Rwanda – new hotels add to the African tourism success story
The hospitality deck of cards in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, is set to be substantially shuffled in 2016, when at least two new internationally-branded hotels are expected to open their doors, both some years behind schedule. The structure of the Marriott Kigali, located just a stone’s throw away from Rwanda’s hospitality market leader, the Kigali Serena Hotel & Conference Centre, is now visible for visitors to the city, after the green veil around it has been removed. Across town, not far from the location of the Rwandan parliament, is the proposed Radisson Blu still somewhat concealed behind colored streamers.
Visits to both locations confirmed that the two hotels are now a work in serious progress, as is the new national conference center and technology park adjoining the Radisson.
e Rwandan government, owner of the new convention center and adjoining hotel, earlier in the year sacked the Chinese contractors following a series of delays, and brought in a Turkish construction company with the directive to complete pending work within a year. This, no doubt, will be a major challenge but at least work is now visibly progressing, unlike during past visits when there was little sign of any beehive activity as it is now.
Also coming up is yet another new luxury hotel and serviced apartments complex, again close to the Kigali Serena Hotel, where the Conference Centre, even in the future, is expected to command a major market share while close-by competitors have to do with banqueting facilities rather than a fully-fledged conference center.
Across the city, however, other internationally-branded hotel properties are either under development, like the Marriott brand Protea Hotels and a proposed Sheraton Hotel, or have locally-owned hotels with no known major brand affiliation coming up, mainly in the three- and four-star segment. The Lemigo Hotel is building an extension which will effectively double that hotel’s capacity, and the Gorilla Golf Hotel, together with a smaller sister hotel across the city, has captured market share, too, aided by two more properties in Musanze and in Rubavu/Gisenyi. Other new hotels, likely as a result of lack of visibility and marketing locally, regionally, and further abroad, reportedly struggle with occupancies except when major events descend on Kigali in the form of continental or global conferences.
This push for more hotel beds, in line with the Rwandan government’s effort to position Kigali as a major MICE destination, should have the managers of existing hotels worried, and some in fact may be eying their occupancy rates more often than before. Notably though was Mr. Charles Muia, General Manager of the Kigali Serena Hotel, Country Manager of Serena Hotels – also overseeing the lakeside resort Lake Kivu Serena – and Vice Chair of the Rwandan hospitality association, not overly worried about a Marriott coming up next door.
“Global brands in a city is per se a good thing. It will give Rwanda more exposure, helps position the country and the capital as a major destination in Africa. Of course, a new hotel or new hotels, will have some impact on occupancies in general terms. But success is not measured by the name on the door. Success is measured along other factors and service is a key to that success. We at Serena constantly train our staff, have constantly upgraded our facilities and as East Africa’s largest hotel groups we have the back up of an organization which is the best in Eastern Africa. The property acreage is large enough to even build another wing similar to what we did two years ago. We have banqueting and conference facilities under the same roof and our reputation precedes us. We watch the competition but they do not give us sleepless nights.”
Serena in Rwanda, now offering the presently only 5star hotel in the city and a lake side resort in Rubavu, formerly known as Gisenyi, is reportedly also in the final stages of concluding the design and related work for a new safari lodge near the Volcanos National Park outside Musanze. The initially chosen location, though properly and legally acquired, as a result of a well near mobbing campaign by sections of the conservation community at the time, was abandoned and a new site selected for which announcements are expected over the coming months.
These developments all tie in with what clearly appears to be a national development masterplan. This lofty plan involved the now completed initial expansion of the present airport in Kanombe/Kigali, the state supported growth of RwandAir as a national airline – today the carrier together with Airbus will make their formal announcement about the acquisition of two long haul Airbus A330 and plans for their new intercontinental route expansion – and the plan to build a second international airport about 20 kilometres outside the city in Bugesera. The new airport is due for completion later in the decade but construction has yet to start though land acquisition has been almost completed.
Another Eurobond tranche worth about a billion Dollars will take care of financing these ambitious projects to position Rwanda as a technology, services and tourism hub gifted with infrastructure second to none in the region.
Supporting such development will be the addition of electricity generating capacity – the new Kivu power plant using methane gas from the depths of Lake Kivu should be operational within weeks now – ongoing construction of major roads across the country and plans to link Rwanda by rail to one of the major Indian Ocean ports, either Dar es Salaam – via the Tanzanian central rail corridor from Isaka – or else linking into the SGR project from Mombasa via Nairobi to Kampala and beyond.
If one were to compare countries with that sort of hunger for development, post-independence Singapore and especially Dubai Incorporated come to mind when in the 1970s the great masterplan was launched of how to turn Dubai into the envy of the world, something now accomplished beyond imagination. At least for this correspondent it is clear that Rwanda Incorporated too has set its sights on greater heights and is intent to turn the country, fondly called the “Land of a Thousand Hills” into THE African success story of global proportions.