The 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which lasted for 100 days but left the fragile economy of Rwanda destroyed completely causing a sharp decline in the country’s GDP. With the massacres of nearly a million people dead, impoverished life particularly women and children as refugees and militias took advantage of the genocide of ruining the country’s limited natural resources, national parks, games reserves, forests were mercilessly encroached poaching particular species of mammals to extinction. The insecurity dramatically affected the service oriented tourism industry as tourists could no longer come to the country neither domestic traveler could engage in any tourism related services as humanitarian agencies were struggling to improve lives of genocide survivors.
The Rwanda service sector depended a lot on the post genocide government programs to rebuild the economy, infrastructures, the functioning industry sector returned to production in 1996 to 2006 in particular the justice process restored following relative peace and security under the new leadership of President Paul Kagame.
Rwanda has achieved a significant progress in stabilizing her economy together with the international priority investors such as the United Nations, the European development fund and the Chinese undertook privatization of state business to increase production including the tourism industry prioritized as a potential sector, by 2005, the world investment conference in Geneva recognized tourism development potential to create of jobs, earner foreign exchange and hopefully reduce poverty and overdependence on subsistence agriculture. This led to a dramatic resurgence of economic development of Rwanda striving as a middle income earning African state.
The tourism industry still suffered negative media coverage as the country was working hard to restore her national parks. From 1998 to 2000 most national parks were secured and re opened for tourism despite the world economic recession and crisis with foreign donors hesitant to fund tourism development.
Rwanda has limited natural resources but very fertile and fragile habitats and ecosystems which were once swept into by poachers and herders leading to extinction of lions from Akagera national park whilst the critically endangered mountain gorillas in volcanoes were reducing in numbers. Nevertheless tourism seen as a rebirth and the country re-branded as “a land of a thousand hills” to fit the regional tourism market competitors. Equally good, strong conservation policies and the determined Rwandan development board saw significant efforts to diversify tourist activities to improve a classic Rwandan tour package, reduce poaching and enfranchisement involving local communities in conservation of wildlife.
The pristine rain and bamboo volcanoes national park was secured to protect the last surviving population of mountain gorillas with about 250 gorillas, the Rwandan development board partnered with African national parks to restore the big five status by re- introducing lions and rhinos. In beed to grow her tourism in early 2000, the government introduced gorilla safaris in Rwanda to Volcanoes national park as an eco tourism model of promoting responsible green travel which has turned out to be the top adventure activity featuring today’s many African safari travelers’ bucket list. In 2010 the tourism sector rebounded becoming the country’s largest sector and economic output contributing US $ 128.3 million from US $ 115.6 million in 2011.Subsequently tourists numbers to national parks started to increase which for 2012 reached 405,801 visitors coming to Rwanda with 16 % of these being leisure markets coming from outside Africa. Despite the genocide’s negative image, Rwanda is increasingly being perceived internationally as the safest tourist destination in Africa.
In the last 15 years, Rwanda turned her genocide legacy into a tourist product such as the Gisozi memorial museum tapping into the dark tourism market segments as well as greening of Kigali city. Kigali city was recently ranked 3rd greenest destination by the world travel guide. The MICE a sub sector of tourism established as a strategy to boost tourism, Rwanda has emerged as a destination for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions, steadily climbing the ladder, Rwanda ranked 7th among the top 10 host countries for biggest events in Africa by the international congress convention association following the successful hosting of the world economic forum 2016 with over 1, 5000 delegates spending much dollars for the 3 day stay and MICE is contributing 10 % of tourism receipts.
In the aftermath of the genocide, tourism remains Rwanda’s largest source of foreign exchange over the last 15 years following the significant increase of peace and security, conducive investment climate and the travel and tourism policies such as high end marketing strategy, the gorilla naming ceremony and infrastructure development. Rwanda emerged the best continental exhibitor during the recent ITB Berlin tourism trade fare, such events continue to attract tourists, the sector registered 1.2 m visitors in 2014, these numbers grew to 304,000,000 visitors at the end of 2015 accounting for the an increase in revenues from US $ 296.4m to US $ 303m.the Rwandan development board hopes to tap into more emerging leisure markets and increase tourism development.
Tourism is rapidly growing since the 1994 genocide, security and peace stabilized, guided tours offering to explore the rich history, culture and natural beauty of Rwanda’s wildlife attractions from the iconic mountain gorillas, big game mammals in Akagera Park, waterfalls, rainforests to the dark tourism sites. Despite the rapid development, Rwanda is still a developing country facing challenges such as high population pressure, few alternative tourist attractions to keep longer stays of tourists among others. Rwanda has managed to compete with East African states offering similar products and services such as Uganda from her limited natural resources.