Improved Ecotourism In Lake Naivasha Basin Tourism Essay

Lake Naivasha Basin is located on the floor of Kenya’s Eastern (Gregorian) Rift Valley, surrounded by the Kinangop plateau & Aberdares Mountains to the east, and the Mau Escarpment to the west. The lake itself -a Ramsar Site- is the 2nd largest freshwater lake in Kenya after Lake Victoria, positioned at an altitude of 1884m above sea level (Owiti, 2006) covering an area of 150km². It’s surrounded by a swamp which covers an area of 64km² (Arusei, 2004), depending on amount of rainfall cover hence has an average depth of 6m (20ft), with the deepest area being at Crescent Island, at a maximum depth of 30m (100ft). Since the basin is situated at the bed of the Rift Valley plains between the two highlands, its ecological stature deems to be fragile and prone to environmental degradation.

However, the Lake Naivasha Basin is rich in biodiversity with three national parks (Mt. Longonot, Hell’s Gate and The Aberdares), several privately-owned wildlife sanctuaries (i.e. Oserian Wildlife Sanctuary, Crescent Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Kongoni Game Valley, Elsamere Conservation Centre and Crater Lake Game Sanctuary), fertile agro-ecological zones in the upper catchment, protected forests, ecotourism sites and several highland watershed areas. It has three major ecotourism projects in Gilgil (Malewa Trust), Kinangop (FoKP) and in Kongoni (Ndamamo Economic Empowerment Group) as shown in figure . Its watershed areas serve as good areas for small and large scale agriculture, while 50km² of land around the lake is under large scale horticulture and widespread cattle farms. Lake Naivasha sustains major economic activities such as tourism, horticulture, geothermal power generation and local fisheries due to its environment having distinctiveness attached with its natural beauty and mild climate. Its favourable climatic conditions, nearness to Nairobi and the fresh water lake are features that have prompted large-scale flower farming on the lake shore (Becht et al, 2006). These similar features make the area attractive for tourists, with mostly residents from Nairobi and from abroad who regularly visit the area.

Figure Map of Lake Naivasha catchment and positioning of three major ecotourism projects (Source: International Lake Environment Committee website).

River Malewa, arising from the Aberdare Mountains, and Gilgil River -arising from Dundori highlands- are the main sources of water for the lake, while Karati and underground seepage from the Eastern Mau are secondary sources of water for the lake. Its water-catchment areas do characterize varied ecological zones that sustain distinctive habitats and biological resources that supply to the regions’ dazzling socio-economic development. The upper catchment areas encompass five forests: Kipipiri, Mau, Eburu, Aberdares and Kinangop.

Naivasha town (100km northwest of Nairobi) is a busy traffic hub of the Nairobi-Kampala highway and a tourist destination.

WWF River Malewa Conservation Project

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is a Global Conservation organization and NGO. Since 1962, WWF EARPO (Eastern Africa Regional Programme Office) which has its headquarters in Nairobi has been involved in coordination of numerous conservation programmes in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia. The River Malewa Conservation Project focuses on issues relating to Ecotourism development, Policy enforcement, enhancing rural livelihoods, building a civil society, MFS, Natural Resource Management (NRM), Payment for Environmental Services (PES), Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) and Environmental conservation awareness and learning. The project initiated on 28th August 2000 and is planned to cease on 31st December 2010. WWF partners with key stakeholders such as tour operators, hoteliers, SNV and KWS so as to assess the possibilities of improving ecotourism in Lake Naivasha Basin, in view of responding to “rural poor poverty” (WWF, 2006).

Improved Ecotourism

Improved ecotourism around Lake Naivasha Basin is rooted by its rich natural biodiversity, support from the Government and NGOs such as WWF, EAWLS, USAID Ecotourism Kenya and Nature Kenya, as well as positive involvement and commitment by the local communities towards ecotourism programmes and/ or projects through their CBOs- majority of whom are the Maasai and Kikuyu tribes.

Ecotourism: A Necessity for Improving Sustainable Livelihoods

Ecotourism is itself a tool for conservation and community development; thus it endows socio-economic benefits towards the local communities as well as sustaining ecological resource integrity through minimal-impact, non-consumptive resource utilization.

