Rwanda: Congo-Nile Trail Development
Rwanda Development Board
Rwanda wanted to diversify its tourism base. Heavily dependent on short-stay visitors from a limited number of countries, who ‘parachuted’ in from Nairobi for no more than a few days almost exclusively to trek and see the mountain gorillas, Rwanda wanted to expand the range of its international markets and grow tourism throughout the country. Specifically, Rwanda wanted to:
- Reduce its dependency on a limited number of markets and attract visitors from a wider range of countries
- Increase visitors’ length of stay
- Spread visitors – and the benefit they bring – more widely throughout the country
In order to attract a younger market from a wider range of countries (who might also offer the prospect of visiting Rwanda more than once in a lifetime), plans were established to develop the Congo-Nile Trail. This would also bring visitors to a different part of the country beyond the well-trodden gorilla-trek in the Virunga National Park, thereby spreading the visitor traffic and benefits.
Starting from scratch in an area with limited tourism facilities,infrastructure, or awareness of visitor needs, we worked on the following:
- Development of the Congo-Nile Trail: ensuring there was a physical trail in place for hikers, cyclists and motorcyclists.
- ‘Sensitising’ local communities along the trail, so they understood what visitors might need and be able to serve them (e.g. food, water, lodging), thereby earning some income from tourism. In a poor, rural, subsistence economy, the concept of free time and leisure travel were entirely alien.
- Devising cost-effective ways to market the Congo-Nile Trail to prospective niche markets – largely hikers and cyclists in Europe and North America plus South Africa.
- The Congo-Nile Trail was officially opened in 2009.
- Food and lodging (esp. campsites) are now available at intervals along the entire length of the 100km trail, according to several visitors’ blogs.
- “Perhaps the best bikepacking route in East Africa, Rwanda's Congo Nile Trail traverses a scenic stitchwork of dirt roads, lakeside singletrack, and a rerouted pass through the forested Nyungwe National Park. This a bucket-list ride for any bikepacker……” (www.bikepacking.com)
- "One day, I hope we will see a ‘Congo-Nile marathon. That would be a crowning achievement in terms of international recognition!" (Tom Buncle)