Tourism-conservation partnerships in Kenya

By Dr. Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers

IMG_2530 Conservation organizations around the world increasingly adopt market-based approaches for the protection of wildlife, by partnering with businesses in nature-based tourism activities. Also in Africa, NGOs, tourism companies and local communities collaborate in partnerships to develop and manage eco-lodges in wildlife-rich areas outside protected areas to generate revenues as incentives for conservation and work towards sustainable development.


The research program that studies the role of such partnerships was started at Wageningen University, the Netherlands, and is currently being continued in a collaborative effort between Professor René van der Duim at Wageningen University and the Department of Environmental Science & Policy at George Mason University.

An example of such tourism-conservation partnerships is the Sanctuary at Ol Lentille, a high-end eco-lodge situated in Laikipia County, Kenya. The research on this partnership was part of the Ph.D. dissertation of Dr. Rita Nthiga, who graduated in 2014. The research has shown that the partnership has had important, but also mixed impacts on development and conservation. The partnership has enhanced healthcare, education, and direct and indirect local employment and income, among other benefits. An area of over 7050 hectares has been set aside as conservation area, to function as habitat for wildlife, where grazing by livestock is not allowed.

However, conflicts and political struggles have intensified by the influx of money into the communities. Accountability problems also persist in the partnership, with different partners having different views on the various actor roles and responsibilities. Incidences of illegal grazing in the conservation area and poaching have been reported, and the extra income from the partnership is often used by the community to buy more livestock, which has increased overgrazing levels. Also, several fundamental ecological questions remain, including whether the conservation area is large enough to support the different wildlife populations, and whether the area is connected well enough to other conservation areas by corridors.

Moreover, the majority of the benefits are not attained directly through the income of the lodge, but are in fact indirect effects, resulting from philanthropy, grants and donations, for example from the guests staying at the eco-lodge. The direct benefits, though substantial, are also highly influenced by the rather low occupancy rates of the lodge. These issues raise the question of the viability of tourism as a consistent and durable strategy for livelihood enhancement and conservation.

Based on the findings and in view of the limited available options to address conservation and development in the region, tourism-related arrangements such as this partnership are promising. However, to be successful, they need to be built upon and linked with other conservation and development interventions. Tourism alone will not be sufficient.

Ol Lentille Map


Further reading:

Lamers, M., V.R. van der Duim, J. Van Wijk, R.W. Nthiga, I.J. Visseren-Hamakers. 2014. Governing Conservation Tourism Partnerships in Kenya. Annals of Tourism Research 48: 250-256.

Nthiga, R.W., V.R. van der Duim, I.J. Visseren-Hamakers, M. Lamers. 2015. Tourism-conservation enterprises for community livelihoods and biodiversity conservation in Kenya. Development Southern Africa. Published online. DOI: 10.1080/0376835X.2015.1016217

Nthiga, R.W, V.R. van der Duim, I.J. Visseren-Hamakers, M. Lamers. 2015. Good Governance in Tourism-Conservation Partnerships? Lessons from Kenya. In: Aguirre, A.A., R. Sukumar, R.A. Medellin (eds.) Tropical Conservation: A View from the South on Local and Global Priorities. Oxford University Press. Forthcoming.

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