The decision by the Government of Rwanda to slash gorilla permit fees for people looking to visit Mountain Gorillas in the country’s Volcanoes National Park is expected to be a major gamechanger in tourism in the Eastern African region, with Rwanda reintroducing competitive rates.
Stakeholders in the tourism industry say the revised gorilla permit fees will lead to an increased inflow of tourists in 2024 and continue to consolidate the recovery by the sector which was hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and different crises across the globe which led to a decline in travels and inflation.
In a bid to boost tourism and continued recovery of the sector, RDB on January 5 announced a reduction in the cost of gorilla trekking permits, from $1500 to $500 for foreign residents and $200 for locals -a move that will worry neighbouring countries, which also offer gorilla trekking services.
“To ensure the continued recovery of the tourism industry, effective 1st January 2024 the below existing promotional rates are extended to December 31, 2024,” reads the announcement for Gorilla permits promotional rates for 2024
“From June to October 2024, promotional permits for the listed categories namely; Nationals, Foreign residents, East Africans, and Africans should be purchased seventy- two (72) hours in advance before the trekking date,” the announcement adds.
Gorilla permits for Rwandans and East Africans will cost $200 per person. They will be required to provide a valid birth certificate, national ID or passport.
The move, which the government says is aimed at accelerating not just the recovery, but also the growth of the tourism sector, is expected to give Rwanda a competitive edge and also enhance cross-border tourism, where tourists will not be able to have many options.
Frank Muzungu, the Managing Director Kigali Car Rentals, says the move by the Government of Rwanda will go a long way in increasing the number of local, regional and international tourists.
“This is a great move for us as tour operators. The previous fee was quite pretty on the high end for some visitors but this move by the government is going to make it easy for people to come here to trek mountain gorillas and as service providers, we will also benefit directly,” Muzungu says.
Muzungu says that with Rwanda continuing to position itself as an attractive destination for tourists as well as meetings and conferences, under its MICE ambition, slashing the gorilla permit fees brings more options on the table for tourists and visitors who wish to get gorilla trekking off their bucket list.
Tour operators are hoping for a stronger performance in 2024, with the number of tourists already predicted to go up this year. Rwanda’s also experiencing a boom in domestic tourism, as more Rwandans and expats living in Rwanda, adding places to visit, including national parks, on their bucket list.
“It is a timely move for us and we thank the Government of Rwanda for always thinking about us with such decisions. There is no better way to begin the year. We are hoping for more guests looking for services with the reduced prices” he adds.
Muzungu says as a result of reduced prices, they have introduced new products and offers that integrate both domestic and regional packages has been introduced at Kigali Car Rentals, which are more affordable for both locals and foreign, to take advantage of this promotional offer.
“We are looking to capitalise on this and give our clients value for money, with different packages, including gorilla trekking, which for some was not affordable before. This is a great move for us,” Muzungu explained.
Darius Do Santos, of Darius Tours and Travel, a tour company that operates across East Africa says the decision by the Rwandan government will be a gamechanger, in the sense that the rates are now favourable, especially for tourists looking to take advantage of the EAC Single Tourist Visa.
The move is also likely to have a positive impact on Rwanda’s endangered mountain gorilla population. By increasing the number of visitors, the government hopes to raise awareness of the plight of the mountain gorillas and generate more funds to protect them.
Close to a decade ago, mountain gorillas were among the critically endangered wildlife species but due gorilla trekking, more awareness has been created to support the conservation efforts of the mountain gorillas.
Today, mountain gorillas are some of the most valued wildlife species in Rwanda. Poaching is no longer so much a threat as it used to be simply because of the mindset change courtesy of gorilla tourism in Rwanda.
The money that comes through the gorilla trekking permits has also immensely contributed to the change of mindset among the local communities.
Last year RDB disbursed over Rwf 3 billion to communities in various districts surrounding four national parks as part of the revenue-sharing scheme for 2023-2024.
The revenue-sharing scheme, initiated in 2005, aims to curb poaching in the parks and enhance the living conditions of the neighboring communities by providing viable livelihood options. This initiative allocates 10 percent of the annual tourism park revenues to the nearby communities, supporting their development and prosperity.
According to data by RDB the tourism sector generated US$247 million or Rwf290 billion in revenue during the first half of 2023, reflecting a notable 56% surge compared to the US$158 million reported during the same period in 2022.
The services sector, mainly tourism and hospitality, played a significant role, contributing 46% to the GDP, followed by the agriculture sector at 25%, the industry sector at 21%, and net direct taxes accounting for 7%.