The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) recently announced a significant shift in park fees, raising concerns and discussions within the tourism industry. The changes entail a tripling of charges for tourists entering national parks, with the prices rising from KES 500 to KES 1,500. These new rates agreed upon during a validation forum in Nairobi will take effect from January 2024.

Initially, KWS had contemplated a fourfold increase in charges. Still, after considering stakeholders’ feedback, the decision was scaled back due to fears that such arbitrary hikes could drive tourists to explore alternative destinations in other countries. During the validation forum, key players expressed concerns about the fee hike needing to align with the quality of visitor experiences. Comparisons were drawn with other parks, such as Serengeti, which boast better facilities like clean toilets. Such contrasts led stakeholders to call for measured increments rather than drastic changes.

The KES 2,000 fee for accessing Nairobi National Park by Kenyan citizens was of particular concern. The charges for Amboseli and Nakuru National Parks also raised eyebrows among industry players.

Notable figures in the hospitality sector, like veteran hotelier Mohamed Hersi, voiced apprehension that the fee increase could cause shock among Kenyans and potentially hinder tourism recovery. Hersi also emphasized the need for responsible tourism practices and suggested imposing stringent penalties for misbehaviour within national parks.

Amid these discussions, KWS Director-General Erustus Kanga justified the increase at Nairobi National Park, citing its high ecological footprint. However, following deliberations, charges for the park were adjusted downwards to KES 1,500.

KWS oversees twenty-five terrestrial national parks, twenty-nine terrestrial national reserves, four marine national parks, six marine national reserves, six national wildlife sanctuaries, and three captive wildlife management facilities. This extensive wildlife space, Kanga admits, exerts significant financial pressures on KWS. The wildlife custodian, he noted, currently has a shortfall of KES 2 billion. He underscored that these fees are essential to support conservation efforts, security, market research, and the livelihoods of local communities, especially as government funding dwindles.

The new KWS park fees introduce concessions for specific groups. Children under five now receive free entry to all national parks, expanding on the previous allowance for children under three years. Additionally, older citizens above 70 and Kenyan individuals living with disabilities, as defined by the Persons Living with Disability Act, will be exempt from park fees.

KWS engaged in nationwide public participation forums to gather input on revising national parks and reserve conservation fees. However, concerns arose that these changes might disrupt contracts with visitors planning trips to Kenya.

Drones in Wildlife Areas?

Kanga expressed the intention to empower young people by enabling them to create conservation films using drones, which aimed to mitigate the challenges associated with flying drones in protected areas. Most countries around the world usually do not allow drones in wildlife areas. However, if we could, it would be an amazing opportunity for young filmmakers to showcase the beauty of Kenya to the world.

The revised fee structure, scheduled from January 2024 to December 2025, outlines varying rates for different types of visitors and seasons. While KWS anticipates the fee increase will contribute to its operational needs and conservation efforts, stakeholders persistently advocate for incremental adjustments that strike a balance between funding and attracting tourists.

As the industry evolves, it’s evident that finding the right balance between financial sustainability, conservation goals, and visitor experiences will be pivotal for Kenya’s wildlife tourism sector.