Rwanda tourism rides on celebrity

The East African - - FRONT PAGE - Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent

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Pop­u­lar Amer­i­can TV host Ellen Degeneres’s visit to Rwanda could boost Ki­galis’s ef­forts to mar­ket the coun­try as a high-end tourism des­ti­na­tion, as well as its go­rilla con­ser­va­tion agenda.

The come­di­enne ar­rived in the coun­try on May 27 along­side her part­ner Por­tia Derossi, for a holiday and to over­see the ini­tial stages of the con­struc­tion of the Ellen Degeneres Cam­pus of the Dian Fossey Go­rilla Fund.

The cou­ple met Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame in Ki­gali and also took pic­tures with chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Rwanda De­vel­op­ment Board Clare Aka­manzi, holding the “Visit Rwanda” cam­paign ma­te­ri­als.

For Ki­gali, as­so­ci­at­ing with a global brand as big as Degeneres, who has 78 mil­lion fol­low­ers on Twit­ter, is likely to give the coun­try more vis­i­bil­ity in its mar­ket­ing ef­forts.

The Ellen Degeneres Show has won a total of 59 Daytime Emmy Awards, and boasts 3.9 mil­lion view­ers per episode, mak­ing it one of the most viewed in that cat­e­gory. It was on this show dur­ing Degeneres’s 60th birth­day in Jan­uary that part­ner Derossi made a sur­prise ap­pear­ance, hand­ing her a “spe­cial gift” — a trip to Rwanda to con­struct the cam­pus.

The cam­pus is ded­i­cated to the late Dian Fossey, who Degeneres regards as a personal hero, from years of fol­low­ing her go­rilla con­ser­va­tion ef­forts in Rwanda.

Fossey was an Amer­i­can pri­ma­tol­o­gist and con­ser­va­tion­ist who stud­ied go­ril­las in Rwanda and the wider Virunga re­gion from 1966 un­til her death in 1985 at the age of 53, when she was mur­dered in her cabin. Degeneres said it was a dream of hers while grow­ing up to live in Africa and help save go­ril­las like Fossey did.

Ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion from the Dian Fossey Go­rilla Fund, the cam­pus, which will be lo­cated in Mu­sanze, in North­ern Prov­ince, is ex­pected to cost up to $10 mil­lion, and is planned for com­ple­tion by May 2020. Ac­tor and tech investor Ash­ton Kutcher re­cently made a $4 mil­lion do­na­tion to the project while on the Ellen Degeneres Show, on be­half of Rip­ple, a crypto-tech com­pany.

The cam­pus’ de­sign will in­clude lab­o­ra­to­ries, class­rooms, meet­ing space, an in­ter­ac­tive ex­hi­bi­tion space fo­cus­ing on Fossey’s work and hous­ing for vis­it­ing re­searchers and stu­dents.

The project has al­ready come up with de­signer shoes with a go­rilla em­blem and the words, “Ellen Degeneres Wildlife Fund.”

The pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Fund, Tara Stoin­ski, said that the cam­pus will en­hance its col­lab­o­ra­tion with lo­cal uni­ver­si­ties and train young Rwan­dan bi­ol­o­gists in sup­port­ing RDB’S con­ser­va­tion ef­forts.

Last year, Rwanda dou­bled go­rilla per­mit fees from $750 to $1,500, with the gov­ern­ment say­ing it is po­si­tion­ing it­self as a high-end tourism des­ti­na­tion while step­ping up con­ser­va­tion ef­forts.

As part of its mar­ket­ing cam­paign, Rwanda re­cently signed a three-year, £30 mil­lion ($40 mil­lion) shirt­sleeve deal with Arse­nal, where the “Visit Rwanda” logo will be em­bla­zoned on all team sleeves to mar­ket the des­ti­na­tion for the next three years.

In April this year, the coun­try also ben­e­fited from the Rwanda edi­tion of The Royal Tour tele­vi­sion travel se­ries which was re­leased on Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing Ser­vice in the US, with screen­ings in Chicago and New York, and later in Ki­gali. The show, hosted by the award-win­ning Amer­i­can in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter and pro­ducer Peter Green­berg, fea­tures heads of state giv­ing view­ers a personal tour of their coun­try.

On their Rwanda tour, Degeneres and Derossi also paid tribute to geno­cide vic­tims at the Ki­gali Geno­cide Me­mo­rial, where the TV host laid a wreath on the graves. In the vis­i­tors book, she wrote: “Heart­break­ing. Important.” Derossi wrote, “One of the most important and mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences of my life.”

Pic: Pres­i­dent’s of­fice.

Degeneres (C) with her part­ner Por­tia De Rossi and the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Rwanda De­vel­op­ment Board Clare Aka­manzi in Ki­gali on May 29, af­ter meet­ing Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame.

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