Rwanda has slashed gorilla permits by between 60 percent and 80 percent as the government endeavours to revive the tourism sector adversely hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mountain gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park will now cost foreign nationals $500, while Rwandan citizens and foreign residents will pay $200, down from $1,400.
The new price regime is valid until December 31.
The decision was announced on Wednesday after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, chaired by President Paul Kagame, agreed to resume tourism activities after more than three months of inactivity due to the coronavirus lockdown.
“Domestic tourism and international tourism for visitors travelling with charter flights (individuals and groups) will resume. Hotels shall continue operations and are encouraged to participate in domestic tourism promotion and offer conference services,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office reads.
Commercial flights, however, remain suspended.
To woo visitors, Rwanda Development Board (RDB) will also offer 15 percent to 30 percent discount permits for groups visiting Volcanoes and Nyungwe parks.
“Rwanda’s tourism industry is adapting to create a safe environment for travellers and operators, in order to thrive in these unprecedented times. We encourage all travel enthusiasts and nature explorers to take advantage of this unique opportunity to venture out and experience the beauty and adventure that our country has to offer,” said Belise Kariza, the Chief Tourism Officer at RDB.
Domestic tourists will be required to take a Covid-19 test 48 hours prior to visiting the parks and declared coronavirus free. A private test centre has been set up for testing on appointment, RDB said.
Tourists flying into the country using chartered flights must be Covid-19 free with tests taken 72 hours before arrival. They will be subjected to a second test prior to visiting any tourist attraction.
Park visitors are required to maintain a distance of at least 10 metres apart while gorilla trekking in Nyungwe and Volcanoes.
Great apes, including gorillas, are susceptible to human respiratory pathogens and, respiratory illnesses regularly occur in mountain gorillas, according to Gorilla Doctors, a conservation organisation operating in Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
The tourism sector is the government’s cash-cow that has been hardest hit by the pandemic. Tour companies have been forced to suspended activities and lay off workers.
According to the Rwanda Tourism Chamber, the sector had lost $37 million in March alone.
In order to cushion tour companies, government has waived pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) tax, until December, for employees operating in the tourism and hospitality sector earning up to Rwf150,000 ($160) as net salary.
The national carrier – RwandAir – has had most of its fleet grounded due to the suspension of commercial flights. Government plans to inject up to $152 million in the airline in 2020/2021 financial year, which begins in July, to boost its recovery from the pandemic woes.
Rwanda had all but given up on domestic tourism when gorilla permits were doubled to $1,400 to focus on high-end foreign tourists, with officials justifying the raise by pointing to the critically insignificant number of domestic tourists.
But under the national economic recovery plan developed last month, boosting domestic tourism is cited as a key strategy that can help to ease the long pandemic recovery period.
The plan has seen the reintroduction of local and regional fees for gorilla permits covering a period of two years, as well as discount rates of between 30 percent and 50 percent for domestic bookings.