Berlin Tourism Trade Fair – Kigali, 31 March 2009

I am delighted to join Rwandans and East Africans to celebrate the impressive showing at the recent ITB Trade Fair, at which we did well in promoting our region.

We congratulate Kenya for taking third position in the “Best African Exhibitor” category. Rwanda has won for the third time in a row – the fourth time we should win as East Africa.

A special vote of thanks goes to the East African private sector and government agencies for representing us so ably.

As we gather here this evening, we must be mindful of the economic challenges the East African Community faces as a result of the current global financial crisis. The global tourism industry has not escaped the impact of this recession – it has already been recorded that last year there was a decline in both business and leisure travel, a trend expected to continue into 2009.

We must therefore formulate strategies to sustain our recent gains in the tourism industry as well as adopt more innovative ways of rendering the sector more dynamic and less vulnerable to external shocks.

In this respect, let us acknowledge Africa’s commendable performance in this sector – our continent achieved a five percent growth rate last year, taking second place as an international destination.

In Rwanda’s case, for example, the tourism industry that was almost non-existent fifteen years ago overtook other sectors as the main foreign exchange earner in 2008.
This good performance at continental level and in Rwanda, however, should not lead to complacency – we have to do more to grow this critical sector. For instance, we should no longer rely solely on attracting tourists from traditional sources but seek new markets, including from within our very region and the continent.

We should generally strengthen and implement better policies to encourage and facilitate intra-Africa tourism in the broader framework of regional trade and investment.

The benefits of marketing East Africa as a single tourist destination are clear – tourists are no longer necessarily interested in individual countries – instead they want products tailored to their specific interests. East Africa as a single product can offer exciting and diverse locations, encouraging tourists to sample multiple destinations.

Conveniences such as the single entry visa and discounted fares for vehicles and entry permits constitute additional tools for developing this important sector regionally and continentally.

Let me conclude by noting that the framework for creating greater prosperity in East Africa through tourism already exists – we are in the process of establishing a coordinating mechanism that will, among other things, promote the single destination approach; tourism standards have been finalized to harmonize services across the region for efficient customer service, as have standards on the classification and grading of accommodation.

We need to settle fairly quickly any outstanding issues regarding the single entry visa, and begin to promote our region as a single destination in world trade fairs.

As East Africans, therefore, we should pledge to chart this new course towards a tourism industry that serves as a dynamic sector for creating wealth and employment opportunities for our people.

Let us now enjoy a pleasant evening as we celebrate a well-deserved performance in Germany.

Thank you for your kind attention.