Responsible tourism in gazette forests in Kenya
One of the functions of Kenya Forest Service (KFS) is to develop programmes and facilities for tourism, recreational and ceremonial use of forests [The Forests Act 2005: 5(k)]. The organization manages 1.7 million hectares of gazetted forests that range from equatorial forests (e.g. Mt. Kenya), tropical rainforest (Kakamega forest), dryland forests (Matthews Range forest), coastal forests (Arabuko Sokoke) and urban forests (Ngong forest). These forests are rich in plant and wildlife biodiversity, in addition to having numerous attractive features including panoramic views, lakes, craters, waterfalls, caves and hills.
Consequently, KFS collaborates with different stakeholders to develop responsible tourism products and activities in forest reserves in Kenya. The objective is to develop ecotourism, defined as ”responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people" (TIES, 1990). The products being developed in forest reserves therefore include ecolodges, tree houses, campsites, nature trails and canopy walkways.
Ecotourism products, activities and services should be non-extractive, implying that they do not take away resources from forests. They should also have very low negative impact on the environment. Indeed for KFS, ecotourism should meet the following tenets:
1.Minimize impacts on the environment
2.Protect and benefit forest biodiversity and forest conservation
3.Promote environmental awareness and cultural preservation
4.Meet and exceed tourist expectations
5.Benefit forest-adjacent communities
By promoting ecotourism, KFS aims to be the leading organization of excellence in development and operation of responsible tourism in forest reserves. Leadership entails bringing together research, planning, partnerships, global best practices and creativity to develop unique tourism products that have the least possible negative impacts on Kenyan forests. By promoting ecotourism, KFS is ensuring that future generations will experience aspects of the environment in almost the same way that we are doing now.