Since 2001, tourism has been considered a central economic sector in Rwanda, benefiting 60% of the population. The upswing of tourism in the country, in addition to a diversification of economic revenues, contributes to the realization of the goal of becoming the most important congress destination of the Central and East African region in the coming years. It is important that the Rwandan tourism sector is based on the idea of "class instead of mass". In this context, the keyword of soft tourism plays a decisive role. First-class and ecological tourism have top priority in the small Central African country according to its own statements; mass crowds are regarded as a foreign word, quite the opposite to the neighbouring countries Tanzania and Uganda.
The determined pursuit of the mentioned goals has earned the country its well-deserved reputation as an insider tip for African fans in recent years.
The Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN) has been completely reformed to promote tourism. Private sponsors now also offer a wide range of services for tourists. However, these are still financially and strategically strongly tied to the state ORTPNs. Other major obstacles in the development of tourism are the quality of rural hotels and the condition and expansion of the Rwandan road network.
´The country's main attractions include the endangered mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains, which belong to the Volcanoes National Park in the north of the country. The primates became famous at the beginning of the 1980s through the research work of the American Dian Fossey and the film "Gorillas in the Fog". The expeditions last a total of four hours, of which the tourists spend an hour observing the gorillas. Gentle tourism plays an important role especially in this context: The aim is to protect the threatened gorillas and their natural environment through tourism. The soft tourism results in some rules: The number of visitor groups is limited to 8 persons per gorilla family, the price for an expedition for foreigners is 750$ per person, rules of conduct, such as photographing without lightning and a minimum distance of 7 meters to the gorillas, are to be kept. Theoretically this corresponds to the guidelines, but in practice the minimum distance to the animals is not consistently enforced. Due to their very close relationship to humans, the gorillas are thus exposed to a high risk of transmission of human pathogens. The threat to the monkey species from poaching has been reduced by patrols in the national parks - these are financed by the high fees. In addition, 10% of the fees go to the local population for schools, roads, etc, as well as to farmers whose plantations were damaged by gorillas to promote a peaceful neighbourship between humans and animals.
However, Rwanda is not only an attractive travel destination with its gorillas. Many exciting attractions, whether nature, culture or history of the country are also worth seeing. Rwanda has three national parks on an area smaller than NRW: the Volcanoes National Park, the Akagera National Park and the Nyungwe Forest National Park, all of which can be explored and present a variety of flora and fauna. A journey on the traces of Rwandan history leads to the memorials of the genocide in Kigali, Murambi, Nyanza and Ntarama. Looking even further back, the journey leads back to the era of the monarchy and to the Royal Palace in Nyanza; the history of the small Central African country is also shown in many ways in the Rwandan National Museum in Butare. In the Iby' Iwacu Cultural Village in Musanze the culture of the country is impressively presented especially for tourists: traditional dances, archery and the treatment by a non-medical practitioner can be experienced as well as traditional Rwandan dishes and drinks. Also the lake landscape in Rwanda is impressive. Besides the largest Rwandan lake, Lake Kivu, the twin lakes Burera and Ruhondo are also breathtaking. The tea plantations of Pfunda, Gisakura and Gisovu as well as the Maraba coffee plantations, which are the origin of the most important export goods of the country, can be visited. Exciting discovery tours can also be made on foot or by bicycle in the area of origin of the world's largest rivers: the Congo-Nile Trail offers breathtaking views over the country.
The Agaseke baskets are traditionally woven by hand. They are also called the "peace basket" and represent a celebrity of the country and an actively practiced reconciliation work. Through their cooperation in the project, the women contribute to conflict resolution, although the immense potential of tourism for peace work in the country has not yet been fully exploited. The tourism sector has made a significant contribution to improving the country's image after the genocide by cooperating with former conflict opponents, creating jobs and income and thereby improving the livelihoods of many Rwandans, and also by promoting environmental protection to preserve the national parks. Despite its enormous potential, however, there are still few targeted peace-building activities in the tourism sector. Examples of such a commitment are, for example, supporting financing through profits from the tourism sector for the construction of schools for economically disadvantaged and orphaned children or the production of the mentioned peace baskets in women's cooperatives. Private companies still have too little knowledge to assess their impact on conflicts and active peacebuilding.
In contrast, Rwanda's appearance at the International Tourism Exchange (ITB) 2015 in Berlin can be described as above-average: Rwanda's exhibition stand was awarded the "Best of the Best" exhibitor prize among 11,000 exhibitors, and the country received the prize for the best stand on the African continent for the sixth time.
Rwanda, already named one of the ten best travel destinations in the world by the Lonely Planet in 2009, has recently attracted increasing interest from the European travel industry, as was demonstrated at the ITB.
It is not for nothing that Rwanda is also referred to as "African Switzerland" - Kigali is considered the cleanest capital city in Africa. Plastic bags have been banned in the country since 2008 and once a month Umuganda takes place, a day on which all Rwandans work together for their country by doing charitable work. This includes cleaning up garbage, planting trees, building schools, discussing regional issues, etc.
The diversity of the country, the aspiring modernity of the capital on the one hand and the traditional African culture on the hills far away from the capital on the other, makes Rwanda a fascinating destination for many tourists.
Autorin: Hannah Posern
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