Tourism stakeholders protest government’s Plan to Privatize National Parks

Tourism stakeholders have condemned the government’s plans to privatize national parks and game reserves. The stakeholders at the coast region argued parks and convention centres are national riches that should only be run by the government.

This comes after Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala indicated the Ministry was looking at a new business model of doing business to revive the sector due to Covid-19 effects.

The CS said the sector was eyeing fresh investments and exploring new business models that will facilitate entry into new markets and reduce operating costs as part of the transformative agenda to revitalize the tourism sector. “Why is everything being done by one entity? Why don’t we outsource?” he posed.

The move could see national parks, convention centres such as the Kenyatta International Convention Center (KICC), Utalii College, and national parks managed by private entities.

The CS noted that public-private partnerships offer good examples of how this new model can operate. He even questioned why the government still runs key facilities.

 However, the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC) Coast Executive Dr. Sam Ikwaye, termed the move as a dicey one that will affect their management.

“The worst thing any well-meaning and independent country can do is to privatize its natural and cultural resources. The government should never cede management of natural resources to outsiders or private entities,” charged Dr. Ikwaye.

He said the government should learn from previous mistakes it has made and observe how privatization has worked in other sectors of the economy.

He feared to privatize national parks will turn them into cash cows for the private entities and individuals at the expense of taxpayers.

The Kenya Coast Tourist Association Chief Executive, Julius Owino, said parastatals should be merged instead of privatizing key treasures such as national parks.

“For the parastatals, privatizing them is not a good idea, but you can merge them so that they be managed under one umbrella,” he said, adding that national parks are not income-generating organizations that need private agencies to generate more revenues.

He offered examples as the KICC, Kenya Tourism Board, and the National Convention Bureau, whose roles of marketing the country are almost similar hence the need to merge them.

“These are national treasures. If you privatize them, it means that the government will be showing its inability to manage them,” he added

Dr. Ikwaye proposed that private agencies be allowed to operate within the parks instead of ceding the ownership.

“What I would recommend is to allow leasing of facilities within the park for private enterprise or contract private management companies to reduce government inefficiencies,” he stated.

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