After a couple of months of uncertainty, businesses in Rwanda's gorilla value chain have started embracing the new high-end tourism vision as the country moves to consolidate its high-value, low-volume strategy.
Since the government doubled the gorilla permit fees to $1,500 from $750 in May, tour operators say their clients now appreciate the increase as necessary for sustainability through conservation.
“Customers are starting to understand and respond positively to the fee hike, especially international tourists,” said Davidson Mugisha, the managing director of Wildlife Tours Rwanda, adding that while they have struggled for awhile, the market was coming around.
“There was a slowdown in business but we are coping, things have not yet gone back where they were but we are optimistic,” he added.
There has been an increase in luxury hotels and lodges in Musanze and the surrounding areas that support the government’s decision to focus on high-end tourism.
“We are launching a nature resort in Nyungwe in October and we shall also build another One&Only property, named the Gorilla Nest, here near the volcanoes,” said Justin Stevens, general manager of One&Only Resorts in Rwanda.
Other high-end tourism amenities such as Bisate lodge, Amakoro and Five Volcanoes lodge have been opened while Singita Kwitonda, part of the Singita Safari Lodges plan their first property in the country by 2019.
“Bisate lodge opened in June but is already fully booked until October. This gives a positive outlook about the market,” said Emmanuel Hategeka, the COO of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), during the Singita ground breaking.
According to statistics shared by Belise Kariza, the RDB chief tourism officer there was an increase of 39 per cent in gorilla revenues between May and July compared with the same period last year and a 22 per cent increase in booked gorilla permits.
Fifteen per cent of these permits were sold at the new $1,500 price tag.