Solimar International was the primary implementing partner of the USAID funded Sustainable Tourism in the Albertine Rift Program in Uganda or STAR. Solimar started the STAR program in August of 2009 to support biodiversity conservation and community benefits from protected areas through sustainable tourism in the Albertine Rift region of Uganda. The program focused on broad support to the tourism sector to enhance the overall tourism offer in the Albertine Rift and to create or enhance community tourism enterprises so that they benefited from protected areas.
Tourism in Uganda is based around nature tourism in its 10 national parks and 12 wildlife reserves as well as a number of national forests and other areas of high biodiversity. Visitation to Uganda’s national parks totaled 210,525 in 2011 with 88,643 visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park. The 765 square mile park, which includes sprawling savannas, forest, lakes and fertile wetlands, make it the ideal habitat for 95 mammal species, including the classic big game and ten primate species and over 600 species of birds.
At the outset of the STAR program, a collaborative workshop was held to identify common goals for the tourism and conservation stakeholders. These included the need to diversify tourism offerings, improve marketing, foster greater cooperation amongst stakeholders and improve conservation and community development around parks. Tourism activities were not keeping up with neighboring countries, and Uganda needed to diversify in order to compete. With only traditional safari activities, Uganda knew that it needed more cultural activities to compliment wildlife- responding to the global trend in demand for more local interaction on holidaysUganda needed to improve its service level in order to compete as well. The few community experiences that did exist were of poor quality and did not meet the service levels required by most operators. More training was needed. The importance of biodiversity conservation was of the upmost importance of all stakeholders- who understood that tourism was a result of wildlife and that the protection of wildlife was a result of tourism dollars.
Major conservation threats in Uganda are a result of poverty and growing population levels. Human-wildlife conflict, encroachment, poaching and other unsustainable extraction activities are severely degrading habitat, threatening species, and harming the overall integrity of protected areas. In 2010 for instance, the Uganda Wildlife Authority recorded over 19,000 conservation threat instances in the parks where Solimar focused its activities. Population pressures are increasing the demand for agricultural lands, energy sources for cooking, and natural resources such as timber and plants for human uses. The more populations grow on the boarders of protected areas, the greater the increase of wildlife pests crop-raiding and escalating tensions for survival between humans and animals. Historically, communities surrounding protected areas have not played an active role in the tourism industry due to various barriers including lack of technical skills, investment capital and entry points. Conservation organizations have been working to increase communities’ involvement in tourism for decades, yet at the beginning of the STAR program, very few community tourism products were making sales. Community tourism products lacked functional business structures, the necessary understanding of client demands and the greater tourism industry. As CTEs lacked sustainable revenues, their contributions to real conservation outcomes were limited.
Because of the growing pressures for land a resources, alternative opportunities needed to be developed for communities surrounding protected areas. Sustainable tourism can both replace lost income and create incentives to protect natural resources, which with tourism transform into business assets. Creating awareness in communities on the importance of conservation for the community is necessary to gain critical mass.
To respond to growing conservation threats, tourism competition and stakeholder requests, Solimar implemented programs that would improve conservation through community tourism and education
Over half of Uganda’s population is under thirty years of age, the age range that Uganda defines as youth. Solimar therefore decided to include the engagement of youth in Uganda as a cross-cutting objective in the STAR program. Solimar engaged youth in conservation awareness raising through education and employment- or through Work and Play. Because of the large age range of youth, Solimar targeted school aged youth and young adults in two separate ways.
