Business Day (South Africa)

by  | May 31, 2018 2:33 pm

On September 1, 2017, over 1000 foreigners visited Rwanda for Kwitaizina, the annual Gorilla Naming ceremony, among who were about 20 Nigerian tourists who paid $170 each as entrance fee at the Volcanoes National Park, venue of the conservation event.

The Rwandan Tourism Board earned over $170,000 from entrance fees alone from visitors who participated in the naming of baby gorillas, aside other earnings from $50 visa-on-arrival, hotel accommodation, souvenirs, transportation, tours and others.

Similarly, while Gambia attracts almost 200,000 visitors a year to its ‘smiling coast’, its six national parks host over 80,000 visitors a year, 30,000 of which visit Abuko National Park alone, which offers direct economic benefits to 44 percent of the locals.

Yet, the West African country with 11,295 square kilometers landmass is planning to increase its conservation areas from 3 percent of its landmass to 5 percent in the future because of the revenue potential of the ecotourism from the six parks, which account for almost half of its tourism earnings after sun/beach offerings.

Also, Kenya Wildlife Services has severally impacted the Kenyan economy with improved earnings from its conservation parks. In 2015, the wildlife service, which is divided into eight conservation areas and operated by a public/private sector partnership, realized a total revenue of Kshs.6.8 billion compared to Kshs 6.4 billion in the previous year including internally-generated revenue amounting to Kshs. 2.9 billion, GOK subventions of Kshs. 3.2 billion, and grants from various donors amounting to Kshs. 693 million.

At the Amboseli Game Reserve, Kenya, lions earn over $515,000 in foreign exchange in a year. One lion is worth $7,000 per year in income from tourism and an elephant herd can be valued at $610,000 annually in Kenya. A Safari is such a popular product that has enabled the country to continue recording remarkable growth in the volume of tourists, hence tourism is the second highest contributor to Kenya’s GDP after agriculture.

In Tanzania where there are 16 parks, Kilimanjaro National Park alone makes $193, 929, 602 per one calendar year with $50 as the least entry fee, while tourists further spend an average of $500 a day in the park.

The 2016/2017 Annual Report of the South African National Parks (SANParks), which manages an extensive network of 19 national parks covering over 4 million hectares in seven of the nine provinces of South Africa, is impressive as well.

SANParks welcomed 6.7 million visitors into its 19 parks last year, which is a 14-percent increase compared to the 2015/16 financial year.

“Overall SANParks performance in the 2016/17 financial year has been impressive and the total revenue in the last financial year was approximately to R2, 079 billion which is R220, 6 million more than the anticipated R1, 858 billion budgeted”, Fundisile Mketeni, CEO, SANParks, said in the 2016/2017 annual report.

The success and sustainability of the revenue earning power of the parks, was possible by its Commercialisation Strategy adopted in 2000.

Offering insight on how the parks got to where they are today, Joanne Yawitch, chairperson of the board, explained that by March 2017, there were 46 active PPP projects, covering a wide range of projects, including accommodation, restaurants, retail, activities, an airport and the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. Since inception up to March 31, 2017, in addition to infrastructural developments worth over R755 million with the assets reverting to SANParks, commercialization, according to her, has resulted in a total PPP income of R934 million to SANParks.

Sadly, an estimated total conservation area of 22,206.24 square kilometers, which hosts 1,340 species of wildlife, seven national parks in Nigeria receive little or no visits from Nigerian tourists and hardly foreigners except researchers.

More also, the seven parks, which cover about three percent of Nigeria’s total land area, lose about N10 billion annual revenue from tourists receipts and researches to the Nigerian economy due to many challenges including; losing almost 40 percent of their wildlife population to lack of funding, care for the wildlife, failure to introduce new breeds, and especially uncontrolled poaching activities by locals.

Comparing the number of visitations, quality researches and, especially revenue generated by others national parks to other destinations in Africa, it seems the 22,206.24 square kilometers the eight parks occupy in Nigeria is a waste.

The parks, which largely depend on government grants and under National Park Service, have been complaining of inadequate funding, poaching and lack of improved breeds as the major challenges, but refusing commercialization or PPP model needed to turn them around for good.

Going by the South African example, which saw the skyrocketing of visitations and revenue, Nigeria should commercialize its parks or seek credible PPP model that can reposition the parks and steer them to profitability.

Most tourism stakeholders ask the federal government to unbundle the parks to make them attractive to private sector and investors. They further argue that since 1979 when Olusegun Obasanjo established Kainji Lake, the first national park, and 1991 when five new ones were set up, you cannot point to the contributions of these parks in terms of revenue and even research to the GDP of the country.

Well, these untapped goldmines cannot continue to lie fallow, it is time to privatise, concession or look for competent managers to manage and make them economically viable like the parks in Kenya and South Africa.