Tourism plays a fundamental role in Rwanda’s economy. According to the National Bank of Rwanda, tourism was the country’s leading export in 2016, generating 390 million USD in revenue. Boasting world-famous mountain gorillas, breathtaking landscapes, a Big Five Game Park, a booming MICE (conference) industry, and a reputation for safety, the small landlocked nation welcomes over 1.3 million leisure and business travellers every year. Rwanda’s tourism industry supports 165,000 jobs and contributes significantly to the growth of the country’s services sector, which represents 47 percent of Rwanda’s gross domestic product. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Government of Rwanda (GoR) recognizes tourism as a key sector in advancing the country’s ambitious development agenda. In July 2014, Rwanda introduced a law regulating the tourism industry in an effort to improve quality of service and establish consistent standards across the industry. In April 2016, the World Bank Group (WBG) selected Karisimbi Business Partners to support the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) with the establishment of a tourism regulatory body and the implementation of this new tourism regulation.
As founders and shareholders of a range of businesses, Karisimbi Partners brings an owner’s mindset to every engagement, consistently demonstrating a deep commitment to seeing our clients’ projects succeed. For this project, Karisimbi Partners began by doing a deep dive into the new legislation alongside RDB. After examining hundreds of articles, Karisimbi Partners identified and designed the 26 processes needed to operationalize the law. Next, Karisimbi Partners helped RDB to assess the total number of tourism entities operating in Rwanda, including hotels, restaurants, tour operators, travel agents, and tour guides. In doing so, Karisimbi Partners then delivered a strategy for prioritizing and sequencing the roll-out of regulation to these entities.
The first goal was to license an initial 1,300 entities—a group of high-earning, tax-paying, registered entities. To conduct this work efficiently, Karisimbi Partners worked with a third party vendor to develop a web-based system enabling entities to submit their license applications, supporting documents, and application fees online. The system would be housed on a brand new tourism regulation website, which would also feature the answers to frequently asked questions, checklists, and other valuable resources to support entities interested in applying. Karisimbi Partners also worked closely with RDB to develop a revised inspection process, which required fewer staff and a scaled-down inspection checklist. To raise awareness and ensure compliance, Karisimbi Partners delivered a communication plan and supported RDB in facilitating stakeholder workshops and system demonstrations across the country. Karisimbi Partners also delivered a workload analysis that estimated the number of staff required to complete the work. Throughout the project, Karisimbi Partners played a critical role in identifying key integration points between RDB and other government agencies, and led consultations with these stakeholders to develop mitigation strategies needed to ensure a smooth roll-out.
RDB’s tourism regulatory body is up and running and licensing efforts are in full swing. Since successfully completing a pilot program, RDB received 144 online license applications and issued 119 tourism operating licenses, with plans to license all 1,300 entities by June of 2018. The private sector embraced licensing, with many showing enthusiasm toward the stronger regulation, which is expected to improve quality standards, limit undercutting from informal players, and improve the marketing of Rwanda as a tourism destination. And indeed, Rwanda is receiving a surge in global attention. Rwandan accommodations and attractions are increasingly featured in international publications; the country’s growing mountain gorilla population, which accounts for 60 percent of the country’s tourism revenue, continues to be celebrated as the world’s greatest conservation success; and, H.E. President Paul Kagame was recently awarded the 2017 World Tourism Award for visionary leadership. This year, Rwanda’s tourism revenues are projected to reach 444 million USD.
Today, Karisimbi Partners continues to support RDB’s tourism regulatory body with the ongoing implementation of the tourism law and is honored to contribute to one of Rwanda’s most important industries.