Erica Barks-Ruggles the US envoy in Rwanda is probably the only diplomat in the country that has trekked many times into the volcano national park to visit mountain gorillas.
“There are beautiful and important species that I have come to know during my time here in Rwanda. I think I may even hold the record for being the ambassador with most trips to the gorillas. I have been there 8 times now,” Ambassador Barks said.
While addressing the ongoing 41st Annual World Tourism Conference in Kigali, Ambassador Barks said she has managed to meet 60 gorilla families in their natural habitat.
Barks was posted to Rwanda in 2014. She said her country has been partnering with Rwanda in maintaining tourism and conservation working closely with Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in different tourism projects.
The US envoy shares her love for mountain gorillas like thousands of Americans that have been topping the list of visitors to the country – making US the biggest source of visitors to the country.
According to RDB officials, the number of visitors to Rwanda last year increased by 4% from 1.3 million in 2015 – an increase from 1.2 million in 2014 and 1.1 million the previous year.
Of the total visitors in 2014 alone, 24,488 were Americans, Indians were 13,008 then United Kingdom with 12,320, Belgium with 8,733, and 8,228 Germany on the fifth spot.
Thus American visitors accounted for 20% of total revenues ($304.9 million) that year. More American big names including billionaire philanthropists Bill Gates, Howard Graham Buffett and many others have also visited Rwanda.
According to ambassador Erica Barks, the mountain gorillas have become the main attraction in Rwanda.
For instance, in May this year, US actor and film maker Morgan Freeman visited mountain Gorillas in the Virunga mist.
Morgan Freeman’s visit to Rwanda came just four months after US-based Hollywood star mostly known in Titanic as Leonardo DiCaprio was in Rwanda for holidays where among others on his agenda, was to trek Volcano National Park to see gorillas.
Why American Tourists Head to Rwanda
In recent years, American tourists have been making Rwanda their choice for many reasons – but above all security.
As stated by Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi – Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), “Tourism is driven by peace and sometimes peace can be driven by tourism.”
Georgianne Nienaber – an American author and regular visitor to Rwanda told KTPressthat “Americans realize that Rwanda is one of the safest places to vacation in Africa. More and more tourists will come.”
She added that tourists enjoy the variety of landscapes, the other wildlife, and especially the birds. “Americans are big bird enthusiasts.”
According to Nienaber, there are many tourist attractions in Rwanda. “Of course, the gorillas have always been a big factor.”
She however, told KT Press that some of the remaining hindrance to bigger number of Americans wishing to come to Rwanda “are some perceptions of the genocide and the proximity of DRC that safety is an issue.”
She also said; “I am always surprised when people ask me if I was in danger when I visit. Of course I reply that I feel totally safe in Rwanda,” Nienaber told KT Press.
Rwanda will this Friday, September 1 hold the Annual Gorilla Naming Ceremony commonly known as Kwita Izina where a total of new 19 baby gorillas will be named – an addition to the existing 400 rare species in the country.