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Rwanda: A visa-free destination for traveling Pinoys. But is it accessible?

KIGALI, Rwanda — Traveling to a foreign country remains a luxury to many Filipinos, but some nations and non-governmental organizations are making some efforts to make visiting African destinations less of a hassle.

Rwanda, a country marred with a history of genocide due to its 1994 civil war, is currently making strides in modernization and development — with some even hailing it as the "Singapore of Africa."

"Over 30 years ago, there was no tourism sector to talk about [here]," said Rwanda Development Board CEO Francis Gatare during the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit 2023 held in Kigali last Wednesday.

“[Now], it employs more than 200,000 people in the tourism sector. Direct employment. And [it employs] more than 500,000 [people] indirectly.”

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WTTC chair Arnold Donald explained that they chose Rwanda as the host of this year’s WTTC Global Summit since the event has never been hosted in an African country in its 23 years of existence.

He added that it’s about time for the world to see how the once war-torn country evolved into a “world-class and sustainable nation.”

“So many people still think of Africa from TV shots from years ago,” Donald said.

“They don’t have an understanding at all of what modern Africa is.”

What to do in Rwanda?

But first thing’s first: what’s in store for Filipino tourists here?

Rwanda is known for its wildlife, safari adventures and many more nature-oriented activities. Destinations include the Nyungwe Forest National Park, Akagera National Park, Gishwati Mukura National Park and Volcanoes National Park.

To give you a picture, an entrance fee into the Akagera National Park costs $100 (around P5,600) for adult foreigners, while kids aged 6-12 can come in for half the price at $50 (around P2,800). This however doesn’t include other fees.

One of the more famous activities in the Volcanoes National Park is its “Gorilla trekking.” However, be prepared to shell out $1,500 in tourist fees (around P85,000) if you’re a foreigner. The proceeds of which are said to be used in wildlife conservation efforts.

The country is known to be one of only three countries in the world where the critically endangered mountain gorillas live.

Not just Safari, wildlife

Are you a coffee lover? Rwanda might just be the place for you.

The country is home to one of the best coffee in the world, scooping international awards such as "Best of the Best" and "Coffee Lover’s Choice" which attracted brands from over nine countries.

About 95% of coffee beans harvested in the country are of the high quality variety of Arabica called "Bourbon," known to carry flavor notes of orange blossom, lemon and caramel. Other types of coffee grown in Rwanda include Catuai and Cattura.

If you’re big into history, could also visit The Kigali Genocide Memorial, a museum managed by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in remembrance of the genocide against the ethnic Tutsi. Around 250,000 people are said to be interred there.

There are also various nightlife activities in Kigali, with clubs and bars scattered throughout the modern city.

Visa requirements, how to get there

The eastern African country of Rwanda has been granting Filipinos a 90-day visa-free entry since November 2017, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Rwanda Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration.

Filipinos can enter Kigali through connecting flights via Taoyuan International Airport (Taiwan) and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (The Netherlands), the first being a visa-free country for Pinoys.

From there, it's possible for Filipinos to pass through The Netherlands even without a transit visa, especially if you will not leave the airport. You could get direct flights from Manila to Kigali as well, but Rwandan government officials do agree that they’re not enough for Asia.

“Yes, we have plans to attract more tourists from Asia,” Gatare said.

“It is true that we have limited direct air connections… Many Asian tourists have not yet discovered Africa… Growth is in Asia and we will be putting more effort.”

Many Filipino travelers start venturing into other countries within the ASEAN region (Singapore, Thailand, etc.) and even Taiwan due to the lack of visa requirements.

Destinations such as South Korea and Japan also appear to be one of the top travel destinations for Filipinos even with visa requirements, according to travel platform Klook in 2022.

Still out of reach for many

But is Rwanda accessible to Filipinos?

A quick look at some travel booking sites would often place a round-trip flight from Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) to Kigali International Airport at more or less P80,000.

That's almost 13,115 times larger than the P610 daily minimum wage for non-agricultural workers in the National Capital Region.

“Globally, the travel and tourism industry has recovered strongly,” said Rwandan President Paul Kagame during the opening ceremony of the WTTC Global Summit 2023 this Thursday.

“But the high cost of travel to Africa and within Africa remains a barrier.”

WTTC said that around one in five newly created jobs come from travel and tourism, which could lead to an economic multiplier that can provide a basis for a higher quality of life.

Editor's note: The trip to the Rwanda was hosted by World Travel and Tourism Council. At no stage does the host organization has a say on the stories generated from the coverage, interviews conducted, publication date and story treatment. Content is produced solely by Philstar.com following editorial guidelines.

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