Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

3 Dec, 2003

WTM 2003 Report 9: Rwanda’s Gorillas To The Rescue

In a sobering reminder to humanity of the importance of preserving culture, wildlife and heritage, Rwanda, the African country where more than one million people fell victim to one of the worst genocides of the last decade, is turning to its mountain gorillas to help it revive tourism.

From the World Travel Market 2003 in London. 9th in a series of dispatches taking an in-depth look at issues, policies, strategies and trends as well as new products, processes and ideas that emerged at one of the world’s largest travel trade shows.

1. REMEMBER THE ENVIRONMENT? A look at some developments in an issue that was top priority in the pre-9/11 days but has now fallen behind on industry agendas. The WTM 2003 did make an attempt to keep the embers burning. Most poignant was a visit to the Rwanda stand, a country where, in a sobering reversal of fortunes, Man is turning for help to his nearly extinct and supposedly less intelligent primeval ancestors to help rebuild a country. Enough to make one think: Who’s the real animal these days?



For arguably the first time in the history of travel & tourism, Man is having to rely on his primeval ancestors to help dig him out of a self-created mess. In a sobering reminder to humanity of the importance of preserving culture, wildlife and heritage, Rwanda, the African country where more than one million people fell victim to one of the worst genocides of the last decade, is turning to its mountain gorillas to help it revive tourism.

On a continent renowned for unparalleled wildlife, the exhilaration of meeting these gentle giants, made famous by the movie ‘Gorillas in the Mist,’ is generally held at the apex of the game-viewing pyramid. Watching them play, feed, relax or share affection in the rich, damp bamboo forest captivated the American primatologist Dian Fossey for almost two decades. Her life among the gorillas was celebrated in the movie, which was partially shot on location in Rwanda.

This thrilling world lies in the Virunga mountains, straddling the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. In Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, conservation and tourism are uniquely intertwined. For decades, the Virungas were pressurised by the region’s human population, forcing the gorillas into an ever-shrinking range. Plans to clear a large area of the park for cattle grazing in 1979 galvanised conservationists.

A tourism programme was introduced to enable the gorillas to “pay for themselves” and this has proved successful, ensuring the protection of the park, surveillance of gorilla groups and generating revenue. By 2001, researchers identified 359 mountain gorillas in the Virungas, a 10% increase over 11 years. Almost half of these live in Rwanda, confirming the country’s status as the premier location for this most poignant wildlife encounter.

Visits to the gorillas last only an hour and are subject to strict rules. A gorilla tracking fee of US$250 per visitor is charged per visitor. It is a means of controlling demand and generating sufficient revenue for conservation. No one has ever complained that a gorilla visit wasn’t worth the price.

Conservation through tourism is working. Gorilla numbers are increasing and tourism ensures that they and their habitat are valued and protected. Although rarely targeted by poachers, gorillas can fall victim to traps set for antelope. Unlike Lowland gorillas, Mountain gorillas don’t survive in captivity, so tourism is vital in helping to assure their future.

While there were initial fears about gorillas contracting illness through contact with humans, these fears haven’t materialised. Overall, the benefits of improved monitoring and protection through tourism outweigh the risk of illness, There are also fears that habituation to humans increases the gorillas’ vulnerability to poachers, but tourism remains their best bet as habitat loss is a far greater risk.

Groups are led by experienced guides and escorted by Rwandan soldiers for protection. No tourists have been seriously hurt by gorillas, but it is vital that visitors obey the guide’s instructions. Permits are available at the ORTPN (Tourist Board) offices in Kigali or Ruhengeri, or through a registered tour operator. Eight permits are issued daily for each of the four habituated gorilla groups in Volcanoes NP. Visiting the gorillas may entail thirty minutes or six hours of trekking, often steep and muddy, through dense forest. Its demanding, but any reasonably fit adult should cope.

Altitude may cause difficulties, so visit the gorillas after being in Rwanda a few days and acclimatized. Pace yourself, drink plenty, eat well beforehand and take water and biscuits for energy. The long dry season ù June to September ù is best, when the ground is dry underfoot and you’re unlikely to get wet.

Those wanting to do more to help gorilla conservation can join the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund international, an American-based organisation which runs the Karisoke Research Centre in the Virungas and works globally for gorilla conservation. Members receive a newsletter and information about special events, or you can even adopt a gorilla. Check out www.gorillafund.org or email 2help@gorillafund.org.

