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EA mulls virtual game tours, market shift for stronger tourism sector

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Tourism institutions East African are mulling new strategies to build the sector’s resilience amid plummeting revenues and rising poaching and illegal trade of wildlife products. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • Tourism institutions East African are mulling new strategies to build the sector’s resilience amid plummeting revenues and rising poaching and illegal trade of wildlife products.
  • Criminal gangs are minting millions of shilling from poaching, illegal trade and trafficking of wildlife, hurting a tourism sector already stifled by the Covid-19 outbreak.
  • The coronavirus pandemic, which has seen countries impose restrictions on travel and social interactions, has left the tourism sector reeling from heavy losses.

Tourism institutions East African are mulling new strategies to build the sector’s resilience amid plummeting revenues and rising poaching and illegal trade of wildlife products.

Criminal gangs are minting millions of shilling from poaching, illegal trade and trafficking of wildlife, hurting a tourism sector already stifled by the Covid-19 outbreak.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has seen countries impose restrictions on travel and social interactions, has left the tourism sector reeling from heavy losses. This is forcing stakeholders to develop new strategies to survive.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) director-general John Waweru says the Kenya’s tourism sector has suffered a 92 percent drop in revenue since coronavirus outbreak in March, with the number of non-resident visitors –who are the industry’s footstool –dropping by a whopping 98 percent.

And the pandemic has not just plunged the industry’s income alone, Mr Waweru says.

While recently addressing a webinar on the impact of Covid-19 on wildlife conservation in the East African Community organised by Internews, the KWS boss noted that between January and May this year, Kenya had nabbed at least 2.8 tonnes of bush meat compared to 1.8 tonnes reported during the same period last year.

He says that they have arrested and arraigned suspects and singles out Burma Market in Nairobi as being notorious for sale of bush meat.

Endangered species

“There has been increased threats of transnational crime through porous borders for escalation in bush meat poaching and associated crime,” he says, adding that poachers are particularly targeting endangered species.

To minimise the poaching threat, Mr Waweru says the government recently allocated Sh2 billion got wildlife conservation with part of the money going to support local conservancies which are currently cash-strapped.

More than half of the Kenya’s wildlife are found in conservancy and non-protected areas, making the allocation crucial.

“We have also allocated Sh1 billion towards recruiting and training scouts in local conservancies to boost game security and surveillance,” he notes, adding that the agency will also deploy drone surveillance in parks and protected areas to enhance patrols.

But while the government has a number of plans underway to tackle wildlife crimes, it has also listed a raft of revenue recovery measures for the sector.

It is, for instance, considering virtual tourism, an online tour and filming experience, to enable people who are unable to physically enjoy tour experience owing to travel restriction to still have the experience.

The technique, according to Mr Waweru is already working effectively in South Africa.

“The current products that we have in place do not appeal to the changes in social distances, international borders and travel restriction. As a result we have to modernise operation through the use of technology in both promoting tourism and protecting endangered species,” he says.

This strategies, he notes, will further help the players to further explore other sources of revenues.

Targeting regional market

He also adds that the Kenyan tourism sector is currently shifting its target to the domestic and regional tourism to stay afloat pointing out that local travelling will be the new normal.

“We will need to focus on the millennials and offer them a new experience. This call for a new marketing strategy to appeal to them,” he says.

Aurelia Micko, USAID-Kenya Environment director says stakeholders need short and long-term recovery strategies for the wildlife and tourism sectors.

The recovery of these sectors, Ms Micko says, is paramount to the region’s long-term economic growth and development, and its journey to self-reliance.

“In Kenya we’ve been partnering with the Nature Conservancy and Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association to help landowners negotiate longer lease agreements with tourism operators, up to 25 years, in exchange for more income. There are 48 eco-lodges/camps in Mara and business operators pay an estimated $4.9 million in annual lease payments to Mara landowners. Because of Covid-19, these leases are now in a critical state,” Ms Micko states.

EAC Protocol

East Africa’s tourism industry mainly depends on wildlife and contributes 7.5-10 percent of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP) making it the second largest foreign exchange earner for the region.

East African Community (EAC) deputy secretary general in charge of Productive and Social Sectors Christophe Bizivamo notes that tourism in the region has nearly dropped by 60 percent.

Mr Bizivamo says that promoting regional and domestic tourism to national parks and game reserves will prove crucial as the region waits for international travel to pick up.

He says tourism ministers in the EAC are currently working on a protocol on how to market the bloc as a common tourism destination.

“There's commitment to work together and there are already a number of milestones. Developing a regional wildlife policy for coordinated approach in this recovery process is quite crucial,” Mr Bizivamo says, adding that the region has also developed a number of strategies to combat poaching.

He points out that coronavirus has not only resulted into the decline in tourism and conservation related jobs, it has also exacerbated human wildlife conflict in areas bordering wildlife conservancies.

Local communities in conservation areas need to be involved in wildlife conservation to make it sustainable, according to the expert

Just like in Kenya, tourism in Uganda has also suffered a big blow.

Mr Sam Mwandha, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) executive director says they lose 25,000 visitors every month due to the closure of national parks and game reserves, resulting to huge revenue losses.

“We get $1.5 billion from tourism every year, yet now all those visitors are not coming due to the pandemic and now we lose nearly $100 million a month,” remarks Mr Mwandha.

The UWA boss further notes that just like in Kenya, Uganda is also witnessing increased poaching. Bush meat hunting has also gone up.

50-50 visitors target

Unfortunately, the suspects are being bailed out of jails only to come back and re-engage in the criminal activities, he says.

Ugandan authorities have also intensified park patrol besides planning to diversify its foreign exchange income by investing in other areas so that the country’s economy will still stand if tourism falls.

“We are looking into technology to help us do more with less resources. We are targeting 50 percent foreign visitors and 50percent regional visitors. We have opened Savannah parks, but we are yet to have any visitors because the parks are located along the borders and our borders are still closed,”Mr. Mwandha said.