World Travel & Tourism Global Council World Summit in Kigali, Rwanda

I only know about Rwanda and its capital Kigali from 60-Minutes that covered over the years the mass killings between two rival tribes, the Hutus and the Tutsies, in 1994. The country is tiny, 4th smallest in Africa, and it is located in the center of the continent, in gorgeous landscapes of hills and valleys. In fact many believe that Kingali is the most beautiful city in Africa and tourists flock to the destination on their way to nature adventures with gorillas and other famous fabulous creatures. Despite its many riches the country is struggling economically, and poverty is wide-spread. The locals work hard, physical labor, and sell handicrafts and whatever they can find.

If you’ve been to Haiti, you know what I mean.

(Check out the pictures)

Kingali recently hosted the World Travel & Tourism Global Council, World Summit. You know they did their best to appear state of the art.

My friend, decorated hotelier Ewald Biemans shares: The place is amazing in many ways – the poverty is overwhelming – people outside of the capital make 2 dollars a day, but the capital is wealthy and modern with all of today’s comforts, and all the technology one needs.

The place was immaculate – actually, the streets are cleaner than in Switzerland, where you can eat off the sidewalk – but this was an open market and well – it scared me, at what human cost was this possible.  The country is very clean, with no trash anywhere – it is amazing.  I think they catch the falling leaves before they hit the ground – not even leaves in the streets.

On the flight over, they told us that plastic is not allowed to be imported and to leave all plastic on the plane – and it is true – there is absolutely no disposable plastic anywhere – paper bags are all you find the rest is reusable, if you find it.

Once a month, every neighborhood cleans up its environs for 3 hours, and trees are trimmed and everything gets fixed and straightened out.

To take photos, you need to buy a permit – people do not like to be photographed, and the government wants its share – they allow free limited phone pictures at certain events.

The people remind me of Aruba in the 60’s 70’s – the hotel service is in kinderschuhen, in its infancy, but nicely done and very friendly.

The WTTC summit was attended by about 30 ministers from all over the world, including 3 presidents – the Rwanda president, the Burundi president and the presidents of Botswana and Tanzania – actually four heads of state – plus there were Airlines Presidents, Cruise ship owners and CEOs and a bunch of brass from all sides of the tourism Industry. Major hotel chains like Hilton, Marriott, Radisson, Hyatt and now also Iberostar, as well as others dominated the show. And then there was a small fish – in this large pond – from Aruba, studying the latest developments in the area of sustainability, and what’s new in hospitality, representing a 100% carbon negative resort, delivering vacations with zero emissions.  I have been a member of WTTC, since 2018 and love these conferences because they allow me to see which direction the industry is heading and what are the hot topics today.

The buzzword today is Seamless Travel from door to door and of course, Sustainability in every way, job creation, nature protection, sustainable investments – everything is sustainable, but no one talks about the gorilla in the room – CO2 and Methane emissions that will eventually put a stop to all sustainability efforts due to climate change with calamities, such as storms, crop failures and climate refugees — the famous Ecocide. Notably, the cruise ships are talking about sustainable cruises and sustainable ships;  the Arab nations are talking about sustainable cities in the middle of the desert with snow ski slopes included.

My concern is that little was said about. or done about, encouraging regenerative travel and mitigating climate change – the limit remains at 1.5 degrees Celsius, increase.

(Regenerative Travel: Going beyond the concept of ‘sustainable tourism’ which focuses on neutralizing tourism’s negative impact on the planet, ‘regenerative tourism’ is based on adding a positive impact to the local community and environment.)

If we do not encourage regenerative travel and mitigate climate change, we will face the most significant pandemic of all time – the Climate Pandemic.

Another concern, I have been outranked and outvoted by Radisson and Iberostar. One of Iberostar’s owners is now actively involved, since last year, and is now on the board of WTTC. They talk sustainability, but will they walk the talk.

 One more thing: I went to the Genocide Memorial of the one million victims of the holocaust or civil war between Hutus and Tutsies.  The current president formed a group of Revolutionaries in neighboring Burundi, invaded Rwanda and deposed the Hutu leaders who flamed the civil war and reunited the country. How did he do that? He removed the ethnicity from the ID cards, something the Belgian colonists instated – so now, no one knows who is a Tutsie and who is Hutu, and they all live in peace.

But security is very tight – with guards armed to the hilt everywhere. The hotel entrance has an x-ray machine and body searches are conducted. The civil war was exactly 30 years ago and it is like it never happened, except for the  presence of security that hints at past trouble.

The country is full of conflicting realities.

Share on:

November 10, 2023
Rona Coster