Solimar’s STAR program had a large focus on developing Community Tourism Enterprises. The Community Tourism Enterprise (CTE) Model consisted of activities, which focused on improving the sustainability of CTEs while reinforcing CTEs linkages to conservation. The program combined formalized training, on-site technical assistance, grant funding and sales and marketing programs to support CTEs. By improving business operations, financial management, capital investment, governance and sales and marketing, the Model demonstrated that financially viable CTEs ensure financially viable conservation programs.The CTE Model addressed conservation threats both directly and indirectly through five core strategies including: building a constituency of conservationists through membership; providing alternative livelihoods; contributing to monitoring and research in areas of high biodiversity; contributing financially to conservation activities and gaining management rights to areas of high biodiversity conservation. Solimar’s CTE program assisted over 50 CTEs during its 2.5 years of implementation and realized dramatic improvements to conservation and community benefits. The contribution to conservation in all of these communities increased over the course of the program. The overall STAR program resulted in improved management of over 230,000 hectares of areas of biological significance in the Albertine Rift of Uganda. Average CTE revenues and community-wide household income increased by 16% and 4% respectively. The resulting inclusion of CTEs in national discussions as contributors to conservation and sustainable tourism will ensure that a CTE Model for conservation through tourism will be scaled throughout Uganda. Youth benefited greatly from the CTE program, as youth are often hired to fill most of the employment needs of tourism SMEs. Youth are able to fill various hospitality roles and are often more adaptable to interacting with foreign visitors and learning new languages.
An example CTE that Solimar supported was The Batwa Trail. The Batwa were forest peoples, surviving off of the resources of the forest up until just a few generations ago. There remain a limited number of Batwa alive today, who were born in the park and still know the secrets of their forest traditions. The Batwa have been historically discriminated against, and until this day remain largely landless and without access to basic social services such as running water, housing, healthcare, education or livelihood options. These challenges have resulted in the Batwa peoples’ continued illegal activities in the national park, including poaching for foods and illegal extraction of medicines. Batwa populations are fading, while those that remain have relied on help from the few aid organizations that are working to help them gain their place in modern society. The Batwa Trail was an effort to allow the Batwa to continue to use the resources of the protected area in a sustainable manner. People from the Batwa community were trained as guides to interpret the forest from the eyes of the Batwa people. An UWA ranger would accompany a Batwa guide, and translate from the Batwa language to English for tourists. The product included a multi-hour walk through the forests of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and culminated in surprise performance in Garama Cave, a place of special significance to the Batwa People.
STAR discovered various potential problems when it began working with the Batwa Trail project that could have weakened the sought after sustainability and conservation impacts that were intended. One of STAR’s first activities was to bring a team of national tour operators to test the product and get feedback. The tour operators liked the concept but were unanimous in their concern that the product was too long, and that tourists would not be able to take the 5+ hours for the activity. STAR made the recommendation to create a shortened trail experience with a greater focus on the cave performance. A grant was awarded to UWA to create a shorter version of the trail with improved cave infrastructure that launched in time for the 2012 tourism high-season. Many problems faced by the Batwa Trail were due to inefficient ownership and management structures. The product was managed by the Trail Management Committee, TMC, which was made up of representatives from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, International Gorilla Conservation Program, United Organization for Batwa Development, the Batwa community and the District Local Government. In theory, the TMC was supposed to manage the product, but this was challenging. Decision-making was not streamlined and the Batwa were not getting paid for the profits that the product was generating. This was due to there being no mechanism in place to get funds collected by UWA transferred to the Batwa Trail bank account. Without a functioning conserve-reward system, the tourism for conservation theory would not hold, and the Batwa’s feelings towards the protected area would not improve. STAR worked with UWA to create a mechanism to get the funds transferred and worked with the TMC to create a community development program to benefit the whole Batwa community. STAR also supported the created of a brand and marketing collateral for the Batwa Trail including a brochure, website and signage. The Batwa Trail was included in the Pearls of Uganda program and many tour operators listed it as a product that they sold. Revenues continue to increase for the Batwa Trail. STAR also supported UWA with a private sector partner fundraising program, which included an “Evening with the Batwa” a fundraising event which launched the Batwa Trail documentary, complete with cultural performances and information on the plight of the Batwa People. Participants from tourism and conservation industries along with the Kampala corporate group attended the event. Thousands of dollars were raised on the initial night and interest has been growing for the cause. With STAR’s assistance the Batwa Trail greatly improved as a business and as a contributor to improved conservation and community benefits. One of the final efforts of the STAR program was to assist the TMC in the creation of a land fund, which would take a percentage of profits from the Batwa Trail and put it towards the purchasing of land for the Batwa community. With their own land, the Batwa can regain their place in society with a place to cultivate, cook and call home outside the national park.
