Kigali: Rwanda's budding tourism sector received over a million visitors in 2008 and raised an estimated $214 million (Dh 787.1 million), up from $138 million the previous year, the Rwanda Development Board said on Tuesday.
Tourism revenue in the tiny central African republic, famous for its gorilla tracking projects, will grow to $224 million in 2009 and visitors will increase to 1.14 million, the board said.
"This is a huge, huge difference by any standards. We have to keep revising our projections," said Rosette Chantal Rugamba, deputy CEO at the development board.
Growth has been bolstered by strong investment in the sector that has become the leading hard currency earner.
Rugamba said the industry would continue to flourish in 2009 with the opening of nine new hotels and lodges across Rwanda.
Five of the new hotels are owned by Dubai World. The state-owned investment fund has sunk $230 million into accommodation in Rwanda.
"We were projecting that by 2012, tourism will be generating 5.6 per cent [of gross domestic product, or GDP] but we think that already at the end of this year, it will be at five per cent."
Rugamba said the coffee-growing country hopes to encourage tourists to stay longer by introducing other attractions beyond the gorilla experience.
Earlier this month, tourism authorities inaugurated the 1,000 square kilometre Nyungwe national park, which they said was a "biological hot-spot" that boasts large populations of chimpanzees and colobus monkeys.
"When we were trying to diversify tourism in Rwanda, we wanted to get away from gorilla-only tourism," she said.
In the past, a lack of accommodation stunted Nyungwe's popularity but Dubai World expects to open a 25-room lodge in the park by August.
The park also received a $5.5 million grant from the United States to build a series of elevated canopy walkways and jungle swings.
A Tutsi rebel offensive in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo had not dented tourist numbers dramatically, Rugamba said.
"The Congo issue affected us but not much. Right now we haven't seen many cancellations but we did see some due to ongoing Congo problems," she said.
Rwanda is credited with rapid growth since the 1994 genocide that claimed the lives of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
President Paul Kagame is praised by supporters with restoring order, achieving healthy economic growth and running a disciplined government but critics say his authoritarian style impedes democracy.