Mountain Gorillas and Tourism in Rwanda

When you speak of Rwanda, the highlight would be the mountain gorillas found in the Virunga Mountains. Dian Fossey takes all the credit for her conservation efforts in the 1960s and 70s that brought Rwanda’s gorillas to international attention and this has been a back-bone in their numerous documentary features. It is also on record that the world’s richest man known as Bill Gates has in the recent past visited these gorillas, and has participated in the annual gorilla naming ceremony.

Regarding the aspect of safety; at the moment Rwanda and Uganda are the only two countries in the world where mountain gorillas can be visited safely. In the late 1980s, a big number of tourists visited the gorillas before the park was closed. The park was reopened in 1999 where a total of only 417 tourists were registered. In 2008, about 17,000 people visited the Volcanoes National Park (VNP) to see the Gorillas. Strict rules for the habituation and trekking of gorilla families have been put in place by the government of Rwanda after sighting gorilla tourism as a valuable conservation tool. The few permits available are usually sold out on daily basis, and the tourists are willing to pay a high price. The revenues from gorilla tourism facilitate conservation activities in the national parks, and a small percentage is disbursed for community projects.

The violent past has dominated the image of Rwanda for a very long time. The international perception of the country has however changed, and at present the country is considered one of the safest destinations in the Eastern region. This image change has been a key factor in the marketing of the mountain gorillas, and the country at large. Gorilla tourism has proved beyond doubt that with the right strategy, a post-conflict country can successfully focus on high-end tourism while maintaining conservation and contributing to poverty reduction through the involvement of communities as priorities.

Though Rwanda is well known for its gorillas, there is more to tourism that can catch your eye. Besides the VNP, Rwanda has two other national parks that offer a wide range of wildlife and biodiversity. The country has also been successful in attracting large numbers of business and conference travelers, mainly from Tanzania, and other neighboring countries of the East African Community. This has led to an increase in the number of hotels, and restaurants as well as the planned construction of a convention center. Local and foreign direct investments have been substantial.

The tourism sector in Rwanda has been favored by several aspects, thus its revival. First and foremost, the government has taken the frontline and clearly shown commitment in the development of the tourism sector and has established itself as a safe destination in the region. The government has quickly set up strategies and policies to guide the sector and this has demonstrated the commitment. Furthermore, the involvement of the private sector from the start has proved a good strategy to market Rwanda as a destination. The business environment has made an outstanding improvement, promoting private sector involvement. In addition, Rwanda has always had the idea of using tourism as an instrument to reduce poverty, for example by directly involving local communities.