Empowering communities, creating opportunities, changing visitor attitudes

Empowering communities, creating opportunities, changing visitor attitudes

Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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In 1998, COBATI developed a concept for using tourism as a tool for income generation in disadvantaged rural areas that are rich with tourism resources. In 2000, the concept received recognition from the World Bank Development Marketplace as a priority area for poverty alleviation.

COBATI's mission is to enhance the capacity of local people living in areas endowed with natural and cultural resources but disadvantaged by poverty improve their livelihoods through community tourism in the framework of small-scale enterprises.

COBATI's vision seeks communities that are empowered through community tourism participation and development where wealth, resources and benefits from tourism are equitably distributed between tourism operators and host communities to ensure improved livelihoods, social security and enriched tourism product in Uganda.

Your idea
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Street Address

6 Collville St.



Postal/Zip Code
Year innovation began


Geotourism Challenge Addressed by Entrant

Quality of benefit to the people of the desitination

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Indicate sector in which you principally work

Conservation/Preservation organization

Geographic location

Plot your innovation within the Mosaic of Solutions
Main barrier addressed

Lack of local input

Main insight addressed

Education through hands-on experience

What is the goal of your innovation?

Linking tourism to conservation, cultural heritage and sustainable rural development in communities bordering conservation areas and unique cultural sites in Uganda through rural community training.

How does your approach support or embody geotourism?

Every country has something to offer in terms of its geographical character thus using tourism as a commodity which today’s tourists are seeking. Local people can offer their heritage, traditional culture and natural sites appealing to visitors with diverse tastes and interests.

Community based tourism in its widest form covers all kinds of activities and attractions found in rural areas, which are mainly, or incidentally, for tourism purposes.
Community tourism also promotes other income generating activities such through handicraft production, traditional performances, and community guiding and homestead hospitality. Also using the non-consumptive principle, communities can be supported to run community tourism enterprises by providing services like community campsites, scenery viewing points and picnic sites among many others.

The people are directly involved in decision making, contributing their time, money, labour, skills for the benefit of their homesteads and communities.

People are being empowered from new ideas coming into the communities and equipped with skills and knowledge to create wealth, better homes, improved environment, health, enriched tourism product, increased household incomes, and revival of local artisan skills.

The idea covers programs such as, agricultural tourism, cultural tourism, Heritage trails 0 development of scenic and historical sites and trails, diversifying Uganda’s tourism product, expanding the range of local livelihood options, and sustainable rural development.
The objective of the program include supplementing incomes of rural homesteads with tourism, promoting local people’s traditions and cultures and creating a new tourism product that has potential to reduce rural poverty but is not yet harnessed.

Describe your approach in detail. How is it innovative?

The COBATI approach is a unique innovation in that a homestead is identified, selected and mentored to host visitors, share with them their lifestyle through activities such as; traditional entertainment, local cuisine, educate them on their local cultures and indigenous knowledge and skills through a variety of activities. Through COBATI networks, tourists are directed to the communities. We are training local people and linking them to opportunities in tourism. This approach brings economic tourism opportunities, which are especially important in rural areas where few opportunities exist.
Participating communities are encouraged to form village development funds that support community development projects. They are managed by well organized community groups. It is a mutually beneficial relationship for both communities and tourists.

Our tourism product involves visiting rural villages, engaging with the living culture and provides many opportunities for participation by local people who are left out of mainstream tourism in Africa.

COBATI, aware of the shift in global tourism, as tourists become more independent, environmentally and socially conscious and travelers move to sustainable models that preserve culture and environment; offers unique experiences that can increase understanding and build strong relationships. These endeavours enhance the human condition.

What types of partnerships or professional development would be most beneficial in spreading your innovation?

Joint community ventures, private-public partnerships in the tourism sector, community private sector partnerships, Government support, Tourism Philanthropy ventures, Fair trade organizations, women empowerment organizations especially women in handcrafts training and export. Grant financing, technical expertise, tourism, and micro financing
Professional development through networking on :
- Accommodation in local villages
- Curios/souvenirs through recycling/waste management
- Environment education
- Code of conduct
- desktop printing
- community tour guiding
- trial development
- establishing/developing CBT handbooks, guidelines, and standards modules
- marketing/promotional materials
- management of village development funds

In one sentence describe what kind of impact, change, or reform your approach is intended to achieve.