You can also support the International Gorilla Conservation Project. Visit the World Wildlife Fund for Nature at www.panda.org, the African Wildlife Foundation at www.awf.org or Fauna and Flora International at www.fauna-flora.org for details.



Although safety and security concerns have become the Number One strategic priority of the travel & tourism industry, the World Travel Market 2003 maintained its nine-year tradition of dedicating a whole day of seminars and forums to a discussion of environmental issues. Environmental Awareness Day, marked on 12 November 2003, was supported by major industry players – the Association of British Travel Agents, United Nations Environment Programme, The Travel Foundation and Voluntary Initiative for Sustainability in Tourism.

For the third year running, an Environmental Awareness Day debate was held, this year focusing on the theme: The Greening of the World: Changing Consumer Behaviour. Among the questions posed to the panelists were: How much power do consumers have in tourism? What is their perception of sustainable tourism? What roles do the media, government and the travel industry have in promoting sustainable tourism? Is labelling a solution? What actions are required in promoting further demand for sustainable products and responsible tourism? Here are some of the responses, in quotes:

KEITH RICHARDS, from the Association of British Travel Agents:” I want to ditch labels like eco, green, sustainability. Nobody knows what the hell they mean. Even the experts don’t agree on the definition of sustainability. Quality is what it is all about. A good clean and enjoyable product — one with a welcome to it — means locals are actually getting something out of tourism, their guests, and still maintaining their environment and home.

“If business wants to continue selling tourism into the future it has to look after those things it is selling. The bucket-and-spade holiday brigade IS interested in the environment. The beach and sea are part of it and if that is dirty, overcrowded, built up, then they won’t want to go there. So awareness comes at different levels. At the highest there are niche markets where people buy so-called eco tourist products.

“As an industry we are at an embryonic stage, recently giving birth to the Travel Foundation which is being nurtured with some of the major tour operators coming on board. They are convinced of the message that they will be giving to their customers that the money collected and going into projects will help give them a better quality product. The surveys that we do every two years clearly indicate that although the demand isn’t necessarily there from the mass market tourist, there is a huge increase in the level of awareness of issues. I don’t think it is lip service.”

JAMIE SWEETING, Conservation International: “We have had this debate for several years now and I continue to hark on the fact that we are getting caught up in jargon which the punter on the street doesn’t have a clue about. They care about swimming in water where sewage is dumped directly into the ocean and whether local people want them out of the place. That doesn’t matter if it’s in the Caribbean or here in Britain.

“We have to be realistic, the environment for 99 per cent of the public is not one of the primary reasons they buy a holiday, chose a company. But it may well be why they would NOT pick somebody. If they know the firm has done something they don’t like or if they go to a destination that hasn’t been looked after and the place has eroded it can influence their choice. There is a role for groups to name and shame.

“We haven’t seen it so much in the tourism industry but I see increasingly small organisations, grassroots groups, broadcasting on the internet or getting vocal about what companies and governments can and cannot get away with today.”

The Travel Foundation, a charity partnership between Government, the tourism industry and non-governmental organisations in UK, seeks to raise ú1 million by 2005-6 for projects and destinations, such as supporting local community and rural schemes in Cyprus and Gambia. “I think we are getting there,” said Justin Francis, “moving from an academic debate over the past five or more years and now the industry has taken up the cudgels. We need to find a new and exciting language for this. We need to differentiate or die. It’s about being informed about discovering the ‘real’ destinations and wonderful things you can do in partnership with local people.”

JIM SCOTT, from Save Our World: “If the public is not interested in the environment this shows a lack of information from the Government and the media. Treat the planet as if you intend to stay. Otherwise the chances are that with air pollution and climate change we won’t have one to live on. Before long people will start panicking at the rate change is taking place. We may be swimming against the tide now but there is another current coming in which is much better informed.”

GUILIA CARBONE, United Nations Environment Programme: “We have been working with the industry on changing the production behaviour and realise that until we also involve the consumer we will not get things right. We are attempting to raise awareness and education among the youth and students. We communicate on being responsible on holiday. “

BJARNE PEDERSEN, of Consumers International: “We know from specific research that 30 per cent of consumers just don’t care. But 7O per cent do. Ten per cent care about green issues.”

HERBERT HAMELE, who co-ordinates a network dealing with sustainable tourism: “At least 40 per cent of Germans do want to stay in an environmentally friendly hotel. More than 20 per cent want to see it in a catalogue. We have identified in Europe 40 eco labels , certifying hotels. We cannot rely, though, on voluntary activities. Environment needs more.”

