Having been born in a refugee camp in Uganda, Greg Bakunzi returned to his home country Rwanda in 1994. He started as a tour guide but since then, he has become a leading tourism industry player in the country with his own successful tour company that has spread its wings to neighbouring country of DR Congo.
This year, he was among the selected group of 19 people who named the baby gorillas during the Kwita Izina event held in Kinigi. He talks to The Inspirer about his journey to business success.
The Inspirer: For how long have you been in the tourism industry?
Greg Bakunzi: My first stint in this industry was in 1998 where I started working as a tour guide, taking tourists to see what Rwanda has to offer in terms of attraction sites. In 1999, I set up Ruhengeri Ecotourism Association. Two years later, I founded my own company, the Amahoro Tours and the year 2011 saw the birth of Red Rocks Cultural Center in Musanze.
Was being in tourism industry your childhood dream?
Not really. It all started when I was just still a local guide where I met a friend who had been in tourism before. He was the one who actually encouraged me to grab the opportunity, since the country had just come out of strife, and there were not many people in this field.
What have been secrets to business success?
I believe in trying new things and ensuring they bring out positive results. Lack of innovation is a death knell for many enterprises. First, to be successful, you have to keep updated on what’s going on in the tourism industry, and come up with new initiatives, programs and activities. I also take part in several trainings and conferences that I use to harness my business skills. But most importantly, combining tourism and conservation has been an ingredient that has helped by businesses to grow exponentially.
How did living in exile in a refugee camp influenced your life as a successful businessman?
You know, when you are living in a refugee camp, you learn never to take things for granted. You have to prudently use the few things that you have. You have to be innovative to survive. And you have to know how to deal with people of different persuasions and temperaments. It was a difficult life living in a refugee camp, and it’s equally a difficult life being in business. But I had been oriented in a difficult life growing up, and this makes me to confidently face up challenges as a businessman.
How do you tackle challenges that form part of being an entrepreneur?
When challenges crop up, I don’t see them as such per se, but as opportunities. Challenges are there in life to bring out your full potential and not to throw you down. It depends with how you take them. You have to stay strong and face all those difficulties. And it’s through challenges that we learn something new every day.
As an industry player, do you think Rwanda has marketed itself enough to become a leading player in the region?
There’s still a long way to go in terms of marketing the country’s rich tourist attractions. For instance, when most people talk about what the country has to offer, what comes out of their mouth is the mountain gorilla. But in essence, Rwanda has other things to offer, be it its rich culture and heritage, attraction sites, nature among others. All these should be marketed aggressively for the country to profit from its tourism potential. We should look beyond the gorillas, and this is what Red Rocks has been doing. We believe in community tourism, and this is one of the fields we have trained our eyes on. And it’s working.
Growing up, did you believe you’d be in the tourism industry? What made you take this route?
I grew up in a refugee camp in Uganda, and by that time I had not adopted passion for tourism. But when I came back to Rwanda in 1994, I thought hard of what I was going to do for myself and my country and in 1998; I started small as a tour guide. From my experience, I slowly started developing passion for tourism and this made me start my own tour company, Amahoro Tours in 2001. As they say, the rest is history.
This year, you were among a select group of people who named the baby gorillas during the Kwita Izina ceremony. What did this mean to you?
This meant a lot to both me and my business. To me, the recognition was a reward for me since I have been at the forefront in promoting tourism, conservation and community development, which led to the establishment of Red Rocks. For the business, it’s a marketing tool that I have now to use prudently to promote the activities my businesses are involved in.
What’s your motto?
Great misfortunes disguise great opportunities. And the engine to personal development includes resilience, hard work and seizing opportunities.