TourismHow is Eco-Tourism in Rwanda Affected by It’s Mother Tongue Predicament ?

Chinenye AgboJanuary 22, 202213513 min
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The growth of ecotourism in Rwanda has been fueled by the awareness that it ultimately brings its visitors closer to nature. As a highly advocated and promoted trend across the tourism sector, ecotourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors in Rwanda, with hundreds of tourists seeking out nature holidays and wilderness adventures every year.

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When questioned, most tourists admit their preference to Rwanda primarily because of the re-emergence of mountain Gorillas and other conservation activities within different provinces.

With Rwanda’s ecotourism sector flourishing, the strict implementation of the country’s policy toward promoting ecotourism has reaped favorable fruits, as seen by the exquisite Bisate lodge, Kitabi Eco-center in the southern province, Cyuza Island and other lodges that encourage ecotourism.

Consequently, the beautiful and luxurious places in the hospitality sector play a dynamic role in ensuring that ecotourism soars in Rwanda. However, most employees in this sector face difficulties communicating in English, French or Kiswahili, which are the most commonly used languages in the region.

The language challenge is making communication difficult, especially since there are a lot of cross-cultural differences amongst tourists. These barriers in communication can lead to a lack of understanding, extreme management challenges and poor productivity in a sector that has generated an annual rate of 7% to 8% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) since 2003, with inflation falling to single digits as highlighted by World Bank Data, (International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2015).

Does a Shift in The Language Policy Risk the Country’s Growing Economy ?

Hospitality and tourism are two major industries that rely heavily on oral communication between hotel staff and guests, this aspect is crucial since it could determine whether a client would return to your place of stay or not.

Using the English language facilitates communication amongst people of different ethnic backgrounds. However, this is not an easy road for Rwandans.

To communicate in this region, all that is required is the proficiency of Kinyarwanda. According to The EastAfrican (2012), the challenging hurdle that combines making the mother tongue the primary communication medium among residents is the lack of desire to learn a foreign language and the fear of being labelled arrogant.

Between 1948 to 2008, the policy behind the official language of communication in Rwanda has changed from dominant French to only English, of which many Rwandans cannot understand the English language.

Using three languages (Kinyarwanda, English and French) was implemented to leverage the existing multilingualism and competency in three of the most spoken languages in Rwanda. The policy thus serves as a strategic way to break language barriers, improve intercultural communication, and raise proficiency levels in the English language.

Nevertheless, this policy appears to have resulted in multiple inconveniences and setbacks of the country’s growing ecotourism industry due to the language barrier between foreigners, locals and staff in the hospitality sector.

But How is Rwanda Making Strides To Improve English Proficiency ?                     
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Rwanda’s tourism industry is on the rise. It’s no longer the “Never-Never Land for travellers”, thanks to the peace that exists in the country now. However, if it wants to keep this pace with tourists coming in, Rwanda must embrace the use of technology that allows it to reach more tourists by introducing English and French languages in its communication platforms.

Start-up companies like the VUGA application are creating avenues to bridge the knowledge gap through the coherent use of Information Communication Technology. The Vuga Application is an education app that can be downloaded to phones, tablets and PCs.

The mobile learning platform is designed to support users communicate easily in English and French. The VUGA application with about 2,200 words and phrases converted from Kinyarwanda to English has been downloaded by 1700 people in Rwanda as stated by (The NewTimesRwanda.

This is an excellent start for Rwandans to focus their attention on advertising applications like VUGA and other emerging platforms that will solely facilitate accessible communication between tourists and staff of lodges and hotels.

The ministry of Education and Tourism can also partner with start-ups and existing companies whose primary interest is to see that visitors are comfortable and accepted interacting with workers in their respective hotels.

Just How Important Are Translation Services in The Rwandan Hospitality Sector?                               
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 The success on the level of acceptance given to these companies will determine the desirable satisfaction experienced by visitors and the sporadic increase it will cause in Rwanda’s GDP.

According to Thelwell (2021), ecotourism is one of the biggest employers and contributors to the national economy. The tourist industry has played an increasingly important role in contributing to the country’s economic growth and poverty reduction efforts. Tourism alone employs nearly 3% of the labour force and reduces national poverty in Rwanda.

Tourism is one of the biggest foreign exchange earners in Rwanda. The government and stakeholders must invest in creating a means whereby lodge owners and staff will use a platform that facilitates the translation of Kinyarwanda words to English to help tourists and foreigners interact with locals in order to ensure communication is fluid and allow either party to understand one another for effective communication and better interactions.

Chinenye Agbo

Chinenye is a radical young leader who is passionate about nature conservation. Most of her research work is mainly focused on building models that will help minimize the effect of air pollution in her community. She has worked with different organizations that have contributed to implementing her innovative ideas. As a nature lover, she devotes some of her time educating children on the importance of nature conservation. She plans to take her sensitization programs to other communities. Her ambition to solve societal problems by gaining a handful of experiences has led her to pursue her undergraduate studies. Chinenye is currently pursuing an honours degree in Global Challenge at African Leadership University.

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