Problem Statement

Ecotourism being natural resource-based and capital-intensive, factors for its viability in the Lake Naivasha Basin comprise of: entrepreneurship, infrastructure, hospitality, marketing, security, land ownership, financial capital, security and condition of resources. Nevertheless, regarding local communities who are seldom aware of ecotourism businesses/ initiatives, or to revolutionize subsistent land-use practices into ecotourism, or using their peanut-earned incomes into ecotourism investment without any assurance of returns is still a major challenge for the local communities who rely on small-scale subsistence farming for insufficient incomes.

Thus, there is the need to inspire the local communities and land owners to take up ecotourism initiatives/ projects. Community mobilization, capacity building and awareness is a challenge which requires solid involvement if not assurances.

Moreover, it has been seen that the Lake Naivasha ecosystem is experiencing threats from water pollution: chemical wastes from flower farms; and mostly as a result of soil deposits eroded from the upper catchments where deforestation, cultivation on steep slopes and riparian land continues indebting to weak implementation of government policies with respect to conservation efforts.

Research Objectives

To identify the ecotourism activities and players within the Basin

How ecotourism can be integrated into community development

How ecotourism could have been integrated into the IWRM plans for River Malewa

To investigate the degree of ecotourism awareness

To find out the extent of commitment by local communities towards ecotourism activities

To find out the level of satisfaction by people towards ecotourism in their localities

How people there perceive ecotourism development.

Scope of Research Study

This research explores the status of improved ecotourism in Lake Naivasha Basin. The theoretical framework used in the study is based on findings by Michaelidou et al. (2002): the Interdependence Hypothesis, which implies that there is interdependence between environmental conservation and community survival and that both should be equally intertwined so as to benefit, as well as scrutinizing the potentiality of improved ecotourism in the study areas.




The mutual dependence of tourism and the physical and social environment is crucial to the future of each. Tourism is a service industry whose primary resource is environments and cultures which differ from those where the tourists usually live (Grabun, 1989 p.21). Tourism is not only a powerful tool for socio-economic development but also an aspect in the physical environment as well (Okech, 2009), hence it has the power to improve the environment, provide funds for conservation, preserve culture and history, to set sustainable use limits and to protect the natural attractions.

Sustainable tourism on the whole strives to complement and bring together issues of intergenerational equity, and the goals of economic growth, environmental protection and social justice. It recognizes the need for fairness between local individuals and groups, and between hosts and guests (Mbaiwa, 2005 p.203). Bramwell and Lane (1993, p.2) came up with four basic elements that are critical to the concept of sustainable tourism, which includes: holistic planning & strategy formulation; preservation of essential ecological processes; protection of human heritage & biodiversity; and sustained productivity over the long term for the future generations. Reacting to the negative environmental impacts that have emerged as a result of mass tourism and undifferentiated marketing, tourism industry players and researchers have began to advocate sustainable tourism. This aspect puts greater emphasis on development that is particularly sensitive to the long-term good of the natural and socio-cultural environments, while still realizing the financial benefits for the host community. In this manner, tourism must be planned and managed in such a manner that is natural and cultural environments are not depleted or degraded, but maintained as viable resources on a permanent basis for continuous use (Butler, 1993 p.27; Murphy, 1998 p.173; Wall, 1997 p.33).

Ecotourism on the other hand is one type of tourism that is rapidly increasing in popularity around the globe, especially in developing nations. Ecotourism is defined by The International Ecotourism Society as “Travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people” ( “Ecotourism must contribute to the conservation of natural areas and the sustainable development of adjacent areas and communities, and it should generate further environmental and conservation awareness among resident populations and visitors” (World Tourism Organization, 2000). Newsome, Moore, and Dowling (2002, p.14) state: “the primary goals of ecotourism are to foster sustainable use through resource conservation, cultural revival and economic development and diversification”. Newsome, Moore, and Dowling (2002, p.15) further mention five principles of ecotourism, and state: “Ecotourism is nature-based, ecologically sustainable, environmentally educative, locally beneficial and generates tourist satisfaction”. Therefore, it potentially provides a sustainable approach to development. The recent rush in popularity of improved ecotourism has much to do with the search for a richer holiday experience by the guest (Okech, 2007) hence Kenya being a good example of one of the pioneers in ecotourism. Kenya gave rise to one of Africa’s earliest experiments in community-based conservation using park and tourism revenues and began the first efforts to systematically adopt ecotourism principles and practices in its national park system (Honey, 2008).

