Revenue from Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park grew by 25 per cent in 2018 to $19.2M from the previous year, according to latest data from the Rwanda Development Board.
The money was earned from the sale of 15,132 gorilla permits during the year.
The statistics released by the board points to a rise in revenue from gorilla trekking after the revision of permits prices from $750 to $1500 in 2016.
In 2016 prior to the increase of permit price, 22,219 were sold, raking in $15m in revenue.
Meanwhile, the figures, which were released by Belize Kariza, the Chief Tourism Officer at RDB show an eight per cent growth in the number of international visitors to Rwanda last year.
Visitors to Rwanda were 1.7 million, according to RDB.
International arrivals were occasioned by a growing number of high-end visitors mostly from the United States of America, Australia, China, and Nigeria, and mostly coming for leisure purposes.
Kariza told the media that the international high-end visitors are increasingly making Rwanda their destination of choice.
American luxury tourists to Rwanda have grown by 114 per cent year on year, Kariza said, quoting the latest data released by Virtuoso, an American luxury tourism network.
The network ranked Rwanda among the top 10 countries that have experienced significant increases by percentage points in year-over-year bookings among high-end American travellers.
How they spend
According to RDB, US visitors spend an average of $12,000, making them the most lucrative market. Chinese nationals spend an average of $1,084, ranking tenth.
Nigerians are the top African spenders, spending an average of $1,498 per stay, ranking higher than Australians and only slightly below the French.
“This is proof that our (tourism) strategy to target this market is bearing fruit,” Kariza noted.
She attributed the rising number of high-end visitors from Nigeria to the flight link that the national carrier RwandAir has established.
The national airline now connects Kigali and two cities of Nigeria – Lagos and Abuja.
Visitors coming to Rwanda mainly go for gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes National Park or visit other national parks like Akagera National Park – home to the Big Five animals, as well as Nyungwe National Park for canopy walk and birding, among others.
The country’s national parks continue to generate significant revenues with statistics showing that the combined amount worth $20 million was generated from the three parks.
The previous year, $18 million has been generated
Currently, Akagera National Park dominates other parks in terms of visitors. It was the most visited park with 51, 724 visits in 2018, an increase of 17 per cent compared to 2017.
In the same period, Nyungwe National Park received 15, 665 visitors, up 9 per cent.
Kariza noted that most of these numbers were driven by private players in the tour and travel business, which she said the Government was committed to working with to further drive the numbers.
Bonita Mutoni, the Chairperson of the Rwanda Travel and Tours Association, highlighted that the private sector was continuously investing in attracting more tourists to Rwanda.
“The private sector is investing in attracting visitors from different destinations. We are buying tickets to go to seek market opportunities, we pay to be on stands and we go on roadshows,” she told The New Times.
Mutoni, on the other hand, revealed that selling gorilla permits remain their biggest revenue stream but noted that they were exploring other avenues such as cultural tourism.
“People really want culture; they want to meet and understand locals, how they prepare food and other things. That is a huge opportunity,” she said.
Meanwhile, domestic tourism grew by 21.5 per cent in 2018, owing to the introduction of ‘Tembera u’Rwanda’ initiative.
The initiative is an awareness campaign that occasionally gives a chance to Rwandans to visit various touristic features across Rwanda.
RDB says it saw a jump of over 200 per cent in the number of Rwandans visiting the three national parks since the launch of the initiative.
The country’s awareness efforts, including the Rwanda-Arsenal deal, are also paying off.
An analysis conducted by media analytics companies, Nielsen, Blinkfire Analytics and research agency Hall and Partners, showed that before signing the partnership, 71 per cent of the millions of Arsenal fans globally did not think of Rwanda as a tourist destination.
At the end of the first year of the partnership, half of Arsenal fans would consider Rwanda as a destination to visit.
The partnership so far, they say, in year one, is worth £36 million (over Rwf36 billion), a number they say is based off TV viewership and social media.
Hotels room up
Rwanda is seeing an increased number of tourism operators in the country providing a wide variety of experiences, from community-based experiences to high-end experiences to both local and foreign tourists.
Hotel rooms went up to 14,000 in 2018 from barely 4,000 in 2009. This is attributed to the entry of new operators who have opened up new facilities such as Singita, Magashi camp and Bisate Lodge by Wilderness Safaris, and Amakoro Songa Kinigi Lodge among others.