Lean & Mean Developments — For Travellers Who Care

The Gorilla Highlands team stepped into a new era last weekend. At the first-ever All-Hands meeting of Gorilla Highlands Limited, we had 13 Rwandans, 12 Ugandans and one Congolese representative assembling at Kigali’s Resident Hotel. The reason: anticipated fast growth of our tour business, combined with Miha Logar’s determination to leave the daily pressures of the travel industry as soon as possible. In other words, we are in the process of building a serious company — one with a powerful vision and new work systems that everybody needs to master — and Ramadhan Sindayigaya felt it was high time to come together.

In this story you can find most of the updates our participants received during that info-packed Saturday morning, illustrated with images from the event. Later on they learned how to use the Trello app (we run tours on it), tested themselves with 18 questions from our tour guiding course materials and tasted our walking tours of the city.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of our approach to responsible travel (done by Gorilla Highlands Ltd) we looked at the bigger picture — the Gorilla Highlands Experts organisation(s). We have so far registered GHE only in Rwanda but Uganda and DR Congo will follow in due time. That will allow us to have an official presence in all three countries of our transboundary region and more easily work towards peace and prosperity for all. Let’s simply quote our guide training materials here:

It is common for a tourism business to add a non-profit section or a project that it pumps some money into. In our case, it is the non-profit organisation (GHE) that is the real mother of the tour company (GH Ltd). Based in Musanze, GH Ltd is meant to become an engine that powers the ambitious work of GHE. …  We have identified responsible tourism as this region’s perfect export industry, because our people are welcoming, our cultures rich, our landscapes spectacular, and our animals unique.

No, this image actually isn’t from All-Hands, but it makes a lot of sense! It will help greatly for us to have a physical presence in every country — so beyond our current offices in Musanze and Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi, we are exploring the possibilities of taking over a guest house in Lwiro in Eastern Congo.

Situated some 45 minutes from the headquarters of Kahuzi-Biega NP, this structure is part of a monumental research centre beside a fantastic primate sanctuary. Whenever we take guests to Congo, we bring them to Lwiro and they are impressed by the old building. But this could be so much more!

Concerning our other plans for 2024, we have already launched a highly-appreciated quarterly newsletter with Miha’s personal touch. On the other hand, there will be no Miha anymore in the SEE AFRICA BREATHE AFRICA podcast. Its weekly episodes will return soon, running continuously for a change (no more “seasons”).

Our Pocket Guide will be reborn as a SABA-branded paper booklet in the first half of this year, followed by another edition to go with GH Silverchef in November (we would like to hold it in Gisenyi but haven’t found a host yet).

What GHE Rwanda is planning with its Youth Spaces project should be known within a week.

Whether it’s the NGOs or the businesses under the Gorilla Highlands umbrella, they are meant to be devoted to the mantra of Developmental, Lean & Mean. “Lean and mean” is a well-established entrepreneurial approach that we are not going to get into, beyond a note that wasting resources is frowned upon. If there is any misunderstanding about the word “mean”, our addition of “developmental” should brush them aside. We want to better our region and the continent, the people we work with, and the people we work for.

Yeah, we even aspire to help our guests with their personal growth, as ambitious/crazy as that might sound … We will be staunch about exposing them to the tenets of responsible tourism, to which we added point (8) because animals are too often mistreated in the Gorilla Highlands region. We will expect any client of ours to not only agree with this list but help us oversee its implementation.

A new tool that we are going to unleash is the methodology of behavioural change. Originating from work in zoos worldwide, it can be applied to both nature and culture. We will identify specific threats, look for the best ambassadors representing the problem and allow our travellers to develop an emotional connection. From understanding, action will follow: small but important acts that should lead to a lasting change.

We will stop talking about “responsible tourists” because that sounds too serious to some. Our new term is “travellers who want to leave a positive impact” … Who doesn’t, really? (If you really don’t, but have read up to this point, there may still be hope for you!)

Have you noticed “foodies” among our target groups? In March we will get into culinary tourism much more than ever before … Stay tuned, we have highly attractive new offers already in the oven!

This is how the next version of our Info Kit will read: [Our] specialty lies at the crossroads of adventure, culture and cuisine, prepared as a small-scale alternative to commercial tourism. It’s meant for a traveller who wishes to have fun and eat great but also treat communities and the natural environment with proper respect and learn something along the way.

Finally, from the content that was intended specifically for our tour team (reporting, accountability and such), we can zero in on the concept of tour managers. Every trip is now booked and run by a coordinator who helps both the tour guide and the client with anything they encounter.

This is how our future office manager, Maani Logar, summarised the duties of a tour manager:

  • planning and booking transport, accommodation, venues, and attractions based on a pre-prepared itinerary
  • communicating with clients and the tour guide before and during the tour
  • providing information and assistance on various aspects of the tour
  • handling any problems or emergencies that may arise
  • managing tour finances
  • keeping records and reports of the tour

… We really feel like a professionalised enterprise now, right?!


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