How to survive in the mountain gorilla economy

How to survive in the mountain gorilla economy

If you want to see the endangered mountain gorillas of East Africa, it’ll cost you. 

(Not counting the whole getting-to-East-Africa part, naturally.)

It’ll cost you $700 per person (assuming you’re a foreign visitor and not a local) for a one-hour visit with these rare mammals.

Unless it costs you $400.

Or $1500.

Yes, that’s for the same gorillas.

What’s different is the country, as three neighboring countries charge different prices for the same access.

 In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a permit currently costs $400.

In Rwanda, a permit to see the gorillas cost $1,500 a person.

And in Uganda? $700.

From this, Rwanda’s positioning themselves as the luxury option as well as, according to the Rwanda Development Board the “gives the most back to the community” option.

The DRC is trying to attract any interested parties (as those parties factor in the country’s risk into their insurance policies…).

And Uganda takes the middle ground, appealing to budget and luxury travelers alike by convincing them to come through Uganda. 

What stands out about the outliers (to me, at least) is the story you tell versus the story that gets told about you. 

The DRC’s dealt with kidnappings and violent crimes, even having to close their national park because of it. Demand is lower, so they have to adjust their prices to sell the supply they have. 

Fair or not, their image was decided for them. Now to change it, they have to lower their prices to be compelling. 

Rwanda took a leap, doubling their prices from $750 to $1500. Permit sales dropped. But they did it on their terms, making a clear appeal to luxury travelers who wouldn’t be fazed by the extra cost. 

They decided on the image, and now their gorilla permits are only open to the tourists who can afford it.

As it is with luxury goods and so many other products, the price is a part of the story.

It can be the hook, like some shocking opening line (it’s how much?! It’s how little?!).  

It can be the background to the more exciting parts of your trip, necessary but not noteworthy (cargo pants are always worth it). 

Or, it can be a trick, an apology, a too-good-to-be-true-what’s-the-catch distraction.

Using your price to tell a story is a great technique.

The only trick to it is whether you’re telling your story…  or whether your story’s being told for you.

About the author

Alex Jeffries is the founder of Passport Creative. An award-winning producer and writer, he is now dedicated to tourism communication and development. He is based in Paris, France.