Is this Good for Uganda Tourism -for Conservation- an increased Gorilla Permit Price?
Is it the Right time for Uganda to increase the Gorilla Permit Price as Kaddu Sebunya proposes?
Increased Gorilla Permit Price – The Daily Monitor – Uganda’s leading Newspaper published a story written by Paul Tajuba about an interview with Kaddu Sebunya the Chief Executive Officer of the African Wildlife Association where he proposed that the Ugandan Government increase the price of Gorilla Permits in order to earn Money.
Gorilla Tourism is something fluid, the present state of Permits being sold out during the Peak Season Months of the year is a direct result of another country, Rwanda doubling the price of Permits from 750 USD to 1,500 USD including for its own Citizens with the stroke of a pen. This, in turn, caused what we call “the Great Gorilla Trekker Migration to Uganda. The insecure situation in DR Congo which resulted in the Closure of Virunga National Park only added more tourists to the great gorilla Trekker Migration to Uganda.
Why has Gorilla Tourism increased in Uganda – call it the $900 Elephant in the Room, the $600 Gorilla Permit Price versus Rwanda’s $1,500 Gorilla Permit Price for the same experience, 1-hour with the Gentle Giants of the Forest. Rwanda doubling the price of Gorilla has been the single biggest factor contributing to Uganda’s recent Gorilla Tourism Success Story where it became the premier Mountain Gorilla Destination.
When Mr. Kaddu Sebunya calls for an Increased Gorilla Permit Price, our ears as a Ugandan Tour Operator perk up since something is proposing increased Gorilla Permit Prices, and in the same article
Mr. Stephen Asiimwe, the outgoing Uganda Tourism Board chief executive officer, said the time is now to have a discussion on increasing prices of the gorilla trekking permits since “we have sold out”. With all due respect Mr. Assimwe “we have sold out” during the easy months of the year – the peak months, not sold out for 12 months straight. There were a lot of unsold permits in April, May – October, and November of 2018 leaving great opportunities of selling Safaris with Gorilla Trekking in 2019 during the off-season. It is easy to sell Christmas Decorations during December, what about the rest of the year?
“Mr. Sebunya, the chief executive officer of African Wildlife Foundation, said in an interview last week in Kampala that airlines and lodge owners are reaping more from tourists than conservationists who are protecting the wildlife.”
Mr. Sebunya in his call for an increased Gorilla Permit Price accused the Ugandan Government, Uganda Wildlife Authority of not paying Rangers enough and that is the reason that the permit price must be increased. Mr. Sebunya you most likely have not been on a gorilla trek lately, the porter that assisted you makes more per year than a mid-range government official in Uganda. Rangers receive something called a tip, gratuities far exceed the salary that they receive.
Local Communities, directly and indirectly, benefit from Gorilla Tourism. The Bwindi Community Hospital is one example, Ride4aWoman women’s Self-Help Group, Lodge Employees have meaningful work with rewards that exceed what they would receive elsewhere and that is just touching the tip of the iceberg. It almost seems like Mr. Sebunya wants some kind of socialist wealth redistribution which is simply a recipe for failure.
Mr. Kaddu Sebunya accuses Emirates Airline of making money hand over fist on Tourists coming to Uganda to trek Gorillas. “A tourist using Emirates is charged £3,000 to come and see mountain gorillas and Emirates makes more money than people next to the gorillas,” That does not stand up, do a check of what an Emirate Air Ticket costs from NYC economy and you will be pleasantly surprised, that statement alone makes one question the validity of other statements in the same by Mr. Sebungya such as “Majority tourists pay $20 to enter parks, but lodging in some parks cost more than $600 per night.” Reality is this, Tourists pay $40 per day to enter parks, not $20. Add on that activity fees, vehicle entrance fee. In the Case of Gorilla or Chimpanzee permits, the daily entrance fee is included in permit price. Lodges of 600 USD or more, they can reach well in excess of 1,200 USD per night for two but the average tourist pays less than 300 USD Full Board for a room for two.
Mr. Kaddu Sebunya is a conservationist and many of us who are Tour Operators are also conservationists. We fully understand that with tracking Gorillas for cash, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest would be denuded and replaced by tea fields and the like.
