One on One with Red Rocks Rwanda founder, Greg Bakunzi
Early last year the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) recognized Greg Bakunzi, founder of Red Rocks Initiatives For Sustainable Development, for his role in pioneering sustainable tourism development in Africa.
Presented by UNWTO Secretary General, Zurab Pololikashvili, the award was in recognition of Greg’s work to promote tourism, conservation, and community development in and around the Volcanoes National Park. The community tourism operator is using his vast amount of knowledge and experience to lobby for the inclusiveness of local Rwandans into destination and product management, which ensures that the community plays a greater role in developing cultural products that are both directly beneficial while ensuring they sustaining their environment.
Greg Bakunzi is the co-founder and president of the Ruhengeri Community Eco-Tourism Association, a local association of people collaborating to enhance tourism development in Rwanda.
He first gained experience working as a Rwandan tour organizer and guide for various international tour operators. Greg’s philanthropic efforts have not gone unnoticed. For the year 2012/2013, Ruhengeri Community Eco-Tourism Association was awarded a certificate for being a TOP 100 mid-sized company, presented by Rwanda Development Board (RDB) at the Business Excellence Awards.
He moulded his company Red Rocks Rwanda to be community-based organizations, where the local community can gain from tourism activities, and in the process, have a sustainable income. Red Rocks brings under-served communities into the tourism supply chain and supports community development projects that help people help themselves through Red Rocks Initiative.
In August 2015, Greg’s name was added to the A- Team for Wildlife ‘Wall of Fame’ for his contribution during their Giving Grid Fundraiser. A-Team is an organization that fights to save endangered species of animals.
Greg has spoken as a panellist in roundtable sessions with the International Tourism Fair of Madrid, the United Nations World Tourism Organization and Casa Africa.
In January 2019, at the International Tourism Trade Fair in Spain, an event that was organized jointly by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, Greg was awarded in recognition for Red Rocks Initiatives for Sustainable Development activities to promote tourism, conservation and community development in and around the Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda.
Most recently, he was appointed by African Tourism Board to be in their steering committee. Where Wild Things Roam caught up with Greg for a chat and this is what he had to say.
Tell us what Red Rocks Initiative is all about?
Red Rocks Initiative for sustainable development Organization (RRISD) is an African non-profit organization registered is a Rwandan in 2017, that supports sustainable development in Rwanda and around the Virunga massive and Albertan rift valley by engaging in sustainable tourism and community driven environmental conservation initiatives that are meant to benefit local communities in Rwanda, Uganda and DRC.
How does it help the local community?
Through our works we have launched many projects, which are helping local community get access to education, health care and sustainable income that honours their traditional way of life. Ours is to provide a sustained, reliable source of funding for the local organization through the tourism industry. We created a respectful environment where the local community feels comfortable with tourists and work to position conservation as a competitive land use that delivers benefits to local communities, creates jobs, stimulates local micro-enterprise development, promotes local procurement, develops skills and knowledge and ultimately improves livelihoods within the Volcanoes National Park.
Why do you feel it is so important to support local communities with tourism products?
Locals should benefit from their skills in trade, art, music, education, and much more so that they gain from sustainable tourism, while they help in environmental conservation and uplift their living standards, we believe that all the three are inextricably linked and therefore should be promoted together.
There are some incredible artists coming out of Red Rocks initiative. How are they supported and where is their work displayed?
Income generated from the tourism cultural activities at Red Rocks intercultural centre, a percentage is used in purchasing paints, brushes, canvas placards, etc, then we give them to the local artists who use their skills and talent, and they produce good arts which are later sold by displaying them at our arts studio near the volcanoes national park where tourists come to visit the gorillas pass by and purchase the artworks.
What are your goals for the coming 5 years? Where do you want to take Red Rocks to?
I would like to see Red rocks in the next 5 years , as the leading organization in community based tourism , within the region, working with the local community to promote education, tackle injustices and end poverty.
You work in a number of initiatives around the world. What made you look beyond Rwanda for your work?
The main reason why I looked outside Rwanda, with the initiatives, it’s because, I wanted to make sure I share the great initiatives, without friends, around the Region, so that they can also get to know how to benefit from Community based tourism, since we also share a lot in common.
Do you have a favourite part of Rwanda and if so, why?
My favourite place to be in Rwanda is Musanze, due to many things, being my home town, good climate, and good food.
Where is your favourite place to travel outside of Rwanda?
The country I would like to travel to outside of Rwanda, is Zimbabwe.
Where is somewhere you have always wanted to travel to and why?
I would like to travel to Costa Rica, as I have had some good things about the country, from eco-tourism to conservation, so that I can learn more from what others have done in tourism and conservation.