Tourism stakeholders should be looking at investments in environmentally conscious tourism in the form of conservancies in Kenya.
This was one of the key points raised by panellists during a webinar hosted by the African Travel and Tourism Association yesterday (January 6) where they discussed the need for a more sustainable approach to wildlife tourism in Kenya.
CEO of the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, Dickson Kaelo, highlighted the rise in popularity of conservancies and their tourism potential.
“The opportunities for diversification of our tourism industry are immense.” He said although wildlife tourism was a big drawcard for Kenya, there were still issues with conservation.
“Despite our 65 national parks, which cover 8% of our country, we recognise that only 6% of these parks are heavily visited.” He said there was room for growth for investors looking to invest in the national parks system.
Manager of Products and Marketing at Gamewatchers Safaris, Jeremiah Chege, pointed out that the network of national parks was not large enough to provide a habitat for all Kenya’s wildlife, with over 70% of the country’s wildlife living outside reserves.
Concern over decreasing wildlife populations had led to the fast expansion of community and private conservancies in Kenya, said Kaelo. He said more than 160 conservancies had been established by private landowners and local communities, providing habitat for 22% of the country’s wildlife.
Chege said Gamewatchers had invested in conservancies by working with communities adjacent to the national parks. “We create conservancies by leasing land from these communities. This provides the landowners with regular income, which is higher than they usually see in the rural areas. The conservancies also create jobs for community members as there are opportunities to work in tourism and train as rangers or guides. It also gives the community an incentive to protect wildlife.”
The conservancies are a mutually beneficial operation as the communities then allow Gamewatchers to establish small, low-impact camps in the conservancies. “These camps offer exclusivity, are authentic and are environmentally friendly, with no permanent structures.” Chege added that investing in conservancies allowed for the creation of unique tourism product offerings.
Kaelo agreed, and said conservancies allowed for experiences guests might not have access to in the national parks. “There are opportunities to engage with the communities and see the culture, and there are activities such as rock climbing, night safaris, cycling and camping.”
He said the Kenyan government, in recognising the importance of conservancies, had donated US$10m to subsidise the running costs for this year. “But there is still a great need for tourism, which would better sustain these areas.”
Chege anticipates high demand for wildlife tourism and outdoor offerings in the wake of COVID-19. “People will want to come and visit the wide-open spaces, and we anticipate that the demand for tourism that is more sustainable will be heightened. People are more aware of the impacts of climate change and are considering that when they travel.”
Kaelo said conservancies were the ideal way to create sustainable tourism products that were considerate to both the community and the environment. “When you visit a conservancy, you are directly benefiting that community.”