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.
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!”
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.
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.”
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...