Two decades since the killing of about 1 million Tutsis—a genocide amid a four-year civil war—Rwanda is now in the infancy of its efforts to draw business travelers to the devastated region.
A CVB was created in 2014, and the country is counting on big business to emerge from the bureau’s efforts, especially in Kigali, the capital.
“It’s a work in progress,” admits Ambassador Yamina Karitanyi, the Rwanda Development Board’s chief tourism officer. “We are seeing many demands for meetings of international standards in Kigali. We are more than convinced the direction of conference tourism was the right one for us.”
The phrase “work in progress” is more than figurative in this case. The construction of a convention center—an oft-delayed project in any destination—has hit roadblocks several times in Kigali. Karitanyi says the current plan is for it to open in 2016, which is shaping up to be a landmark year for Rwanda.
“We are more than convinced the direction of conference tourism was the right one for us.”
The five-star Kigali Marriott Hotel, a 254-room property that will include as-of-yet undefined meeting space, is slated to open in February next year, according to Marriott’s website. The five-star Radisson Blu Hotel & Convention Center, with 292 rooms, an arena, conference room and 10 breakout rooms, is scheduled to join it by mid-2016. Sheraton Kigali, another five-star property, is on the books for a 2018 opening.
It’s Karitanyi’s hope that the new arrivals will go a long way toward selling Rwanda as a destination to planners whose first thought is of the genocide. Upcoming conferences include Interpol AGM this November and the World Economic Forum in May 2016.
“Everything is first impression,” says the ambassador. “It’s difficult to tell people what is happening without showing them on the ground.
“Beyond the violence committed, it is time for us to move forward as one nation. We have programs in place to prove Rwanda is indeed moving forward in an environment that is safe and secure. It isn’t just public relations.”