Transforming Travel Marketing with Local Communities – Kenya22
I met Rosemary in Rwanda. We were walking along under a hot sun, after having planted new trees on the south bank of the local river with other members of our host community in Musanze, when she shared the inspiring story of the women empowerment project that she started many years ago.
The following month I was on my way from Nairobi to visit her and meet the other protagonists of these beautiful tales that I wanted to share with the world.
A few miles outside Nanyuki town, the car left behind the tarmacked road and the buildings and my journey continued on an emptier red road. I was surrounded by vast open spaces, under a sky that stretched 360 degrees.
After a 45 km journey – and a few views of wildlife– I spotted a colourful handmade sign on the left-hand side saying ‘Twala Tenebo’. We had arrived.
What follows are the chronicles of my stay on that collectively owned piece of land, and of the magical encounters I had with those powerful women and of the work they have done together.
Moments from my encounters...
1- They dress me up
Surrounded by care and affection from the moment I stepped out of the car, I always felt welcome and appreciated.
One of the old ladies approached, took off her cape and put it over my shoulders, after having adorned me with their colourful traditional necklace. I felt, in a way, like it was a kind of ritual baptism.
2 - They took me for a walk
There was a small group of women sitting in the manyatta. Rosemary gathered them together and made the introduction.
While chatting with the others, suddenly one of the elderly women gently looked at me, grabbed my hand and signalled for me to follow her. She took me for a walk around in the dry riverbed, where elephants also walk.
3 -I sat with them and they taught me their skills
The next day, more women came to the site. They were expecting a group of tourists for some activities. While they were waiting there, arranging their crafts on the wicker mats, some of them continued working on their pieces.
I sat down and watched one woman’s skilled hands insert little green beads onto an improvised needle. She was decorating a walking stick. Then, without saying a word she passed the needle to me and, smiling, she prompted me to repeat her movements. We both laughed at my clumsiness, like old friends.
4 - We sang and danced together
After the group of tourists left, I was called into the circle and they started dancing for me. I had no choice, I didn’t know how but I had to dance with them. I became part of a smaller circle that was formed inside the outer one. The elderly women were taking it in turns to come close to me and bless me by putting their hands over my head and pulling my forehead closer.
They were smiling and chanting together, but that and their rhythmic movements were turning their jewellery into a subtle but important musical instrument. I heard my name squeezed into the lyrics and pronounced in a higher pitch now and then, echoing from the back of the circle.
I felt embarrassed and then I became very emotional, so eventually I started crying for joy. I was not used to all that attention.
5- They invited me into their homes
I needed to spend some time with my camera and after having gained permission to take pictures of the houses in which some of them live permanently, I met them at their doorsteps and they invited me in with a big and welcoming smile.
The Community Storytelling WORKSHOP
We sat in the shade of the big trees in the manyatta – the traditional group of huts that identifies a village unit.
No one knew what to expect from that gathering.
I entered the circle with my blank canvas, and I asked them to add the ‘colours’.
What came out of it was really enriching, powerful and inspiring for all of us.
I knew their story from my previous conversations with Rosemary in Rwanda, but I needed time to hear from the protagonists about how the journey had been for them.
Questions were asked...
Answers were given...
...and collectively discussed
I asked them to tell me about the experiences they offer to visitors: what they offer, and what they are happy to share with them. They told me more about the agave project, the baboon walking, the beekeeping and the rest.
I learnt how tourism benefitted them, not only financially but how the different activities have helped them to get closer to their own environment and, most of all, to each other.
Perhaps I will share those stories in another context.
I explicitly asked them what the CBT project represents to them. They gave me wholehearted answers from which independence emerged as the core/key achievement.
‘Now I have my own cow,’ a metaphor they used to explain that they have their own source of income.
‘I can pay for my kid’s school fees now; I can buy my own (real) cow and it doesn’t depend on my husband’s work’. Their gaze is strong and steady: like warriors.
Talking about their journey is helping them to see themselves and their own achievements, as well. They can take a look from a distance at their daily life.
What have you learned by being part of Twala Tenebo?
‘Now I know what business means and what profit is,’ and other proofs of their self-empowerment followed.
‘You are all businesswomen now, then,’ I finally recognised. They smiled proudly.
