Community-based tourism products: a case study of the Kasubi tombs, Uganda.

The Buganda kings’ tombs at Kasubi, Uganda copyright not not phil via Wikimedia Commons

For many years — ever since the 2006 UNESCO Convention in Tokyo — community involvement has been hailed as an integral part of promoting sustainable tourism.

Very often though, this participation is difficult to realise. Tourism is often seen or described as an external powerful force that impacts on the destination community, with the community being the passive participant; the metaphor used of billiard balls with “tourism the white ball hurtling towards a stationary [the community] coloured ball” [Bushell & Staiff]. However, in World Heritage sites where the visitor numbers are not high, the benefits of tourism for the communities can be wide-ranging. They can include the creation of employment; better conservation; empowerment; and a bottom-up approach to heritage custodianship [Ahebwa et al.].

Taking as an example the World Heritage Site of the tombs of the Buganda Kings at Kasubi Uganda, a few easily achieved interventions could bring many benefits and employment to the local community.

The Kasubi Tombs are the burial grounds for some of the Buganda kings and a hugely important spiritual and political site for the Ganda people. The site is located in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, and in proximity to the international airport. The majority of the site was destroyed by fire in 2010 and despite sensitive on-going reconstruction, the site receives only about 50,000 visitors per year. In 2017 the total number of tourist arrivals in Uganda was 1.4 million tourists.

Analysing TripAdvisor visitors’ negative reviews reveal misunderstandings of the site, confusing entry fees, lack of receipts for payments, disappointment that the main tombs area is not available for viewing, complaints about women’s access to certain areas. On the other hand, positive comments mention the knowledge and quality of tour guides who are all recruited from the local community and receive training. Utilising the quality of the guides, a simple restructure creating a circular more inclusive route, will address issues and can increase visitor numbers.

What simple steps can be taken for improvement? 1/ Change the website with updated information on ticket prices. 2/ Update the website with the new route and promote it via the hospitality sector. 3/ Introduce in the guide training the concept of experiential tourism. 4/Restructure the existing guided tour to include more areas of the site. 5/ Offer culturally sensitive explanations of gender exclusion. 6/ Use the tour to promote local crafts, intangible heritage, and traditional musical performances. 7/ Set up regular consultation meetings with the local community stakeholders.

The implementation of the proposal is cost-efficient and will provide much-needed employment, further training, and revenue to the community. This makes it a sustainable example of tourism development that does not compromise the site and offers the local community a wider opportunity for participation and expression.

Sources

UNESCO: https://ich.unesco.org/en/involvement-of-communities-00033

Robyn Bushell and Russell Staiff, Rethinking Relationships: World Heritage, communities and tourism, London 2012

Wilber Manyisa Ahebwa, John Paul Aporu and Jockey Baker Nyakaana, Bridging community livelihoods and cultural conservation through tourism: case study of Kabaka heritage trail in Uganda, 2016.

I love archaeology, arts and heritage, and traveling. I am a freelance tourist guide