Trade Forum Features

Placing conservation at the heart of sustainable tourism

6 June 2017
ITC News
In Rwanda, a partnership with nature has led to booming tourism sector

It was the National Geographic’s Wild channel that first brought the world close to the lion kings of Akagera National Park with a compelling tale of survival and territory. Through television sets, people from Norway to Thailand got to witness Rwanda’s ground-breaking conservation success story: the return of lions to the verdant lands after a 15-year absence, with their numbers doubling in number in just one year.

In Rwanda, the term ‘conservation’ is not new. For example, the annual Kwita Izina, during which new-born mountain gorillas are named, provides a unique platform to raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity from the community to the international level.
Since the inception of the Kwita Izina in 2005, prominent global conservation stakeholders have so far named 238 gorilla infants. Towards the end of 2017 over 1,000 international guests will again convene at the foothills of the Virunga Mountains for the 13th edition of the event.


Mountain gorillas, one of the world’s most endangered species, are only found in three countries: Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda. However, with the involvement of stakeholders, including veterinarians, the story is changing with global conservation efforts to which Rwanda is fully committed.

In partnership with its neighbouring countries, Burundi, DRC and Uganda, an electric fence was built around the Akagera National Park to better protect the region’s wildlife. In addition, Rwanda has been working to complement these trans-national efforts with its own domestic solutions.
Community involvement has really worked in Rwanda in ensuring that conservation efforts are sustainable. It also goes to show how conservation has played a major role in making tourism a major driver of economic growth for Rwanda.


The Government of Rwanda has for many years enforced stringent policies with a special focus on investing in future generations by instilling a culture of responsible tourism. One major achievement is the establishment of Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management (KCCEM), an academic institution set up to develop the capacity of youth in maintaining sustainable tourism in Rwanda and in neighbouring countries.

The demand for Rwanda as a travel destination has grown in parallel to increased government spending dedicated to the development of the hospitality sector and the opening up of international borders. In fact, tourism is one of the main foreign-exchange earners for Rwanda, with indirect contribution to GDP currently standing at close to 10%. This underlines why sustainable tourism plays an essential role in promoting and achieving the goals of Rwanda’s long-term development strategy, Vision 2020.


For the Rwanda Development Board, which I head, the tourism-revenue sharing policy of Rwanda’s national park has become crucial, simply because it sets the stage for mutual survival of humans and wildlife in the country.

How it works is simple yet effective in promoting sustainable tourism. The government allocates 5% of tourism revenue to community projects as an incentive for conservation. The initiative has implemented over 400 community projects worth about $2.5 million.
Infrastructural amenities, agricultural projects such as seed production and storage, water supply projects and establishment of small and medium-sized enterprises are just a portion of the community empowerment projects that have benefited populations around parks.

Rwanda’s success story in combining conservation and tourism is set to take an outstanding turn with the return of the rhinoceros in 2017, part of a larger plan to restore the land of a thousand hills as home to the famous ‘big five’: the African lion, the African elephant, the Cape buffalo, the African leopard, and the rhinoceros.


There is no doubt that the focus on sustainable tourism inspires affection and pride among most Rwandans. And the idea of naming new-born gorillas and lions create a sense of ownership and entitlement among Rwandans to protect endangered species. Moreover, the naming of wildlife has become vital to Rwanda’s conservation success, aiding game rangers and park management to monitor these species in their habitat and ensure their survival.

At RDB we will continue to leverage the benefits of conservation to strengthen Rwanda’s sustainable tourism sector. It is only by working together – and in partnership with nature – that we can create a future that is truly sustainable for future generations: for humans and animals alike.