KIGALI, RWANTA - The United States is the largest contributor to Rwanda's tourism revenues, accounting for 20% of the total revenue.
The immigration office says 1,220,000 visitors were received in 2014, compared to 1,122,000 visitors hosted in 2013, corresponding to a 9% increase (98,000 visitors).
In 2014, of the total number of visitors, 24,488 were Americans, followed by India with 13,008 visitors, then United Kingdom with 12,320, Belgium with 8,733, and 8,228 Germans on the fifth spot.
Rwanda Development Board (RDB) says the country generated $304.9 million in 2014 from tourism, compared to $293.6 million in 2013, representing an increase of 4%. These revenues increased from $62 million in 2000.
Apart from being the safest spot for vacation in Africa, wildlife sight-seeing, especially gorilla and bird watching, and conferences draw the biggest portion of the revenues. The country hosted 19,085 conference visitors, compared to 15,441 in 2013, earning $29 million.
Georgianne Nienaber, an American author and regular visitor to Rwanda told KT Press that "Americans realize that Rwanda is one of the safest places to vacation in Africa. More and more tourists will come."
Tourists enjoy the variety of landscapes, the other wildlife, and especially the birds, Nienaber says. "Americans are big bird enthusiasts."
Payments for gorilla permits accounted for 70% of this year's tourism revenues worth $213.43 million, RDB says. A foreigner pays $750 to visit mountain gorillas.
Being home to two thirds of the world's mountain gorillas aggressive conservation efforts in the last 10 years have helped breed 179 mountain gorilla infants, usually cerebrated and given names during the Kwita Izina ceremonies, inspired by the Rwandan baby naming tradition following the birth of a new baby.
Global figures such as Microsoft's Bill Gates, Rick Warren have participated in the event. Last year, over 500 international guests participated.
Meanwhile, the country targets generating $860 million from tourism by 2016, but analysts say the target is a little too ambitious and may not be attained due to different shortfalls, especially in the quality of services.
"When you look at Rwanda's tourism growth in a regional perspective, a lot needs to be done," said Joseph Opondo, a lecturer at Rwanda Tourism University.
"There should be more efforts in improving services like hospitality in different sectors of this country," he said.
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