On March 7, 2018, global tourism industry players, conservationists and government representatives, gathered in Berlin, Germany, for the annual ITB trade show.
During the trade fair, Rwanda was voted as one of the Top 100 Green Destinations in the World, courtesy of the Volcanoes National Park. However, one person who must have been smiling with a satisfied grin on his face when the winners were announced was Greg Bakunzi, the managing director of Amahoro Tours and founder of Red Rocks Cultural Centre, both travel concerns based in Musanze, northern Rwanda.
The long road to win his country the prestigious award started in earnest in 2016. Bakunzi says that as a member of Linking Tourism and Conservation (LTC) – a conservation non-profit headquartered in Norway – he received an invitation through the organisation to make a presentation about his country’s claim to be among the Top 100 Green Destination in the world.
LTC describes itself as an organisation that “seeks to create a network between relevant stakeholders in conservation, protected areas management, and tourism industry, which creates ideas, tools and incentives.” The organisation also seeks to find ways through which existing tourism support in existing protected areas can be replicated, exported and strengthened.
“I saw this as a great opportunity through which I could market my country in general – and the Volcanoes National Park in particular – so that the whole world could see or listen to what Rwanda is doing to ensure that the country not only becomes ‘green’ but also how it is positioning itself as a top travel destination,” says Bakunzi.
The Volcanoes National Park lies along the Virunga Mountains – a range of eight ancient volcanoes that are shared by Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda.
The park is home to the Rwandan section of the Virungas that comprise five volcanoes and hosts about a quarter of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. And aside from the iconic gorillas, various plant and animal species also thrive in the park.
Bakunzi made a presentation about how the government, together with private institutions in the tourism industry, is making concerted efforts to ensure that nature around the park is preserved.
“I made a presentation about how the Rwandan government is making sure that we protect our natural environment. Among the issues I discussed was Rwanda’s tree-planting initiatives, engagement of the local community and other development partners in various conservation initiatives, as well as the ban on plastic bags that’s gaining traction in environmental conservation,” says Bakunzi.
Bakunzi also credited the Volcanoes National Park’s ‘greenness’ to the Rwandan government’s responsible tourism initiatives, such as limiting the number of tourists who trek the park’s prized mountain gorillas.
Last year, Rwanda increased the price of gorilla permits from $750 to $1,500 in a move that aimed to “ensure sustainability of conservation initiatives and enhance visitors’ experience,” according to the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the country’s tourism regulator.
Bakunzi says that during his presentation, he also had the chance to present before the tourism world the positive moves the Rwandan government is initiating to make sure that tourism develops as a leading industry in Rwanda.
He says he also had the chance to present how the government of Rwanda, through its tourism revenue sharing initiative, is working to conserve nature around the national parks.
Last year, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) announced an increase in the tourism revenue sharing rate for communities living around national parks from 5% to 10%. The move was in line with Rwanda’s high-end tourism strategy to strengthen conservation efforts and contribute more to the social development of communities living around the country’s parks, RDB argued.
“Doubling the revenue sharing rate means that communities living around national parks will register more improvement in terms of development,” RDB said.
This year, the award event was targeting continents and during the official award ceremony that took place in Berlin on March 7, 2018 during ITB fair, Rwanda was voted as Africa’s Top 10 Green Destination, coming ahead of Botswana and South Africa.Read More
The trip to Red Rocks Rwanda, a cultural exchange centre at Nyakinama village in Musanze district, has become a special one for me.
For sure, I always know every time I visit this quaint rural place, set in a serene environment, something fresh always beckons. And this is the right spirit of adventure.
Away from the hustle and bustle of Kigali, Red Rocks offers a contrasting serene and laidback environment where you wake up to the coolness of the morning and the nature is represented at its pristine with the sweet sounds of the morning singing birds to wake you up.
The village dawn prepares you emotionally for a creative day ahead.
But what is even more fascinating is that you are bound to find charming people who also feel the spirit of the place, even when they are visiting for only a day.
Tourists come here from different countries of the world and all of them normally agree about one thing: the service at Red Rocks is top class.
Best services at Red Rocks
The staff is quite agile; ever on their feet to provide you the best services. The food is great, whether you want to sample Rwandans authentic traditional cuisine, or you want to stick your taste buds to the food of your choice. You are going to be served what you call for.
