Travel | April 25, 2021 9:11 pm

Is the Future of Tourism Happening in East Africa Right Now?

An intriguing blend of online community and physical travel

Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park.
Guy Debonnet, CC BY-SA 3.0

One of the world’s most beautiful regions can be found where the nations of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo converge. The Virunga mountains stand tall over this region, and the wildlife residing there has drawn the attention of travelers from all over the globe. At The Washington Post, Henry Wismayer explained their appeal in a new article. Along the way, he delved into an ambitious project that combines online membership programs with physical travel

“[D]eep freshwater lakes, carved by millennia of tectonic shifts on the western branch of the Great Rift Valley, dot verdant lowlands,” Wismayer wrote. “And on the volcanic slopes, which grow thick with Afromontane forest, live the 1,000 or so remaining mountain gorillas, arguably the most coveted wildlife encounter on Earth.”

Much has been written about Virunga National Park, located in Democratic Republic of the Congo, which holds around one-third of the global population of mountain gorillas. But that’s only part of the region; what Wismayer described in his article is an initiative to bolster local businesses throughout the region both virtually and via travelers, when international travel has become a regular occurrence again.

The project is called Gorilla Highlands Experts, and it’s a membership program that involves monthly conversations and classes from experts in a number of disciplines, covering everything from the region’s history to its cuisine. Members will also be able to book trips through the company. Its founder, Miha Logar, emphasized that this approach was designed to allow a greater immersion in the region.

“We like to travel slow, stay in the community, go overland,” he told the Post. “That way the financial contribution is far more likely to reach local people.” It’s an interesting way to bridge online membership programs and classes with physical trips, and it’s easy to see the appeal from a number of angles. And if it benefits local businesses who have been hit hard by the pandemic, that’s even better.