Travel is a leading indicator of the economy, and the evidence is mounting that the recovery will be slower than in the past. Rwanda is today’s example.
Since the end of the Rwanda turbulence in 1994, so much money has flowed into Rwanda in all its sectors, that this little country has emerged as an economic powerhouse.
Its roads are the best in east and central Africa. Its capital is the most modern. Its communications are the least flawed. Its textile and tea industries for a country 1/20th the size of Kenya is now approaching 1/5th the revenue.
Rwanda tourism has been more or less limited to its mountain gorillas, its prized treasure, and this, too, has expanded nicely. In 1993, 24 tourists daily could visit the mountain gorillas. Today, it’s 56.
This is because increased research, habituation and park development, have combined to not just increase the gorilla population, but also visitor access to it.
And the pressure for tourism development has been so heady that the country set aside another huge swath of wilderness to develop as chimp and primate reserves. The great Nyungwe National Park has always been a protected wilderness as such – mainly because the dense forest makes any normal human development very difficult – but in the last five years was earmarked for very serious and rapid tourist development.
One of the problems for a small area is that there just isn’t enough room for a lot of players. So the Rwandan government put its faith in Dubai World, a property development company which we now know is the reason that the government of Dubai is in the tank.
Nyungwe was going to be developed by Dubai World. The first and now ailing mountain gorilla lodge, Gorilla’s Nest Lodge, was bought by Dubai World for refurbishment. Kigali’s second conference complex hotel was going to be built by Dubai World.
And while this example is an exclamation point of how the economy has tanked, the broader picture supports the leading indicator thesis that tourism overall is recovering very slowly.
Gorilla permits are not being bought up. There always seem to be some available. There were supposed to be six lodges serving the mountain gorilla park up and running, now. There are only 3 functioning continually.
The aid and directed investment to Rwanda is greater than any other country in the area compared to its overall economy. That will continue. But in this relatively small universe of tourism, we can see all too clearly that the future for tourism in Africa isn’t too bright.