On April 25, Rwandan Conservationist and tour operator Greg Bakunzi made Rwanda proud when he was appointed the latest member of the African Tourism Board (ATB).
In a press communication following the announcement in New York, the board described Bakunzi as "a star in African Tourism with a vision for the industry, for sustainability, and for his unique approach in generating business to Rwanda and the whole of Africa".
ATB President Alain St. Ange described Bakunzi's appointment as "great news" for the African Tourism Board, and "a good day for African Tourism", adding that, by joining the board, Bakunzi would be in position to "share his leadership and vision with Africa".
Founded in 2018, the African Tourism Board is an association that is internationally acclaimed for acting as a catalyst for the responsible development of travel and tourism to and from the African region.
It was founded by the International Coalition of Tourism Partners (ICTP), a grassroots travel and tourism coalition of destinations and stakeholders.
ATB provides aligned advocacy, insightful research, and innovative events to its members.
In partnership with private and public sector members, it enhances the sustainable growth, value, and quality of travel and tourism to, from, and within Africa.
The association provides leadership and counsel on an individual and collective basis to its member organizations.
In his acceptance remarks, Bakunzi thanked the board for expressing confidence in his abilities, and also used the opportunity to trace his journey in tourism and community development in Rwanda.
"My journey in tourism and community development spans over 15 years, and as a newly appointed board member of the ATB, I'm excited to bring my expertise and knowledge to support further implementation of the objectives of the African Tourism Board.
I started back in 2001 as a tour guide and eventually founded my company, Amahoro Tours which has grown since back in 2008. I saw my business grow to a level that I was proud of. After that, in 2011, I thought I should do something else without giving up Amahoro Tours.
That's when I came up with Red Rocks Rwanda as a cultural center, and which now works with Red Rocks Initiative for Sustainable Development, a non-profit organization operating in Africa.
He added:"According to a report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the travel industry will double in the next 5 years, generating trillions annually, and part of my personal strategy is to position our destinations as travelers' favorites.
By agreeing with the notion that prioritizing sustainability in the tourism sector means people and economies will in general greatly benefit because globally. The African continent has much more exciting and abundant natural attractions to offer travelers".
Patrick Kwizera, the Chairman of Rwanda Safari Guides Association described Bakunzi's appointment as a great achievement for the Rwandan tourism sector:
"This (African Tourism Board) is a platform to advocate for the sector's needs for improvement, advancement, and to market unique products in Rwanda that will contribute more to the understanding of Rwanda and what it can offer on the international market. It's no doubt local tour operators will earn more profits as a result of that position if used positively."
Asked what could have informed the ATB's choice of Bakunzi over other local tour operators, Kwizera explained:
"I think it's the choice of business he opted for, which is to do with promoting communities around the Volcanoes National Park, by creating projects like Red Rocks that earn these communities a livelihood while also promoting Rwandan culture and tourism beyond the gorillas."
I'm looking forward to using my capacity as an advocate for responsible tourism that benefits the surrounding communities and areas through providing jobs and ensuring that we understand what challenges communities face and how to overcome them by using their abilities as a base for finding sustainable solutions."
In an exclusive interview with Sunday Times, Bakunzi stressed the importance of a collaborative approach to spur continental tourism:
"My journey in sustainable travel spans over a decade, and it is through hard work and patience that I have been a part of many transformations in this industry. I will be in position to share my experiences and knowledge opportunities with other tour operators as we endeavor to work together in creating sustainable tourism destinations and communities.
We need to collectively as a continent accept our challenges and know how to deal with them. All our growth will be based on our efforts together and the willingness to adapt to an ever-changing tourism industry."
Bakunzi further expressed optimism that the local tourism fraternity in general would benefit from the membership of a Rwandan to the African Tourism Board:
"The impact of African Tourism Board work is twofold: First, as part of a broader global destination, local tourism will thus benefit from foreign direct capital investment as a result, the combination of natural and cultural resources, as well as the friendly business environment will make our destination exceptionally more appealing for tourism visitors and investors.
I will use my capacity and work as a lobbyist for, and an advocate of responsible tourism that benefits the surrounding communities and areas through creating awareness about the need for sustainable solutions to the problems we still face.
By working with several local community and cultural projects, our tourism industry will inspire others on the commitment that community tourism is a tool that is beneficial to the development of our community, people, and environment".