By Sharon Atieno
As the inaugural African wildlife economy concluded in Zimbabwe, the role of tourism in boosting African economies cannot be understated.
Both the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) in its Tourism Action Plan, and the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa, acknowledge tourism as a means to achieve sustainable employment, food security, sustainable energy, and to protect natural heritage.
Currently, tourism comprises 8.5 percent of Africa’s economy supporting 24 million jobs. Moreover, it is projected that, by 2030, the number of international tourists to Africa will rise from 62 million to 134 million people. This means more potential for revenue and job creation.
Nature-based tourism, enjoyment of nature and wildlife in protected areas, accounts for a significant amount of the economic contribution provided by the tourism industry in Africa with a 2015 UN World Tourism Organisation survey disclosing that four in every five tourists buying holidays to Africa came for wildlife-watching.
In addition, a study conducted on the financial impact of nature-based tourism found that Africa’s 8,400 Protected Areas are generating USD 48 billion in direct in-country expenditure. This is a clear demonstration of the financial opportunity available to African governments if they invest in nature-based tourism.
Despite this, a recent working paper by Space for Giants reveals that while Africa’s unique diversity of wildlife and habitat has the potential to radically transform the continent’s economy; this exceptional asset is being rapidly degraded.
“Habitat loss, overexploitation of natural resources, fragmentation or isolation due to human activity, including logging, agriculture and hunting, increasingly threaten Protected Areas,” the paper, Building a Wildlife Economy: Developing Nature-Based Tourism in African State Protected Areas, reads.
In addition, other studies indicate that Africa’s Protected Area Network is underfunded by up to ten times the required level.
Many governments have cut back protection and as a result many species of African large land mammals face extinction as their populations decline and their geographic ranges collapse due to activities such as hunting, poaching and encroachment.
It is estimated that there are about 350 000 elephants in Africa, but 10-15 000 are killed each year by poachers.
Increase in competition from other immediate social needs such as education and health; as well as government consideration of Protected Areas as environmental rather than economic assets are faulted for poor funding by African governments.
The Space for Giants working paper which was presented at the Africa Wildlife Economy Summit sets out a seven step pioneering toolkit that creates an enabling environment to attract investment into the sector while conserving environments and providing socio-economic benefits.
The first step involves coming up with a national protected area tourism plan through conducting market analysis and tourism development planning exercise. This will determine a strategy for marketing, development priorities, tourism circuits, infrastructure requirements and identify national capacity building and management needs.
This will be followed by a detailed plan at individual protected area level to determine all tourism development zones, product types, source markets, road networks, infrastructure and local capacity needs.
In the third step, the government should identify and analyze the commercial opportunities in each individual protected area taking into consideration: conservation driven capacities; site level features; concession scale and exclusivity; and market trends.
The fourth step involves identifying and selecting the best private sector commercial partners to develop available concessions in the individual protected areas. There should be correct balance which allows applicants to be judged by the same process and criteria, and a degree of flexibility that allows the tendering process to be adjusted within reason to suit circumstances.
Developing of concession contracts will be the fifth step. This will define how commercial tourism protected area concessions should be managed and how fee structure and benefit sharing will be applied.
The sixth step involves developing and maintaining a robust system for communication and mutual support between protected area management, relevant communities, and private sector tourism partners.
The last step entails designing and maintaining a consistent system to monitor and evaluate the performance and impact of nature tourism business in protected areas. This will inform future nature tourism marketing, capacity building and all aspects of support for private sector investors.
Using the Toolkit, models on several example protected areas in Africa predicted revenue increases of between four and eleven times within a decade. These areas include Pendjari National Park in Benin, North Luangwa National Park in Zambia and Rangelands Trust in Kenya.
Under the direction of President Yoweri Museveni, Uganda has embarked on a pilot conservation investment process guided by Space for Giants’ Giants Club initiative, using each of the steps in the Toolkit.
More than US$60 million of new investment in the country’s protected areas is expected to be unlocked when contracts are issued in the coming weeks for a series of new high-end lodges built by Africa’s leading tourism operators.
Other African nations can incorporate this toolkit into their plans, thus growing their nature-based tourism and boosting their economies.