Rwanda’s decision to double the cost of a close encounter with mountain gorillas has upset industry veterans. The price hike, they say, will only send tourists across the border to Uganda.
“The Rwanda Development Board today announced an increase in the price of Gorilla Permits from US$750 to US$1,500 for all visitors effective immediately,” the board said in a statement.
Board chief executive Clare Akamanzi said, “Gorilla trekking is a highly unique experience. We have raised the price of permits in order to ensure sustainability of conservation initiatives and enhance visitors’ experience.”
But adventure guide and wildlife photographer Paul Goldstein disagrees that the price hike will benefit conservation efforts.
“I adore Rwanda: a shining beacon of forgiveness and perhaps the safest country I have visited anywhere,” he said. “Each visit has been a joy but I will not be seeing the gorillas there again. Whoever made this staggering decision needs to reconsider.”
The price increase will not affect existing permit holders, but those making new bookings will have to pay the higher fee.
Akamanzi said the higher fee will also help ensure that communities near the park “receive a bigger share of tourism revenues to fund development projects and empower them economically.”
The communities previously received $37.50 for each tourist, and that figure has increased to $150. But Rwandan citizens who once paid $36 for a permit will now have to pay $1,500.
Only about 80 permits are granted each day for gorilla trekking.
The permit fee increase will force tourism companies to raise their prices on gorilla trekking tours, which may ultimately harm the tourism industry.
Fewer than 1,000 mountain gorillas remain in the wild today. Families of these gorillas in Rwanda have been habituated for tourism. Tours typically include a strenuous hike through the forest and an hour-long encounter with gorillas.
Members of the industry in Rwanda fear that the price increase will only push tourists to Uganda. In fact, the Uganda Tourist Board posted this message on their Facebook page in response to the price increase: “Remember; our gorilla tracking permits still go for $600, and this would guarantee you an experience like you have never had anywhere before.”
“No doubt hundreds of primate operators are hastily re-arranging their itineraries to switch countries,” said Mr. Goldstein.
In a blog post on Wanderlust Travel Magazine, Goldstein said, “Supply and demand be damned. This change was made with no advance notice and is little short of robbery. The other offer of a $15,000 ticket to have special escorts and exclusivity with one family is equally bogus, as this is nothing different to what is currently offered and ostensibly invents a higher rate if you book a group of tourists.”
Rwanda has recently expanded the boundaries of its Volcanoes National Park after nearly three decades. The expanded boundaries will ease the pressure on the growing population of mountain gorillas, which has grown from 380 in 2003 to 480 in 2010. Many gorillas wander outside of the park’s borders, which puts them at risk of diseases and viruses transmitted by neighboring communities.