It’s a new dawn in the tourism sector in Rwanda as tourists begin to explore a new form of spending good time in the country and enjoying what it has to offer.
Recently, 23 Golfers from Ikoyi club, Nigeria, visited Rwanda for a 10-day holiday to play golf and experience other tourism attractions around the country.
Out of the 10 days, they decided to spend five of them playing golf at the exquisite Falcon Golf and Country Club, a home to golf in Rwanda since 2019 when the only second golf club in Rwanda, the Kigali Golf Club, was closed for reconstruction. Falcon Golf Club is located at the shores of Lake Muhazi, at Gati peninsula, Rwamagana district.
The Nigerian group leader and a former Captain of Ikoyi Golf club with membership of 10,000 players and 2,800 golf sections, Tayo Babalakin, talked to Taarifa on this memorable visit. “We had a good time indeed,” he said, adding that, “this is our fourth time coming to Rwanda, but we said, let’s play golf this time around.”
On the team was also Jacob Erhabor, former Managing Director of Sonarwa, who was glad to come back to Rwanda.
Golf is a non contact sport, however, like any other sports conducted globally during the existing threat of COVID-19 pandemic, Falcon Golf Club turns into an isolated bubble where no one can access the facility without being tested for COVID-19, and with the help of district medical clinics.
Different institutions, such as the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), Sports Ministry, and Rwanda Convention Bureau (RCB) were consulted and provided guidance on how the tourists should enjoy their stay and in a safe environment.
Falcon Golf Club management told Taarifa that RBC provided one staff to assist throughout their stay and that local authorities provided support in terms of security to ensure the Covid bubble is maintained.
Our reporter, Adrien Kubwayo, visited the course to witness this new fond touristic experience. He says visitors when presented with a menu for their lunch after their game, they all went for a delicious Tilapia from Lake Muhazi.
He, however, noted that, more hotels are needed in Rwamagana district because these tourists had to commute daily from Kigali to Falcon Golf club, a situation he said would have made it more comfortable were the tourists able to stay near the golf club.
The Managing Director of Falcon Golf Club, Michael Bayingana, who said COVID-19 affected all sectors in the country, but more so sports and entertainment businesses that required many people converging to one place.
On Saturday May 29, 2021, golfers in Rwanda who were cleared after COVID-19 testing, had the opportunity to play a round of golf with the Nigerian visitors, to conclude their trip.
The proprietor of the facility, Innocent Rutamu, who is also a golfer, told Taarifa that Golf Tourism has great potential for Rwanda, if the basics are put in place.
“One of the major conditions is to have a minimum of three golf courses as golf tourists on average spend 10 to 12 days in a country if they have a variety of courses to play,” he said, adding that, “Rwanda has good weather all year round for golf. Other factors such as safety and security are already in place, so we are at an advantage.”
Observers say institutions responsible for tourism should learn a thing or two about golf if they have to give the same support given to cycling or basketball.
Indeed, last week RDB’s CEO, Clare Akamanzi, spoke to The New Times and BBC that Rwanda is keen on replicating experiences such as the just concluded Basketball African League (BAL) to increase and diversify tourism activities.
“The first objective as a country is to become a sports tourism destination…looking at resumption of tourism in our country, and the fact that many tourists have postponed their visits, and some have cancelled their visits, many of the events had to be postponed such as the Commonwealth Forum, many meetings are held online, we have to think about the years ahead, and of the ways we are looking at is to increase the number of sports events,” Akamanzi told BBC mid May 2021.
Meanwhile, Taarifa is privy to information that The Sunshine Tour, the biggest golf tour in Africa, has been trying to put Rwanda on their circuit but received minimal encouragement to do so.
Once the Sun Shine Tour has a country in its circuit, the country receives about 400 highend tourists annually, who come for the event. Kenya and Mauritius, and a few Southern Africa countries are enjoying this benefit, currently.
Another country eying golf tourism is Kenya, and the country seems to be at advanced stage.
In 2018, Kenya recorded two million tourist arrivals, and the country is now laying focus on tapping into the huge potential that exists in golf tourism, Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, Mr Najib Balala told golfers in February 2019.
Speaking at the prestigious Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Vipingo Ridge Baobab Course, Kilifi County in February 2019, Balala promised to promote Kenya as a wonderful golf tourism destination. “Rwanda wouldn’t want to miss this boat,” Rutamu told Taarifa in 2020 when Falcon Golf Course hosted the Rwanda Summer Golf tournament for the domestic market.
According to a report published by Technavio.com, Global Golf Tourism Market 2017 – 2021, the global golf tourism market in 2016 totalled a huge US$22.92 billion and from their research this market will total $44.6 billion by end of 2021.
The industry thrives when visitors meet local players. For golf to develop in Rwanda, training should start from primary school using football pitches for short range play and then have access to available facilities such as Falcon golf Club or Kigali Golf Course, unfortunately this sport is still treated with stereotypes that it is a sport for the rich and the lazy.
Those who know its potential usually talk not about it. Meet them on the course and at the clubhouse, that’s when the conversations light up, otherwise, they usually keep it to themselves. It is an intimate relationship.
Meanwhile, the Nigerians discovered a gem, and they are planning to return soon for more.
• Culled from taarifa.rw