Direct tourists to Uganda’s countryside, balancing the biased geographical distribution of tourists, offering opportunity to disperse benefits from tourism into rural economy

Describe the degree of success of your approach to date. Clearly define how you measure quantitative and qualitative impact in terms of how your approach contributes to the sustainability or enhancement of local culture, environment, heritage, or aesthetics? How does your approach minimize negative impacts? 200 words or less

The network of COBATI Pilot Homesteads, presents our approach as a proof of good viable practice. Our trained pilot homestead owners are the COBATI trainers to replicate the program in a different villages in Uganda

We have linked tourism to local people and their cultures. COBATI worked with Nubians, a minority group in Bombo village, Uganda that has a very unique cultural heritage, which they have conserved for over a century through their daily living, and community festivals. Nubian culture is clearly showcased through their colorful handicraft and dressing, jewelry, hairstyle, food, music. As a result of the visit and sensitization exercise, two members (Miriam Abdullah and Jaffar Abdul) were able to participate in the Destination Uganda Expo 2005 and are now tourism guides in the Nubian village. Nubian women in Bombo have also been trained to host and showcase their culture through their hand craft, food, and dance to visitors. So far, they have hosted a group from CODESPA from Spain; and they have been linked to the local and international media. (www.odemagazine.com. July issue).
To establish a network of rural homesteads providing quality hospitality services and products along Uganda’s major tourist circuits, visits were conducted to various areas in the pilot districts of Mbarara and Bushenyi, to identify new participants and homesteads suitable and capable of engaging in community-based tourism. Homesteads at Ishanyu and Ishanga now host visitors, and homesteads that were only practicing agriculture have now embraced agri-tourism, emphasising visitor handling, good sanitation and hygiene.

Ten community guides have been trained and are operating Buhoma village walk, the first community initiative in Uganda’s eco tourism zone in Bwindi Park, a world heritage site for Gorilla conservation.

How does your program promote traveler enthusiasm, satisfaction, and engagement with the locale?

The program goes beyond mainstream vacations to open up a world of adventure and opportunity. Travelers are able to witness and experience living culture, learn about historic sites, share cultural knowledge, participate in community events, enjoy traditional cooking and entertainment and make excursions and activities related to rural life styles and environment.
We promote safety and security in the local environment by collaborating with local government, shop owners, residents, to ensure security and low levels of tourist hassle, easy transport to participating communities, good sites for shopping and information about local products. We encourage longer visits involving rural overnighters so that local people become accommodation providers.
We support local people to develop a wider range of quality products and services.

In what ways are local residents actively involved in your innovation, including participation and community input? How has the community responded to or benefited from your approach?

COBATI’s model pilot program is the home stay program. The program introduces homestead tourism /local hospitality, a new area of operation for rural communities without direct competitors. This idea encourages homeowners to participate in tourism by using their homesteads to offer accommodation to tourists, sharing their lifestyles, culture with visitors who also paying a fee for it. It also presents homeowners with added household income and the community with alternative sources of income from spin off enterprises. This unique idea encourages proper hygiene and sanitation at homesteads, and an opportunity for a real experience which is not staged.

Describe how your innovation helps travelers and local residents better understand the value of the area’s cultural and natural heritage, and educates them on local environmental issues. How do you motivate them to act responsibly in their future travel decisions?

COBATI’s Homestay Program,” whereby tourists are hosted in selected homesteads in local communities, exposed to local cultures through local hospitality, partaking in day to day household and community activities; is a means for visitors to experience the rural and traditional Ugandan way of life, and for residents to share their cultural heritage and benefit from tourism.

It emphasizes the development of cultural features such as village tours, traditional activities, farming styles, music and dance performances, handicraft demonstrations, as well as providing certain basic services for visitors such as accommodation and meals. While the structures and experience of each homestead may vary, travellers have an opportunity to enjoy each location and interact with local people, nature and culture.
This innovation encourages travellers to become more environmentally and socially conscious and informs them about any local custom that they should observe, moving away from mass tourism to sustainable models that preserve the environment and culture.

Is your initiative financially and organizationally sustainable? If not, what is required to make it so? What is the potential demand for your innovation?

The initiative is organizationally sustainable, given COBATI’s commitment, partnerships with local people who own the product as the homesteads are run by them. COBATI builds the capacity of the homestead owners and links them to the tourism market.COBATI partners with the local communities who are interested in developing a tourism project, believe in the idea and want to invest their time though they are generally poor. They have strong hospitality skills which makes them able to host visitors and have an added advantage of being located en-route to Uganda’s tourism circuits that are frequented by tourists. The local population have the basic skills to manage the tourism program, they can cook, engage in craft making and act as guides, as well as interpret their culture. Their product is their culture which is expressed through their food, entertainment. However, they lack exposure and ability to market them selves and their rich cultures. COBATI’s role is to provide technical assistance.

However, the idea of community tourism is relatively new so there is limited funding and support from government and donor agencies. Financial limitations have hindered the expansion of COBATI programmes to focus on Central and South western Uganda along the existing tourist circuits. However, with more funding, the programme will be spread to other districts.

