Ministry to limit visitors to parks and game reserves

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Ministry to limit visitors to parks and game reserves


Tourists in the Masai Mara. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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  • Highly trafficked parks and reserves, Masai Mara, Amboseli and Nairobi National Park, will not allow visitors above their capacity of 32,000, 13,000 and 10,000 visitors per month respectively.
  • The number of visitors, both local and non-resident, will be limited using an online ticketing and digital payment system that the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) plans to introduce.
  • The tickets to be created by the digital system contain information about the traveler such as the expiry date and a cost breakdown with fees.

The Department of Tourism and Wildlife plans to limit daily visitor numbers in some national parks and game reserves to ease peak-season crowding and push year-round travel, in a move that will see prices hike more than six-fold.

According to a new strategy paper by the ministry, the upper limit will be based on the carrying capacity of the parks.

This means that the busy parks and reserves of Masai Mara, Amboseli and Nairobi National Park will not allow visitors past their capacity of 32,000, 13,000 and 10,000 visitors per month respectively.

The number of visitors, both local and non-resident, will be limited using an online ticketing and digital payment system that the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) plans to roll out in all national parks and reserves.

The tickets, to be generated by the digital system, show details of the traveler such as the expiration date and a cost breakdown with fees including the proportions allocated for conservation and park development.

“Limiting visitor numbers in priority parks could reduce the total number of visitors but should not negatively impact overall revenue when combined with a seasonal price increase,” the Department for Tourism and Wildlife said.

“The main assumption is a two- to six-fold increase in prices from June to October for residents and non-residents, including African Union citizens, in the Masai Mara; and 30-150 percent in Amboseli and Nairobi Park. Assuming visitor numbers don’t fall due to higher prices.”

The move comes amid concerns about tourist and safari vehicle congestion in parks and reserves like the Masai Mara, particularly during the major wildebeest migratory season, which threatens wildlife and reduces international tourism standards of destinations and visitor appeal.

However, due to demand, the cap is intended to increase admission prices during the high season. Visitors are also required to book park admission tickets in advance to manage influx and prevent fraud at the gate.

Tickets are non-transferable and will be marked with ID card or passport number to prevent resale by major tour operators.

The plan is part of a strategy for the tourism industry for five years to 2025.

It comes as parks saw higher ticket sales fueled by locals in the pandemic era amid disruption to global travel. The industry is also expecting further recovery and a high number of international tourists. The total number of visitors to national parks and game reserves rose 40.8 percent in 2021 to 1.28 million from 913,052.

Sales also rose to Sh1.48 billion. Park visitors and revenue must reach 2019 levels of ATS 2.27 million and ATS 4.37 billion respectively.

Masai Mara, Amboseli and Nairobi National Park are considered top-notch by the global tourist community for the abundance of wildlife.

The Masai Mara, for example, will accommodate a maximum of 32,000 visitors with its carrying capacity during the high season from June to October, when hotels, lodges and tour operators charge the highest prices.

As of 2019, the park hosted 54,000 and 60,000 visitors over its capacity in July and August, respectively.

The Ministry assumes that quantities lost during this period, such as in July/August, will be partially redistributed in the shoulder months of June, September and October.

Amboseli also received visitors in excess of 13,000 of its capacity in February, July, August, September, October and December of the same year.

Nairobi National Park has received year-round visitors with a capacity of over 10,000, according to 2019 data.

Tourism spending is expected to recover to 2019 levels, when 2024 recorded US$1.97 billion (Shsh 229.4 billion) in total holiday travel spending from the top 40 source markets worldwide.

USD 1.38 billion (Shh 160.7 billion) is expected to be spent this year.

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