The potential for eco-tourism in the Gishwati Forest Reserve: An alternative use of the forest for economic upliftment of local communities
This study was conducted in late 2010 for the Gishwati Area Conservation Programme (GACP), a conservation agency that was tasked to restore and conserve the Forest, since 2007. The agency thought that eco-tourism in the Forest would be a good practice for reducing poverty in poor communities and boost eco-conservation efforts. The study proposed a number of tourism products, including a guided four to five hour hike in the Forest, and several community-based activities. The aim of the study was to establish the potential of eco-tourism in the Gishwati Forest reserve as an alternative use of the Forest for local communities. The study had three main objectives: establishing whether people were likely to visit Gishwati; determining how much they would be willing to pay for the products, and indicating which factors were important criteria for visits to the Gishwati Forest. A literature study preceded a structured questionnaire which was developed and distributed to 230 conveniently selected respondents at various target locations, including Kigali City, Gisenyi Town and Ruhengeri Town, because large number of tourists frequented these towns. The 201 usable responses were analysed using the SPSS 11.5 programme, which indicated that the majority of respondents were willing to pay for a guided Forest hike, that a high percentage of revenue should be returned to local communities, and that they should assist in conserving the natural areas. The report was accepted by the GACP but not fully implemented.
Keywords: Gishwati Forest, community development, community participation, eco-tourism, tourism products.