It’s fair to say that without tourism, most of the protected wildlife areas in East Africa would not exist. The big question is, however, will these protected natural areas collapse under the weight of their own success. How many tourists are too many? And can the numbers even be controlled?
Tourism is extremely important for Tanzania and Kenya, both of which share the Serengeti ecosystem. Tanzanian tourism, for example, accounts for half a million jobs in direct employment and more than double that in jobs that indirectly support the industry. In a country where the average income is less than three US dollars a day, that’s a huge asset. It’s a seductive idea, therefore, to keep growing tourist numbers indefinitely to maximize the benefits.
The term is being increasingly used, and for good reason. Wikipedia defines it as “the perceived congestion or overcrowding from an excess oftourists, resulting in conflicts with locals.” But this definition is too narrow. It may fit destinations like Barcelona or Venice but does not cover impacts on natural areas like the Serengeti.
In these areas, “locals” include wildlife and plants and the all the natural resources that sustain them. Impacts include land degradation by vehicles, stress on wildlife that impairs their hunting and reproductive success, demands on water and other resources, introduction of invasive plants, and barriers to wildlife movement.
Moreover, locals do include human communities around the Serengeti, which need to get tangible benefits from tourism. Otherwise, they may turn their backs on conservation, as this recent article suggests,