Regional lawmakers back affordable travel packages | New times

Members of the East Africa Legislative Assembly Committee on Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources on Tuesday, October 26, agreed that it made sense to have affordable promotional tourism packages in order to to revive the industry after the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This was noted as three committee members held a meeting with industry players in Kigali at the start of the regional parliament’s oversight activity to assess tourism performance in the six-member EAC bloc. .

Regional Assembly member Amb Fatuma Ndangiza said promotional rates and affordable packages can accelerate the revival of the tourism industry now and in the post-Covid-19 period.

Shedding light on the current issues, Olivier Kanyabikali, the director of Countryside Tours-Rwanda, told lawmakers that private operators such as hotels and tour operators have developed packages for the domestic market to alleviate the low number of tourists. international tourists during Covid-19. pandemic period.

Despite efforts to make them affordable, noted Kanyabikali, “these packages remain visibly expensive, especially for Rwandans.”

Before March 2020, when Covid-19 first hit Rwanda, he recalled, a permit for mountain gorilla trekking was set at $ 1,500 for both Rwandans and foreigners. .

“Currently, the gorilla permit for Rwandans is $ 200 per person, but it would be appreciated if it was lowered during this period. This would create an opportunity for Rwandans to access the experience of life before it is again set at normal $ 1,500, ”he said.

Further reductions in the permit fees for mountain gorillas would allow tour operators to have first-hand experience of the visit for their tour guides, tour advisors and others involved in the sale of permits for mountain gorillas, he said. -he declares.

On the business side, Kanyabikali noted, a tour operator is offered an eleventh free permit after selling 10 gorilla permits, which equates to a 10% discount.

“In order to benefit everyone, it would be preferable to give a direct discount even on the sale of a license, especially in this season when it is difficult to collect the 10 required licenses. “

Kanyabikali, who has worked in the sector since 2004, also told lawmakers how, for Akagera National Park, “the current pricing requires a second payment when you spend your night outside the park, even in lodges. local”.

He said: “This has a negative impact on the competitiveness of local lodges around the park and it inflates the prices of tour operators, as accommodation in Akagera National Park is relatively expensive.”

Accommodation inside the park costs around $ 200 a night.

Kanyabikali noted that it is best if park visitors are allowed to spend a night outside the park and use the same entrance ticket without having to pay again the next day.

Amb Ndangiza noted that: “I think it makes a lot of sense. It’s good that we have RDB here.

“The pandemic has short and long term impacts and you can discuss and watch what best helps us recover from the shocks of the pandemic as well as maintain income. “

Philbert Ndandali, the emerging tourism analyst in the tourism promotion division of the Rwanda Development Board, told the meeting that his team “took notes of everything” and would have discussions with partners including African Parks, managers of Akagera National Park.

“It’s something we can discuss. And even in the past, whatever decisions we made, it was because of our previous engagements with partners. Clearly, with this Covid-19, we have to adapt to the situation, ”said Ndandali.

Chantal Uwase Kabagambe, Managing Director of Eco Community Tours, spoke about the incentives or promotional rates that industry players received from RDB during the pandemic, explaining how they “tried to boost our business over the past month. “.

The RDB recently extended promotional rates until December 31, 2022.

These include gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park where nationals and EAC citizens can pay $ 200 while foreigners pay $ 500 for the same. Among other things, businesses get a 10% discount on wholesale purchases from 30 permits, while families get a 15% discount for couples and children over 15.

“We especially received tourists from Africa in June, July and August due to the promotional rates for the mountain gorilla tour at $ 500,” she said. New times on the sidelines of the meeting.

His request to RDB was to consider extending the same promotional rates to the low season months – February, March, April, May, October and November.

She said: “We believe it can boost tourism in Rwanda. Many African nationals will visit and this is an opportunity to present Rwanda as a destination and to be able to sell beyond gorillas and sell other tourist attraction areas in Rwanda.

Lawmakers also recognized the view of East Africa tourism platform boss Yves Ngenzi that traveling in the EAC and Africa is still very expensive and the liberalization of airspace. is necessary. Ngenzi noted that a round-trip plane ticket from Kigali to the Tanzanian city of Arusha can be up to $ 700.

“Second, the harmonization of regional tourism strategies on Covid-19, protocols and the recovery plan is necessary. So far, these have not been successfully harmonized. A tourist is required to take up to four tests when visiting a destination, ”Ngenzi noted.

Tourism, one of the most important sectors of all EAC economies, contributes on average about 17 percent of export earnings. Its contribution to GDP is also substantial, averaging around 10 percent. Tourism generates around 7 percent of jobs in the region and provides an important link with other sectors of the economy, including agriculture, manufacturing, insurance and finance.

But the sector has been hit hard by the Covid-19 epidemic, with the unprecedented introduction of travel restrictions, the imposition of lockdowns and the closure of airports and national borders across the world.

During the meeting in Kigali, and others taking place simultaneously in other EAC countries, legislators want to: understand the performance of the tourism sector; find out the impact of the pandemic on the sector and assess how the partner state is implementing the EAC tourism recovery plan which was approved in July.

READ ALSO: The regional tourism organization is considering a new campaign to revive the sector affected by Covid-19

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