Gorilla twins: Tour operators have expressed concerns over the hiking of gorilla permit fees that would have adverse effects on their business. The New Times

Tour operators are crying foul over last week’s decision by Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to increase gorilla permit fees, stating that it has greatly affected their business.

Last week, RDB announced that government had hiked gorilla permit rates by 50 percent with effect from 1st June, 2012.

The charges for foreign non residents will increase to US$ 750 from US$500, whereas foreigners residing in Rwanda will be charged US$ 375 instead of US$250 to trek the gorillas. Rwandan nationals will be charged US$ 50 up from US $33.

The new rates however have not gone down well with tour operators who say the new prices will heavily impact on their business, with some clients who had booked in advance already asking for a refund.

“I have clients who booked even up to 2015 but now they want their refund. The decision was not timely and it puts us out of business,” a tour operator who requested anonymity told The New Times, displaying emails of clients who are requesting a refund.

According to Edwin Sabuhoro, the chairman of Tourism Chamber, the decision was ill timed and was made without consulting stakeholders.

In an interview with The New Times, Sabuhoro said that tour operators, who the chamber represents, were not consulted before the decision was reached and it could weigh heavily on their business.

“We thought the decision was not timely. We were not consulted. Given the economic hardships around the world, this will greatly affect demand and supply.

“Tourists might opt for cheaper options in Uganda and DR Congo. We are anticipating a huge decline in our business. Tour operators are already rescheduling with their clients,” Sabuhoro noted.

He added that a meeting between RDB and tour operators representatives did not amount into much because the decision is irreversible. He observed that tourists have become careful with spending, and that Rwanda could miss out on the lucrative revenues of gorilla tourism.

However, the head of tourism department at RDB, Rica Rwigamba, defended the decision saying that it was timely and well thought of, as the last increase was five years ago. She said a six-month period was given to allow the adjustment.

“The cost on conservation has gone up. As you know, gorillas are vulnerable; almost everything earned goes back into managing the product. As the census shows, the number of gorillas also went up and it also comes with a cost,” Rwigamba explained.

“This is not about just increasing. The government literally invests back whatever it earns into conserving and protecting the gorillas. So, as the cost goes up, we also increased the rates. For us, it’s also about the quality of the product worth the money,” she explained.

Tour operators argue that there is a trans-boundary price bracket within which the three countries which share the gorillas, Rwanda, Uganda and DRC, were supposed to stay within.

Uganda charges US$500 but expected to reduce to UD$400 while DRC is below US$400. With this, operators argue the other two countries will have an edge over Rwanda, but Rwigamba dismissed the claims.

“While this might be competitive, for us, it’s not just about the gorilla. It’s the whole experience. If you look at DRC for example, what are the realities on the ground”?

“We are confident that Rwanda offers the best option when it comes to security, the experience, the accessibility—it’s worth the money,” Rwigamba said, adding Rwanda cannot afford to go low.

Rwanda earned US$200 million from tourism in 2010, up by14 percent in 2009. In 2011, the sector generated US$251million. She said a double digit growth is expected with new options coming on board, including the Nyungwe experience.

The population of mountain gorillas has increased by 26.3 per cent over the last seven years with a 3.7 percent annual growth, according to Gorilla Census conducted in April 2010.

By Edmund Kagire, The New Times

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