Many of the Batwa and UWA guides as well as performers employed by the Batwa Trail were youth. Aside from employment opportunities, the Batwa Trail also funds education program for Batwa youth, encouraging them to adjust to the greater Ugandan community. The Batwa Trail also preserves cultural heritage so that the youth do not lose their rich culture.
One of the key facets of support for Community Tourism Enterprises was the The Community Tourism Enterprise Development Training Program. This is a training program complete with set lesson plans which take communities through concept development, business planning, operations training, tour planning and guide training and sales and marketing strategy development. The program consisted of 5 modules delivered in three regions of Uganda over the course of 5 months and included over 140 class hours. The tour planning and guide training modules engaged the most youth of any model. This training program teaches nature guides the principles of nature interpretation and allows guides to start designing tours that will have a greater impact on their tourists, the business and conservation.
The Ruhija Youth Dance group is another youth community tourism enterprise that helps youth through tourism. Based near Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where most of Uganda’s gorilla tourism occurs, Ruhija Youth Dance Groups offers award-winning performances to guests. Revenues go to help with school fees and other educational materials. The youth understand that the tourists come to their area specifically to see the endangered mountain gorilla, making the early connection that the gorilla’s are important to the revenue stream of their dance group.
The Foundation for Youth Development’s Agro-tour takes tourists through the typical farm life of a Ugandan living outside of Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area. Guests learn about the growing of local crops, natural medicines and beekeeping- a strategy to keep elephants out of the crop lands. The Foundation for Youth Development employs youth guides to give the tours, but also encourages them to keep bees by selling at-cost bee hives and offering free training on apiary. The more hives bordering the protected area the less human-wildlife conflict. Also, the youth can sell the honey for good price to the local community, allowing them to make extra money while helping with tourism and conservation efforts.
Solimar’s Pearls of Uganda program was made up of various activities, which fostered relationships amongst the private sector, community tourism enterprises and conservation organizations. These relationships increased the promotion, technical assistance and funding for sustainable tourism and conservation in the Albertine Rift. This marketing program drove demand for sustainable tourism and conservation efforts across the tourism booking chain. By the end of Solimar’s STAR program, The Pearls of Uganda program had registered over 100 participating private sector and community tourism enterprises as partners. Most of these CTEs engaged youth in their business models.
The Uganda Snapshot Safari™ board game program is anchored around a fun-to-play board game that introduces facts about animals, birds and local people living in the Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) and the Rwenzori Mountains Conservation Area (RM). Combining non-formal education techniques with biodiversity conservation, the program builds on the premise that "people tend to care about what they know.” This conservational tool was therefore developed in attempt to recruit youth as future friends of the park and naturists who will protect these treasures in the generations to come.In effort to enhance conservation awareness on Queen Elizabeth National Park in schools around this protected Area, Solimar, facilitated workshops where 195 educators from over 50 schools attended to learn how to engage youth with the Snapshot Safari Board Game. The workshops were also attended by six community rangers from QENP. The educators were committed to recruit fellow educators in their schools to play the game and take it to pupils to increase their awareness on conservation issues and general information about Queen Elizabeth National Park. This gathering was fundamental as Solimar managed to pair Uganda Wildlife Authority Community Rangers with schools as a way of strengthening their relationship with the youth and cooperation in implementing conservation education in schools. All Community Rangers committed to make several visits to schools to see how the board game is being played by pupils/students.
By targeting schools around protected areas, Solimar reached out to the communities that often pose the highest levels of conservation threats. Working with youth, the program ensures that tomorrows community leaders think more positively about the park, and support its conservation. The schools in Uganda have limited resources, the Snapshot Safari game was a huge success. Educators in the region are planning to have a district-wide competition in the coming year which will reward students that learn the conservation facts asked during the game.
