Is Rwanda’s Increase in Gorilla Permit Prices a Blessing or a Disaster
Whether Rwandan’s exorbitant price hike for gorilla Permits is a blessing or curse to the country’s tourism has always been a topic of discussion among tourists and tour operators alike. It is now two months (from 6th May 2017) after the Rwanda Development Board increased the price of gorilla permits. What does this price increase mean to the country’s gorilla tourism? this is a question that lingers in anyone’s mind. Is it a disaster or a blessing to Rwanda’s gorilla tourism? The answer lies within you (tourists) and the Rwandan Development Board.
Firstly, gorilla trekking is the main reason why thousands of tourists visit Rwanda annually and is one of the key drivers of the country’s economy to greater heights. There are currently over 300 mountain gorillas/10 habituated gorilla families that call Volcanoes National Park home. This National Park in comparison to other Parks where gorilla trekking is conducted-Mgahinga National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park of Uganda and the Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is easily accessible (just 2-3 hours drive) from the Capital-Kigali, which is not the case with the other destinations that are 6-10 hours drive away from the Capitals.
Nevertheless, Rwanda maintains the highest price of gorilla permits of all the other destinations (and was increased from $750 per person to $1500 per person for all categories of tourists. The most disappointing thing about this price increase is that it discriminates against the budget travelers or the Rwandan residents who may not afford that whole amount of money. Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo on the other hand still maintain (at least for now) the same price and different categories of tourists are charged different prices. In Uganda for instance, foreign non residents pay $600, foreign residents pay $500 and East African Community residents pay Shs 250,000. Gorilla Permits in the Democratic Republic of Congo cost only $400 for foreign tourists and $150 for Congolese Citizens. This means all categories of tourists are catered for fairly and more so, discounted permits are even offered during the low seasons which is not the case with Rwanda.
This then brings us to the topic of discussion, is the price increase a disaster or blessing? As a matter of fact, this question has increasingly become difficult to answer because according to the CEO Rwanda Development Board-Ms Clare Akamanzi, the increase in price of gorilla permits also means double increase in the community revenue sharing rate from 5% to 10% hence will quadruple the total revenues disbursed to the local communities living adjacent to Volcanoes National Park. Not only that, the increase in permits means an increase in the country’s total revenue.
Ms Clare Akamanzi further elaborated that, the price increase is a way of ensuring sustainability and conservation of the mountain gorillas. This argument is based on the fact that few people will be able to afford the money, hence discouraging mass tourism. This in the end preserves the mountain gorillas and their habitat, and exceedingly increase in their numbers.
However, the price hike is also a disaster because it wasn’t increased by just 5% or 10%, not even 15% but whole 100%. In 2012, price of gorilla permits were increased by 50% from $500 to $750, which was acceptable but a 100% increment is totally unreasonable. The next time you will hear gorilla permits were increased by 150%, which we hope doesn’t happen. It was very unfair because it was done without criterion and it has become visible that this buffed case of modesty and integrity has been taken over by the need for the money then considering other stakeholders (tourists and tour operator) hence making most tourists to miss the opportunity of meeting face to face with the mountain gorillas. It is even saddening that the Rwandan citizens have been denied the opportunity of tracking the mountain gorillas within their own country. Charging the locals the same price is really uncalled-for. Tour operators and intending gorilla trekkers mostly condemned the abrupt manner in which the price increase was made, even without advance notice to allow the stakeholders to prepare for the changes. It is so disappointing for tour operators to inform clients that permits were increased abruptly.
It is undeniable that some foreign tourists are able to pay for the $1500 to track the mountain gorillas, but this exorbitant price increase extrapolates the words that go against whatever tourists consider about this remarkable country (some tourists regard it as greed for money). Rwanda is an adorable country, in fact one of the most beautiful in Africa and possibly the safest you can ever visit. However, it becomes difficult to track mountain gorillas from the country again, at least not at such a price (of course not all tourists see a problem with the price hike). This price increase means only the high-end tourists are welcome to the country and it is clearly visible that the days of paying peanuts to meet face to face with the Giant Apes of the Volcanoes National Park are long gone.
Ms. Clare Akamanzi condoned and justified the price increase by describing gorilla trekking experience as a highly unique Experience. It kept me wondering whether the experience is different from the other countries (Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo) or maybe the mountain gorillas are different. Also, the fact that Volcanoes National Park is just 2 hours drive from Kigali justifies the price increase. Why not use that to make the country’s gorilla tourism competitive than taking advantage of it to exploit tourists?
Still on the issue of increase in revenue sharing, is it reasonable to increase price of gorilla permits because you are increasing on the revenue percentage disbursed to the local communities? It is clear that this increase is not about the local communities.
In conclusion, the exorbitant price increase in gorilla trekking permits is both a blessing and disaster to the country’s gorilla tourism and economy. However, this largely depends of the tourists’ perception of the move by the Rwandan Development Board to increase permits.