SUMAT SINGH, of Tourism Tobago: “Our government has passed legislation recently and started enforcing it. The local community has to be involved directly so that nobody tampers with the ecological setting. It is attracting a higher clientele and that is even better for us.”

TOM MORTON, of Climate Care: “We shouldn’t forget the impact tourism has on global warming. Every time that you get on a plane you are releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases. If aviation puts its head in the sand and thinks some form of taxation or caps its emissions then it is deluding itself. If it continues to grow at its current rate emissions from outbound aviation will match the rest of the UK economy by 2050. That is what the Government is facing so it will be taking action. Give the consumers a chance to repair their global warming now and add it as an extra to the cost of their holiday. We have 20 operators doing that successfully.”

JAMES BLADES, from Barbados, a hotelier and vice-president of the Caribbean Conservation Association: “I think hoteliers have a lot to be responsible about and I don’t believe globally they are paying enough attention to the issues. It is about time they did. Legislation will drive that. Governments must realise unless it puts it in place and tour operators and hoteliers are forced to act we are going to keep spinning ú5 a head as an environmental tax for everybody leaving every port everywhere in the world is not a lot to ask. Stop talking and start doing.”

DAWID DE VILLIERS, of the World Tourism Organisation: “The role of governments is crucial. Unless they take the leadership, convincing people, setting goals, working with the private sector û not only in their own countries but globally û we are not going to make the progress. Saving and protecting our precious resources for the future civilisations is a huge task. The planet is fragile. We are under great pressure. There are alarming signs we are losing in some fields. More and more governments realise they have a responsibility beyond their own boundaries. They can do it any many ways but they must get involved. They must be pressed to perform.”



‘Just a Drop,’ World Travel Market’s charity appeal for the international travel and tourism industry, is looking for industry professionals to join a fund-raising walk of a lifetime to the ‘Lost City’ of Machu Picchu. The dates of the walk are 30 April to 9 May 2004 and deadline for registration is Monday, 15 December.

The appeal, which over the past six years has raised more ú500,000 (nearly $841,000; more than ú731,000) to help provide clean water and assist sanitation projects for children and their families worldwide, is looking for up to 60 people involved in the industry to join the walk through lush cloud forest, green valleys, taking in breathtaking views of snow-capped Andean peaks, with time to stop and discover the fascinating Inca temples and settlements along the way.

WTM Director Fiona Jeffery, founder of ‘Just a Drop,’ who did the walk three years ago, said: “Nothing in life compares to walking the lnca Trail. This is a chance for all those deskbound executives to get out of their chairs and get healthy as well as raise money for a really good industry cause. There is plenty of time built into the trip to acclimatise to altitude and to explore Cusco, capital of the lnca Empire and the Sacred Valley and the archaeological heart of the Americas.”

The trip is being organised on behalf of ‘Just a Drop’ by the Salisbury-based experienced adventure and charity walk specialist tour company Discover Adventure Ltd. The cost is a minimum ú2,500 and walkers are encouraged to raise as much as possible by contacting friends, colleagues, contacts, suppliers and customers. The cost includes flights, transfers, accommodation, meals and porters on the trail. Participants actually walk for five days but it is not described as difficult, although there does need to be a reasonable level of fitness.

At the WTM, 120 senior executives from a number of travel & tourism companies attended the ‘Just A Drop’ charity lunch which raised ú11,500 for ‘Just a Drop’ with an auction hosted by broadcaster Alastair Stewart.

Money is raised for ‘Just a Drop’ not only during WTM week, but a throughout the year. The appeal is supported by many companies and associations, for example, a group of women executives from the travel industry organised a Family Fun Walk along the London Thames in September.

Every year, four million children die before the age of five because of water-borne diseases such as cholera and dysentery. But just ú 3,000 builds a protected well to serve an entire village. So far ‘Just a Drop’ fund has contributed to the building of 105 new wells in Ethiopia, Cambodia, Malawi and Mozambique; Improved a further 90 wells; constructed 2000 household sanitation platforms, and 14 double latrine blocks for schools and a health station; provided water purifying tablets, hygiene packs and water containers to the victims of both Hurricane Mitch in Central South America and the earthquakes in Turkey, and; helped to fund a major health and sanitation education programme in southern Africa.

The ‘Just a Drop’ Board of Trustees regularly considers applications from water-based appeals. Each potential project is checked in its country of origin and every aspect carefully scrutinised, prior to money being committed. The completion of a project receiving money from ‘Just a Drop’ is also monitored.

