Interview with Bruce Niyonzima, The 28-Year-Old Behind “Visit Burundi”

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Born in 1995 in Burundi, Bruce Niyonzima obtained his Bachelor of Science in Business Studies from School of Business and Trade, at Luzern, Switzerland in 2020. He has more than 6 years of experience in the tourism and travel industry. He worked for the Kiriri Garden Hotel as a supply and chain manager, whilst in Ngozi, he also worked as a manager at a local farm cooperative. He is the founder of Phoenix company which is a multiservice organization specialized in travel, tourism, marketing and events planning. As an independent tourism consultant, Bruce supported the Ministry in charge of tourism in tourism marketing strategy development. He is also serving as the acting CEO of Burundi Tourism Bureau (BTB) or Burundi Tourism Promotion and Development Agency since October 2020. Andika Magazine has an extensive interview with Bruce Niyonzima behind “Visit Burundi, Land of the Sacred Drum” brand that is promoting Burundian tourism.


Bruce Niyonzima, founder of Visit Burundi. Photo by Akeza


Andika Magazine: Tell us more about Visit Burundi

Bruce Niyonzima: Created in 2020, the Burundi Tourism Promotion and Development Agency promotes and develops the “Visit Burundi, Land of the Sacred Drum” brand. We saw that the Burundians did not have the tourist culture and did not make efforts to visit their own country but spent millions to go to Zanzibar, Dubai and elsewhere. We began to promote domestic tourism by creating the “Tembera Uburundi” program which is dedicated to Burundians, foreign residents and the Burundian diaspora.

The tourism sector is recognized as an essential lever for the socio-economic growth of the country and a key sector for the consolidation of peace in Burundi. Now that peace and stability have returned, tourism must recover from the devastation caused by more than a decade of destruction that has left it underperforming compared to neighboring countries. We decided firstly to show the beauty of our country, to show the culture, to finally change the image of our country, different from the one it has abroad.


Visit Burundi team during an excursion. Picture by Visit Burundi

We want Burundians and foreigners to come and visit our country because it is a beautiful country which has many things to show. Visit Dubai, Visit Poland, Visit Qatar, Visit Rwanda, Visit Tanzania, Visit the USA (there are many) are all showcases for tourism in the respective countries and contribute to the development of their economies.


Andika Magazine: Where did the idea come from to create an agency that will promote tourism?

Bruce Niyonzima: The idea originated from strengthening the attractiveness of Burundi destination, coordinate Burundi’s participation in international tourism events, make general information about the destination and its tourist offering available to the public, support hoteliers and tourism promoters established in Burundi in the development and promotion of their offers, establish technical and financial partnerships necessary for initiatives and promoters of activities supporting the promotion of tourism.

President of the Republic of Burundi, Evariste Ndayishimiye, wearing Visit Burundi brand T-shirt. Photo by Ntare House

It is hence appropriate to point out that since the election of our head of state, in his capacity as champion of the “youth, peace and security” program, His Excellency the President of the Republic of Burundi Evariste Ndayishimiye, has reaffirmed his total support and his confidence in young people, their talents and their abilities to change the history of Africa, especially Burundi.


Andika Magazine: How do you manage to make Visit Burundi function?

Bruce Niyonzima: The agency was initiated by many young people who give their time and the projects and programs are financed through cost sharing by individuals, public and private organizations, local and international NGOs, embassies and other donors wishing to participate in this economic development initiative.


Andika Magazine: What does Visit Burundi intend to improve in Tourism sector in Burundi?

Bruce Niyonzima: The vision of Visit Burundi is to be the main driver for the growth of Tourism and to see Burundi become one of the leading sustainable tourist destinations in East Africa by 2035 with at least one million of visitors per year and GDP contribution in Africa. As the official destination marketing organization for the country, BTB is dedicated to driving Burundi’s evolution by promoting the nation globally as a world-class destination for leisure, group travel and tourism.

A field of tea plants from Burundi. Photo by Visit Burundi

Burundi Tourism Promotion and Development Agency or Burundi Tourism Bureau (BTB) is a non-profit organization under the auspices of Minister of Trade, Transport and Tourism, which aims to encourage and promote the vitality & growth of Burundi’s tourism industry. Promoting Burundi as a best travel African destination (both domestically & internationally) is at the center of the Bureau’s principal focus.

The Burundi Tourism Bureau creates and implements sales, advertising, promotional, and public relations activity to encourage and increase vacation, and business to incentive travel to Burundi. The Bureau’s also assists in the development of nature-based, historical, and cultural tourism. Further still, Burundi’s Tourism Bureau leverages funds appropriated by the private sector to enable and greatly enhance Burundi in the public eye.


Andika Magazine: You recently visit France for meeting the heads of some of Europe’s best-known football teams and discuss future partnerships? Why did you think about football teams and Europe not basketball team and USA? What will be the outcome from those partnerships ?

Bruce Niyonzima: This is particularly useful for new or relatively unknown brands in a market, or for keeping a brand top of mind among consumers in that market. Intelligent exploitation of professional football matches or sports facilities has proven to be a more effective way to promote tourism than traditional methods. This is demonstrated by the partnerships between unconventional tourist destinations and football clubs, such as Azerbaijan with Atlético Madrid or Rwanda with Arsenal. One English sixth-tier team, Blyth Spartans A.F.C., even had a billboard in its stadium advertising “Visit North Korea.”


Bruce Niyonzima in France meeting the heads of some of Europe’s best-known football teams and discuss future partnerships

The second example of the country becoming an official sponsor of a football club has sparked even more controversy at home. The Republic of Chad has become a multi-million-dollar sponsor of French Ligue 1 team FC Metz. The quote “Chad: Oasis of the Sahel” will be written on the FC Metz jerseys. The problem with Chad is that it is one of the poorest and most corrupted countries in the world, battling the notorious terrorist group Boko Haram. “About half of the country’s rural population lives below the poverty line and faces food shortages due to harsh desert conditions.”


