This Findings section begins with primary information gathered in Kenya about ecotourism and its positive and negative impacts on local communities. Through the use of interviews with representatives of public and private organizations as well as scholars, I was able to assess three different perceptions of all of Kenyan ecotourism and local community benefits, and also three perceptions of the possibility of ecotourism and its relationship to the surrounding communities of one specific area of Kenya, Kerio Valley. I have incorporated my personal observations relevant to Kenyan ecotourism and local communities as well as Kerio Valley into these Findings. In addition, I have included information from secondary sources about Australian ecotourism and its relationship to local communities as well as a case example of an indigenous ecotourism operation in Australia called Kuku Yalanji Dreamtime Tours.
Kenyan Ecotourism and Local Community Benefits
The following paragraphs consist of public, private, and expert analyses of ecotourism and local community benefits in Kenya. These discussions are offered by Sammy Towett of the Kenya Wildlife Service Tourism Section (public organization), Joseph Kathiw’a from the Ecotourism Society of Kenya (a private, non-governmental organization), and Dr. Muusya Mwinzi, a professor in the Department of Wildlife Management at Moi University (scholar).
KWS Tourism Section
Sammy Towett (personal communication, May 15, 2003) is a representative of the Tourism Section of the Kenya Wildlife Service headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. The Tourism Section of the KWS deals with any issues involving visitors to protected areas, such as tourism trends and visitor entry fees. Towett sees competition with other African nations as a problem for Kenyan tourism benefits. He says that Kenya holds only two percent of Africa’s tourism and competes with places like Egypt, South Africa, and Tunisia. According to Towett the lack of domestic tourism also decreases Kenyan benefits of tourism. He expresses concern over the trend decline of residents visiting the parks. He feels that conservation is a duty of the people of Kenya because the animals are part of their cultural heritage. In order to increase domestic tourism, the KWS reduces visitor entry fees for citizens of Kenya. Local community benefit from tourism is not a responsibility of the KWS, says Towett, because there are too many political issues involved in creating KWS policies that concern people. The KWS’s only concern is conservation, according to Towett. Towett claims the KWS cannot create policies that make sure that the income of protected areas is given in part to local communities. Such policies would interfere with the politics of county councils, and the KWS wants to avoid political confrontations. The county councils govern the areas, and the KWS leaves this job alone and manages wildlife only. The KWS shows a general concern for the people by sponsoring the building of schools and hospitals.
The Ecotourism Society of Kenya
Joseph Kathiw’a (personal communication, May 13, 2003) works as the Projects Officer of the Ecotourism Society of Kenya (ESOK), located in Nairobi, Kenya. ESOK is a private, non-governmental organization composed of members ranging from individuals to corporations who wish to come together to lift the standards of the tourism industry in Kenya. Kathiw’a says that the organization wishes to ensure that people abide by the principles of ecotourism, environmental conservation, and benefit sharing of various stakeholders, who are the private investors and local communities.
According to Kathiw’a, local community benefit is the priority of ESOK, ranking above conservation and private investor benefit. This priority is due to the poor treatment of local communities by conservationist policies of the government and also economic leakage as a result of foreign, private investment. Historically, Kathiw’a says, conservation policies seemed to favor only the animals, causing the people to resent the wildlife. Competition for resources and conflicts with animals contributed greatly to this discontent. Conservation policies, therefore, require local community benefits or else conservation will no longer exist. Private investors and local communities make up the two partners of ecotourism projects, according to Kathiw’a. The local people own the natural resources and also have the most knowledge about them. The private investors have the management education and money to run a tourism project. Usually, investors attempt to take more money than the community because they are in control of the financial knowledge. ESOK aims to ensure that the local community will get the optimal amount of benefit. Kathiw’a wants to increase fees to enter parks and take tours in order to raise more revenue for communities and also to lower ecological impacts in protected areas. Although this rise in price would deter local people from traveling around Kenya to see protected areas, Kathiw’a does not see this effect as a conflict with local community benefits. He says that the locals are not interested in being tourists, and they will be happier if they generate more profits instead. The problem with gaining revenue in reserves is their management, and county councils are notorious for taking more money than they are earning.
Moi University Department of Wildlife Management
Dr. Muusya Mwinzi (personal communication May 23, 2003) works as a professor in the Department of Wildlife Management at Moi University in Kenya. Mwinzi finds that a major challenge of local community benefit in Kenya is the minimal linkage between revenues from the tourism industry and local communities, especially indigenous people. Mwinzi feels that foreign investment contributes to this problem. He says local people should be able to travel all over Kenya to see the parks, but they do not get enough money to do so. However, people from the US and Western Europe pay a lot of money to visit Kenya, and this money could help the indigenous people, but travel agencies take too large of a portion of the money.
According to Mwinzi, the tourism operations within Kenya are large companies run by foreign people. These companies employ Kenyans, but the workers receive extremely low wages while the owners collect large profits. Hotels use local materials, but the money they generate from these materials does not go back to the local area. People also have trouble selling vegetables and other food to hotels because the companies import these items from South Africa and French speaking African countries. The hotels import the products because they are cheaper than the local products. The government has no restriction on economic leakages. Local people do not have enough knowledge to run hotels themselves, and the government does not have enough money to finance or educate these people. The government relies on gate fees only to manage itself. This money is then spread over paying for jobs, conservation, and the compensation of wildlife damages to local communities. Mwinzi explains that because the funds are so low, benefit sharing acts as the only possible compensation. For example, the government builds hospitals in areas damaged by wildlife.
Mwinzi describes the formation of protected areas as the root of the resentment that people feel towards wildlife, and the human-wildlife conflict reinforces this resentment. To the people of Kenya, the creation of protected areas meant the taking of ancestral lands and resources that they feel are naturally theirs. This bitterness is fueled by the lack of compensation people receive from suffering damages caused by wildlife. If animals, for example, eat all of a man’s crops, kill his sheep, and murder his child, the “compensation” of the building of a school and a legal opportunity to sell handcrafts to tourists will not truly return the losses the man has suffered. Mwinzi says that there are various mechanisms to mobilize the locals to make use of the wildlife, rather than conflict with the animals, but it is difficult for the local communities to exploit the natural resources. The people sell curios and handcrafts, but some local leaders want to exploit this market by acting as middlemen between the producers and tourists. With a direct market, the people generate profits for themselves. However, people currently stand outside of the gates of parks to sell beaded jewelry and small carvings for very cheap prices. With little buying power, the locals need more incentive to sell things to the tourists. According to Mwinzi, people talk of group projects where the community can set up tourism by themselves, and as the government protects wildlife areas, it protects these projects. This way, the people will learn conservation due to the large percentage of animals that live outside of the parks.
Mwinzi laments the insufficient international marketing of Kenyan tourism,
but feels positive about Kenya’s political stability as an attraction
for outsiders to travel to the country. The scholar speaks of international
tour exhibitions around the world in places like Atlanta and Berlin, but no
one from Kenya goes to these exhibitions and advertises. More advertising would
help draw in larger numbers of tourists, which would increase local community
benefits in tourism. According to Mwinzi, recent fears of terrorism threaten
tourism numbers, but people who come to Kenya see that there is no strife and
the people lead very peaceful lives. He observes that they tell other people
to come to Kenya when they return to their country.
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