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Events

In:sight on Rwanda: What it has to offer for the MICE industry

BI WORLDWIDE's Corporate Event Planners Katrina Rannard and Teresa Allen spent four days in Rwanda, investigating what it has to offer for the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events industry.

Radical development

Rwanda is home to 40 percent of the African continent’s mammals, including 13 species of primates, and a number of national parks where you can’t escape the beauty and tranquillity of nature at its best.  In contrast, the capital city, Kigali, is a vibrant hub with a variety of restaurants and a lively nightlife scene.  All this, along with approximately 11 million people, is squeezed into a country the size of Massachusetts! But it doesn’t stop there; Rwanda has so much more to offer.

Reflecting back to what Rwanda experienced over 20 years ago and without up to date knowledge, some people may have a negative association of the country.  Never have these perceptions been so far away from the reality.  Rwanda has made a tremendous recovery and subsequently was voted the second most reformed country in the world from 2005 – 2011.

The government has been taking strides forward to improve everyday life with the introduction of initiatives such as Umuganda (country-wide community service), high fines for littering, adult education for skilled work, learning both French and English at school (70% of the population are trilingual), and free healthcare.  On top of all this the Rwandan Development Board monitors customer service delivery to ensure exceptionally high standards are provided without fail.  Nowadays Kigali is considered as one of the safest and greenest capitals in Africa and The World Bank has praised the country’s ‘remarkable development successes to reduce poverty’.

Carol Namatovu from Green Route Africa explains: “I first came here in 1997 and there really was nothing here, there were no roads and it smelled. I couldn’t even believe Kigali was a city and therefore how Rwanda could be a country.  The next time I came back was in 2003 and I thought ‘you’ve got to be kidding me!’ this was not the same place I visited only six years earlier. Each time I came to visit after that, there were more and more developments.  It’s been a radical change.  I’m now based in Rwanda and I make a conscious note each day of what is changing as there is always something surprising.”  

Boniface Ng’ang’a from the Serena Kigali adds: “If you have visited Rwanda before 2006, you wouldn’t recognise the place! New roads and roundabouts can just appear overnight with grass growing on them and everything! Every day we are astounded at the development progress and we live here!”

Kigali Serena Hotel - Fact File

For such rapid and continuous development, you only see small pockets of visible construction, which by no means restricts any enjoyment of the destination nor has an impact on your experience.

Robin Mcleod from Green Route Africa comments: "Rwanda is an emerging market, but still in comparison to other East African countries its infrastructure is remarkably developed. It is the smallest land locked country in Africa and tourism is gearing up to be a massive part of their income, and therefore wholeheartedly embraced.  As a country they are very proactive and there is an incredible willingness to learn and develop from other countries."

Venues which changed Rwanda's event offerings

2016 was a real game changer for Rwanda with the introduction of various international and upscale hotels, shopping malls and the state-of-the-art convention centre.  Kigali in particular has unveiled itself to the world and is now known as the conference hub of East Africa and continues to rapidly modernise. 

The new Marriott Kigali opened its doors in July 2016 (officially in October) and provides great conference facilities, an open plan lobby with food and beverage outlets and fabulous outdoor spaces. 

Kigali Marriott - Rwanda Fact File

The President and Chief Executive of Marriott International, Arne Sorenson, told The New Times that the hotel chain’s interest in Rwanda was based on the country’s economic transformation and it’s positioning of information and communication technology. Arne said: “The Rwandan government has placed information technology at the heart of the country’s development, and due to the growth of Rwanda’s tourist industry and drive to become a regional hub for conferences and exhibitions, it felt like a natural choice for us.”

The meeting hub for Africa

The real highlight during Katrina and Teresa’s trip was the Radisson Blu Kigali and Convention Centre, as this additional infrastructure opens up a spectrum of opportunities for the MICE market to take advantage of in a new and exciting unchartered destination. Having also opened in July 2016, the venue has already experienced many high profile international events.

Gloria Padua from the Radisson Blu Kigali and Convention Centre comments: “The increased growth of the MICE market in Rwanda can be seen with the association meetings that have been hosted in 2016, for example: WEF (World Economic Forum on Africa), AHIF (Africa Hotel Investment Forum), AU (the African Union Summit) to name but a few. Rwanda is quickly climbing the ladder of popular Meetings Incentives Conferences and Events destinations in Africa. It is now ranked 7th in Africa according to the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA).  In addition, the Rwanda Convention Bureau (RCB) was established in 2014 to fast track the development of the MICE sector.”

Kigali Radisson Blu and Convention Centre

Katrina comments: “Having seen many a conference centre in my time, I was simply blown away by the Convention Centre.  It is an event planner's dream! The dome-shaped architecture and hotel exterior reflects the traditional Rwandan huts and baskets. It is sleek in style and finished to perfection.  Every element you could wish for, they have thought about and incorporated. It truly is world-class; in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better facility.”

During their visit Katrina and Teresa stayed at the Serena Kigali, a more established five star hotel in the city operating since 2007.  As part of an African chain, the Serena Kigali offers a nice contrast to the recently opened contemporary properties by bringing alive Rwandan culture in its décor and staff uniforms to provide a sense of destination.  Service throughout was impeccable and seemed to be bedded in and come naturally.  

Rwanda isn’t stopping there though...

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Kigali is definitely ready for the MICE market.

  • Katrina Rannard
  • BI WORLDWIDE Design Director

The game change continues

Rwanda is heavily investing in its infrastructure and sees tourism as a large contributor to the economy.  On average, 98 percent of employees are local, the standard of living is rising and there is steady economic growth.

