Rich & Richer

Rich & Richer

rich safarisAfrican governments thumb their noses at tourists and tourists flounder in the irony of their wealth. What a story!

Safari fees are increasing fast and furiously, and the blame has begun to fly. Following Rwanda’s decision to double a mountain gorilla fee from $750 to $1500 per hour, Tanzania nearly doubled tourist fees Friday night.

Social media is aghast. Tourist platforms like TripAdvisor are fanning the flames as distorted facts are amplified. Let’s try to sort it all out:

With no notice the cost to a foreigner per night within the Serengeti National Park increased from about $70 Friday to $125 Saturday. Similar increases occurred in all of Tanzania’s wildernesses.

The actual impact to a tourist’s cost depends upon their itinerary. Only Ngorongoro raised user fees. The remaining fees are “concession fees” – or additional taxes on the lodges and camps tourists use, but only if they overnight inside the wilderness.

So downmarket companies like Road Scholar will feel minimum impact, since in Tanzania their itineraries only occasionally actually stay overnight within the borders of a national park or reserve.

Midmarket brokers like Abercrombie & Kent or Africa Dream Safaris offer an array of programs: some downmarket and some midmarket so it will depend.

Upmarket companies like &Beyond or Asilia, and similar companies that always make a point of staying within a national park or reserve like EWT, will be most effected.

So on a typical 11-day safari with Road Scholar the increase will be less than $100; with Abercrombie and Kent it depends but will likely not exceed $250. For upmarket companies like Asilia it will be $400 or more.

Do you see the trend? I’m not sure the Tanzanian government thought this through as clearly as it appears, but this is a simple policy of sacking the rich. Certainly the Rwandan government knew exactly what it was doing when it doubled the already high $750 per hour fee to be with the mountain gorillas to $1500. I tend to think the Tanzanians know as well.

And frankly I agree with this. Safari travel is unfortunately increasingly the purvey of the rich so why shouldn’t the African governments extract as much as possible from these people?

While noble companies like Road Scholar are doing their darndest to keep it affordable, the product they are restricted to providing simply doesn’t rise the to magic of what a safari historically meant. Here’s an example:

One of the great joys on safari is to try to go to sleep in your tent when lions are roaring outside.

This only happens within a national park or reserve. It would be very rare if it were to happen at the many lodges and camps plopped down just outside the parks and reserves where companies like Road Scholar overnight. Here new concession fees won’t apply.

What was wrong was the Tanzanian’s rollout of the increase coupled with a new way it will be collected:

The increase had been suggested in early May, then put to national debate and all of us presumed that this methodical process would continue with some reasonable notice. But no. The law was gazetted late June 30 for effect early July 1.

“Concession Fees” already had existed. They were paid by the lodge or camp as a tax to the government then bundled into the concession’s prices to its customers. No longer. Tourists, or their driver/guides at the park gate, must now pay the fee directly before entry.

It was pandemonium Saturday. Many tourists lost an entire day on safari as entry into places like the Serengeti was brought to a near halt.

There is some serious sophistication in the Tanzanian move. Corruption is so intense in Tanzania that many lodges and camps have managed to find loopholes, bribe or simply avoid paying the concession. This obviously overcomes that.

The Tanzanian government has conceded this will depress revenues for about a year, but they believe business will spring back robustly within two years, and they’re right. $400 on a typical $12-15,000 upmarket safari won’t depress demand.

This hefty increase in fees reflects the increasing character of safari travelers: richer, richer and richer. Backpackers, casual tourists and budgeted pensioners are being squeezed out of the market.

The regional tourist analytic group, PwC, projects Tanzania’s outlook as the worst among Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Mauritius – the five African tourism powerhouses, precisely because of the fee increases.

The great irony is that these increases mine income inequality while reenforcing it. Seems to me a better ideology might be to stratify fees: teachers pay less than hedge fund managers.

But that kind of differentiation is way beyond the Tanzanian bureaucracy to achieve. For the moment they seem comfortable with lumping all tourists as rich. That’s stuff for another topic.