Surrounded by these strong unfańibiaxara – ‘businesswomen’ in their language – I also shared my story – as a woman and entrepreneur – and during the dialogue we recognised the many hidden similarities in our journeys, beyond the evident differences. We bonded and continued to share.
I wanted to have a complete picture of the tourism experience from them, and I entered this uncomfortable zone by asking about their negative experiences and the issues they faced with tourists.
I knew from my experience with other communities in Brazil that meeting tourists can sometimes create conflict and exacerbate the differences, especially if the visitors are not culturally prepared and are not equipped with the right mindset.
I personally believe that tourism is the art of encountering others, usually from different cultures. At its core, tourism is then an anthropological encounter, for which we are not always prepared.
Some of the ladies, showing their disappointment, shared that they have received criticism because they live without electricity and there is no light in the camp.
Being criticised for who they are is, unfortunately, a common experience for many traditional communities. Thankfully it is less and less common nowadays, but this has generated tension between themselves and the tourists and foreigners, creating division and barriers instead of positive encounters.
Those moments of tension, sadness and disappointment, though, have turned into some brilliant ideas for marketing through collective discussion and some external creative prompts.
Given that they should not change who they are for the tourists, then they should always present who they are with pride and transparency, demanding respect from the visitors as a basic condition.
With the right approach, the negatives can magically turn into positives to create bridges that invite new visitors in.
Their strength and value can be clearly seen through the lens of a way of marketing that is open to listening and aims to highlight all the aspects of the culture that they are happy to share.
Some of the questions...
...and some of the answers
If you could choose, how would you like to present yourself to future visitors?
There was not much delay in their answer:
‘We want to show them our traditional houses’.
If you had to choose an image to represent the activities that they will find here, what image would that be?
Some shared that they would like to show them
…how to harvest the agave leaves,
and how to work with bees.
New Stories were shared...
…and the story continues…
In 2018, new generations entered the projects when the youngest women joined in. Supported by the strength and experience of the older generations, they continue to learn together and to use tourism to support their lifestyle and cultural traditions.
...and new ideas for marketing tools were co-created!
On this first visit, some ‘seeds’ were planted, and we started a new process that we hoped we could continue with soon. The aim was to design new marketing materials that could better represent who they are and show what the value of what they do represents to them.
Traveller Storyteller aims to use the newly designed marketing tools for the promotion of their activities. But this is just the first timid step in a new process that looks at them as protagonists not only of the experience they offer but also of the marketing.
We believe that marketing can be a powerful tool and can be used to prepare tourists for meaningful encounters while also attracting travellers that are in search of authentic experiences in indigenous and traditional communities, but who cannot find the right information.
We very much believe that marketing tools should be co-created by the communities themselves. Most importantly, we have witnessed that the process of telling their own stories through marketing is crucial for the self-empowerment of communities, and eventually for the protection of their own culture and natural environment. In fact, it equips them with a recognition of their value, which evolves into strength and self-determination.
The result for the visitors is an additional guarantee of the ‘authenticity’ of the experience and the provision of information that will support meaningful cultural encounters.
Here are some of the ideas we helped them to design...
“There is no electricity, but this is the view at night”
“This is my house”
“My name is Joice and I am an entrepreneur now”
New Marketing Tools will complement and add layers....
...to their current marketing tools
We believe that these new marketing tools can effectively complement the current leaflet used for promotion.
NOTE: We are currently testing the new marketing materials with different segments of the market, and we will share the results soon.
Accompanied by their stories, the new marketing materials can provide a real sense of the forthcoming experience, as well as additional layers and cultural information that will create emotional bonds with future guests and visitors.
This visit only lasted a few days. Imagine what we could have achieved if we had more time...
...to be continued
It is time to include new perspectives and new voices...
Traveller Storyteller has already partnered with Community-Based Tourism projects, local Tour Operators, Wildlife and Conservation Associations, local social enterprise and NGOs, community networks and others in the following countries:
We are currently looking for sponsors, investors and supporters to run Community Storytelling WORKSHOPS in several indigenous and traditional communities in these countries and continue creating ethical marketing tools based on Community Storytelling.
The outcomes of those visits will be:
New stories of positive impact through tourism from the grassroots level.
New marketing materials for the communities and their partners.
New storytellers from the communities, ready to share their stories with responsible travellers.