In December 2014, Solimar hosted a group of 11 tour operators and travel agents from East Africa and the United States to explore Rwanda first hand as part of a program with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to expand global awareness of the country’s diverse attraction, increase the number of available Rwanda itineraries, and boost the volume of Rwanda itineraries sold.
Rwanda is home to one of the world’s most incredible wildlife experiences – an intimate trek with the Virunga Mountain gorillas. Visitors from all over the world descend on the iconic Volcanoes National Park to be close to the stately, playful primates. For many companies based in East Africa that service local and international clientele, Rwanda is only sold as a two-day gorilla extension to longer safaris in Kenya and Tanzania. But Rwanda is so much more.
The international tour operators visited a diverse set of cultural and natural attractions. Rubavu, Musanze, Volcanoes National Park, and Nyungwe National Park. The program concluded with a networking session with local Rwandan tour operators, hoteliers, and tourism service providers in order to create new working business relationships.
The program proved a great success. Surveys taken by the trip participants before and after their time in Rwanda showed a significant shift in positive perceptions of the destination – including better understanding of how both nature and cultural attractions would be relevant to their clientele. As a result, every operator will now list itineraries of 5 days or more in 2015 – nearly doubling the average itinerary length offered by the group before the trip. Over 80% of participants stated that the trip will help them boost sales by at least 50%.
The RDB has set an ambitious goal of 10% increase in visitation year-over-year. The East African market is an essential component in meeting this target. The timing of this familiarization trip with the East African operators was strategic.
Despite a 6% growth in visitation last year, travel to Kenya and Tanzania have been flagging in the wake of global press about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. According to National Geographic Tanzania’s hotels have reported a 30 percent drop in business while 2015 bookings have plummeted 50 percent.
Rwanda provides a salvation for many of the tour operators on the trip. The country’s perception as a safe, clean, and “undiscovered” destination provides a desirable sales alternative for travel companies that have heavily relied on safari bookings and Indian Ocean beach trips.