Tourism in Kenya is a major foreign exchange earner topping over 60 billions annually.The sector relies heavily on biodiversity with several marvelous sights from national parks to the sandy beaches on the kenya coastline. Kenya practices mass tourism but is realising that this can only destroy the industry by destruction of the ecosystem. A delicate balance is desired, sustainable tourism is the choice. It confers various benefits especially for SMEs development.
Biodiversity – there are 5 internationally recognised biodiversity hotspots,areas of particularly high species richness and under threat.These areas are important attractions for tourists and valuable as a source of foreign exchange, but are increasingly under pressure from tourism, leading to environmental degradation and resource depletion.
The World Tourism Organisation defines sustainable tourism as “tourism which leads to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support systems.” In addition they describe the development of sustainable tourism as a process which meets the needs of present tourists and host communities whilst protecting and enhancing needs in the future (World Tourism Organisation 1996).
According to the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism, it will have the following characteristics:
- minimises negative economic, environmental, and social impacts - generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to the industry - involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances - makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world’s diversity - provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues - provides access for physically challenged people and is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.
Ecotourism in Kenya promotes sustainable tourism practices within the tourism industry. This entails encouraging the adoption of best practices in the use of tourism resources, working with local communities and managing wastes and emissions.
As a general rule, it is usually the smaller and more expensive lodges and camps that do more for the local communities in the way of employment, training, and the setting up of income generating projects. Such properties also find it easier and cheaper to replace their woodburning stoves with solar and wind power, and to employ more responsible sewage and waste disposal methods. As areas such as the Maasai Mara come under increasing environmental pressure, many camps are banning the use of firewood outright, while others have installed their own constructed wetlands for recycling their wastewater naturally.
Energy management Many hotels and lodges, away from the cities, are now investing in alternative energy sources. Solar power, in particular, is the preferred alternative, and most responsible businesses today use some kind of solar system for their electricity and water heating. Wind power is not yet as big, but several local suppliers are fuelling a growing interest. One area in which Kenya has made impressive gains is in the recycling of organic waste to provide an alternative source of fuel for water heating and cooking. With the growing bans on fuelwood - particularly in the national parks - fuel briquettes are being made from an increasing variety of waste materials. Such practices will help to save the remaining forests in the country's main reserve, which have been ravaged by tree-felling and charcoal burning.
Waste management Hotels and lodges generate large volumes of solid and liquid waste and, because many of them are in remote areas where local council services are not available, they have to find ways of preventing their sewage from contaminating the environment. Initiatives to manage solid waste range from responsible purchasing to waste separation and recycling. As well as composting 'green waste' and using it in their vegetable gardens, most lodges and camps are now returning their non-degradable waste - tin, glass, paper, batteries - to Nairobi, where it is recycled by larger manufacturers. Many hotels across the country have made requests to be assisted in sustainable waste management. They are increasingly engaging CBOs in this aspect creating employment.
The management of liquid waste is more challenging in remote areas, although interest is growing quickly in the use of constructed wetlands for recycling wastewater for return to the environment. With sewage, construction of biodigestors is proving using in addition to providing alternative energy.
Water conservation Water is a very scarce commodity in many of Kenya's semi-arid environments and a source of growing conflict between people and wildlife. Lodges are crucial conduits of water conservation awareness and practice, particularly in remote rural areas. As well as simple initiatives such as encouraging guests to reuse towels and minimise their water use, many lodges are introducing serious water conservation measures, by restricting water pumping to certain times of the day, installing low-pressure showers, and promoting the use of recycled water and rainwater. Although these measures do not always make for optimum comfort, we would urge guests to appreciate how such measures help lodges to coexist with water-starved communities, livestock and wildlife. Many lodges and camps are also growing trees and encouraging local communities to plant woodlots, both as a sustainable source of firewood and for the protection of catchment areas. Please find out from your lodge whether they have any water-saving initiatives and support them during your visit.[www.ecotourismkenya.org/sustainable-tourism-in-kenya.php]
Human-wildlife conflict resolution A lot of effort is being dedicated to minimising levels of human-wildlife conflict in areas outside Kenya's parks and reserves. Interventions range from fencing off protected areas to encouraging community tourism enterprises and providing compensation to pastoralists whose livestock are killed and farmers whose crops are damaged by wild animals. These interventions are initiated by different stakeholders, including private investors, local NGOs, Kenya Wildlife Service,and foreign conservation organisations like AWF and WWF.Communities are raising funds to fence off the parks as has happened with Aberdares and Shimba hills where Mackinnon community have received funding from the Community Development Trust Fund and Danida.
For the communities to benefit from tourism, community tourism is quickly picking up with support from the Tourism Trust Fund, and NGOs like SNV. Home-stays where the tourist is hosted by locals in their homesteads is offering incentives to conserve the environment. CBOs are coming together to run tourist attraction sports like the Hell's kitchen in Magarini. The Kipepeo or butterfly rearing venture by women in Arabuko Sokoke in Malindi offers alternative source of livelihood while conserving the environment. The community bordering the Kakamega forest are engaged in growing medicinal plants like Mukombero while conserving the forest and attracting tourists. The Kenya Community Based Tourism (Kecobat)is an membership NGO formed to promote community tourism.
Kenya's tourism sector is so much dependent on wildlife, scenery and the sandy beaches, the marvles of nature. Ecotourism is a new concept that appreciates that man must be at peace with nature. Environmental conservation is core to the survival of the sector. Climate change is especially a critical consideration in tourism. The deforestation of our water towers has resulted in severe effects manifesting climate change. Tourism destinations are predictable but new circuits are being developed. The popular destinations include Masai Mara, Amboseli, Tsavo East and West,Mt Kenya, Aberdares, Nairobi and Samburu national parks.
Each year the Mara plays host to the world’s greatest natural spectacle, the seventh wonder of the world, the Great Wildebeest Migration from the Serengeti.
The Mara is probably the best serviced of all Kenyan Parks and Reserves with a wide range of Accommodation for any budget. The Reserve is a popular attraction with Safari operators.
Traditionally, the Maasai rarely hunt and living alongside wildlife in harmony is an important part of their beliefs.Lions and Wildebeest play as important a role in their cultural beliefs as their own herds of cattle.
60% of tourists to Kenya visit the coastal strip beaches to experience the sun and sand beaches. Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu are popular destinations. Tourist attractions include Fort Jesus, and Old town in Mombasa; Gede ruins, Vasco Da Gama Pillar in Malindi in addition to marine national parks like Watamu and Malindi. The large numbers of tourists stretch the ecosystem to its limits with destruction and pollution. Ecotourism has sprouted and many initiatives are offering alternative markets. Youth have trained as tour guides and are selling curios. However child sex tourism, child labour, prostitution, HIV/Aids are some of the challenges.
The Ministry of Tourism and the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) have recently mounted a vibrant marketing blitz internationally while locally promotes domestic tourism. The Magical Kenya, and Brand Kenya have seen tourists number on the rise.Locally the tourism and travel industry has evolved as SMEs offering ticketing, car-hire, tour guides and safari consultants.