Gabon: Eco-Tourism Strategy
Conseil National des Parcs Nationaux de Gabon/National Parks of Gabon
(via EU Programme Sectoriel de Valorisation des Aires Protégées/The Environment & Development Group - 2005/6)
Gabon has some of the last remaining large rainforest in the world. Entire eco-systems and the survival of communities in many central African countries are dependent on this rainforest in the Congo basin. Worldwide, the only other rainforest areas of such significance as the Congo basin are in Borneo and the Amazon basin. In an attempt to protect this vast natural wonder, President Bongo declared 13 national parks in 2002, covering 10% of the country’s land mass.
But protecting these trees, plants, animals, mammals, birds and landscape came at a cost. So, eco-tourism was seen as a means of contributing towards the maintenance and development of these parks. A strategy was required to help attract eco-tourists to Gabon, a country that was relatively unknown and unexplored by all but a handful of wildlife biologists and plant scientists. "Eco-tourists" were identified as visitors who would not only appreciate what the country offered, but whose visit would enhance, rather than damage, the natural environment and conservation of the tropical rainforests, the rare animals, birds and oceanic mammals.
But a country that had hardly opened its doors to tourism had a long way to go in developing an understanding of the value of its natural assets on which its long-term, sustainable future would depend. Persuading people in rural areas, for instance, to change from hunting for bush meat to conserving species in order to attract tourism revenue would take time. A strong eco-tourism element therefore had to be built into our marketing strategy (See also: Gabon Tourism Marketing Strategy & Action Plan under Marketing Strategy)
- We developed an eco-tourism strategy, with key Gabonese tourism and conservation professionals from Gabontour (Ministry), the National Parks office, Wildlife Conservation Society, Conservation International and others
- This identified those who would be most interested in Gabon’s natural environment, its flora, fauna, landscape and culture; people who would also tread most lightly and leave Gabon as they found it; and people whose visit would contribute most towards the parks’ maintenance – high yield, low impact visitors
- Product, infrastructure and skills development needs were identified - from guide training, customer service skills and accommodation quality to inbound handling agency functions and internal communications
- The strategy had to be sustainable, in terms of contributing towards long-term economic development and employment, minimising social and cultural conflict, and enhancing environmental conservation
- A cost-effective action plan, with clear targets and costs, was developed to translate this strategy into action
- A sustainable eco-tourism strategy, which would contribute to long-term economic, social and cultural development, and environmental conservation
- A cost-effective action plan, with realistic targets and practical recommendations for action
- Increased capacity, and greater understanding of the international tourism supply chain, amongst tourism and conservation professionals in Gabon