Rwanda tar­gets high-end tourist mar­ket

Muscat Daily - - BREAK -

Vol­ca­noes Na­tional Park, Rwanda - 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 US$1,500 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.

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 (US$400) and Uganda (US$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.


A gen­eral view of Lake Kivu in Rwanda

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