Local and international guests and visitors are attracted to the unique wildlife and safari experiences available in the parks we manage. They range from basic, community-run campsites to mid-range lodges run by African Parks, to high-end safari lodges operated by the organisation or luxury safari specialists. Game viewing is provided by guides in vehicles, on guide-led bush walks and from the vantage of boats. Parks in close proximity to major cities such as Majete Wildlife Reserve in Malawi and Akagera National Park in Rwanda also have the advantage of attracting large numbers of day visitors who are well catered for at the visitor centres on site.
At Akagera, the high seasonal demand for guides over a four-month period has led to an innovative freelance system that provides employment for 15 young members from local communities. The freelance guides work alongside the professional, full-time park guides creating a two-tier system and a choice for visitors to the park.
Direct and Indirect Employment
Tourist lodges and camps create further opportunities for skills training and employment, both directly and indirectly in the goods and services that need to be procured in order to keep the operations up and running. By sourcing locally, tourism creates a market from which local communities can benefit.
The more people involved in supplying goods and services to tourism facilities in the park, the more the local economy is fed, and communities can have a real stake in the long-term success of the park.
Park sustainability has three main aspects. 1) Ecological sustainability – does the initiative have a positive impact on the habitat and animals within it? 2) Socio-political acceptability – will it benefit the local people? And 3) financial viability – will it result in income flows for the park so that it can eventually sustain itself without donor funding? Tourism is a mechanism to achieve all three of these dimensions as it turns the value of the protected area into tangible economic benefits creating the needed buy-in from local communities, while using these funds to help sustain the park’s conservation efforts.
Tourism Revenue Rules
The African Parks model requires that funds raised by the park, through gate fees, tourism operations and a number of other initiatives, are captured directly by the park rather than being paid to the government. This creates the base for financial sustainability of the protected area, reducing the dependency on donor funds over time.
By focusing on such activities from the outset, it is possible to create what we refer to as a “conservation-led economy” where communities are employed, and once paid, are able to buy local goods and services, all of which aid in creating an economy with the park at is core. Tourism lies at the center of creating self-sustaining parks that will help ensure their survival long into the future.