Best practice case: Creating local positive impact through tourism

The story of Red Rocks Rwanda

Tour operators and accommodations come in all sizes and all have a different impact on holiday destinations, either positive or negative. Where some tour operators exist for the sake of creating unique experiences for their clients, some tour operators exist for the sake of the local community.

They aim to use tourism as a tool to create a better life and future for communities and to protect the environment. They exist to create a local positive impact. This blog shares the story of Greg Bakunzi, founder of Red Rocks Rwanda.

7 indicators to check and select sustainable accommodations as a tour operator

Tourism for sustainable development

Greg is owner of the Red Rocks Initiative, co-founder and president of the Ruhengeri Community Eco-tourism Association (a local association of people collaborating to enhance tourism development in Rwanda) and a frontrunner in local sustainable development at heart. He started Red Rocks as a social enterprise, with the idea that environmental conservation and sustainable tourism has the power to boost the less fortune communities out of poverty and to give them a purpose and pride of their culture.

Greg: “We brainstormed on how community conservation and tourism fit together. How can we out of conservation benefit the youth and their community and give them a purpose, to gain their own income and to build their own future”? Red Rocks Rwanda now brings under-served communities into the tourism supply-chain and supports community development projects that help people help themselves.

“Our aim is to keep tourists in Rwanda for a longer period of time. Not just to see the mountain gorillas, but to experience our local assets and connecting to our communities and their culture.”

Creating local positive impact

Greg is determined to integrate tourism and conservation in peace building and sustainable community development. “We simply exist to enhance local living standards by benefitting from tourism through trading their talents in art, music and cultural diversity”. Their approach is different than the main tourism model, as they let the community have the voice in what they are doing.

“We are just the umbrella, facilitator and representative of the community”. With their focus on empowering local communities by strengthening local engagement in activities that enhance their livelihoods and health. The activities range from cooking classes and dance and music performances, to selling art in the community center and giving tours of the village and the local medicine garden.

“Our community is the biggest asset in our sustainable tourism development plan. They are the product and we protect that”.

In the Virunga area, Northern Rwanda, 99% of the communities depend on farming. Red Rocks tries to expand their independency by directing all money from tourism activities directly into the community cooperatives and farming projects. By doing this, local farmers are able to send their children to school and use the money for personal belongings and development. Thereby, the community also receives indirect positive impact through the tourist entrance fees of the Virunga National Park, whereof 15% goes to the local communities.

7 indicators to check and select sustainable accommodations as a tour operator

Local impact

So far, more than 120 people have benefitted from the tourism initiative. Red Rocks has built houses for people who couldn’t afford it, made language courses accessible to the local communities and created a steady income for a large part of the community. “We can only be sustainable when the owners of the tourism product, the local communities, are personally invested”. Greg states.

Red Rocks has made high priority of creating a cooperative program where the community is responsible of creating new products. “We organise sustainable development talks with the community, where we discuss what new projects the community can work on to attract tourists. We are always open to new partnerships and cooperation to involve more locals. We can turn any talent into an educational program in our tourism initiative. We always come up with new things and learn from the local community at the same time”.

Lessons learned

One of the lessons learned is that creating community-based tourism is not an easy thing you can set-up in a short time. Being patient pays back and this is something they are still learning in Rwanda. Greg: “Most of us are used to doing things in a short time and don’t plan ahead, we never had to”. Thereby, they have learned that everyone can benefit, as long as everyone cooperators and when ideas are exchanged. “It is important to share ideas. Not only within in our own community but beyond. People need to know we exist so we can create more impact.

7 indicators to check and select sustainable accommodations as a tour operator


Greg is most proud of the development of his initiative. “It has been great to see how it grows and benefits people’s lives locally. Being part of this development, this journey and all the stories we’ve shared”. Now that the community has experienced the tourism concept, learned from it and discovered how they too can benefit, it’s growing even more. Greg: “It’s very rewarding to see how the local community is so proud when they show what they have. Authenticity. It’s not a show, they are proud of their culture and they are having fun”.

Future development

When asked about future goals, Greg simply responded with “we are not there yet, but we are moving on as there are always more steps. It’s a long journey but we are happy to take it. For further steps we want to collaborate with organisations that have taken more steps, so we can learn from them”.

In the meantime, more and more community members are asking to join the initiative; “Others have started to see the benefits too. Our community members have the talent, and we are continuing to find out what their talent is and how we can offer it to tourists. We learn from the community and they learn from us. This is how we create actual positive impact".

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