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RwandAir AIRLINES


Africa with everything but oceans’


‘A little


For such a small country that already boasts air connections with several network carriers, developing a


national airline might seem an extravagance.


Rwanda’s High Commissioner


to the UK, Yamina Karitanyi, naturally disagrees, pointing out one of Africa’s major issues, connectivity. “Before we started, flying from Kigali to Brazzaville and on to


Libreville and back was a ridiculous idea; it might have meant going to Paris and coming back down. There is a need; central and west Africa has suffered from a lack of connectivity.” She concedes that even without RwandAir, Rwanda is “not doing bad – every day we have four or five ways to get to Kigali”, with KLM and Brussels Airlines providing connections to Europe, plus Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways operating eastwards links while Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways offer links nearer to home “Africa is a huge cake, it is not going to be satisfied by one or two


airlines,” says Karitanyi. Tourism has been Rwanda’s prime foreign exchange earner for the past nine years and the new European routes are designed to complement this. The UK is the fourth-biggest source of tourists for Rwanda, behind the US, India and Belgium. “The Gatwick route started at a time when we are enhancing our


tourist offering. The idea is to connect people quicker, without having to go through other capitals. Our visitor age profile is 55-plus, the short time to destination is key.” Rwanda is aiming for high-end tourism, having doubled its mountain


gorilla trekking fee – limited to just 80 people a day - to $1,500 a day in May. The country is one of only three, with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the endangered species can be viewed. The reintroduction of black rhinos early in 2017 means the big five species can also be viewed and boutique accommodation, like Wilderness Safaris’ new Bisate Lodge, is springing up. “I like to say that we are a little Africa – we give you everything


except the oceans, but then we also have Lake Kivu,” says Karitanyi. The 2,700 km sq lake is another target for tourism development, with resorts on its shores designed to offer an alternative to the jungle landscape.


Rwanda is also making a pitch for the MICE market. The opening of the 2,600-seat Kigali Convention Centre in 2016 has seen the African Union and Interpol meet there. “The convention centre is very much in line with the vision that we have for tourism, it’s an essential tool to create the type of traffic we need to see,” says Karitanyi. She argues that meetings delegates return as tourists and then as investors. “It’s a venue to market us to the world.” Rwanda can already boast considerable success. After the genocide, the country was 95% dependent on aid. Today that figure is 17% and the goal is to be self-sufficient by 2020. Rwandans went to the polls in August, with incumbent president Paul Kagame, who commanded the rebel force that ended the genocide and who has overseen Rwanda’s economic transformation – albeit amid controversy over a hard- line style – winning a third term. Karitanyi adds: “For Rwanda to


be where it is today in a short 23 years is not a miracle, it’s a vision. “Rwanda is a country you need


to visit to understand. When we say ‘rebirth of a nation’, it’s almost rhetoric - until you visit the Genocide Museum and see how far we’ve come.”


investment; it now has two new Airbus A330s among its fleet of 12 aircraft and launched a London Gatwick flight in May this year. In July, the flight was linked with Brussels, while October will see an A330 placed on the Mumbai route that began in April. This is currently served by a Boeing 737-800 and will be extended to Guangzhou, a sign of how important Chinese investment and trade links are to Rwanda. New York is pencilled in for July 2018. Closer to home, Dakar in Senegal,


Conakry in Guinea and Mali’s Bamako are scheduled for autumn launches, adding to the current 22 destinations. RwandAir deputy CEO Yvonne Makolo says: “RwandAir’s ambitions are very much in line with the country’s economic ambitions. Being landlocked, it is imperative we have access; we have a huge part to play. “RwandAir has a hub-and-spoke model


and we are trying to get as many feeders into the hub as we can. Some countries in Africa, particularly in the west, are under- served. We see an opportunity to take these people to China, Mumbai and now the UK as well.”


Among those neighbouring countries is the Democratic Republic of Congo, with its vast mineral wealth that may one day facilitate travel among its 82 million people. Kigali can claim a stake in this and other nearby markets; the closest major hub, Nairobi, is still a 90-minute flight from Kigali, and Addis Ababa is about two hours 30 minutes, so Rwanda does have a case to build its aviation industry, albeit in a smaller way than Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines have done. Makolo gives the Gatwick route as an example, naming six points, including Entebbe, Johannesburg, Harare and even Nairobi, where it is picking up transfer traffic to London. She says the route is attracting students flying


to Europe plus business travellers and tourists to Rwanda and claims a 95% load factor for July. The new A330 boasts fully flat business class seats, a premium economy cabin and wi-fi. “As people experience the product,


Yamina Karitanyi


confidence is growing; London is in line with our expectations,” she adds.


w routesonline.com ROUTES NEWS 2017 ISSUE 5 37


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