The calls for increased Gorilla Permit Price? Maybe Mr. Kaddu Sebunya is proposing an increase because he is motivated by his self-interest and wants fewer tourists trekking Gorillas as is the case now in Rwanda. The price of Permits is something that is reviewed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Prices of Permits are not set by the Chief Executive Officer of the African Wildlife Association but by careful consultation with conservationists, marketing experts, the Association of Uganda Tour Operators and others.
Increased Gorilla Permit Price – Success can make one light-headed, take away clear thinking, take away sound market Analysis and do not act hastily, there is no room for knee jerk reactions as the call to raise Gorilla Prices made by Mr. Sebunya.
Gorillas are the bait and hook that Uganda has. The $600 permit price has attracted thousands to Uganda, it is our job in the Ugandan Tourism Industry to introduce gorilla trekkers to Uganda beyond Gorillas. That alone will increase Tourism income, call it whatever you want, it means more days in Uganda. Uganda is home not just to Gorillas, but the Big-7, a fact that makes Uganda unique and no wonder it is called the Pearl of Africa.
If prices of permits are raised, do something different – if someone comes to track Gorillas alone and continues on to Kenya or Tanzania they pay full permit price. If someone visits 3 parks they qualify for the lowest price. It is no different in a hotel offering a special, stay for 3 nights and pay only for two.
Increased Gorilla Permit Prices can result in fewer Gorilla Trekkers and less income for Uganda and all those part of the symbiotic relationship called Gorilla Tourism. All one has to do is to look to Rwanda and what happened there when they raised permit prices. Uganda has become the Safe and secure T.J. Maxx of Gorilla Tourism, the preferred choice, do not imitate Coca Cola who eventually had to go back to original Coke.
Do not count Rwanda out when it comes to Gorilla Tourism: Rwanda has become one of the leading Convention and Conference Destinations in Africa giving Nairobi a run for their money. They have the Arsenal Premier Football Team wearing “Visit Rwanda” on their shirt but more important Rwanda has Ellen Degeneres with her legion of followers listening to her gush about the virtues of Rwanda and Gorilla Trekking there. It is only when the Ellen DeGeneres inspired to realize that just a few hours from Kigali one can trek Gorillas at $900 less than in Rwanda.
Uganda does not have an Ellen DeGeneres in their corner, Uganda thought that they had “Real Madrid” but their gorilla Trekking resulted in 0 tweets and posts.
Tourists are influenced by trends. Right now Uganda is riding the crest of the wave, however, remember that National Geographic Traveller picked Uganda on the basis of price for its “Cool Places” list. If you mess with the price, the results may cause an impact that was not foreseen nor wanted, it is easy for someone to proclaim to the local media, increase Gorilla Permit, a question should have been asked, Mr. Sebununy stated that Uganda should increase prices in order to make more money, actually a shallow reason by itself. Rwanda did that and now they have less gorilla tourism, they simply set off to lower-priced Uganda. Could it be that Mr. Sebununya knows that increased prices mean fewer tourists, maybe that is what he wants and we would get, meaning less money for everyone including for Gorilla Conservation projects. Maximize what you have first.
Is it the right time for Uganda to raise Gorilla Permit Prices?
If the prices of permits are raised, then those making that decision are responsible. It is easy for someone not involved as Mr. Sebunya to make an incendiary like statement peppered with erroneous fact and accusations aided by the reporter who added more wrong facts, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Gorilla Population being the most glaring one.
Those making the decision to raise permits or not to raise permits are faced with a tough task and no matter what their decision will be, they will be criticized by someone. May they be wise in their decision.
In the meantime, one continues to do what one has always done – promote the Pearl of Africa…with all of its natural Wonders including Gorillas. We also think that Uganda Wildlife Authority has done an impeccable job in not changing the gorilla permit price after Rwanda doubled its, that was the strategic move that put Uganda Gorilla Tourism over the top. One must also recognize UWA for making community infrastructure projects possible through revenue sharing something that was not mentioned in the Monitor Article.