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Tourism on a progressive trajectory since reopening

Tourists wearing a face mask while visiting mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda this weekend. Despite a significant hit Covid-19 has had on the tourism sector, significant strides are being made by the industry. Photo: Courtesy

Countries have been advising their nationals against non-essential travel, but series of tourism spots are slowly easing Covid-19 border restrictions and are allowing visitors back.

Rwanda eased tourism restrictions in June, allowing tourists to flock some of the popular places.

 

Barely three months down the road, numbers show positive trends for different tourism destinations in the country, including the Volcanoes, Akagera and Nyungwe national parks.

 

Rwanda eased tourism restrictions on June 17, allowing local and international tourists to visit the country after months of suspension due to Covid-19 and travel bans imposed by countries.

 

Data from Rwanda Development Board (RDB) show an optimistic picture of slow recovery since the country reopened tourism activities.

As of September 7, some 5,187 domestic and international tourists had visited three of the country’s popular parks.

During the first month of reopening, only 113 people had visited the mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park, and by September the number had reached 1,427.

Nyungwe National park, which features canopy walk and trails had received 30 in the first month, but the number skyrocketed to 595, according to figures from RDB.

Tourists who visit Akagera National Park, home to the big five, has increased to 3,165 between June 17 and September 9, from 750 visitors.

Rwanda, like the rest of the world, has applied a precautionary principle when it comes to opening its borders, allowing tourism to reopen under strict health measures.

Long way to recovery

Despite the trend, Pierre Ntihemuka, the Chief Park Warden at Nyungwe Park told The New Times that there is slow activity despite the reopening and popularity of the canopy walk and stunning trails.

“Not many tourists are coming due to lockdown in Rusizi,” he said. “Most of tourists who visit Nyungwe normally spend a night in Rusizi, because we have few hotels that can accommodate many people.”

Ntihemuka added that even a few existing tourists visit the park over the weekend.

Akagera National Park which hosts the Big 5 (lions, buffalos, rhinos, leopard, and elephants), is yet to see tourists fully tap into its potential.

“It’s obviously a lot less (tourists) compared to before Covid-19,” Sarah Hall, the Tourism and Marketing Manager in Akagera noted.

Last month, which is usually one of the busy months, Akagera received 11,000 visitors, which is about 85 per cent decrease compared to before pandemic, according to the park management.

Occupancy levels of hotels managed by Akagera is somewhere around 30 per cent.

Rwanda is known for its famous mountain gorillas.

Rwanda Development Board had reduced the prices of gorilla trekking to as little as $200 for Rwandans and nationals of East African Community (EAC) residing in Rwanda.

Foreign residents would pay $500 while international tourists continued to pay $1,500.

Prosper Uwingeli, the Chief Park Warden of Volcanoes National Park said they are seeing a “negative trend compared to the same period last year” without revealing the numbers.

However, he highlighted that the decision to reduce prices for gorilla trekking has attracted domestic tourists.

The country welcomed over 1.6 million visitors in 2019, among whom over 17,249 visited the majestic mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.

Tourism is one of the leading foreign exchange earner.

The country’s three national parks alone generated $28.9 million and Volcanoes National Park revenues contributed 91 per cent of the all parks’ revenues.

Yet, the sector is one of the hardest-hit sectors in Rwanda, with figures showing that the number of visitors dropped 54 per cent in March this year since the announcement of the lockdown.

Travel receipts (revenue from foreign visitors coming to Rwanda) dropped by 35 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year, according to the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR).

In the months of April and May, Rwanda saw a drop of 100 per cent in the number of visitors.

jbizimungu@newtimesrwanda.com

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