GOMA - Tour operators in the Democratic Republic of Congo are asking the Congolese and western governments to give the country's struggling tourism industry a break. They are requesting a reduction in visa fees and a rethink of travel warnings about visits to the DRC, as they say the country is really not that dangerous.
This week the travel agency Jeffrey Travels opened a new travellers’ lounge at Goma airport. In a speech, Jeffrey Travels’ manager in Goma, Ali Vazir, said that the effective cost of a DRC tourist visa is around $350. He said that is because the DRC, unlike other countries, requires tourists to buy a permit in advance to visit at least one of two tourist attractions, Mount Nyiragongo and Virunga National Park, a home to mountain gorillas.
"This policy of the DRC is serving as a big deterrent for the small number of tourists courageous [enough] to visit Congo," he said.
The other big deterrent Vazir said is the travel alerts issued by western governments advising their citizens that travel to Congo could be dangerous.
"Is Congo more dangerous even than South Africa, or even Kenya? How many tourists have been killed in Congo in the past one to two years if you compare with Kenya? Hardly any," he stated.
While it is true hardly any tourists have been killed in the DRC in the past 15 years there have been hardly any tourists.
Christian Bisimwa, a guide with the Nyiragongo Volcano tour firm, gave VOA an idea of their numbers. Every week, we can have at least a dozen tourists who want to visit the Nyiragongo volcano and a dozen who want to see the mountain gorillas, and a few people also visit Goma town, the Lac Vert and a pygmy village, he expalained.
An official with the Immigration Service in DRC responded to Jeffrey Travels.
He said that tourists should come directly to the dipartment of immigration instead of working through a third party.
VOA found two tourists in Goma this week who said they felt quite safe, and had not paid for permits in advance. This may have been because they were not traveling with a tour company and had an invitation from the national parks’ service.