Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Capital Business
Capital Business

Kenya

Rwanda targets high-end tourist market

One of the mountain gorilla at the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda’s main tourism attraction. By raising the prices of permits to see the gorillas, the east African nation is seeking boost conersation and put itself at the luxury end of the market. © AFP/File / STEPHANIE AGLIETTI

Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda, Jul 26 – Nicaraguan singer Hernaldo Zuniga brought his entire family to trek through the lush forests and mist-shrouded volcanoes of northwestern Rwanda in search of mountain gorillas.

He described their encounter with the critically endangered primates as “an almost spiritual” experience, and said it was the only reason they made Rwanda a stop on a trip taking in a safari in Kenya, and a tour of South Africa.

But Rwanda is no longer content with being a whirlwind stop on a tourist’s itinerary, and is working hard to broaden its appeal beyond its world-famous mountain gorillas while narrowing its niche market to the wealthiest of visitors.

Zuniga counts himself lucky that his family of five scored their permits to see the gorillas before Rwanda’s eyebrow-raising move to double the cost to $1,500 (1,300 euros) per person in May.

“I think that is going to be a drawback for many people. It is just going to be an elite group of people who can pay that,” said Zuniga, a well-known star in Latin America.

For Rwanda however, the price hike is part of a careful strategy to boost conservation efforts while positioning itself as a luxury tourist destination.

“The idea behind (the increase) is that it is an exclusive experience which also needs to be limited in numbers. Our tourism is very much based on natural resources and we are very serious about conservation,” said Clare Akamanzi, the chief executive of the Rwanda Development Board.

It is a high-value, low-impact strategy that has worked well for countries such as Botswana and Bhutan.

– Safe and clean –

The remote, mountainous border area straddling Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda is the only place in the world where one can see the gorillas, whose numbers have slowly increased to nearly 900 due to conservation efforts.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Permits in the DRC ($400) and Uganda ($600) are far cheaper, but Rwandan officials are not concerned that they will lose tourists to their neighbours, arguing the country offers an experience that is rare in the region.

Ever since the devastating 1994 genocide in which 800,000 mainly Tutsis were killed, the country has been praised for a swift economic turnaround.

“When you come to Rwanda it is a clean, organised, safe country with zero tolerance for corruption. We have concentrated on creating a good experience,” said Akamanzi, also highlighting a quick visa process.

The challenge is getting tourists to make Rwanda their main destination, and spend more than the usual four days it takes to visit the gorillas and maybe the genocide museum before heading elsewhere.

“We want to keep it high-end as an anchor for tourism but provide other offerings,” said Akamanzi. She said tourism is already the country’s top foreign exchange earner, but believes they “have only scratched the surface”.

So the country, known as the Land of a Thousand Hills is looking into sports tourism such as cycling, cultural tourism and becoming a Big Five safari destination in its own right.

A lion brought from South Africa walked inside a temporary enclosure before being released into the in Akagera National Park in the east of Rwanda in 2015. © AFP / STEPHANIE AGLIETTI

In the past two years Rwanda has re-introduced both lions and rhino to its Akagera National Park — which had gone extinct due to poor conservation — and visitor numbers to the reserve have doubled, said Akamanzi.

– ‘There will be an impact’ –

However gorillas remain the main lure, and industry players are concerned about the impact the price increase could have on the whole tourism chain.

“We risk losing substantial revenue for the industry and government as a whole. Currently a number of gorilla permits are already not sold in the low season,” the Rwanda Tours and Travel Association (RTTA) said in a statement after the decision was announced.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Mid-range hotels around the Volcanoes National Park say it is too soon to tell what the fallout will be, but several managers expressed concerns they would lose their main clientele.

“Either way there will be an impact,” said Fulgence Nkwenprana, who runs the La Palme hotel.

Aloys Kamanzi, a guide with Individual Tours, acknowledged there has been an initial slowdown in reservations, but is convinced people will keep coming, adding his clients are mostly “retired tourists who have saved their whole lives”, some of whom come three or four times.

The singer Zuniga said coming to Rwanda was a hard decision, as he had not heard much about what the country was like today from Mexico, where he lives with his family.

“Rwanda has a lot of sensitive echoes in my generation, the genocide … we had to cross over all these personal obstacles to make the decision to come here,” he said.

“They have to do better in promoting their tourism. Once you are here it is amazing, the people are unique, the country is beautiful. I would like to stay longer.”

Click to comment
Advertisement

More on Capital Business

Executive Lifestyle

NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 12 – The country’s super wealthy individuals are increasing their holding of bonds, gold and cash, a new report by Knight...

Ask Kirubi

NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 9 – Businessman and industrialist Dr. Chris Kirubi has urged members of the public to exercise extreme caution when making any...

Ask Kirubi

NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 24 – Businessman and industrialist Dr. Chris Kirubi is set to own half of Centum Investment Company PLC, following a go-ahead...

Headlines

NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 18 – Commercial Banks have been ordered to provide relief to borrowers on their personal loans, with loans eligible from March...

Ask Kirubi

It is without a doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has caught the whole world by surprise. Although its full impact is yet to be...

Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun17 – Kenya’s tea leaves manufacturer Kericho Gold, has been awarded the Superbrands Seal by Superbrands East Africa for their quality variety...

Coronavirus

NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 13 – As the local telecommunications industry gears up to roll out 5G networks in the country, the Communications Authority of...

Coronavirus

NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 22 – Airtel Kenya is offering free internet access for students in order to enable continued learning at home in the...