We are at an interesting time, a time when tourism continues to be a major sector on which most of the economies of the region are anchored on. It is also the information age where thanks to technologies like the internet, we are swimming in too much information whose volume and access only gets better by the day. All East African countries have been blessed with some of the most spectacular tourism offerings you can find anywhere in the world.
This has made us a magnet for visitors from far and wide. From the very early days when tourism meant doing the famous safari in Kenya or northern Tanzania to now when the options are limitless, the only constant is information about what each country has to offer, when, what it is about and what more to look out for.
The need for the right information to reach the intended audiences can never be underestimated as far as tourism is concerned. From the bare minimum of what places to visit and what to do while there to the more complex stuff regarding conversation and information on new travel trends and dynamics, there is a lot of work put into creating this information and getting it to the right people.
This is the mind-set that informed Rwanda’s decision to start the now uniquely Rwandan experience known as KwitaIzina, the annual gorilla naming ceremony that has taken place every year since 2005, attracting international, regional and local dignitaries. At this year’s event 23 baby gorillas were named at a ceremony where the good news that the gorilla population was steadily growing was also shared with the public.
The growing population of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Massif points to the fact that meticulous conservation programmes run by the three countries of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have paid off and one of the world’s most endangered animal species stands a chance of getting off that list of animals that future generations may not get to see. These three countries that share the only environment where these gentle giants can be found also have this huge responsibility to ensure the safety and survival of these animals.
KwitaIzina is therefore an opportunity for Rwanda to tell the story of mountain gorillas to the rest of the world and help more people understand why it is important to ensure that we join hands and conserve the animals and their environment. It is a story that never gets old because more and more people need the information for various reasons that could range from visiting to investing time and money to research and understand these primates better.
While many headed to Musanze for the gorilla naming ceremony, others were heading towards the banks of River Nile to attend the MTN NyegeNyege Festival in Jinja, Uganda. This art and music festival that runs for three days has grown in leaps and bounds and even attracted major corporate sponsorship. It is also the most regionally attended festival that I know of. Buses from Kigali and Nairobi ferried revellers straight to the banks of the Nile while others flew in from different parts of the world.
Information about this festival has clearly not reached as many people and this explains why the clear information gap allowed for a rumour to go around about what happens there and almost got the festival cancelled by an overzealous and clearly uninformed minister. The phenomenon that is festival tourism remains relatively new but one that has served as a good shot in the arm as far domestic and regional tourism is concerned.
In Kenya the new buzzword has been that of the twin migration. For a while now, the wildebeest migration has been the biggest tourism spectacle in the region where over a million wildebeest, zebra and antelopes migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara, a journey that brings them in contact with hordes of hungry crocodiles and big cats that make the journey a life and death matter.
Unbeknownst to many, around the same time, the East African Coast also experiences the annual migration of humpback whales that swim from the Antarctica to the come and breed from the warmer tropical waters of East Africa. Just like the little known animal migration that happens in South Sudan, there is still a lot of information regarding tourism that needs to be well packaged and disseminated. For our economies to benefit from these natural blessings the right information has to keep going around.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.