Let me start by welcoming you, particularly those who have travelled here from abroad. I hope you will have a productive and enjoyable stay with us.
I would like to thank the Corporate Council on Africa, through the Africa Travel Association, together with the Rwanda Development Board, for organising this 41st World Tourism Conference.
I also take this opportunity to congratulate Florie, on your new position at the Council, and wish you every success as you take on this important role. In fact, I think I knew Florie before anyone else here.
Rwanda, like other countries on our continent, is keen to convert our favourable demographics into economic growth and prosperity.
The services sector, in particular tourism, provides some of the best employment opportunities for our citizens, and attractive careers for young people.
Already, this sector is Rwanda’s biggest foreign exchange earner, Clare gave the figures, but we can and need to do better. Harnessing the full potential of the tourism industry will require continued focus and investment on several fronts.
First, the efforts we are making in strengthening good governance and mobilising our population, enables us to properly manage both the environment that supports tourist attractions, as well as the revenue they generate.
Rwandans, especially those living around national parks and other attractions, have become indispensable to conservation.
This is because they understand the value of our natural resources, and benefit directly from higher incomes and community projects financed by park revenues.
The responsibility of government, and other players in the industry, is to continuously provide quality education and training, so that Rwandans can fully participate as professionals in tourism and associated sectors.
Second, we are investing heavily in services and infrastructure to support the development of the sector.
Our national carrier RwandAir continues to expand to destinations within Africa and beyond, and will soon have a more modern, efficient base when the new airport in Bugesera is completed.
We are also working to improve the road network and attract investments in conference and hotel facilities, such as this convention centre we are in today.
Third, we must take full advantage of new technology, particularly innovative digital platforms, to attract more visitors, offer new experiences, and provide better services.
I am happy to learn that several technology companies are represented here today. We look forward to partnering with you to take the industry to the next level.
As we work with the private sector to develop the tourism industry in Rwanda, we also want to strengthen collaboration within our region and across the continent.
The single tourist visa and passport-free travel between Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, is already a reality. So is visa on arrival in Rwanda for all African nationals. We heard your concerns, Dr Kituyi, and here in Rwanda we have no such problems.
But we need even more cooperation on the continent, in order to increase the numbers of visitors, as well as facilitate trade and investment. Implementing existing agreements on open skies, and easing visa restrictions, are steps in the right direction.
I trust that you will discuss these and other pertinent issues during this conference. We look forward to working with you on solutions to advance tourism in Africa and beyond.