The World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) Country Director, David Duli has called for private sector investment in Rwenzori Mountain National Park (RMNP), one of Uganda's national park, which is currently among the least visited.
Located in Western Uganda, RMNP is well known for its flora and contains a large area of mountain forests. Additionally, the park's richness that includes flora and fauna scenic beauty, glacier lakes, rivers and waterfalls, diverse rock types, snow-capped peaks and rich cultural heritage makes it one of the spectacular destinations in the world.
Duli states that in addition to the unique geographical location, the Rwenzori natural heritage and biodiversity importance has been internationally recognized.
"As a result, the part has been designated by United Nations Education, Scientific and cultural organization (UNESCO) as the World Heritage Site (WHS), Important Bird Area (IBA), RAMSAR site and Endemic Bird Area. This makes the park a global resource attraction". Duli says
Unfortunately, the Rwenzori remains among the least visited destination sites in the country.
Despite the tremendous tourism resource base, the strategic location along the busiest main tourism circuit (the Western Uganda Circuit) in Uganda, Rwenzori Mountains National Park receives a mere 3,000 visitors per annum on average.
This is just 6% of the tourist traffic to its regional competitor- Kilimanjaro National Park in Tanzania.
Of the visitors to RMNP, 61% are domestic visitors (most of whom are students who stay for a few hours at the park) and 39% are international tourists.
Most international tourists are attracted by peak climbing. To both the international and domestic market segments, the RMNP is widely known as a hiking destination despite a wide array of other potential tourism products the park can offer.
"This does not portray its full tourism potential and hence is not yet fully exploited. The park contributes a mere 1% to UWA revenues compared to other parks (Murchison Falls, 20.4%; Queen Elizabeth, 12.1%; Bwindi, 50.8%; and Kibale, 8.2%) along the circuit.," Duli says.
This implies underlying issues/ constraints that undermine the volume and value of tourism for socio-economic development and sustainable conservation of the Rwenzori landscape ecosystem and its wildlife resources.
In Commemoration of World Tourism Day that will happen on September 27, WWF is partnering with, the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities and its agencies to step up efforts to increase the number of both international and domestic tourists to Rwenzori Mountains National Park (RMNP).
According to Martin Asiimwe, a Biodiversity expert at WWF, Improvement in the tourism volume is seen to come with enhanced tourism value in the entire landscape.
"The tourism-related benefits can have a substantial multiplier effect on the entire tourism value chain and importantly transform the livelihoods of communities around the park and enhance conservation", Asiimwe says.
However, there is an urgent need for the Private sector or business to invest around the Rwenzori Mountains National park as this will boost the standard of living and quality of life for the communities around Rwenzori.
WWF under the Hemple project is now working with Uganda Wildlife Authority and Uganda Tourism Board to develop partnerships with the Private sector to facilitate and promote Tourism in the Rwenzori Mountains National Park.
According to the Senior Warden of Rwenzori Mountains National Park James Okware, sustainable tourism development and promotion is one of the key approaches to ensure increased employment and income opportunities for the communities around the park.
"Boosting tourism will mean reduced degradation of the park resources since the communities around will have alternative sources of income. We are counting on the private sector to boost this", he said.
In a move to ensure that Rwenzori Mountains National Park benefits from its full potential as a tourism destination, the robust Tourism Business Plan which was developed by WWF must be adopted by Government and line agencies.
Once operationalized, this will guide the promotion and harnessing of the tourism potential of RMNP as a unique tourism destination.