Rwanda Builds Tourism On Genocide Memorials, Gorillas

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Rwandan tour operators and government officials find tangible rewards in helping tourists understand the country’s remarkable progress since its 1994 genocide.

Completely destroyed after the genocide, Rwanda’s economy was has rallied, with an annual gross domestic product growth averaging 8.2 percent for the past five years.

In the past 10 years, Rwanda’s tourism industry has grown exponentially. The number of visitors, which stood at 27,000 in 2004, rose to 1.08 million in 2012, according to a report in GulfTimes. Tourism revenue shot up from $15 million to $282 million.

Now visitors to Rwanda will find genocide memorials on the tourist circuit alongside iconic mountain gorillas.

In order to comprehend modern Rwanda, Anne Porbadnigk, a 30-year-old visitor from Berlin, said she needs to understand “not only what happened but also how the people deal with history and… how they find peace.”

“Being German, we also have a very heavy history,” Porbadnigk said in the GulfTimes report, referring to the Holocaust. “When I was a child a question troubled me for years: How I can live in a country where this happened?”

Rwanda’s attractions include vistas of mist-shrouded hills, virgin rain forest, dazzling lakes and one of the world’s cleanest and safest capital cities, the report said. There are safari holidays and study tours offered.

Mountain gorillas in the bamboo forests of the Virunga volcanoes are the main attraction, but the memorial sites now receive tens of thousands of visitors every year.

Visitors flock to them to understand, but sometimes simply because the visit is included in their itineraries, the report said.

Tourists are predominantly North American or European and usually come as part of an organised tour, said David Brown, spokesman for Aegis Trust, which manages the Gisozi memorial.

At Gisozi, one exhibit shows photos of children who were massacred, accompanied by the briefest of biographies: “Francine Murengezi Ingabire,” reads one plaque. “Age: 12. Favourite sport: Swimming. Favorite drink: Milk and Fanta tropical… Cause of death: Hacked by machete.”

For the moment, what visitors still want most is a glimpse of Rwanda’s famous gorillas, says Manzi Kayihura, managing director of Thousand Hills Expeditions and chairperson of the Rwanda Tours and Travel Association. “Gorillas remain the main attraction and we build a circuit around them to increase the length of time tourists spend here.”