Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is biodiversifically rich, but the area that surrounds it is financially poor. Travellers come from all over to the world have an encounter with the Mountain Gorillas that live in the forest. This once in a lifetime trip comes with high conservation fees, however only a small portion of those fees benefit the neighbouring communities. To most locals the animals in the forest are a nuisance who raze their crops. More needs to be done to benefit the immediate community so that they can see the value of the park and its gorillas. The Responsible Tourism Partnership is working to improve the situation for the local people of the region and to bring about a sustainable relationship between the park and the people. The Partnership is supported by the International Institute for Environment and Development, as well as the Darwin Project.
By ascertaining what is possible and what is needed they have come up with a targeted plan to empower the community and provide more attractions for tourists, adding value to their trip as well as increasing local revenue from tourism. The project will run for 3 years with funding from the Darwin Initiative, working with local people and established tour operators to develop and trial new ‘pro-poor’ tourism products and services around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The initiatives include guided tours, food experiences, cultural performances, and improved handicrafts. Some examples include working with the local basket weavers to provide a product of improved quality and design, a Batwa village tour, Ride 4 a Woman which rents out bikes to raise money for women empowerment projects, and the Ruhija Beekeepers Association that sells local honey.
All of these projects focus on poverty alleviation and skills development. Throughout the 3 year process the Partnership will consult with tour operators and survey tourists to analyze demand for local tourism products and services. They will do this through:
– Surveying households in tourist zones around the park to identify current benefits from tourism and attitudes towards and capacity to engage the project
– Sharing results with tour operators, agreeing the most viable products and services and identifying quality criteria and sources of training
– Working with existing guides, performers, handicraft makers and so on to deliver training
– Adapting emerging ‘Gorilla Friendly‘ enterprise standards and testing them on new products and services
– Working with tour operators to include the new products and services in existing packages, collecting feedback, refining, and rolling-out, and
– Sharing lessons learned more widely in Uganda and internationally.
It is a pilot project that could result in very promising outcomes, changing the communities’ attitudes toward the park and the gorillas, while at the same time providing them with a better future. Jenman African Safaris is very excited about the initiative and will be watching with great interest as we take our guests to the region. It is certainly something we want to support, as sustainable and responsible travel is an inherent part of our company.