However, sustainable tourism should not be confused with ecotourism in that sustainable tourism generally embraces all segments of the industry with guidelines and criteria that seek and reduce environmental impacts, particularly the use of non-renewable sources, using measurable benchmarks, and to improve tourism’s contribution to sustainable development and environmental conservation (Global Development Research Centre, 2008). Ecotourism is a sub-category of sustainable tourism, which contains the educational, sustainable and nature-based components, and provides local benefits- environmentally, culturally and economically.

Ecotourism and Conservation

Green Tourism and Ecotourism

Community-Based Ecotourism

According to Marris (2001, p.5), “CBET is tourism that is based on a combination of both cultural and natural attractions. It therefore usually takes place in natural areas and involves local communities which still retain traditional cultures and which actively participate in the development and management of tourism activities”. From this definition, we see that the local community has significant involvement in its management and development of ecotourism resources in a way that most of the benefits accrued remain in the community.

Community-based ecotourism in Kenya is still at its development phases, having been initiated by the KWS Community Section.

In many regions, the people who live in or around the national parks in Kenya have formed local community ecotourism projects, which are cultural and resource centres where tourists are allowed into a tribe’s village by paying an admission fee (Honey, 1999).

NGO Involvement

According to the WWF Tourism Position Statement (WWF International, 2001 p.3), it mentions that: “WWF and the tourism industry should share a common goal: the long-term preservation of the natural environment. This presents a vision that tourism development and practice should be part of a wider sustainable development strategy; be compatible with effective conservation of natural ecosystems; and involve local people and cultures, ensuring that they have an equitable share in its benefits”. From this statement, WWF actually does get involved in CBET projects/ initiatives mainly through facilitation of the CBOs involved. This can be in form of policy formulation and intervention; ecotourism education & environmental conservation awareness programmes; capacity building; IWRM; and tour guide training.

In lake Naivasha Basin, WWF facilitates CBOs engaging in ecotourism projects through Ecotourism development; Policy enforcement; enhancing rural livelihoods; building a civil society; MFS; Natural Resource Management (NRM); Payment for Environmental Services (PES); IWRM; and Environmental conservation awareness and learning for rural communities.

Community Involvement

Normally, those members of the community who have experience and/ or knowledge on ecotourism, community/ rural development and conservation are involved in the project or enterprise. In this case, those community members with no official nor business-related agreements need to be corresponded by their partners (communities) with the needed expertise, and with facilitation from organizations such as KWS, EAWLS, WWF, Ecotourism Kenya, Nature Kenya, USAID among others with similar roles.

With the sufficient facilitation for CBET projects, eventually the local community benefits will intertwine with ecological sustainability. Fennell (1999, p.24) mentions that “Sustainable tourism development is unlikely to occur unless the people from rural communities work together so as to make it happen. There appears to be a certain agreement that if sustainability is to occur at all, it must be done at the local level, and perhaps shaped loosely by a broader national or international policy”. Therefore, the local communities will perceive the significance of conservation if they enjoy the benefits accrued from CBET.

