22 June 2008

Kenya: KWS Builds Eco-Lodges to Woo Locals

National parks and reserves in the country will soon be boasting new eco-lodges in a campaign to encourage domestic tourists to go on safaris.

KWS, the custodian of most of the parks and reserves in the country, is looking at opening 14 new lodges across the country in an initiative mainly targeted at the domestic market.

Domestic tourism has mainly been centred in Mombasa, during Easter and Christmas, a trend that the sector has been trying to change.

The lack of affordable accommodation in the parks and lodges has been identified as a major hindrance to attracting the local market to these facilities.

Speaking to Business Daily KWS' head of marketing and business development, Andrew Toboso, said that the move was in a bid to encourage Kenyans to go visit the national pars and reserves and at an affordable price.

"Cost of accommodation at the National Park and Reserves is expensive for most Kenyans thus the low number of visitors to the units," he said.

KWS hopes that by having the lodges in place domestic tourists will venture into the facilities.

In Kakamega National Reserve tourists can expect a luxury tree top lodge that will offer adventure as well as luxury.

The ten parks and reserves -which include Lake Nakuru, Aberdares, Mt Elgon, Mwea Reserve and Hells Gate among others - are expected to either boast luxury tented camps or cottages.

KWS is expected to award the tenders to various investors in the next few weeks as the bids are currently in the technical stage.

The facilities are expected to be no more than 20 bed units and are part of the parastatal's product diversification programme that has seen the sector open up new tourist circuits. The investment is expected to increased the bed capacity by 200 beds.

Ethical travel

According to Mr Toboso the move to eco-lodges is in line with the global market towards ethical travel, eco-tourism, which has been on the increase.

"We have to blend with the environment and promote responsible tourism," he said.

Eco-tourism encompasses a commitment to preserving natural resources and a sense of social responsibility towards local communities. It is currently one of the fastest rising tourism product in the market, globally, with more and more tourists taking into consideration the environment and communities at the destination.

Travel programmes are currently embracing this concept and Kenya has been at the forefront led by Eco-tourism Kenya which has eco-rating for lodges like those planned by KWS.

However, most of the eco-lodges in the country are positioned to attract high end tourists.

Cost of travel for Kenyans is seen as high especially due to accommodation costs. However, waiting until the last minute to make bookings is part of the reason many Kenyans end up paying a high costs especially during Easter and Christmas holidays at the Coast.

According to the permanent secretary in the tourism ministry, Ms Rebecca Nabutola, the industry needs to facilitate the domestic tourist and make pricing more affordable for them. She adds that though some hotels do offer citizen rates others still do not.

"In some cases international tourists can end up paying less than the domestic tourists due to attractive packages and booking in advance," she noted.

Today, Kenyans can enjoy domestic rates in some of the five star hotels especially during the low season however according to industry players very few people take advantage of the offer.

Currently hotels are unrolling domestic packages to attract domestic tourists.

Despite all these statistics from Kenya Tourist Board for the first quarter of the year showed that domestic tourism was on the increase with total bed nights in occupancy having risen by 66.7 per cent from 30 per cent during the same period last year.

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