How do you entice tourists visiting the country to stick around longer after tracking the mountain gorillas and visiting the national parks?
If anything, what is the likelihood that a tourist visiting to see the gorillas will find need to return to the same?
What about those tourists for who a gorilla tracking permit is beyond reach?
Over the years local tour operators have been mulling over these questions, and the result has been a creative diversification of the tourism landscape.
Such initiatives and slogans like ‘community-based tourism’, ‘cultural tourism,’ ‘eco-tourism’ and ‘pro-people tourism’ have since steadily taken root.
At Red Rocks Rwanda, a tourist campsite in Nyakinama village, six kilometers outside Musanze town, these alternative tour packages are the very foundations of its existence.
Between February 17th-19th, it will be holding a cultural event dubbed Cultural Talent Show in a bid to raise awareness of the country’s hidden cultural treasures that will be manifest through art forms like music, dance, and traditional poetry.
Since late last year, Greg Bakunzi, the proprietor of Red Rocks has been working tirelessly to incorporate a music program at the facility to compliment other existing programs like the community art and basket-weaving cooperatives that engage local youths and economically disadvantaged women. These groups produce these art and craft works from their workshops at Red Rocks for sale to visiting tourists, while the curious tourist also gets to partake in some of these activities.
Under the music program, local musicians from the community come and sing to entertain guests, while others try to sell their songs or seek professional sponsorship. What’s more, a music recording studio is nearing completion at the facility, and will be available for use by musicians in the community to record music.
Bakunzi reveals that the focus of the studio will be authentic traditional Rwandan music –something that can be packaged and sold to tourists as Rwandan culture.
Although the Cultural Talent show will heavily feature traditional music and dance, Bakunzi reveals that it will encompass so much more.
“It will be open for anyone to show what they can do, so that it is one big show. If someone is good at cooking, they get to showcase that. If they can eat a whole jack fruit or one hundred eggs or make a wooden bicycle, they show that.”
The idea is to highlight t country’s diverse cultural expressions and talents, while also providing a window of opportunity for these community-based artists who may not have any other avenue for exposure.
Children who have been beneficiaries of the community art project will also showcase some of their works, but also engage in some live-painting sessions to provide some fun.
Traditional dress and the process of banana beer production will also be on display, a favorite for most tourists.
Over the years, Red Rocks has been keen on such cultural events like the Village X-mas bazaar, a market place for festive season shopping set in the traditional Rwandan context, and cultural fashion shows, where the virtues of Rwandan traditional dress are extolled.
They frequently organize such events that bring community, conservation and tourism stakeholders together for sustainable development talks and dialogue.
“Through these events, communities have a chance to exchange ideas and learn from one another how they can use their talents, culture, and other local tools for development through effective sustainable planning, maximizing social and economic benefits to locals, and reducing tourism’s negative impact to cultural and environmental heritages,” Bakunzi further explained.
During a visit to the facility in November last year, Sports and Culture minister Julien Uwacu revealed that her ministry was keen on maintaining communication and collaboration with all cultural tourism players in the country.
“We really appreciate all that has been done so far, especially the spirit of working together with the local community,” she remarked, and urged the proprietors to work even harder to better conceptualize and package the idea of community tourism.”
In the course of her tour, she had amused tourists and locals alike when she went down on her knees to take part in the process of making traditional banana beer.