Youth are an important key to long-term sustainable tourism and conservation. Engaging youth both through education and employment to promote awareness around the importance of environmental conservation and the ability for tourism to support it is vital. The youth are the conservationists and tourism leaders of tomorrow. Engaging them through work and play are two ways in which to start them on track to fill these roles.
Engaging Youth in Sustainable Tourism to Promote Conservation, Rick Taylor
Engaging Youth in SustainableTourism to PromoteConservation A case study from Uganda
EIAT South Africa: Rainbow Nation 2008; Trends / Tribes2009; World Cup Soccer: 2010; Namibia: NADM Project 2011;Uganda: Sustainable Tourism 2012 AFRICA UGANDA NAMIBIA SOUTH AFRICA
Challenges for Tourism in Uganda Need to diversify product offers Need to improve level of service quality, namely in human resources Need to improve biodiversity conservation to protect tourisms most valuable assets
Challenges Between Communities and Conservation Areas Historically communities have had a tumultuous relationship with protected area managers. Protected areas contain vital resources that communities want for survival, namely land. Human-wildlife conflict through crop-raiding and cattle attacks by lions. No incentive to conserve protected areas as communities reap little tangible benefits.
Improving Conservation through Community Tourism and Education Increasing community understanding of tourism and conservation through trainings and sensitizations. Working with local entrepreneurs to develop community tourism enterprises that create the incentive to conserve. Involving youth, the next generation of leaders, in tourism and conservation.
Engaging Youth: Work and Play Work: Tourism offers viable employment opportunities for youth and allows them to reap benefits from conserved biodiversity. Play: Teaching the youngest generation about conservation and tourism through games fosters a more positive relationship with wildlife and protected areas.
Work: Youth and Tourism SMEs Tourism Small /Medium Enterprises (SMEs) offer great employment opportunities to youth. Youth most easily fill guiding, housekeeping and customer service positions in SMEs. Youth often pick up foreign languages more easily and interact well with foreign visitors.
Example SME: The Batwa TrailThe Batwa Trail is located in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park,Uganda where the Batwa people, a group of indigenous people, usedto reside. This nature walk tour introduces visitors to this Africantribes life. Visitors will learn about the Batwas cultural heritage duringthis cultural encounter experience. The funds from this tour are part ofa give back program that supports the indigenous peoples culturalheritage by helping them purchase new land, provide education andbooks.
The Batwa TrailThe Batwa Trail enterprise was supported with: Product development Legal rights Market validation Business Management Marketing Conservation Linkages Partnerships
Youth and The Batwa Trail The Batwa Trail project employs youth as guides and dancers. The Batwa Trail also funds education programs for youth, paying school fees and buying books. The Batwa Trail creates an avenue for Batwa youth to learn about their heritage and maintain cultural traditions.
Marketing Tourism SMEsSMEs greatest weakness is proper marketing. The target markets oftourism SMEs often reside in other countries and use technology toplan trips. Rural communities in developing countries generallylack the adequate skills and resources to reach potential clients.Merging tourism SMEs under an umbrella brand helped leveragemarketing capabilities so that SMEs have a voice. The umbrellabrand, Pearls of Uganda, assisted SMEs with:• Branding • Email management• Content creation including product • Social media marketing descriptions, photos and video • Linkages with international• Brochure and other print material operators design and production• Website creation and maintenance
Play: Teaching Youth About Conservation Snapshot Safari Board Game teaches players about wildlife and conservation. The game was played through the Wildlife Clubs of Uganda and reached over 160 schools in first year. Game is also sold commercially to generate funds for new copies to sustain the program.
The Role for Youth in Sustainable Tourism and Conservation The tourism industry can offer good employment opportunities for youth. Youth often perform tourism functions well because of their ability to learn quickly and understand cultural diversity. Working with youth to entrench positive ideals of conservation and tourism is a way of sustainably protecting assets and opportunities for future generations.