On 6th May 2017, all tour operators, accommodation owners and stakeholders in tourism business in East Africa heard shocking news of immediate proposal and implementation of the hiking of Rwanda Gorilla permit fees from US$ 750 to US$ 1500 each. “At first we thought it was a joke but after reading the information on the websites of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), we came to confirm it was true” revealed one of Rwanda based tour operators.
The increase did not only affect the tour operators but also the tourists who were hoping to go on Rwanda gorilla treks in future/ near future. Some of the tour operators joined hand to plead for an extension of the period to enable tour operators and tourists prepare for the new increased costs but all in vain. Some tour operators argued that, they had clients whose deposit was still in the pipeline and they were suggesting a grace period to settle their clients’ permits to avoid cancellations.
Secondly, it was a tough time for the tour operators who had received their clients’ deposit in advance but were still hesitant to purchase gorilla permits. The announcement caught them offguard.
Thirdly, the sales agents based in Kigali Rwanda who were benefiting from booking permits on behalf of other companies outside Rwanda were also totally affect since the sales started declining. It should be noted that Rwanda offers the tenth Gorilla permit free to tour operators but the increased costs was expected to affect their deal in short run but remain suspecting things to turn better in future.
Tour operators who are majorly depending on Rwanda Gorilla trekking safaris argued that, what Rwanda did was to automatically marketing Uganda Gorillas since the two countries are neighbors. And indeed, Uganda has started gaining momentum since their Gorilla permits remains at US$ 600 each.
Uganda tour operators who are competing with Rwanda tour operator found it a chance to out compete their opponents since Uganda maintained the lower cost of Gorilla permit at US$ 600 each. Uganda operators are not so affected since it’s now a matter persuading clients to trek Gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga national park.
Rwanda Development Board responded by allowing only clients’ permits which were still in the pipelines before 6th May 2017 to be purchased at the previous cost of US$750. It was done on condition that, all the clients emails sent to tour operators confirming the sending of the deposits were supposed to be sent to RDB for approval.
The State of Rwanda Tourism
According to independent research done by the East Africa Post, Rwanda’s tourism is in limbo! Many days go with gorilla permit sales not exceeding 20%. In the peak season when Rwanda sold 100% sales of gorilla permits and even some bookings turned down by tour operators, today it is a different case. In June – September of 2019, there are bookings that do not exceed even 30%. Gorilla permits are still available yet in the neighboring Uganda, there are almost no spaces for gorilla permits if you are looking at traveling between June to September, the peak season when most travelers visit Africa.
After the increment, Uganda sales have purged. Rwanda has become a transit destination rather than the final destination for tourists. Many tourists travel through Rwanda to access the Virunga National Park of Congo as well as Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National Parks of Uganda. It’s is noted most tour operators switched to promoting trips that start from Kigali accessing Uganda and DR Congo. There are 2 days Uganda Gorilla trek that is doing better compared to 1 day and 2 days Rwanda Gorilla safari.
Tour operators in Uganda are arguing Uganda Wildlife and UTB not to be tempted to follow Rwanda. I tried to consult from RDB reservation office; the reservationists do confirm that the sales declined compared to the previous month before the hiking of the costs. On the other hand, reservationists at Uganda Wildlife Authority are thanking God for what Rwanda did.
The increment of the gorilla permit has also bitten hard the lodge owners. Most lodge owners are soon quitting the business except when something new is done. Lodges go empty and the room occupancy rate is almost zero for safari lodges that targeted budget travelers as well as backpackers!
WHAT FORCED RWANDA TO INCERASE THE PRICES FOR GORILLA PERMIT?
Conservation purposed – It should be noted that for the past year, Rwanda has been receiving more trekkers compared to Uganda. It is noted that the habitat for Gorillas has been put on high pressure thus a need to reduce the number of trekkers to conserve Gorillas and their habitats.
Profit maximization – Rwanda wanted to increase the profits obtained from the selling of Gorilla permits. Previously, each permit was sold at US$ 750 and it is now doubled meaning 100% increase.
Miscalculations done by RDB officials – it was a mess done by top officials in Rwanda development board. They thought that as soon as they have increased to costs, Uganda will follow but it’s not the case. More visitors have decided to go to Uganda to avoid much expenditure.
We are still guessing that Rwanda may reduce the costs after realizing a decline in sales or they may catch up in future – let’s wait and see.