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Controversy over tariff hike in Rwanda heating up as RTTA now formally objects too


As more details emerge over the unilateral decision by the Rwanda Development Board to raise permit fees for gorilla tracking from 750 US Dollars to a whopping 1.500 US Dollars in an overnight cloak and dagger action – the information was made public in the wee hours of Saturday to Sunday night – is the country’s private sector now also speaking up after what has been described of being an emotionally charged and heated session to find common ground for a response.

The Rwanda Tour and Travel Association, the private sector umbrella body for tour, safari and travel agents, has issued a statement just moments ago in which they all but denounce the immediate increase while decrying the total lack of consultations which make a private public partnership a complete farce.

Although the statement puts a brave face to the situation by avoiding calling a spade a spade and opting for softer language as in calling the spade a farming implement is the writing on the wall for those who can read between the lines.

There is still no reaction from RDB’s top brass to the now mile long list of tweets and social media comments, and no doubt also hundreds of mails in their inboxes from concerned travel agents and tour operators from around the world.
Said RTTA:

Statement by Rwanda Tours & Travel Association (RTTA) on the Price Increase for Gorilla Permits

7 May 2017

As close partners of RDB, the private sector has always been keen to work closely with RDB to ensure a sustainable growth of our tourism industry.

Regarding the decision to increase permits, RTTA understands the need to ensure tourism does not negatively affect the gorillas and we support any efforts to protect our endangered species and their habitat and in particular, the revenue sharing scheme increment from 5% to 10%. We acknowledge the invaluable contribution communities make in protecting the gorillas and other national parks, including Nyungwe, Akagera and Volcanoes.

However, we believe an immediate doubling of gorilla permits will be taken negatively by the markets, will affect our businesses and the whole tourism value chain (hotels, restaurants, crafts, transportation, community based tourism initiatives etc) and we risk losing substantial revenue for the industry and government as a whole. Currently, a number of gorilla permits are already not sold in low season and with the sudden hike in prices we need to ensure permit sales do not decline further.

Introducing this increase of gorilla permits from USD $750 to $ 1500 for all including Rwandans and EAC residents in the middle of the year, without formal and proper private sector consultations makes it harder for us and international suppliers to manage this sudden and abrupt change. International travel agents publish prices a year in advance and this sudden change will not be well received and we are afraid and worried of its impacts on our relationships, professionalism and reputation with the international markets, suppliers and clients.

As partners and stakeholders who directly deal with international and regional markets, suppliers and clients, and in the spirit of our public-private partnership, it would have been better to be consulted and involved in this decision making. We however remain optimistic that together we can work out a smooth transition and a better grace period which will ensure that everyone is well informed and prepared for this new pricing decision.

What has also upset regional partners is the complete and utter disregard of RDB vis a vis informal arrangements that citizens of EAC member countries get preferential rates, something Uganda has fully implemented by giving EAC citizens huge rebates when tracking gorillas there, but also that locals in Rwanda apparently now too have to pay the 1.500 US Dollars compared to two days ago when that fee was a mere 30.000 Rwandan Francs.

‘This action by RDB is a slap in our faces, it tramples on the principle of private public partnership and respect, it makes a mockery out of promoting domestic tourism and is offensive to our EAC partners too. It is now cheaper for Rwandans to track gorillas in Congo or Uganda than in our own country. Someone tell me why Kenyans for instance would want to come to Rwanda to track gorillas when they are punished with such outrageous tariffs while in Uganda they are offered EAC citizen tariffs? This makes no sense whatsoever and whoever has come up with this half cooked measure should have their heads examined. I can imagine the frosty atmosphere when the next meeting of private sector and RDB takes place after our stakeholders, who after all promote the country and have invested big time in the industry, have been so disrespected‘ let a regular Kigali based source fly, understandably on condition of strict anonymity to avoid repercussions.

In neighbouring Uganda are tour and safari operators now working overtime to tell the global markets that the tariffs for 2017 remain in place with the cost of the permit for the rest of May and again for November just 450 US Dollars while for all other months the cost stands at 600 US Dollars. Expatriates and in particular EAC citizens enjoy substantial additional cost reductions.

Feedback seen on social media pages linked to overseas travel agents and tour operators also seems to suggest a quantum shift of enquiries from Rwanda to Uganda but only time will tell how far this will go and if RDB, given the level of disagreements and rejection of the tariff hike, will cave in and reverse their decision – of course after the damage has been done.


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