The table below shows several levels of community involvement in ecotourism in the basin, as corresponded by HÓ“usler and Strasdas (2003). They include:

Table : Possible Community Involvement in the ecotourism enterprise


Type of Enterprise/ Institution

Nature of local involvement



Private business run by outsiders


Supply of good and services

Kitchen staff in a lodge

Sale of food, building materials


Enterprise or informal sector operation run by local individuals

Enterprise ownership


Supply of goods and services

Craft sales, food kiosk

Campsite, home stays

Guiding services

Hawking, sale of fuel wood, food


Community enterprise

Collective ownership

Collective or individual management

Supply of goods and services

Employment or contributed labour

Community campsite

Craft centre

Cultural centre

Guest house


Joint venture between community and private operator

Contractual commitments or shared ownership

Share in revenue

Lease/ investment of resources

Participation in decision-making

Revenue-sharing from lodge and/ or tour operation to local community on agreed terms

Community leases land/ resources/ concession to lodge/ tour operation

Community holds equity in lodge/ tour operation


Tourism planning body




Local Consultation in regional tourism planning (e.g. FoKP)

Community representatives on tourism board and in planning forums

Source: HÓ“usler and Strasdas, 2003.

Tourism in Kenya

Tourism is increasingly becoming a significant economic tool in most countries in this world. It contributes about 5% of GDP and 4% of total employment in Kenya (World Economic Forum, 2008). In spite of the seemingly low contribution, however, the general tourism economy, which captures the backward and forward linkages, contributes 11.6% of GDP. The sector also contributes to almost 23% in foreign exchange earnings and employs about 253,000 people in the modern wage sector (World Trade and Tourism Council, 2007). Moreover, a large percentage of the world’s population is becoming more reliant on this industry and its sustained feasibility. According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), tourism is the largest business sector in the world economy, responsible for over 230 million jobs and over 10% of gross domestic product worldwide.

On a global scale, according to the UNWTO, international tourist arrivals fell by 4% in 2009 to 880 million. This represents a slight improvement as a result of the 2% upswing in the last quarter of 2009. In contrast, international tourist arrivals shrank by 10%, 7% and 2% in the first three quarters of 2009 respectively (UNWTO, 2010). In the first two months of 2010, the international tourist arrivals reached a total of 119 million, marking an increase of 6.25% compared to 2009.

Kenya has become more and more of a popular tourist destination for visitors from Europe, South-east Asia, North America and emerging tourist-generating regions such as South America. By December 2009, tourism revenues had raked in an estimated Sh. 62.46 billion compared to 2007’s Sh. 65.4 billion and 2008’s Sh. 52.71 (KTB, 2010). In the first two months of 2010, international arrivals to Kenya reported a growth of 18% compared to 2009 (UNWTO, 2010). Visitor arrivals in 2009 increased to 1.8 million compared to 1.2 million in 2008, indicating a 50% recovery rate resulting from the post-election violence which erupted in early 2008 and negatively affected the industry. During the first half of 2010, visitor arrivals rose to 483,000 compared to 477,000 in 2007, with most visitors arriving from the UK, Germany, Italy, France and the United States.

In recent past years, the tourism industry has seen an exceptional growth. Between 2003 and 2006, the average growth rate was 9.8% compared to 5.4% for Africa and 3.2% for global tourism (Ikiara et al, 2007). Tourism revenue grew by 14.9% in 2006 and overtook horticulture to become the leading foreign exchange earner, with earnings of Sh. 56.2 billion (Kenya Economic Report, 2009).

The table below shows the flow of key economic indicators using the latest available information, with tourism contributing to 5% of GDP.

Table : Key Economic Indicators 2003-2009








Population (millions)








Population Growth Rate (%)








GDP per capita (US$ at current prices)








GDP (US$ bn. at current prices)








GDP growth at constant prices (%)








Inflation Rate (%)








Exchange Rate: Annual average Kenyan shillings to US$








Sources: KNBS,, World Development Indicators

Vision 2030

The Vision 2030 is a long-term development strategy which was launched by the Government of Kenya in 2008. Known as the government’s ‘development blueprint’, the strategy is being run from 2008 till 2030. It aims to “transform Kenya into a newly industrializing, middle-income country providing a high quality life to all its citizens by the year 2030, making it a globally competitive country.

It aims to have tourism as a leading sector in the economy, hence to be one of the top 10 tourist destinations in the world. It also intends to raise the number of international visitors from 1.8 million in 2009 to 3 million in 2012 whereas increasing average spent per visitor from the present Sh. 45,000 to at least Sh. 70,000 hence increase hotel beds from 40,000 to at least 65,000, merged with stress on top-notch service quality.

