How high-end lodges are tapping into Rwanda’s tourism strategy
It is Thursday afternoon and the clock is ticking. Kinigi is about to host the annual national tourism flagship event, Kwita Izina—the usually colorful gorilla naming ceremony.
On the sideline, another investor, Singita Luxury African Safari Lodges Reserves, see this as the right timing for a groundbreaking event to seal their intention of joining several renowned international hotel and safari lodge brands.
This year’s event had a long list of celebrities, who joined Rwandans at the colourful ceremony that is held on the outskirts of Virunga National Park, a road leading to Kwita Izina venue has just been revamped and several projects are being launched.
On Friday a few minutes after 7am, President Paul Kagame‘s motorcade drove past Musanze town and we later learned that the Head of State had inaugurated yet another luxurious Bisate lodge—before officiating at Kwita Izina.
Bisate Lodge – the word bisate meaning ‘pieces’ in Kinyarwanda—is located right next to Volcanoes National Park. It indisputably provides a high-end base to visit the famous mountain gorillas as well as the lesser-known, but very beautiful, golden monkeys.
Bisate’s classy architectural and interior design is borrowed from Rwandan building tradition of the Royal Palace. Built on about 30-hectare plot that was previously farmland, Bisate adds 12 high-end guest rooms of which, 6 are twin-bedded villas.
Bisate joins another young but equally breathtaking luxurious safari lodge, Amakoro Lodge. Amakoro Lodge, located in Kinigi (facing Sabyinyo volcano) is an extension of Songa Africa – a tourism company—constructed with the latest energy efficient technology with a focus on the conservation of nature.
They come to compliment the already established high-end and luxurious safari lodges such as Virunga lodge, among others.
In this context of high-end accommodation, the cheapest room goes as high (or low—depending on the weight of your pocket) as $1200.
Emmanuel Hategeka, Chief Operations Officer at Rwanda Development Board (RDB)—whose responsibility includes tourism promotion—says that the establishment of luxurious safari lodges falls within the national strategy of turning the country into a luxurious tourism destination that would drive up revenues.
In so doing, Hategeka emphasizes that Rwanda would no longer be a “brief stop” on a tourist’s itinerary, but rather “offering a lifetime hospitality experience” beyond its world-famous mountain gorillas, bird watching and natural history experience.
“The focus of our strategy is to develop Rwanda as a high-end tourism destination and Virunga massif is one of the premium destinations for high-end tourists, especially given the presence of rare mountain gorillas,” Hategeka said.
They are over 800 of these endangered species remaining in the whole world shared between Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo borders.
The fact that about 400 of these Mountain gorillas live within Rwandan territory, explains why Rwanda—a country that has been named by international organizations as one of the safest places in the world—becomes the prime holiday destination for tourists.
Hategeka, who was speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony of Singita Luxury African Safari Lodges, said that, the new lodge is an addition to “high-end hospitality ambition” for Rwanda.
Singita Rwanda lodge will be named after a deceased silverback known as Kwitonda which died about 5 years ago, hence the name Singita Kwitonda. The project is worth $16 million.
Situated along Kwitonda trail, Singita will add about 12 hotel rooms (8 of them being high-end villas) and it will employ close to 70 people, according to Graham Ledger, Managing Director of Grumeti Reserves (proprietor of Singita).
Ledger says the project will be ready for inauguration, come August 2019.
“It’s been a dream of us to become involved in the Rwanda tourism,” he said, adding that the move to invest in Rwanda’s high-end market is inspired by the invitation of the Rwandan government.
“Mountain gorillas are very special and we enjoy promoting iconic destination and products which our clients really enjoy. It was an obvious decision for us to come to Rwanda at an invitation of the government and we are thrilled to be part of how Rwanda presents itself globally. We want to enhance that an add value at the same time adding value to our products and conservation,” Ledger said.
He is confident that they bring to Rwanda “decades of experience in excellence” which is high-end hospitality, if the service offered by the chain of their 12 lodges and camps in five wilderness regions across three African countries—stretching through South Africa through Zimbabwe to Tanzania—is anything to go by.
Meanwhile, Clare Akamanzi noted that One&Only Resorts, another Luxury Resorts is also set to join the Rwanda market—cementing Rwanda’s move to a high-end tourism destination while narrowing its market to the wealthiest of visitors.
Hategeka said that One&Only will have about 20 luxurious villas once it opens.
“The projects in place bring a good number of high-end accommodation rooms in this area to about 80; which is really the size of the high-end market here given the number of permits we give per day, which are 96.”
When asked if RDB is satisfied with the available projects, Hategeka said: “We leave that to the appreciation of investors. But for now, the investments are good and they really add a lot of value to the destination whose life of high-end visitors is growing each day”.
Musanze on the move
Musanze town has become a tourist hub, and the mayor of Musanze, Jean-Damascene Habyarimana said that conservation and tourism have transformed his district—with a specific rise of hotels and lodges.
“Musanze has now become Rwanda’s main tourism hub and indeed tourism has strongly facilitated socio-economic transformation of our district and the livelihood of our people. Every year, we see a new big hotel coming up. I am certain that Musanze comes second to Kigali in having the biggest number of hotel rooms in Rwanda,” Habyarimana said in an interview.
Writer at Tunayo Business Magazine