Interview conducted by Ashley S. Fitzpatrick & Kim Cornett.
Q1. The overall strategic vision for Rwanda has been to focus on high end rather than mass tourism, what efforts can Rwanda make to maintain its competitive edge against regional its neighbours to attract tourists?
One of the things that we need to do is service, being high end is a difficult one to keep because the demand of the high end markets are high and so I think our competitive advantage is really about quality and ensuring that we meet the expectations of the market. The other element that we are looking at is a niche market within the region. Because of the region and the reality of the country we very much work with the regions, we are engaging in how to market East Africa as a region, with Kenya, Tanzania Uganda and Burundi. At the World Travel Market we are marketing as a stand alone destination but also as integrating in the region. It is difficult for us to go from mass to high end tourism because high end means conserving, because once you’ve lost nature rebuilding it is so expensive and so we have a competitive advantage that way.
Q2. Would you say that Rwanda is more cooperative rather than competitive in Africa?
East Africa as a region is not doing as well as other destinations. But if you were to sell a destination to somebody who wants a 14 day holiday, three countries seems more attractive to them rather than just Rwanda for 14 days. We all stand to win, everybody gains this way this is the trend of the travelers and the demand of the market.
Q3. You mentioned the five star hotel the Serena, and how it was initially government owned but eventually was sold privately. What efforts have the Rwandan government gone to, to stimulate private enterprise in the tourism sector and domestic businesses?
One of the first things was legal reforms. It was very difficult and lengthy to register a business in Rwanda, about 30 days. Now it only takes a day. We have created a one stop centre for investors to come and get all the services necessary for setting up a business which would include for example a working permit, all just in the one office. There are also certain tax incentives for foreigners investing large amounts of money such as bringing in equipment that is free of tax. We have an annual public private dialogue to discuss issues and also market targeting and investors. The Tourism Department is part of the larger entity of the Rwanda Development Board and so we are all working under the same roof. Together we respond to all of the different tourism clusters under this one roof since 2008.
Q4. Gorilla tourism in Rwanda has proven hugely successful in recent years, generating local employment and tourism-related revenue. How is it possible to balance tourism trips and gorilla conservation to ensure that the health of the gorillas and the integrity of their habitat are maintained?
Last year in 2010 we had a census and we had a 26.3 percent growth of mountain gorillas for 2003 which was amazing in just seven years. That is the only gorilla population that hasn’t decreased because more gorilla populations else where have been decreasing. One of the things that we have been doing to make it sustainable is through trans-boundary cooperation between Uganda, Tanzania, the DRC and Rwanda to govern the three national parks and maintain the gorillas against poachers. We also have regular meetings with the director generals of the national parks to discuss strategies; a system of pricing and other regulations such as only 8 people can visit a gorilla family at any one time for one hour for five hundred dollars. We’ve taken a regional approach once again to solving the problem of the gorillas, we’re hoping to have a treaty signed between the three presidents so that we can continue our progress. It is the bottoms up approach that has really worked. 90 percent of the receipts we get from park entrances are from the mountain gorillas. Because the mountain gorillas move between the three countries when we charge an entrance fee fifty percent goes to the country that the gorillas have moved from and it works well for us, we trust that if our gorillas do move that they will also pay us.
Q5. In 2008 Rwanda became the first place in the world where women held a majority in parliament with 56 percent. In a regional and international context how do you see the role and influence of women expanding based on the Rwandan model?
Well I hope we can be a model. I think as women of Rwanda we realise that this is not business as usual, its really an opportunity that we’ve been given, it is a lot of pressure but also means a lot of responsibility as women. The change that I’ve seen is how much confidence it has built in girls in schools especially, for examples in encouraging them to study science where they wouldn’t have before, drop out rates in schools for girls were previously very low but in recent years this has changed. Girls see that they have an opportunity after school as our constitution guarantees 30 percent in parliament, this 30 percent is a guarantee for girls to stay in school as there is some chance for them after school. This world is different from one where for example girls can’t speak in public and where there are no opportunities after school. I think policies, especially from a post conflict country I think women solve it better because first of all in conflict situations it is usually men that die or are in jail and in these situations women take a lot of the responsibility but were not being recognised so I think in post conflict women are the ones who are affected the most because of losing relatives or men in their lives, the woman has to continue feeding the children and maintaining the home. Because of that suffering they take a certain level of responsibility. Women think about things in the long term and so the health care sector and social sector is designed with this in mind, building foundations for sustainable growth.
Thank you so much for your time.