Carol Namatovu from Green Route Africa adds: “If the business demand continues, it will push the government to introduce even more.  In comparison to other African countries, Rwanda requires a relatively high end budget currently, but it does provide value for money with state-of-the-art technology, impeccable service and truly unique experiences. Rates are a little high as taxes are helping to assist with the current development and demand has been exceeding supply. Going forward we hope to see these rates reduce.”

Developments that are already in the pipeline are:

Flight Access - Rwandair is rapidly expanding its fleet and will imminently begin direct routes to the UK, USA, China and India.  The airport facilities are being expanded and a new airport being built.

Kigali – Further international hotels are coming on board with Park Inn opening in May 2017 and another two good quality four and five star brands not too far behind.  Old buildings are being replaced and people living in settlements are being offered incentives and larger plots of land on the outskirts of the city to make way for modern shopping malls and entertainment complexes. Additional incentive activities are being introduced such as local distillery tours and tastings.

Virunga Lodge Rwanda Fact File

Volcanoes National Park – Similarly in this region new properties are opening including a 50 bedroom luxurious five star property from a high-end international brand and another new opening set for June 2017.  Existing properties are also making improvements and renovations and in most cases increasing their bedroom stock.

With only four days on the ground, Katrina and Teresa were only able to scratch the surface, focusing their attentions on what they felt would be the most desirable areas for both conferences and incentives.  That said, Rwanda also offers rest and recuperation  opportunities at Lake Kivu with pretty islands, game drives at Akagera National Park, tea plantations, rainforests and chimpanzee treks at Nyungwe Forest where rumour has it the Nyungwe Forest Lodge is under renovation to rebrand as an international high-end, luxurious five star property due for completion in June 2017.

Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge - Rwanda

BI WORLDWIDE’s opinion

BI WORLDWIDE reflects on what has been a truly successful first project for the in:sight initiative.   As a growing and very up-and-coming destination, with infrastructure that has recently aligned itself with the MICE sector, the company is conscientiously and passionately delighted to put Rwanda on the MICE map.

Katrina comments: “Kigali is definitely ready for the MICE market.  For incentives I would suggest a twin centre with other areas of the country but for conferences it is ideal with exceptional meeting spaces for anything up to 2,600 people and a good standard of hotels to match.  The Convention Centre is a prime example of the efforts the country is making to put itself on the map and to boost the tourism industry. It is accessible through good hubs in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and with additional routes imminent all the boxes will be ticked from this angle.”

Commercial Manager of a large beer brewer and previous delegate at a meeting in Kigali adds: “Kigali is an excellent location for a meeting. The hotel and conference facilities are similar to more common destinations. The visa is easy, airport is good and close to the city, and there are many opportunities to have a programme next to the actual conference. I would absolutely recommend others to host and attend meetings in Rwanda.”

Teresa continues: “From an incentive point of view I would recommend small group numbers.  This would enable exclusivity at the lodges, provide a more personalised experience and tie in with the limited gorilla trekking permits available each day. It is possible to also arrange a bespoke Umuganda project for groups so clients don’t need to tie in with that specific date to take part. When looking at destinations for incentives, they need to be aspirational to drive performance and provide unique and unforgettable experiences – Rwanda does this by the bucket full! It is undiscovered, authentic and natural, at the same time offers all the infrastructure and opportunities you could wish for. I for one will remember this trip with passion forever; the only problem is that everything else now will pale into insignificance!  It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list experience.’

When to go to Rwanda

The best time to visit Rwanda is between June and October, avoiding the rainy season.  That said, Katrina and Teresa managed to escape with experiencing very little rainfall so other times of year should not be written off entirely. Average temperatures year round are 25-30⁰C and the time difference is GMT+2, so from a European point of view there is no jet lag for delegates. Whilst Rwanda is so abundant and rich in its own treasures, the introduction of an East Africa visa that also covers Uganda and Kenya, makes twin centre events with these destinations appealing and practical.

BI WORLDWIDE’s experience of Rwanda was one of political stability with a very promising future. Interestingly, it is the US market that currently dominates MICE business, and generally speaking the US is very risk averse, so this backs up the point that it has one of the lowest crime rates in Africa.  Whilst on the ground, there was absolutely no evidence of begging, litter or smoking - you don’t even see that in the most developed countries of the world, including the UK!  In many ways Rwanda is becoming the envy of the continent.

Katrina remarks: “The warmth of the people was what really struck me; they have a real sense of pride and are more than happy to introduce visitors to their traditions and outstanding hospitality.  On top of the exceptional facilities and activities on offer, it is this open friendliness that will keep people wanting to come back.  I would 100 percent put Rwanda forward to our clients; it is ready and waiting for business.  In the coming years I can only see it improving, what with more hotels, improved infrastructure and additional activities.  All this is done conscientiously with the environment and locals so any further development will not detract from the beauty and personality that exists today.”

Robin Mcleod from Green Route Africa concludes: “Indeed, there has been incredible growth in all aspects of MICE business and with their can-do attitude I can only see it go from strength to strength.”

Interested to learn more about Rwanda or BI WORLDWIDE's Event services? Get in touch!


Check out Katrina and Teresa's pictures on our Pinterest board.

In:sight on Rwanda: Looking at the past to understand the future

In:sight on Rwanda: Community spirit and culture

In:sight on Rwanda: Amongst the wilderness

In:sight on Rwanda: What it has to offer for the MICE industry

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