The development of sustainable eco-tourism in Rwanda has been very successful. Rwanda’s strategy for tourism is that of low impact – high yield rather than the mass tourism strategy of its neighbors. It is well known that this strategy has been very successful in combining income from tourism with conservation and job creation. The comeback of the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park from the brink of extinction is probably the best example of the successful model in Rwanda. With the steady growth over the past years, the sustainable capacity of Rwanda’s eco-tourism resources are now reaching maximum capacity. If Rwanda’s tourism is going to increase and continue to provide new jobs and increased wealth this means that new tourist offers needs to be created. Community based tourism has been highlighted as one of the drivers of diversification of tourism in Rwanda which will enable the sector to grow while staying on its current path of sustainability.
Community-based tourism is a form of tourism based on the involvement and participation of the local population in the destination. With the latest reports of overtourism and large, often foreign corporations benefitting on behalf of the local resources and populations, community-based tourism is a socially sustainable, participatory tourism based on local structures and directly benefits the local population.
Development of a local touristic experience does not always need a multimillion-dollar investment. A visit to a local coffee plantation, a locally cooked meal or a ride with locals in a dugout canoe are often all it takes to create a memorable experience and for visitors to open their wallet. Money spent goes straight to the local economy without other actors in a different part of the world taking a cut.
New experiences are not only bringing income to the communities who are organizing them they are also making the destination more attractive to visitors. Visitors don’t travel to places to stay in a hotel and eat in a restaurant. They travel to places to do something or experience something. A by-product of this is that they sleep in a hotel and eat in a restaurant. These secondary activities often generate more revenue and create more jobs in a destination and is therefore often put in focus when developing tourism.
Sales and marketing are crucial parts of any business. Anyone who travels regularly can testify that there has been a huge technological leap over the last years. Tour operators and hoteliers are no longer only experts on their own experiences and products, but now also need to be experts in digital marketing, social media and a booking system while being able to create a relevant pricing and distribution strategy. For local communities in Rwanda this is often the breaking point. Even though they have excellent experiences, they have a difficult time bringing their product to the market. These communities often rely on a tour operator or local hotels for marketing and sales. This means that they are at a disadvantage in the tourism value chain and often only get access to a small segment of the market.
The Kivu Belt Destination Management Unit is currently working with several local communities in the Kivu Belt. Together we have developed a range of experiences which benefit local communities directly and contribute to making the Kivu Belt a more attractive destination to visit. We don’t only help communities develop new products. We also help them get direct access to the market. The Kivu Belt Destination Management Unit has partnered with dTravela, a Rwandan travel tech company.
Through the partnership between the Kivu Belt Destination Managemet Unit with dTravela local communities can bridge the technological gap. We provide them with the digital technology needed to market, distribute and sell their experiences online. By doing this, we are connecting owners of local experiences directly to the and customer and thereby putting them in control. Since dTravela is a local Rwandan company, they are able to provide booking notifications through a local call or SMS and pay out income from bookings as mobile money. This enables local communities to get access to the market under the same premises as any other operator globally.