Tourism Policies supporting Tourism Improvement

If Kenya is to improve its tourism performance and compete as among the best long-haul destinations on a global scale, then an assortment of policy interventions are to be anticipated (Source: Ministry of Tourism report, 2009):

Domestic tourism should be promoted alongside international tourism through aggressive campaigns and price differentials, among other interventions. More studies are needed so as to understand what kind of tourism products would be preferable to domestic tourists e.g. periodic cultural events and festivals.

Kenya should ensure that demand for accommodation facilities is always higher than supply. This can be executed through boosting marketing while limiting supply. Kenya should also endeavour to promote low density-high value products in key tourist circuits such as Amboseli and the Maasai Mara National Parks. Further investment in tourist facilities should be discouraged while the existing ones should be upgraded and the prices adjusted upwards to discourage high volumes while raising value. In order to facilitate controlled development, carrying capacity studies should be conducted as an issue of perseverance for the major tourist circuits and reserves/ parks. It’s essential that ecotourism development areas to be clearly defined and prioritized, with management plans to be formulated and adopted. The proposal for home stays and resort cities as included in the country’s long term development strategy: the Vision 2030 are all good proposals, but they should seek to maintain demand ahead of supply.

Necessity for immense capacity building and stipulation of microfinance or concessional capital so as to fuel local participation in tourism ventures. Tax inducements and affirmative action may be beneficial.

Tendency to conclude and sanctify the tourism policy along with the required legislation for effective execution, including pro-active policy involvement, designing an sophisticated incentive package for tourism investments, and embedding competition and technology transfer. These interventions should be in line with the Vision 2030. The incentives should direct investments into new circuits (for instance western Kenya), new ecotourism products for sustainable development and local community participation.

Synchronization of tourism training curricula should be undertaken and implemented promptly so as to facilitate service quality in tourism. There is need to introduce and expand new training courses so as to match the changing needs of the tourism industry.

The country’s business environment should be improved. Therefore, infrastructure should be improved (roads, airports, railways, energy etc.) and simplify and reduce licence requirements. Regional incorporation needs to be fast-tracked by marketing of East Africa as a sole destination, hence formulating a regional categorization and regulatory criteria, reforming and harmonizing of regulations on movement of tourist vehicles across borders and within regional background, and launching of a regional tourist visa.

Aggressive promotion of International tourism through increased budgetary allocations. This is to increase tourist arrivals to the desired 3 million by 2012.

Last but not least, security is an important aspect. There is need to increase capacity in the Tourist Police Unit through customer service. Strict measures are required to be taken so as to alleviate drug abuse as well as sexual exploitation of children in tourism.

Even if the policy interventions are being exercised, the UN’s Tourism Act of 2002 -which contains a master plan for tourism development-, is still not fully adopted by the Kenyan policy makers hence the industry is regulated by a few scattered mentions in different pieces of legislation (Table ) (Zhaliazniak, 2009).

Table Pieces of legislation that oversee the tourism industry in Kenya (Zhaliazniak, 2009 p.15)

No. in Laws of Kenya

Name of the legal document


CAP 381

Tourist industry Licensing Act

Licensing of tourism enterprises

CAP 494

Hotels and Restaurants Act

Specifies conditions for licensing and regulation

CAP 376

Wildlife Conservation and Management Act

Looks into tourism enterprises within parks and reserves


Environmental Management and Coordination Act

Provides guidelines on where a tourism site is allowed to be set

CAP 382

Kenya Tourist Development Authority

Provides for the setup of Kenya Tourist Development Corporation, which is charged with the task of provision of financial facilities and advisory services to the tourism industry.

Tourism in Lake Naivasha Basin

Ecotourism Products and Activities

The table below outlines the Ecotourism products and activities within L. Naivasha Basin.

