IIED's pro-poor gorilla tourism project shortlisted for major award

An initiative promoting local economic development near Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park has been shortlisted for the World Responsible Tourism Awards.

News, 29 October 2018
Front cover of a flyer

A leaflet on Rubuguri origins and honey is part of a series of guided trails on lives and livelihoods around the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park

IIED and partners are working to develop ways for local people living around Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park to benefit from visitors to the park. The aim is to create local income from tourism – and as a consequence to generate positive attitudes to conservation among local people and reduce threats to gorillas.

This initiative has now been nominated for the prestigious 2018 World Responsible Tourism Awards. The awards are a highlight of World Travel Market London, the leading international event for the world's travel industry, which draws around 50,000 travel industry professionals, government ministers and international media each year.

The awards aim to showcase projects that generate positive economic, social and environmental impacts from tourism. The winners will be announced on 7 November 2018 in front of an audience of 600 tourism executives and decision makers.

Eighteen projects from around the globe have been shortlisted. The gorilla tourism project has been nominated under the 'Local Economic Benefit' category, which seeks tourism businesses that maximise contribution to local livelihoods and have a long-term approach to including local producers in supply chains.

The pro-poor gorilla tourism project is a three-year initiative funded by the UK's Darwin Initiative by IIED, the Responsible Tourism Partnership, the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation, the Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Trust and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme.

The project focuses on the communities located along the edges of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Southwest Uganda. Bwindi is a World Heritage Site, famous for being home to a population of highly endangered mountain gorillas.

Each year up to 20,000 tourists visit the park, paying a US$600 fee to track gorillas – but local people who live around Bwindi have earned little from park visitors. Local people did not have the skills to produce high quality handicrafts for tourists and could not ensure that they could deliver regular quality-controlled supplies to fulfil contracts with tourism businesses.

As a result relationships between local people, the park authority and tourism providers have been poor – and poaching, snaring and other forms of illegal resource use were common. 

IIED and partners have been seeking to change this dynamic by working with local people to build their skills and develop new offerings that will generate tourism income, including guided tours, improved handicrafts and food and cultural experiences.

The project team, led by Peter Nizette at the Responsible Tourism Partnership, developed new walking trails around the edges of the park that offer visitors the opportunity to learn more about local people and communities. Professionally designed flyers promoting the trails have been distributed to local tourist lodges and guides. The flyers will also be distributed to Ugandan tour operators at the World Travel Market.

The leaflets for Bwindi lives and livelihoods guided trails are available at:

The project has also trained local people as guides. The Bwindi Specialist Guides group has been formally registered with Kanungu District and the guides have all received training certificates and official shirts and Bwindi Specialist Guide badges. A Ugandan tour operator partner, Lets Go Travel, has been instrumental in supporting the project and is advertising the new products and services on its website.

To date, the project has worked with 14 small enterprises and trained more than 300 local people in basket weaving, guiding, carving, and horticulture. Former poachers have been trained to produce honey. A new ‘Forest Friendly’ badge for products has helped improve sales of handicrafts.

The project is delivering practical results: tourist lodges are agreeing contracts to buy locally produced fruit and vegetables, and a commercial honey producer has opened a new shop to sell locally produced honey. For one weaving cooperative, sales have been so good that all its members have been able to equip their houses with solar lights.