Gorilla permit fees lock out budget tourists, hurting firms

Sunday March 10 2019


The Rwanda Development Board plans to expand the Virunga National Park to accommodate the growing number of mountain gorillas. PHOTO | FILE 

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Tour operators who were targeting budget visitors are now feeling the pinch two years since Rwanda hiked its gorilla permits.

The budget visitors who constituted a big percentage of tourists who used to visit to see the gorillas are now going to Uganda and using Rwanda as transit destination.

“Only the operators who targeted high-end, luxury tourists have remained in business. Those who served budget tourists have been affected and many have moved to Uganda,” said Patrick Kwizera, the managing director of Fine Safaris Africa, who is also the Rwanda Safari Guides’ Association chairman.

“They have resorted to marketing gorilla tourism in Uganda,” said Mr Kwizera. He added that although the number of tourists who used to visit Rwanda’s gorillas has drastically dropped, the revenue from gorilla permits has increased, which means the government is on track to achieve its intended goal of having fewer tourists with higher returns.

The government doubled gorilla permit fees from $750 to $1,500 in 2017 for both local and foreign tourists in a bid to position the country as a high-end tourist destination, promote conservation by reducing the number of gorilla visitors while maintaining revenues.

Official figures show interest in gorilla trekking in the country is still significant. The Rwanda  development Board said that between May and July 2017 alone, the country sold 6,583 gorilla permits compared with 6,079 sold in 2016, which was an 8.3 per cent increase.

As the country’s tourism market corrects itself, tour operators have felt the pinch, with many who transport gorilla tourists to Uganda incurring extra costs.

Tour operators have to pay extra costs such as $20 to Uganda Revenue Authority, $30 for Comesa insurance and fuel charges, which ends up raising their holiday package quotation by 10 to 20 per cent.

Majority of tourists who come to see gorillas in Rwanda are mostly those who are 45 years and above. The government charges $1,500 to spend one hour with a gorilla family, while in Uganda the permit costs $600. In Democratic Republic of Congo a permit costs $400.

The government doubled the community revenue sharing rate from five per cent to 10 per cent.