Financial and technical support is needed to plan and operate tourism activities, conduct awareness rising and provide support to the local homesteads to expand activities to benefit from community tourism. More funding is also required to expand COBATI activities to incorporate a stronger training and capacity building component by establishing a community training centre.

How is your initiative currently financed? If available, provide information on your finances and organization that could help others. Please list: Annual budget, annual revenue generated, size of part-time, full-time and volunteer staff.

The activities conducted by COBATI in the past year were facilitated from personal savings, honorariums and consultancy fees of the Founder Mrs. Maria Baryamujura Director, Mrs Yogi Birigwa and contributions from friends of COBATI.

What is your plan to expand your approach? Please indicate where/how you would like to grow or enhance your innovation, or have others do so.

COBATI plans to replicate our program country wide, and establish a community training centre to offer hands on practical training in homestead tourism targeting local people in private small rural hospitality, and in new forms of community tourism such as Agri-tourism, cultural tourism, homestead tourism and others. This entails building the capacity of local communities to develop community tourism activities and products that have quality, are profitable and sustainable and developing strategic synergies and partnerships to link COBATI to other organizations engaged in a similar activity.

Traditional wildlife based tourism has been over exploited, thus village based cultural and natural attractions widen the appeal to tourism beyond wildlife. The local people are trained to act as guides in their villages and in attractive forest and mountainous areas, in addition to their cultural sites that could interest tourists, and have developed small scale enterprises to showcase their products such as handcraft shops. The homesteads cater for basic needs of the travelers such as feeding and accommodation.

Cultural festivals related to local traditions and arts are a major attraction in our program. Distinctive ways of dressing, interesting economic activities like brick making, traditional fishing, terrace farming and distinctive cultural patterns which are unique to one place are of interest to tourists. These include customs, dress, ceremonies, life styles, religious beliefs and practices which are part of village life.

What are the main barriers you encounter in managing, implementing, or replicating your innovation? What barriers keep your program from having greater impact?

Financial constraints are a challenge that have hindered the implementation of this innovation.

Lack of support from government, and development agencies that are not aware of the potential of tourism and its roles in alleviating poverty as they consider tourism to be a leisure activity for the wealthy only. Lack of capacity to fully implement the program in the communities, this includes lack of technical expertise and inadequate promotional materials.

The Story
What is the origin of your innovation? Tell your story.

In the course of my 24 years in tourism operations in Uganda, and extensive travelling in and outside of Africa, I noticed that in other countries, tourism was not based on wildlife only but included other products and attractions such as culture, heritage, the people and their lifestyles and the natural environment. Tourism was linked to poverty alleviation, used to promote the diversity of attractions and activities mainly found in rural areas and to generate income and local people were fully involved and benefiting. I started thinking about our country’s varied landscapes and scenery, vegetation, the people and their cultures, legends and historical archeological sites as unique tourist attractions from which rural communities in Uganda could also benefit.

That was the beginning of my journey to advocate for community tourism development as a tool for income generation, people empowerment and sustainable rural development in Uganda. From then on to-date, whenever I get a chance or an audience, I exploit every opportunity to advocate for the COBATI idea, I conduct lectures to organized audiences especially schools, local communities, radio talk shows, tourism industry workshops, international forums and with individuals. I never get tired of talking about the potential of community tourism as a vehicle for sustainable rural development and people empowerment.

My complete outlook on tourism development was as a result of a training in Israel in 1997 on “Development of Rural Tourism, as an Alternative for Income Generation,” which inspired me to initiate COBATI (Community Based Tourism Initiatives), a local not-for profit tourism development NGO I founded in 1998, where I am the Executive Director.

Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers' marketing material.

Maria Baryamujura is an Ashoka Fellow, founder and Executive Director of COBATI (Community Based Tourism Initiatives) a local tourism NGO which is empowering local communities and individuals to engage in community tourism as an alternative for income generation.

As a founder of COBATI, Maria has created a niche as a capacity developer for communities to come up with innovative ideas that generate income through tourism and that help them use their endowments that were otherwise idle. Maria is an advocate for increased awareness of players in the sector and of the opportunities that can be generated if Uganda linked community tourism to the main tourist circuits. She is committed beyond the call of duty and is recognized by her own right as a champion for community issues in the country.

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In 1998, COBATI developed a concept for using tourism as a tool for income generation in disadvantaged rural areas that are rich with tourism resources. In 2000, the concept received recognition from the World Bank Development Marketplace as a priority area for poverty alleviation.

COBATI's mission is to enhance the capacity of local people living in areas endowed with natural and cultural resources but disadvantaged by poverty improve their livelihoods through community tourism in the framework of small-scale enterprises.

COBATI's vision seeks communities that are empowered through community tourism participation and development where wealth, resources and benefits from tourism are equitably distributed between tourism operators and host communities to ensure improved livelihoods, social security and enriched tourism product in Uganda.