Rwandan-based tour operators and transporters are feeling the pinch of an increase in gorilla permit fees as tourists increasingly opt to travel to Uganda to see the gorillas there.
The government doubled gorilla permit fees from $750 to $1,500 in July 2017 for both local and foreign tourists.
The move was made in a bit to position the country as a high-end tourism destination, promote conservation by reducing the number of gorilla visitors while maintaining revenues.
Official figures show interest in gorilla trekking in the country is still significant.
The Rwanda Development Board said between May and July 2017, the country sold 6,583 gorilla permits compared with 6,079 sold in the same period in 2016, which was an 8.3 per cent increase. The government also says it has doubled the community revenue sharing rate from five per cent to 10 per cent.
However, industry stakeholders say the increment is favouring neighbouring countries, as more tourists fly to Rwanda but end up going to Uganda for gorilla trekking.
“There are increasingly more tourists who come to Rwanda but drive to Uganda for gorilla trekking due to how expensive the permit here is. The roads in Uganda where the gorilla trekking takes place are not good and so we incur extra costs,” said Patrick Kwizera, the director of Fine Safaris Africa.
He said ferrying tourists to Uganda sees them incur costs such as the $20 paid to Uganda Revenue Authority, $30 for Comesa insurance and fuel charges, which can all end up raising their holiday package quotation by 10 to 20 per cent.
“Budget tourists like students have been pushed out of these packages because of the high cost, yet they were the majority of our clients,” said Mr Kwizera.
He said majority of the tourists who now come to see gorillas in Rwanda are mostly those who are 45 years and above.
“There has been a big reduction in the number of tourists who come to visit gorillas in Rwanda since the permit fees were increased,” said Mercy Wanjau, the operations manager at Amahoro Tours.
She said the number of clients who apply for Ugandan gorilla permits have significantly increased as the ones for Rwanda reduce.
“The increase put off even tourists who used to come for other excursions and we are seeing a big decrease in revenues,” said Ms Wanjau, adding that although the move could be good for conservation it is bad for their business.
Rwanda charges $1,500 to spend one hour with a gorilla family, in Uganda the permit costs $600, while in Democratic Republic of Congo a permit costs $400.
Kabiza Wilderness Safaris, a tour operator in both Uganda and Rwanda, said in a statement that out of the 10 permit requests they get, nine are for Uganda.
However, they said as a player in the tourism sector they understand the rationale for increasing gorilla permits from a conservation standpoint.
RDB said it is “in constant dialogue with tour operators to ensure that visitors to Rwanda are able to enjoy not just the gorilla trekking experience, but also the diverse tourist attractions in the country.”
Rwanda is diversifying its tourism sector by focusing on other products.
Akagera National Park recently got 10 eastern black rhinos from South Africa, this is after the park also added two more male lions bringing the lion population to 19.