Ministry to cap visitors in parks, game reserves


Tourists at the Masai Mara. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife plans to cap the daily number of visitors allowed in some national parks and game reserves to reduce high season overcrowding and push all-year travel, in a move that will see rates raised more than six times.

The cap will be set at the parks’ carrying capacity, according to a new strategy paper by the ministry.

This means that the high-volume parks and reserves, Masai Mara, Amboseli and Nairobi National Park, will not allow visitors above their capacity of 32,000, 13,0000 and 10,000 visitors per month respectively.

The number of visitors, both local and non-resident, will be limited using an online ticketing and digital payment system that the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) plans to roll out across all national parks and reserves.

The tickets to be generated by the digital system will show details of the traveller such as validity date, and have a cost breakdown showing fees, including portions allocated for conservation and park development.

“Capping volumes of visitors in priority parks could reduce the overall number of visitors but shouldn’t negatively impact overall revenues if combined with a seasonal increase in prices,’’ the Tourism and Wildlife ministry said.

“Main assumption is increase in prices from June to October for residents and non-residents, including African Union citizens, by two times to six times in the Masai Mara; and 30-150 percent in Amboseli and Nairobi Park. Assuming no drop in visitor numbers due to increased prices.”

The move comes amid concerns of congestion of tourists and safari vehicles in parks and reserves such as Masai Mara, especially during the great wildebeest migration season, threatening wildlife, and reducing the destinations’ international tourism standards and appeal to visitors.

The capping is, however, set to raise entry rates during the high season due to demand. Visitors will also be obliged to book park entry tickets in advance to manage influx and prevent fraud at the gate.

Tickets will be non-transferable and will be tagged against personal ID or passport number to prevent reselling by large tour operators.

The plan is part of a strategy for the tourism industry for five years to 2025.

It comes as parks pulled higher ticket sales driven by locals in the pandemic period amid disruption in global travel. The industry also expects a continued recovery and a high number of international tourists. The total number of visitors in national parks and game reserves rose by 40.8 percent in 2021 to 1.28 million from 913,052.

Revenue also rose to Sh1.48 billion. Park visitors and revenues are yet to hit 2019 levels of 2.27 million and Sh4.37 billion respectively.

Masai Mara, Amboseli and Nairobi National Park are considered high-profile by the world tourist community due to the abundance of wildlife.

The capping will see Masai Mara, for instance, host a maximum of 32,000 of its carrying capacity visitors even during its peak season of June to October when hotels, lodges and tour operators charge the highest rates.

As of 2019, the park hosted 54,000 and 60,000 visitors in July and August above its capacity.

The ministry assumes that volumes that will be lost during this period such as in July-August will be partially redistributed in the shoulder months of June, September, and October.

Amboseli also received visitors above 13,000 its capacity in February, July, August, September, October and December in the same year.

Nairobi National Park has been receiving visitors above its 10,000-capacity across the year as per data in 2019.

Tourism spending is expected to recover to 2019 levels, when $1.97 billion (Sh229.4 billion) was recorded as total leisure travel spending from the top 40 source markets globally, in 2024.

This year, $1.38 billion (Sh160.7 billion) is expected to be spent.

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