Rwanda fee hike to visit gorillas leads to drop in tourists

VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, Rwanda — Gorilla tourism is an important income source for Rwanda, but a recent increase in permit fees for safaris meant a steep decline in visitors.

Now fees have been reduced by 30 percent for the low season in the hope that visitors will return.

Earlier this year the WWF conservation group said the mountain gorilla subspecies was making a comeback, with numbers above 600 from an estimated 480 in 2010 in the Virunga Massif, a mountainous area encompassing parts of Rwanda, Uganda and Congo.

In Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, tourists routinely trek to see gorillas in their natural habitat.

Conservation is big business in the East African nation, where tourism is the top foreign exchange earner.

In May 2017 the government doubled the price of a permit to visit the gorillas from $750 to $1,500, making the fee the highest in the region. A similar fee is $600 in Uganda and $400 in Congo.

Since then the Rwanda Development Board has lost business to Uganda, leaving many guides and others in the hospitality industry without income, according to the park authority's website.

"It was chaotic. I can't estimate the percentage of tourists we lost but it was very bad," said Parfait Kajibwami, manager of Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge near the national park. The lodge estimates it lost more than 40 percent of its clients.

Following the drop in tourist numbers, Volcanoes National Park decided to reduce the fee from November to May to $1,050.

Some tourists have said they are happy to pay the full price.

"I will only be able to do this once in my life," said Diege Joost from Germany.

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