Former United Nations World Tourism Council (UNWTO) secretary-General Dr. Taleb Rifai said strong political will is the mainspring of the tourism industry, which, on the global level, millions of people depend on to survive.
Rifai made his viewpoint known on Tuesday morning when he attended the “Visit Rwanda Open for Tourism” webinar organised by the Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda-Abu Dhabi and the Rwanda Development Board as the Central-East African nation of 13 million inhabitants opened its doors on Aug. 1, to international tourists by way of commercial flights. Flag carrier Rwandair flies the Dubai-Kigali (capital city) route thrice a week for now.
In his welcome remarks, Rwanda’s Ambassador to the UAE Emmanuel Hategeka said: “You may not know much about Rwanda but in the last two decades, we have become the second fastest growing economy in Africa, the fifth safest in the world, the cleanest in Africa. We have zero level corruption. The second biggest country in Africa for (meetings/incentives/conferencing/exhibitions). Sixty-one per cent of our legislature are women; 50 per cent in the Cabinet. We are a plastics-free country. We do not use non-biodegradable bags since 2008. No plastic bags allowed (to enter) since 2008.” Headquartered in Madrid (Spain), UNWTO is the specialised UN body that promotes responsible, inclusive, sustainable and accessible tourism. It has 158 countries and six territories for members.
On Tuesday, Rifai also lauded what Rwandans have been doing as he congratulated the ambassador in carrying out what needs to be done regarding sustainable eco-tourism.
He said: “I have been to Rwanda thrice. I was there for the ‘Naming of Gorilla Infants‘ (locally termed as Kwita Izina, among the conservation activities spearheaded by the national government in which the babies of the species Mountain Gorillas are given names). I am very happy with what Rwanda leaders are doing. They have the political will which is very good for tourism because tourism will never flourish without the strong political will of leaders.”
Webinar speaker Al Rais Travel deputy managing director Mohamed Al Rais said he looks forward to returning to Rwanda and plans to take along his two sons for the adventure as even he has been to over 100 countries as a tourist and as a businessman, “I am very shocked and surprised that the country is the cleanest if not the cleanest in the world. AM or PM, you can walk safely. You do not feel like you are a tourist even if you are in hijab and shayla. I participated in a community service which is so natural in the country and I did not even register. I just went there. I visited the Sheikh Zayed Mosque near a football field and the people let me play with them.” Rwanda was the first African state to announce complete lockdown and that was on March 21 at the onset of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID19); extended twice until April 30 to keep outsiders and residents safe from the lethal SARS CoV2. The lockdown was complemented with “mass testings, contact tracing and strict implementation of international health and hygiene standards.”
Consequently, alongside Dubai and Indonesia, Rwanda was granted “The Global Safety and Hygiene Stamp” by the private sector-led World Travel & Tourism Council on July 7, 2020. The stamp or certification helps tourists and business travellers identify countries which have adopted the global standardised health and hygiene protocols.
According to Hategeka and Rwanda Development Board Chief Tourism officer Belise Kariza, their government had relaxed their visa requirements in such a way that all nationalities are given the document upon arrival. Kariza took the webinar participants to “The Remarkable Rwanda” visual ride that showcased how a people who had suffered from and been torn by decades of conflict (encapsulated at the Genocide Museum in Kigali) have become more resilient. With the top-down approach combined with community and village empowerment, conservation efforts of their natural resources such as the lush and thick vegetation and rainforests — home to wildlife, among these 15 species of primates, 700 species of birds, lions, zebras, rhinoceros, among others — are winning.
Mix that with the storytelling villagers who proudly work at vast coffee and tea plantations as Rwanda Tours and Travel Association chairperson Bonita Mutoni said: “The community is an essential part of what we are. They are the ones taking care of the primates, (the wildlife) and our culture.” International tourists to Rwanda currently need to secure negative COVID-19 tests from certified laboratories prior to entry and which would be repeated upon arrival. There are 24 identified hotels for the quarantine.