Further information and donations can be made by contacting the ‘Just a Drop’ project executive Nikki Davis <nikki.davis@reedexpo.co.uk>



A ‘green’ checklist for hotels, an education programme for customers on coral reef protection in the Red Sea and financial support to local communities in the Dominican Republic are just some of the actions being undertaken by tour operators in their efforts to promote integration of environmental and social practices in their every day businesses.

The Tour Operators’ Initiative (TOI), a diverse group of 25 tour operating companies, ranging from small specialised operators to some of the biggest names in the business, including First Choice and TUI AG, has compiled a collection of case studies to demonstrate how holiday packages can be successfully developed on sustainability principles.

Released on Environmental Awareness Day at the World Travel Market, their new report, “Sustainable Tourism — The Tour Operators’ Contribution,” shows practical ways in which tour operators can contribute to sustainable development by working with their suppliers, with their customers, with stakeholders in destinations and with their own staff

According to Tom Selanniemi Chairman of the TOI, “The report presents a survey of different actions that tour operators are implementing around the world to protect the environmental and cultural resources upon which their business depends.”

Mr Selanniemi, who is also the Manager of Sustainable Tourism at Aurinkomatkat-Suntours, added, “Sustainable travel does not only provide social and environmental benefits but can also bring financial successes, attract new customers, increase customer loyalty, and lower costs for companies that participate in the sustainability agenda.”

The report “Sustainable Tourism: The Tour Operators’ Contribution” is available on the web at www.toinitiative.org. It contains the following case studies:


  • Exodus: Development of a Responsible Tourism Policy
  • First Choice Holidays (UK & Ireland): Development of a Sustainable Tourism Strategy
  • Hotelplan: Environmental Reporting
  • Studiosus: Development of an Environmental Management System


  • Atlas Voyages: Suppliers’ Hygiene Control Campaign
  • Aurinkomatkat-Suntours: Green Contracting for Hotels
  • LTU Touristik: Technical Assistance to Contracted Hotels
  • MyTravel Northern Europe: The ‘50 Steps Towards a Good Environment’ Programme
  • Orizzonti: Green Checklist for Hotels
  • Premier Tours: Camps and Lodges that Support Local Conservation Projects
  • TUI Nordic: Promoting Codes of Conduct for Responsible Tourism Development Among Suppliers


  • Aurinkomatkat-Suntours: Staff Training on Sustainable Development
  • Dynamic Tours: Responsible Tourism Guidelines for Tour Guides
  • TUI Nederland: Station Centraal – The Paperless Experience
  • TUI Nordic: Combating Sexual Exploitation of Children
  • VASCO Travel: Motivational Training for Tour Guides


  • British Airways Holidays: Life Cycle Assessment of a Key Destination
  • British Airways Holidays: Offsetting CO2 Emissions from Air Travel
  • Discovery Initiatives: Holiday Programmes that Support Local Development and Conservation
  • MyTravel: Eco-audits of Destinations
  • Studiosus: Environmentally Friendly Transport Services


  • Accor: Raising Awareness About Protecting Marine Ecosystems
  • Hapag-Lloyd Kreuzfahrten: Educational Information for Customers
  • LTU Touristik: Inviting Customer Feedback on Environmental Issues
  • TUI AG: Interactive Environmental Website
  • TUI Nederland: Promoting Responsible Travel in Cura?ao and Bonaire
  • Viaggi del Ventaglio: Environmental Interpreter Programme


  • Atlas Voyages: Support for the Moroccan Association of Research Action for Health and Hygiene
  • Hotelplan: An Eco-Fund to Support Sustainability
  • Travel Walji’s: Contributing to the Local Economy in the Karakorum Region of Pakistan
  • VASCO Travel: Restoration of the Sarica Church in Cappadocia
  • Viaggi del Ventaglio: Supporting the Reconstruction and Development of Villages in the Dominican Republic.

The Tour Operators’ Initiative has been developed by tour operators for tour operators with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Tourism Organization (WTO/OMT), who are also full members of the Initiative. For more information see www.toinitiative.org



The Original Tour, London’s premier sightseeing company, launched a green revolution at World Travel Market by extending their fleet with new eco-friendly buses and the introduction of a reduced intrusion commentary system.

The open top double decker tour specialist announced a ú600,000 investment in lowering fleet emissions, with the first of the buses coming into service in November.

