EDITORIAL: Packaging tourism has no template, only innovation works

The annual gorilla naming ceremony, Kwita Izina, is upon us once again. As usual, many celebrities will be in town and the lucky ones will have the honour of naming one of the 25 baby gorillas.

Kwita Izina has put Rwanda firmly on the international tourism calendar and brought gorilla conservation into the limelight.

Rwanda’s tourism model is very different from popular tourist destinations in the region such as Kenya and Tanzania, where theirs is a mass tourism operation. Their parks and hotels are over-crowded during the high season and virtually empty during the low season.

Rwanda’s high-end version means fewer visitors but more revenues. It gives visitors a privileged front seat alone with the animals – it is an intimate relationship. It was a gamble at the beginning, especially when it hiked gorilla tracking permits from $750 to $1,500.

The gamble paid off. Even though fewer permits were sold last year than the previous, they brought in over $19 million compared to $15 million the previous year.

Another uncertain step taken was the sponsorship deal with Arsenal Football Club which attracted a lot of noise, but as studies show, the money’s worth was recouped in the first year with two more to go.

Kwita Izina is more than just naming gorillas, it is more about improving the lives of communities surrounding the national parks through revenue sharing. This year, over 700 cows will be distributed to vulnerable families.

Most surrounding communities had survived as poachers for many generations, today they act as park wardens, porters and found stable employment in the many high-end tourist getaways.

Regarding Rwanda’s tourism, nothing is more satisfying than proving critics wrong, especially those who feel they know what is best for you.