Rwanda focuses on high-end tourism - The360 Travel

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  • Thursday, December 12, 2019

    Rwanda focuses on high-end tourism

    Rwanda focuses on high-end tourism

    Deep in the lush forests of northwestern Rwanda, dominated by unreal volcanoes playing hide and seek with the mist, Hernaldo Zuniga's meeting with the mountain gorillas was "almost spiritual," describes this famous singer. Nicaraguan. 

    The great apes threatened with extinction are the only reason that pushed Zuniga and his family to stop in the country of Thousand Hills before continuing their holidays in Kenya and South Africa, he assures, interrupting briefly his shop in a souvenir shop to talk to AFP.

    But the Rwandan authorities no longer intend to settle for their main tourist attraction: they want to diversify their offer while focusing on the high-end niche market, as attested by the doubling in May of the price of the visit permit. to primates, increased to $ 1500.

    "This is an exceptional activity that should be limited to a few," says Clare Akamanzi, Director General of the Rwanda Development Authority. "Our tourism is essentially based on our natural resources and we are not joking with conservation," she says.

    Luxury tourism, with high margins and reduced impact on the environment, has proven successful in Botswana and Bhutan.

    As for Zuniga, he feels lucky to have reserved his license for the Volcanoes National Park before the increase, which he says will be "a serious obstacle for many people". The observation of gorillas will become "the prerogative of an elite", he regrets.

    Big Five

    The Virunga Massif, on the borders of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda, is the world's last remaining gorilla sanctuary, whose numbers have steadily increased in recent years as a result of conservation efforts. now almost 900 individuals.

    Gorilla visit permits are much cheaper in the DRC ($ 400) and Uganda ($ 600), but the Rwandan authorities highlight the country's strengths.

    Since the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people have lost their lives, Rwanda is praised for its stability and economic progress, despite President Paul Kagame's iron regime. "It's a clean, organized and secure country that fights against corruption without mercy. We make every effort to create a good experience, "says Akamanzi.

    The challenge of competition is not the only one that Rwanda intends to meet: it is also about convincing tourists to stay beyond the four days they spend on average in the country, the time of a trekking in the mountains, sometimes accompanied by a visit to the Genocide Memorial in Kigali.

    "We want to keep the high-end as an anchor for tourism, but provide other offers," said Akamanzi, adding that tourism is already the largest foreign exchange for the country ($ 400 million). revenue in 2016).

    Rwanda, for example, plans to develop cultural tourism and sports tourism, including the growing reputation of its annual cycling tour.

    The country also wishes to become a destination of choice for safaris, and has recently reintroduced lions and rhinos in the Akagera National Park to acquire the "Big Five" (lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo, leopard).

    Dreaded backlash

    At the foot of Volcano National Park, mid-range hotels are worried about the increase in the price of gorilla visit permits, even though they feel it is too early to measure the impact.

    "We risk losing substantial revenue for the industry and the government," the Rwandan Association of Tour Operators and Tour Operators said in May, noting that just before the increase, not all licenses were bought in low season.

    Tour operator Aloys Kamanzi says the pace of bookings has slowed since May, but remains confident. "The people who come out to hunt gorillas here are retirees who take advantage of their money saved for years," he says, adding that some people come back several times.

    Hernaldo Zuniga thinks that Rwanda must "do better to promote its tourism", including changing the image of the country still associated with the 1994 genocide. Yet, he says, "once we get here it's incredible, the people are exceptional, the country beautiful ". "I would like to stay longer."

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