Friends of Kinangop Plateau (FoKP) “Gateway to Development”

Murungaru Location, Central Division, Nyandarua District, Central Province

Founded in 2007, FoKP is an SSG, with activities focused on conservation of endemic bird species. It currently has over 10,000 members from 24 self-help groups which are housed by FoKP. They include: Uhuru Women Group, Mwihoti Youth Initiatives, Engineer Broad Vision, Ukweli SHG, Murungaru Water Harvesting Agriculture, Mutaratara SHG, Paphrling-KERS, Machinery Young Farmers, Mumui SHG, Kimrui Volley Team, KAG Church, Kuria Mutego Dam, Aragwai Co-op Society, Waithima, Guphabai SHG, Kimuri, Bidii Dam, Mikaro Bee Keepers, Mazhinda Dam, Faru Dam, Githunguri Dam and Kimuri Dairy Group.

Despite the SHGs and large number of members, there are only 15 community guides involved in ecotourism while 17 are in cultural tourism. However, potentiality of ecotourism development is evident through presence of a mini-museum with historical items of the Kikuyu tribe and colonialists; research tourists mainly from Europe and Kenya; endemic bird species; bird migration to dams; past history of the “white” highlands; good view points for the Rift Valley; accommodation at Kinangop Guest House and Ecotourism Bandas at FoKP Centre. Agro tourism is on the pipeline through beehive and fish farming. Their main facilitators are WWF and Nature Kenya as well as CDTF and USAID. This place is ideal for bird lovers, with visitors mostly from the UK and Holland.

Plate : Ecotourism Bandas at FoKP Murungaru Centre (left) and a section of the Mini Museum displaying some arts & artifacts.

Table 1: Ecotourism Products and Activities within Lake Naivasha Basin







Friends of Kinangop Plateau (FoKP)


Mini museum

Kinangop Guest House

Bandas/ tented camps

Conserved trees

Important Bird Area (IBA)

Man-made dam

British colonial homes


Bird watching

Cultural dances/ performances

Beehive farming

Hiking/ excursions

Nature conservation


Hells Gate National Park (KWS)


Wildlife (zebra, buffalo, eland, gazelle, baboons, hartebeest, leopards)

103 bird species

Mervyn Carnelley Raptor Hide

Fischer’s tower

The Lower Gorge

Ol Karia Geothermal Station

Tourist Circuits, nature trails & picnic sites

Naivasha Airstrip (Govt. of Kenya)


Rock climbing


Hiking & trekking

Game driving

Bird watching



Mt. Longonot National Park (KWS)


Mt. Longonot

Volcanic crater

Hot springs

Wildlife (buffalo, Thompsons gazelle, giraffe, guinea fowls, zebras)

400 bird species

Some reptiles (gecko & snakes)

Lodia Safari Airstrip (private)


Rock/ mountain climbing


Bird watching

Game watching


South L. Naivasha Boats Ecotourism Project

Private/ individual

Fisherman’s Camp

Lake Naivasha

(Motorized) boats

Bird species

Wildlife (hippopotamus, monkeys)

Olkaria Cultural Centre

Bird watching


Boat safaris


Sun downers

Lake shoreline walk


Geta CFA Ecotourism project


Aberdare Mountains

Kipipiri Hill

Bandas/ tented camps

Geta Forest Guest House

Protected areas

Wildlife (colobus monkeys)


Mountain hiking/ excursions

Cave exploration

Cultural/ historical activities

Nature conservation



Aberdares National Park (KWS)


Wildlife(elephant, lion, jackal, bushbuck, waterbuck, cape buffalo, colobus monkey, forest hog, leopard, bush duiker, eland, bongo, olive baboon, sykes monkey, mountain reedbuck)

Treetops Lodge

Aberdare ranges

Self-help banda sites

Picnic sites

250+ bird species

Airstrips in Nyeri & Mweiga

Mountain hiking

Game driving (4WD)


Camping in moorlands

Bird watching


Upper Turasha Conservation Group



Aberdare ranges

Home stays


Community centre (Kenyahwe house)

Tree nurseries

Wildlife (elephants from forest)

Agro forestry

Baking and selling of bread, cakes

Cave exploration

Mountain climbing/ hiking

Bird watching


Oloika Women Group



Maasai Community

Savanna plains