By David Himbara
General Paul Kagame’s government has confirmed that tourism collapsed in 2020. This is revealed in the government’s latest Letter of Intent and Program Statement submitted to the International Monetary Fund. A grim outlook for the tourism sector lies ahead.
Finally, we have more credible data on the impact of the Covid19 pandemic on Rwanda’s tourism earnings. As is widely known, much of the official statistics supplied by the National Institute of Statistics Rwanda (NISR) is routinely manipulated. There is a way of getting around problem – credible data from the Rwandan government is found in its Letter of Intent and Program Statement regularly submitted to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). To these, the IMF attaches its own data analysis known as Staff Appraisal. The June 2021 Letter of Intent, Program Statement, and the IMF Staff Appraisal provide gloomy news – Rwanda’s tourism collapsed in 2020. According to this data, export receipts from travel and tourism in Rwanda shrank by 73.7 percent in 2020. We know from the World Bank data that Rwanda earnings from tourism in 2019 amounted to US$635.9 million. The 73.7 percent drop in tourism earnings means that Rwanda received a mere US$165.2 million in 2020.
Collapse in Rwanda’s tourism receipts and the shaken domestic businesses offering services in the sector have led to official confusion. On the one hand, the government is desperately trying to encourage the international tourists to return to Rwanda. As stated on July 15, 2021, international tourists “are very welcome and will be fully facilitated with movement clearances to ensure a very smooth experience.” But on the other hand, domestic tourism is shut down. The government announced that “domestic tourists are advised to schedule visits and activities after the lockdown.” Will tourism apartheid rebuild the sector? Stay tuned.