The 40 new vehicles are fitted with Euro 3 engines which reduce carbon monoxide emissions by 81 %, hydrocarbons by 72%, nitrogen oxide by 66%, and particulates by 50%. The engines are also considerably quieter and ensure that the new fleet meeting the latest European standards, ahead of all legislative obligations.

Also helping to keep down ambient noise levels will be a high-tech commentary system currently being installed in the new fleet that delivers greater audibility at reduced volumes.

Said Commercial Director Colin Atkins: “Certainly the reduction of traffic in London resulting from the congestion charge has meant that our buses have been able to navigate the city much more freely. The introduction of this greener fleet now means that we will also be exceeding our environmental responsibilities to the capital.”



The World Birding Centre (WBC) has opened in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas, an area recognized as one of the world’s best birding destinations. This new birding centre will provide state-of-the-art education, engage in conservation projects, offer new habitat areas, increase understanding and appreciation of birds and wildlife and offer outdoor recreational experiences to suit families and avid birders.

The Rio Grande Valley of Texas is a major destination for birdwatchers from around the globe with eighty percent of all the birds found in the entire U.S. spotted in the region. Programmes at the centre will emphasize the regions extraordinary biodiversity and natural history from butterflies to bats and botany.

The creation of the WBC aims to increase awareness about this ecological treasure along Texas’ southern border. Each year millions of birds including Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Plain Chachalacas, Green Kingfishers, Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, Rosebreasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanagers, Golden-winged Warbler, and Black-bellied Plover are amongst the 500 species that annually frequent the subtropical resacas, tangled thorn forests, and sprawling coastal plains of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

The WBC is a network of nine resource and information sites along a 120-mile stretch from South Padre Island to Roma, with habitats ranging from dry chaparral brush and verdant riverside thickets to freshwater marshes and coastal wetlands. The WBC headquarters is located in Mission at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Other WBC sites are located in Edinburg, Weslaco, Harlingen, Hidalgo, McAllen, Brownsviile, Roma and South Padre Island.



The World Monuments Fund (WMF) was conferred the Fifth Annual World Tourism Award, co-sponsored by American Express Company, International Herald Tribune (IHT) and Reed Travel Exhibitions (RTE).

The Award was presented in recognition of the World Monument Fund’s “leadership role in the rescue and preservation of the world’s imperiled works of art and architecture, monuments and sites, crossing geographic, cultural and natural boundaries to preserve the world’s rich and diverse cultural heritage for generations to come.”

Accepting the award, WMF President Bonnie Burnham, said: “As we travel the world in search of new experiences, nothing is more meaningful than a sense of place. People assume that the great monuments and sites around the world will always be with us, but this is a misconception. Many of our most famous monuments and sites, and many of the unforgettable places around the globe are in danger. Their defenders come to the World Monuments Fund for help through our World Monuments Watch programme.”

Founded in 1965, the New York-based WMF has facilitated conservation of monuments in more than eighty countries. WMF brings together public and private support to implement a comprehensive conservation effort that includes project planning, field surveys, fieldwork, on-site training in the building crafts, advocacy, and the development of long-term strategies for the protection of sites. For additional information about WMF and its programs, the public can visit www.wmf.org.



The Autism Awareness Campaign UK rewarded Sri Lanka’s tourism industry for their care and concern for people with disabilities visiting the island by presenting the first ever South Asia Awards at this year’s World Travel Market in 2003, the European Year for People with Disabilities.

Says Ivan Corea, Chair of the Autism Awareness Campaign UK, “The spending power of people with Disabilities in Great Britain amounts to ú50 Billion pounds. This is a sum that cannot be laughed at or ignored. People with Disabilities do go on holiday and Sri Lanka is one of their popular destinations.”

Last year Ivan and Charika Corea initiated 2002 as Autism Awareness Year in the UK. It is now the largest ever movement for autism in the UK with 800 organisations on board as partners. Prime Minister Tony Blair supports their campaign. There are 520,000 autistic people in the UK û 90,000 are children. In Sri Lanka there are 38,000 autistic people. Numbers are set to increase in 5 years time. Sri Lanka recently passed new Disability Laws and the country’s tourism industry have had to make changes in policy and thinking. Companies are legally obliged to be mindful of the Disabilities Discrimination Act in the UK if they are doing business in the UK and with the UK.

The Autism Awareness Campaign UK South Asia Awards were conferred on: Sri Lankan Airlines; Jetwing Hotels; Aitken Spence Hotels; Colombo Hilton Hotel; Galadari Hotel.


Comments are closed.