Rwanda: 68% Decrease in Visitors Disrupts Akagera Park Self-Financing Ambitions

The 68 per cent decrease in visitors in Akagera National Park has had an impact on self-finance, a report has indicated.

The park has reported that they received 15,844 total visitors in 2020, a 68% decrease compared to 2019.

The number has decreased from over 49,000 visitors in 2019 which generated $2.5 million in park revenue, a 25 per cent increase compared to 2018.

“While these were not the figures we were anticipating at the beginning of the year, the year did show some positive trends including longer stays and a higher spend per person,” reads the report.

At the start of 2020, Akagera had plans to build on the success of the previous year considering that in 2019 Akagera was at about 90 per cent self-financing, and on the last stretch to self-sustainability.

“Unfortunately, soon after, the pandemic began to impact the park resulting in the temporary closure of Akagera National Park. After a three-month lockdown, tourism activities in Rwanda resumed. Akagera reopened in mid-June with the aim to recover from the knock of the pandemic,” the park officials say.

Despite closure and loss of revenues from tourism, they say, 271 contracted employees were not laid off under the support of major donors.

Key park’s species

According to the report, 2020 saw the first ever foot-survey to count some key species in Akagera.

A total of 3,716 animals were counted including rare species, 63 elands and 19 roans.

In 2019, the park received five eastern black rhinos from a zoo in Czech Republic further growing interest in the park.

The return of rhinos to the park gave it the ‘Big 5’ status; lions, buffaloes, rhinos, leopards and elephants.

Before the reintroduction of the rhinos, the park had in 2015 re-introduced lions in Akagera National Park in 2015 after they were transported from South Africa.

The report shows that their tree nursery produced over 25,000 trees mostly indigenous and fruit species. At least 17,000 of the trees were planted in schools with their survival rate is over 90 per cent.

“To increase the survival rate, the trainees learned about tree care management, watering and mulching, and tree nursery preparation,” the park managers say.

Community projects

Despite having to postpone several activities, community engagement work continued around the park.

Over $730,000, the report indicates, has since been contributed directly to the community surrounding the park from various activities including community freelance guide income, casual labourers for activities inside the park, purchase of local materials, or hiring of equipment.

The report indicates that six tonnes of honey were produced by 375 beekeepers working with the park that has a center for honey collection, filtering, and packaging. The fishery cooperatives supported by the park harvested over 150 tonnes of fish and earned a revenue of over Rwf42 million for 120 cooperative members.

Parks have been contributing a lot to tourism in the country with part of the revenue funding Revenue Sharing scheme.

In 2019, Rwanda received 1.63 million visitors and National parks counted 111,136 visitors with $28.9 million revenues from park entries.

By 2019, over Rwf5.2 billion had been distributed by Rwanda Development Board to 647 community-based projects since 2005.

The revenue share programme, initiated in 2005 by the Government, aims to guide investment in the areas surrounding the various national parks in Rwanda by ensuring that 10 percent of all park revenues are given back to the communities.

However, the scheme was also affected by the revenue decrease in parks.

Promoting regional and domestic tourism could revive the revenue sharing scheme across the country enabling communities get past the impact of Covid-19 in the tourism sector which had suspended community support projects.

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