Impact of tourism on environment in Kenya: status and policy

Impact of tourism on environment in Kenya: status and policy

What policies could mitigate the negative impacts of tourism on the environment in Kenya?

Tourism is the third largest source of foreign exchange earnings in Kenya. However, since the 1990s the industry has suffered from a decline in per capita spending, average length of stay and hotel occupancy rates. This is a result of environmental degradation and deterioration in the quality of tourism products. Whilst there is growing recognition that tourism does have some negative impacts on the environment, there is little empirical evidence on the subject. This paper examines the impact of tourism on the environment in Kenya, the role policy has played in the process and how the industry is adjusting to newly imposed government standards. The paper suggests policy directions for mitigating the adverse and enhancing the positive environmental impacts of tourism.

The paper begins by reviewing the theoretical link between tourism and the environment, and examines the empirical evidence on the environmental impacts of the industry. The global efforts to lessen these negative impacts are also discussed. Next, the authors present an overview of Kenya’s tourism industry, trends and challenges. Challenges include insecurity and political uncertainty, global economic recession and unsustainable tourism development. Finally the authors analyse the environmental impact of tourism in Kenya using existing literature and results of discussions with a variety of industry stakeholders.

Key findings include:

  • despite the country’s policy advocating spatial distribution of tourists in the country, tourism marketing has continued to focus on the traditional attractions, thereby perpetuating concentration
  • impacts are most severe in crowded attractions – beaches have been polluted, coral reefs destroyed, marine species adversely affected and vegetation degraded
  • environmental regulations are either ignored or not effectively implemented
  • mitigation efforts are constrained by weak institutions, corruption, mismanagement, inadequate political and administrative capacity

The authors recommend interventions by the government and the private sector. These include:

  • providing incentives to encourage industry initiatives aimed at protecting the environment
  • improving policy implementation and strictly enforce environmental regulations
  • setting up a framework for information exchange and for environmental awareness creation of all stakeholders in the tourism industry
  • marketing of ‘green’ tourism products
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