Tourism CS Najib Balala has made a U-turn on a controversial plan to privatise game parks and national reserves.
Instead, Mr Balala said leasing out the spaces within the parks was the way to go in order to improve business.
His response comes after stakeholders in the hospitality industry condemned a statement by Mr Balala in a webinar last week that the government was looking into new business models as a recovery plan after Covid-19.
The stakeholders argued that allowing private entities to take charge of national parks showed the government’s inability to maintain the reserves.
However, Mr Balala on Wednesday morning said that the government was instead looking into Public-Private Partnerships with the private sector, communities, research institutions to be applied in park infrastructure, digitisation, and technology.
“There are no plans to privatise or sell any parks. What we want is to partner. For instance, the anti-snaring campaign that we are doing with the Sheldricks (Trust), is Sheldricks doing it because it’s them? No, we are partnering with them,” he said during a morning show on Citizen TV.
He added that other infrastructures like roads and facilities such as lodges and restaurants are already being managed by the private sector.
According to Mr Balala, despite Kenya having more than 50 national parks and reserves, only a few of them are generating reasonable income to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) while the rest remain ‘paper parks’, hence the need to include private firms to assist in managing them.
“We have 58 national reserves and parks. The ones that generate money for us are only six to seven of them who are generating 85 percent of revenue to KWS. Some of them are called paper parks because we don’t even have the capacity to manage them,” he said.
In support of the CS’s statement, Kenya Tourism Federation chairperson Mohamed Hersi said the plan is to, instead, help bring in private sector efficiencies.
“(The) government has no business running government facilities and they can make good landlords while they leave the running in national parks in thousands of professional groups,” he said.
“Try and compare simple road network, water pans and other projects are managed in government-run outfits then compare with private conservancies.”
He recommended that the government should form a trustee for each of the leased-out parks, which must include the local community, and enact a law that ensures that host communities benefit.
KWS Strategy Director Edward Wanyonyi explained that the Ministry was also looking to improving its services and applying technology in the various ways of operations as a means of boosting its conservation efforts.
Through a project called the Kenya Parks Initiative, KWS is planning to use technology to save time on visitors getting into the park by doing away with the old ticketing system.
“Through the initiative, we want to see how to improve accessibility, viewing of wildlife, and the experience of somebody coming into the parks. You should be able to go online, register your own details, and have your own information so that when you come to the gate we will scan a QR code to allow you in,” he explained.
He added that the parastatal was also moving from analog to digital radio systems to enable rangers to send information when locating animals in the park.
Additionally, the government is planning to install Wi-Fi in parks, starting with the Nairobi National Parks to enable visitors to share their experiences live on social media.
However, as efforts are put into improving the national parks, the human-wildlife conflict remains one of the major challenges the tourism ministry is currently facing.
According to Mr Balala, the Tourism ministry has a Sh14 billion outstanding human-wildlife conflict compensation bill.
Only Sh2 billion has been paid so far to those affected. Snakes, death, elephants, and crocodiles are the biggest challenges.