Red Rocks also involves the community in its operation and from this, many youths and vulnerable women continue to gain a lot from the centre.
The youth here are trained as guides from where they can chaperone tourists around the community, introduce them to home stay programmes, act as translators and be a link between the local community and the visitors.
Consequently, they in the process acquire valuable skills for their economic and social development, something Red Rocks has continued to stress on since its establishment in 2011.
The women in Nyakinama village, where the Red Rocks Cultural Centre is located, also have something to smile about. Many of them are quite skilled in making of handcraft products, and at the centre you are going to find a small house at the reception where these aesthetic products are displayed.
They also demonstrate to visitors how to make these products, and many visitors always are proud to walk away with the products they have made by their own hands.
What about sampling a banana or millet beer you have produced? This is always one of the main highlights of a visit to Red Rocks Rwanda.
Walking within the compound itself is a walk through Rwanda past and its tradition. Cultural objects don the compound, strategically placed and labeled for easy introduction to Rwandans past.
In essence, it’s like a blast from the past, where you get the chance to experience the country’s past symbolized by its cultural artifacts.
Musanze district is the hub of tourism in Rwanda, hosting such attractions like the Virunga National Park, Volcano National Park, and the Musanze Caves among others.
You are going to enjoy your chosen activity like gorilla trekking and other activities like bird watching and mountain climbing. However, a retreat to the Red Rocks Cultural Centre is going to introduce you to a cultural experience showcasing the real Rwandan people and their past.Read More
Community development is a key plank in Red Rock Cultural Center’s efforts to link tourism, conservation and sustainable development, the tagline of the center’s mission.
Since its inception in 2011, Red Rocks Cultural Center continues to formulate different programmes closely linked with tourism and community development. Located in Musanze district where tourism is quite vibrant, the programmes clearly demonstrate how tourism can be used as one tool to bring sustainable development within the communities surrounding tourist attractions.
Community development case studies
Jeanne Uwingabiye is a 35-year-old woman. She has two children, all in primary school. Her husband passed away five years ago, leaving her with the sole responsibility to look after the children.
Uwingabiye has no education background at all. She dropped out of school when she was still just a child. She didn’t receive any form of inheritance from her husband when he passed on. But she is determined to ensure that her children don’t suffer the same fate, and that’s why every morning she heads to Red Rocks Rwanda to try her fortunes at the opportunities she might find there.
She knows how to weave baskets and make the traditional beer, and she demonstrates her skills to tourists who visit the center, at a fee that she uses to buy her family the basic needs and educate the children.
“I’m happy that I can be able to use my skills to make handcrafts that are marketed and sold at Red Rocks. This is better than just sitting at home the whole day, begging for food from people who don’t have it in the first place. Despite being a widow, I’m now fiercely independent, and I’m able to educate my children through the work of my hands,” she says.
Belta Ntawangkaje, 74, is a mother of seven children, has 10 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Her husband passed on five years ago, leaving her to fend for some of her children and grandchildren who’ve been left orphans.
A member of Amaboko yi Imigisha Cooperative, they do handcrafts work like weaving, making jewelry and pottery. But since Hands of Hope was established by Red Rocks, she says her life has improved tremendously.
“Before we used to depend on odd occasional tourists who happened to visit our homesteads or the cooperative to purchase our products, and this was quite rare. But now, with Hands of Hope, we bring in our products and tourists who visit the center purchase them and Red Rocks gives us the proceeds,” she says.
But that is not the end. She adds that often, Red Rocks invites them when there are tourists who want to have local experience like making banana beer and they show them how to.
“We help them make local beer and they give us money in the process. It’s also a good way to bond since through this they get to know our traditional culture,” she adds.
Thephile Kamana, head of special programmes at Red Rocks, says their latest programme initiated at the center is the bakery that they established in December 2017. Here, local women are trained how to make bakery products like bread and cakes, and some of them are employed in the bakery.
“They can use the skills they acquire here to look for employment or start their own businesses. We have a trained baker who trains these women the art of making bakery products and we also have a shop where those who can make the products can sell them,” says Kamana.
Emma Mutoni, 29, and a mother three, expressed her hopes that the skills she is gaining from the bakery project is going to make her to become self-reliant in the future.Read More