The popularity of the endangered mountain gorillas has and continues to make western Uganda a popular tourist destination. And in turn the tourist traffic in the Kigezi area continues to increase.
One thing that stands out is that more and more tourists who visit the area are opting for home-stays rather than the more conventional hotels and lodges. According to Richard Munezeero, the Kisoro District Tourism Officer, in 2014 alone, 50 tourists who came to Uganda to enjoy some gorilla tracking and the Batwa cultural experience trail in Bwindi chose to stay in homes of locals in the area.
With home stays, rather than book, check in and stay at a hotel during a Uganda safari, tourists make arrangements or have their tour operator make arrangements for them to be hosted by a family in the area, for a fee of course. This way the hosting family is able to earn some income and the tourists gets to learn about the way of life of the locals first hand. This kind of union allows locals in the area to benefit from all the tourism that happens in their neighborhood.
This idea was initiated by the International community of the Banyakigezi, an association that brings together all People from Kigezi living in Uganda and in the Diaspora. Home-stays not only present the tourist with the opportunity to have a deeper African experience during their safari in Uganda, but also gives more of the Kigezi locals a chance to benefit from the growth of tourism in the area.
Tourists can observe, learn experience and enjoy local traditions such as how cooking is done, cow milking, millet rinding, churning of fermented milk to make ghee, making of African crafts, African pottery, and so many more activities.
Several people in the Kigezi area, including some lodge and hotel owners and managers think the home stay is a good idea, and believe and hope that it will provide a way for locals to share in the ever increasing returns of tourism.
One of the locals, Alex Mugume, a resident of Ruhija in Kabale District, who has had the opportunity to share in home stay experience says that it provided an avenue for him to learn and share cultural experiences and also establish a relationships that is still growing strong even after his visitors returned to Europe.
Not everyone is positive and excited about this initiative however, some people especially lodge and hotel proprietors feel that it will ruin their business. Some people such as Leonard Tumwesigye, a director at a child rescue organisation in Kabale worries about the effects of mixing culture and that the local children could easily be misled by the visitors.
However the hope and belief that this is a good thing is much stronger than all the negative energy.
Sheebah Hanyurwa, for example, owner of Golden Monkey Guest house in Kisoro town, downplays fears that home-stay Tourism may negatively impact their Business. He says that tourists come with different Budgets and often book into Hotels before embarking on the home-stay experiences.
With home stays the benefits of tourism trickle down to the masses, and that is always a good thing.