It’s the Mayor’s fault there aren’t more tourists in Gisenyi

Last weekend, I left the hustle and bustle of our dusty (in my neighbourhood anyway) capital city, and fled to the fresher, quieter environs of the shores of Lake Kivu for two days of rest and relaxation. I’ve been to many a pretty town but I doubt whether there are prettier places in the world than the stretch between the Kivu Serena and the Congolese border town of Goma. With the cool lake breeze blowing, the smell of flowering trees and shrubs enveloping you and colonial-style houses giving it all a touch of French Riviera glamour, one would think that the two kilometre stretch would be full of weekend visitors. But that wasn’t the case. Other than a few labourers and hawkers carrying basins of some strange regional delicacy on their heads, the only people I saw who were obviously visitors was one young family taking a walk on the same boulevard as I was.

According to statistics from the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), tourism earnings reached $252 million; but as I looked around me, while sipping a chilled drink on the shoreline, how much could it be? RDB has done an awesome job marketing Rwanda to the global community and the just-concluded Kwita Izina ceremony in Kinigi last weekend is an example of this. However, I must ask, should our entire tourist marketing strategy be formulated by RDB CEO John Gara, Rica Rwigamba and the rest of their team? I don’t think so.

The Local Government ministry repeats one mantra, day in and out, ‘decentralisation’. So, why isnt tourism the responsibility of provincial and district management? If these entities can control their own budgets then it’s not too much to ask them to market themselves as well. For example, Las Vegas, Miami and Atlantic City, all tourist cities, market themselves directly to the American and international market, spending millions of dollars on advertising and event planning. While the districts of Karongi and Rubavu (Kibuye and Gisenyi respectively) might not have millions at their disposal, they must understand that to make money, you must spend money.  Who has EVER seen an ad in ANY form of media extolling the merits of spending a day or two in these towns? Not I. I think that it’s high time that the leadership in both towns stop taking their economic progress from granted. Yes, their tourism numbers are higher than ever before, but instead of patting themselves on the back, they should see what they need to do to spread the word. Perhaps a well-coordinated media campaign might be a start.

Okay, so let’s pretend that the district authorities don’t have the money to purchase a whole page in The New Times, why don’t they, working with event planners, GIVE us reasons to visit? Kigali has the FESPAD African music festival and the KigaliUP! concert, but what does Gisenyi have? It has pristine beaches, but how many beach and waterfront events have they staged? None.

It’s not only the lack of marketing and event planning that is hindering the growth of our tourist towns but also an issue of a lack of leadership. I feel that the leadership in our resorts have left tourism to the hotel owners. They must encourage, collaborate, and in extreme cases, lead.

I’m pretty sure that there are lots of people who can help make these towns tourist Mecca’s. All they need is the go-ahead. I am throwing my hat into the ring; I have loads of ideas. If Rubavu District wants to pick my brains, email me.

On to a totally different topic, Human Rights Watch is lobbying against Rwanda’s election unto the Security Council, despite the AU’s endorsement of its candidature. Now, I will not say much about its latest noise except this, where was the ‘rights’ group’s condemnation when Rwanda campaigned for and received Security Council membership in 1994?

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