Conservationists oppose private firms bid to build facilities in parks

Plans by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to allow private firms to develop tourism facilities inside national parks and game reserves have run into headwinds.

On Tuesday, conservationists and tourism players opposed the plans, saying they could lead to the destruction of the nature conservation areas.

The Tourism Professional Association (TPA) Chairman Ray Mutinda said that KWS had received expression of interest after inviting bids from private sector players.

"I have been an unapologetic campaigner against establishing any facilities within protected areas for two reasons; any introduction of permanent structures in a park is an interference in itself, and capitalists shall always seek profits before any other consideration- forget the lies. You allow one, another one will find a way to come in and at the end of it all, the Mara example will be the norm," Prof Mutinda argued.

He wondered whether there were lodges established in protected areas in Europe.

Mutinda explained that investments inside protected areas promotes enclave tourism where the industry and local economy exists in isolation- with none or very limited multiplier effect.

"Just check the economies of the communities surrounding parks like the Masai Mara, Amboseli and Tsavo- which one is built on tourism (where if tourism collapses, the economy can really feel it?) Compare this with the open tourism system in the Coastal cities," he said.

TPA Chairman said his stand has always been establishing Resort Cities (Tourist Districts) outside the park. Mutinda argued that under this arrangement, everyone smiles as the park remains protected and for wildlife as the only permanent feature.

"Visitors still experience the game drives and have an opportunity to interact with the external community and economy thus increased length of stay, increased expenditure and broadly, a higher multiplier effect; Park management gets their ticket revenues; the local economy benefit from the tourist dollar directly," he said.

“Ask yourself, how would it be if all lodges in the Maasai Mara for example were located outside the park in a well-planned tourist district!?" He posed.

Mutinda further contends that one does not need the beach to sleep. "Likewise, you do not need to be right in the protected areas to enjoy wildlife."

"It could be highest form of distorting nature for financial gain for a few wealthy people," he added.

KWS in its earlier communication stated that it was providing private investors and developers with opportunities for the development of tourism facilities such as eco-lodges, restaurants, tented camps and experiential conservation activities among others within KWS-managed parks, reserves and sanctuaries.

"KWS has a long-term goal of ensuring that wildlife resources exist for posterity while delivering quality service to its stakeholders and partners. This can only be achieved through the injection of sustainable resources and strengthened collaboration with stakeholders and partners, " KWS said.

The then Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage Cabinet Secretary, Peninah Malonza who officiated the investors forum launch said that their insights and decisions hold immense significance for Kenya's tourism landscape, influencing its course and ultimate success.

"The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) predicts that tourism in Kenya will make a strong recovery in 2023, contributing 6.7 per cent to the economy, Sh 938.8 billion. This is an 8.6 per cent increase from 2021 and a positive 1.8 per cent growth from 2019. Projections suggest that by 2033, tourism could contribute 7.5 per cent (Sh 1.6 trillion) with a steady 5.2 per cent annual growth," said the CS then. 

Malonza emphasized that aligned with the national tourism policy, "our ministry seeks to enhance accommodation bed capacities in protected areas by empowering citizens with investment opportunities, fostering a sustainable tourism ecosystem that benefits people and preserves natural heritage."

"This endeavor aligns with Vision 2030 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, aiming for economic growth, poverty alleviation, and sustainable progress. Our commitment is unwavering to protect the interests of consumers, investors, taxpayers, and the overall economy, " Malonza who has since been moved to the East African Community Ministry said.

She noted that the Kenya Park Investment Forum was a platform that encourages partnerships between Kenyans and the government, leading to competitive and diverse tourism offerings as well as raising Kenya's global and regional profile.