The time has come for the public-private management of national parks


Ideas & Debate

The time has come for the public-private management of national parks


  • Countries like Rwanda, Mozambique and South Africa have achieved great successes in their pursuit of sustainable tourism and nature conservation thanks to CMPs.
  • CMPs can help reduce the cost of managing national parks.

Long before the Covid-19 pandemic devastated the tourism sector, protected areas such as national parks, game reserves and wildlife sanctuaries in Kenya were already grappling with the challenge of underfunding.

A good example of this is the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), whose 2017 annual report indicates that KWS generated revenues of around Sh.5.5 billion during the year ended June 30, 2017. with expenditures of Sh 7.1 billion. scored.

With these protected areas heavily reliant on tourism, the pandemic has only made the situation worse. According to reports, KWS only achieved around 20 percent of forecast sales in June 2021 due to the significant decline in tourist traffic.

Against this background, the idea of ​​Collaborative Management Partnerships (CMPs) for the management and operation of protected areas emerged. Put simply, CMPs are a type of public-private partnership (PPP) in which the government delegates certain management and operational responsibilities related to conservation to a private partner.

The scope of responsibilities assigned to the private partner depends on the type of CMP model adopted and could include, among others, funding commitments, marketing and advertising, environmental protection, community development, infrastructure development.

CMPs have had great results in converting “paper parks” (those parks that are recognized as such on paper but are barely operational in any real sense) into profitable, revenue-generating assets for both the private partner and the government while at the same time serving local authorities to communities and the general public.

Countries like Rwanda, Mozambique and South Africa have achieved great successes in their pursuit of sustainable tourism and nature conservation thanks to CMPs.

In the case of Rwanda, Akagera National Park was a resounding success due to a CMP between the Rwanda Development Board and the NGO African Parks. The two parties concluded a CMP for a period of 20 years (2010 to 2030) and founded a project company to which the management and operational functions of the Akagera National Park were delegated.

Since then, the number of tourists has grown steadily from 15,000 in 2010 to 50,000 in 2019, resulting in a steady growth in revenue from $ 203,000 to $ 2.6 million over the same period. The partnership has also made a major contribution to restoring the population of the Eastern Black Rhinoceros (from 0 in 2010 to 25 in 2020) and lions (from 0 in 2010 to 35 in 2020) in the national park.

In addition, the number of people employed in the park rose from 18 in 2010 to 273 in 2020, 99 percent of them Rwandans.

This success story shows the benefits that CMPs can potentially offer. They enable the protected areas to be financially independent and protect the protected areas from insufficient funding by the state due to competing interests and changes in state priorities.

Second, CMPs also offer the ability to transfer various risks from the government (and indirectly from taxpayers) to the private party. This includes the sales / demand risk, i.e. the potential loss that can result from a lack of sufficient visitors to generate sufficient income.

This is an incentive for the private party to attract visitors through exemplary service and the development of innovative and differentiated products. Operational and legal risks can also be transferred to the private partner.

Third, CMPs can help reduce the cost of managing national parks. This is because the government usually relies on permanent staff, even though tourism is seasonal. Private parties tend to opt for optimal personnel regulations such as seasonal workers.

In addition, the state is usually forced to adhere to procurement laws, which can be so complex that they unintentionally lead to increased costs. The private sector does not usually have these restrictions and can therefore take flexible approaches.

CMPs can also contribute to quality assurance in the management of protected areas. This can be achieved by the government setting standards that the private partner should meet through a performance-based contract. In addition, an incentive is given to the private party to provide high quality services in order to attract and retain visitors and thus generate income.

Finally, the marketing and promotion of protected areas as tourist destinations can be easier when they are in the hands of a private party. This is because limited government resources are forcing the government to focus on the most promising destinations while others remain as “paper parks”.

In Kenya, for example, KWS manages 23 national parks under several national reserves, protected areas and other institutions. In KWS ‘Strategic Action Plan 2019-2021, KWS reports that five of the 23 national parks (namely Amboseli, Tsavo East, Nakuru, Nairobi and Tsavo West) have historically contributed around 80 percent of their annual turnover.

This shows that expecting the government to be able to market and promote all of these travel destinations is a big job. However, when it is placed in the hands of private individuals, competition arises and the concessionaires are encouraged to innovate in their marketing and service delivery in order to achieve and maintain profitability.

Given that CMPs could help us address some of the most pressing challenges we face such as poaching, illegal wildlife trafficking and illegal logging, while at the same time providing the much-needed boost to the Kenyan tourism sector, the time for education appears of CMPs ripe part of our country’s arsenal as we strive to promote conservation and biodiversity.

Beatrice Nyabira is partner and head of Projects, Energy & Restructuring Practice at DLA Piper Africa, IKM Advocates. Fred Kibagendi is an associate in the same practice.


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