The Future of Rwanda as a Meeting and Exhibition Destination

Rwanda has been making giant strides in recent years in its attempt to become a Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) destination. According to the Rwanda Convention Bureau website, Kigali is the second-biggest destination in Africa in terms of hosting International Congress and Convention Association events. Are we likely to see further growth in this area in the future?

Why Is Rwanda Popular for Exhibitions and Conferences?

One of the big reasons for Rwanda’s popularity as a major conference center is the ease with which visitors can get visas. From the start of 2018, new rules have meant that all visitors get a visa upon arrival, regardless of their nationality and their point of arrival to Rwanda. Some nationalities pay US $50 for a single entry visa of up to 30 days, while it is issued free of charge for people coming from certain countries.

Conference visas are also valid for 30 days and cost US $30, while a multiple entry business visa costs US $50 and runs for a full year from the date of issue. This means that the organizers of events held here don’t need to worry about whether all of the delegates will be able to get there easily. Anyone travelling to the country just needs to show a valid passport or other acceptable travel document that has at least six months left on it. A visa can also be arranged online in advance to make it even easier to enter Rwanda without any fuss.

Another important factor is the ease with which visitors can get here using Rwandair, which has a wide range of connecting flights to many different parts of the world. The country has some excellent conference facilities too, which are mainly found in the capital with the likes of the Kigali Conference and Exhibition Village and the Kigali Convention Centre offering top-class settings for any type of event. As Rwanda is the poorest state in East Africa, according to the World Bank, this has become a significant source of income.

The Switch to Online Meetings

The recent trend for online meetings using software such as Skype and Zoom has meant a drop in the number of conferences held around the world, with Rwanda affected more than most countries. Indeed, the knock-on effect has caused problems for other industries that rely on these visitors, such as catering, transport, and hospitality. These sectors have already suffered from the decrease in tourism activity following a decade of strong growth. Among the possible solutions to this issue is an increased focus on the local market, with domestic companies using the facilities for their conferences and exhibitions.

Another way forward could be to look at hybrid events, where some people attend on a virtual basis while others transmit their presentations from a base in Rwanda. The importance of the MICE sector can be seen in the fact that 2019 saw 10,000 delegates arrive for the ICASA event and 4,000 for the Transform Africa Summit the same year. This led to the country increasing its revenue target for MICE tourism from US $56 million in 2019 to US $88 million the following year, which is a target that they failed to meet. The drop came at a time that foreign investment numbers also fell heavily.

Other Opportunities for Rwanda

The recent advances in technology that are partly to blame for the downturn in MICE tourism may also provide some possible opportunities for Rwanda. The fact that technology allows companies to set up their base anywhere and hire remote workers means that there should be more scope for a remote working culture here. Among those workers who could feel most benefit from this switch are the likes of graphic designers and content creators, who could work as freelancers from Rwanda for companies anywhere in the world. Increased demand has already led to the internet infrastructure in the country being improved to cope.

The online entertainment sector has also produced some interesting new trends, such as the growing popularity of online casinos. If we look at an online casino site like Betway, we can see lots of slots and table games such as roulette and blackjack. Developers create these games on behalf of software providers such as Microgaming, who have 2,500 staff around the world giving them new ideas. With numerous titles featured in the new games category, the market continues to grow and offer opportunities.

In terms of video games, there have been recent developments to try and grow this industry locally. For example, the Rwandan start-up named DopeApps teamed up with US-based Suponic Global for a new esports initiative that will use the blockchain and the Suponic Game Credit currency to reach new players. With Africa holding its first-ever esports tournament in 2021 and the Rwanda Esports Organisation playing a big part in it, this seems like a promising time for gaming in the country.

There is no doubt that the MICE tourism in Rwanda has failed to live up to expectations in the last year or so, but there are still plenty of reasons to be positive about the future and the opportunities that new technology will bring.