Tourism, a key driver of the Rwandan economy, is predicted to bring the nation £298 million by the close of 2017; however, there is controversy over whether the recently implemented gorilla permit price hike, from $750 to $1,500, will influence clients’ decisions to visit.
Belise Kariza, chief tourism officer at the Rwanda Development Board, told me that the rising costs were put in place to help make Rwanda “one of the cleanest and greenest countries in Africa”.
Although Kariza was not clear on whether the changes would drive tourism development towards attracting a higher-end visitor, she did expand on its practical necessities.
“The increase in the cost of gorilla safari permits was introduced to protect and preserve the gorillas and conserve their precious habitat. The percentage of the permit fee that is returned to local communities has also doubled from 5% to 10% to ensure that tourism remains sustainable and continues to give something back to communities across Rwanda.”
This focus on sustainability has so far been attractive to British tourists seeking an unspoilt experience, with a growing demand for a glimpse of Rwanda’s culture. Figures shared by Kariza show a 10% year-on-year growth in Brits visiting the destination. This increase has been facilitated by the new RwandAir direct service from Gatwick to the capital Kigali, which Kariza said has been performing strongly.
Despite the permit price hike, the Rwanda Development Board forecasts further growth into 2018 and beyond, Kariza explained.
“With exciting new openings and developments planned, we predict that UK visitor numbers will continue to grow by at least 12% year-on-year.”
New developments include One & Only’s two new resorts – Nyungwe House (pictured) and Gorilla’s Nest – set to open at the end of 2017 and during 2018 respectively.
“We expect many more operators to start selling Rwanda as tourism increases,” she added.
Rwanda is also a nation striving to shake off the ghosts of its past – in the mid-1990s, state-sponsored genocide resulted in the death of some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis. Kariza explained that the nation’s challenge was to address the misconception that Rwanda isn’t safe.
“We recognise the value of educating the trade about Rwanda. We already work closely with partners in the sector and look forward to nurturing new relationships.”