By Moses K. Gahigi
Faced by dwindling business, tour and travel operators in Rwanda have welcomed a 30 per cent low-season discount permit fees to the gorilla conservation areas.
A year after government doubled the permit fees to (Rwf1.3 million ($1500), from Rwf650,640 ($750) as it sought to package Rwanda as a high-end tourism destination, tour operators say they have lost up to 60 per cent of their customers.
“The $1,500 fee is killing us, the discount is a relief,” said the manager of New Horizon Tours and Services, Emmanuel Karake. “The gorilla tracking is a unique experience, but this permit fee is too high.”
The discount means visitors will pay Rwf911,076 ($1,050) between November and May. But some operators cite other conditions, for instance, a tourist will have to spend at least three days in the country and also visit Rwanda’s national parks of Akagera and Nyungwe, as an added cost.
“I have not got any bookings based on these discounts,” said Aimable Tuyigire, from Home Rwanda Safaris. “But it’s a great idea. Since the price doubled we have lost many customers, many of whom prefer to cross over to Uganda and track gorillas there.”
Tour operators say that they incur extra costs when their clients cross over to Uganda.
For example, they have to pay $20 (Rwf17,346) to the Uganda Revenue Authority, $30 (Rwf26,019) for Comesa insurance and fuel charges, which end up raising their holiday package quotation by 10 to 20 per cent.
The rationale of doubling the price for both local and international tourists was to position the country as a high-end tourism destination, and to promote conservation by reducing the number of gorilla visitors while maintaining revenues, according to the chief tourism officer at the Rwanda Development Board Belise Kaliza.
Rwanda charges $1,500 to spend one hour with a gorilla family. In Uganda the permit costs $600, while in the Democratic Republic of Congo it costs $400.
Kaliza said although there has been a slight decrease in the revenues received in gorilla permit sales since they doubled the price, the decrease is so little to cause any alarm.
“I look at the numbers there has not been a bad impact, it’s just a couple of dollars’ difference.”