FEA­TURES Rwanda tar­gets high-end tourist mar­ket

Daily Trust - - DIGEST - By Stephanie Agli­etti

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.

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.

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.

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.