a SARS-CoV 2 Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) performed within 120 hours to departure (meaning travellers must be tested and get results within five days of their first flight).
“Once tourists land in the country, they are screened upon entry and take a second RT-PCR test to confirm the negative results of the test done prior to arrival. All travellers are required to wait 24 hours for the results of their Covid-19 test in a designated transit hotel,” Ambassador Hategeka concludes with an open invitation to you to visit Rwanda soon.
By Rashi Sen