Indeed, last year, more than 660,000 tourists visited Rwanda, up from just 2,000 a decade before and more than Rwanda's previous high point in 1984, when 39,000 tourists arrived per year. It's a good sign for a country that is trying to wean itself off foreign aid, in favor of private investment, primarily in tourism.
That strategy is already paying off: Tourism is now the country's leading source of foreign exchange and Rwanda's economy is one of the fastest-growing in Africa.
The move also represents a new direction for Marriott. Once completed, the $55 million, 292-room Marriott Kigali will be the chain's first property in sub-Saharan Africa and one of three slated to open there over the next 18 months. Hotels in Ghana and Benin will follow.
"That means more jobs and more opportunities for Rwandans," says Ed Fuller, president and managing director of international lodging at Marriott. While the hotel's key senior management positions will at first be filled by international staff, he says, "the ultimate goal ... is to have all the management positions filled by locally trained and educated people."
Getting there, however, could prove a greater challenge in Rwanda than anywhere Marriott has been. Indeed, for all its progress – Rwanda earned Africa's first-ever "Top Reformer" ranking on the 2010 World Bank Doing Business Survey – the country remains one of Africa's poorest with roughly 90 percent of citizens working in subsistence farming.