- In an effort to promote eco-tourism to its vast newly established national parks, the government of Gabon has ordered a study on transportation infrastructure needs in five parks. Several new small airports may be constructed in the parks to allow tourists an easier access to these remote and poorly connected areas, but the road ahead towards attracting tourists is still long.
In September 2002, Gabon's President, El Hadj Omar Bongo, announced the creation of 13 new national parks in the mostly forest-covered country. These parks cover three million hectares, which represents 10 percent of Gabon's total surface area. The 13 parks represent all the country's main ecosystems, from marine and coastal habitats to mountain and lowlands forests.
Apart from taking active steps to protect the Gabonese environment from logging and spreading human settlements, the government planned to make Gabon a major destination for eco-tourism. Hosting some of Africa's least exploited rain forests and coastal sanctuaries, the potentials for such tourism were considered as being high.
Two years after the announcement, eco-tourism in Gabon is still at its beginnings. So far, the highly recognised government scheme has produced more costs than revenues. Large numbers of future "ecoguards and ecoguides" have had to be educated as the vast new areas needed protection from loggers, poachers, settlers and other potential threats.
As the guards and guides are beginning to be placed in the field, an infrastructure taking tourists to the attractions however still is widely missing. In light of this, Gabonese authorities yesterday ordered a "transportation development study" from a US-based consulting firm at a non-revealed price to be paid by the US Trade and Development Agency and the government of Gabon.
According to the US company, Decision/Analysis Partners, it is to "study transportation infrastructure needs for Gabon's national parks." A transportation strategy for air strips and access roads was "needed at this time to induce sustainable eco-tourism, and encourage visitors to experience several natural settings within a single trip," the company said in a statement released yesterday.
The study was to include five key national parks: Loango, Mayumba, Lope, Ivindo and Plateaux Bateke. The US company was to use a team including a transportation planning specialist, a civil engineer experienced in African construction, a local engineer and an external consultant, who "specialises in small airport and low density aviation consulting."
There was made no mention on the deadline of the study and when a partial eco-tourism infrastructure could be finalised in the five remote Gabonese parks. There have not been any reports to whether plans for an accommodation infrastructure in the parks are being developed. Gabon will be competing with a long list of African countries developing eco-tourism when it in future will seek international investors in this sector.
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