Burundian Royal Drummers from Gishora Sacred Drums Sanctuary. Photo by Akeza

Since each country that has invested in the tourism sector has been able to have gigantic returns, “Visit Burundi” is also the national tourism development strategy. The aim is to make Burundi one of the twenty main destinations in Africa. Burundi leads the presidency of the East African Community (EAC), the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda of the African Union and also a member of the office of the African Union as 3rd Vice President representing thus the Central African region and will evolve towards the presidency of the African Union by 2026. Burundi is establishing itself at the continental level and so much the better it is the right time at the global level.

As far as I am concerned, I can say that Burundi is a nation passionate about football which is the most loved and followed sport in the world. “This sport, which succeeds in uniting and thrilling the whole world, is an invaluable opportunity to send messages. Associating the image of our “Visit Burundi” with that of a professional team in Europe is a strategic collaboration but above all an unparalleled opportunity which will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the overall perception and tourism of our country. We will work with other sports such as tennis, Formula 1, athletics and participate in international competitions as part of strategic or financial partnerships. And it should be noted that all this requires a lot of financial investment, which is still a barrier until today.


Andika Magazine: Were there any challenges when you started visit Burundi? If yes, how were you able to overcome them?


Bruce Niyonzima: At the beginning, we were called amateurs and adventurers. I understood these apprehensions, given the enormous challenges in tourism. There were many challenges and criticisms when we started such as we copied neighboring countries on the name “Visit” whereas we know that it is a universal name in the field of tourism or almost all countries around the world use this name.


Visit Burundi excursion on some Burundian touristic sites during the Tembera Uburundi campain. Photo by Akeza

A lot of misunderstanding in relation to other organizations, both public and private, about the mission and vision of our organization. We had a bigger goal as we put our strength, energy and soul together to put Burundi on the world map through tourism even though we are currently experiencing financial, material and technical problems to work on our promotional programs and development. Thanks to the help of many Burundian companies and international organizations, we were able to represent Burundi in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Bruce Niyonzima in Maroc. Photo: All Rights Reserved


Andika Magazine: What is the advantage of promoting tourism?

Bruce Niyonzima: Tourism is vital for the success of many economies around the world. There are several benefits of tourism on host destinations.  Tourism boosts the revenue of the economy, creates thousands of jobs, develops the infrastructures of a country, and plants a sense of cultural exchange between foreigners and citizens. The number of jobs created by tourism in many different areas is significant. These jobs are not only a part of the tourism sector but may also include the agricultural sector, communication sector, health sector, and the educational sector.


Andika Magazine: According to you and with your experience, what does it look like to invest in tourism sector especially in Burundi?

Bruce Niyonzima: The tourism sector in Burundi has a huge potential to contribute to economic growth, if adequate and robust policies aimed at its improvement are implemented. According to me, tourism is one of the most powerful drivers of economic growth and development.  During the recent national forum, the need to create favorable conditions for the emergence of a vibrant tourism industry was highlighted.


Bruce Niyonzima in blue suit and blue and white tie together with other Burundian youths and some who are investing in tourism in Burundi such as Dative Uwimana who owns Ikaze Ventures. Photo: All Rights Reserved

In most EAC countries, with the exception of Burundi, tourism represents a significant part of economic development, driving around 17% of the GDP. The sector is also credited with creating approximately 7% of jobs. These statistics demonstrate the great potential of tourism in the region. Unfortunately, Burundi has been lagging behind for a long time when it comes to using tourism as an economic engine.

In Burundi the tourism sector is still underdeveloped and lacks the necessary infrastructures and qualified and dedicated personnel.  Government of Burundi along with the private sector can rely on tourism for a big percentage of its revenue and invest a lot in the infrastructure of the country either by doing public private partnerships. If Burundi wants more and more tourists, safe and advanced facilities are necessary. This leads to new roads and highways, developed parks and touristic sites, improved public spaces, new airports, and possibly better schools and hospitals. Safe and innovative infrastructures allow for a smooth flow of goods and services. Moreover, Burundian people will experience an opportunity for economic and educational growth.


Andika Magazine: Given the unemployment rate and all that is plaguing the economy of Burundi, what would be your advice to Burundians, especially young people in terms of tourism and entrepreneurship?

Bruce Niyonzima: A strong tourism sector offers much-needed diversification of business opportunities, new revenues for the government, many possibilities for job creation for the youth, and ultimately the improvement of the country’s image abroad. Across the globe, tourism is an integral part of the economic architecture and for some countries, it represents a key pillar which supports the economic system as a whole.


Burundian drum. Photo by Akeza

For instance, the share of tourism in the Seychelles and the Bahamas Islands is 65.8% and 75 % of the GDP respectively.  In the Bahamas, the tourism sector alone employs half of the population of the island. These statistics show clearly that a well-functioning tourism industry is an important factor not only for economic growth but also for a sustainable development.

We can create initiative focused on increasing employment opportunities for young people while expanding the tourism and hospitality sector in Burundi. Growth in Burundi’s tourism and hospitality sector can be a key national priority in near future. It’s vital to reducing poverty, improving youth employability, and moving the nation to middle-income status.

Bruce Niyonzima in Croatia

Young Entrepreneurs with small businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector can seek funds and sponsorship from different banks and organizations such as PAEEJ, BIJE, NGOs and many more and through increased access to financial services and business development skills training so that they can create new employment opportunities for young people.


Interview by Melchisedeck Boshirwa


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