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Travel - Leisure | Economy - Development

Gabon ecotourism site "abandoned"

Arial view of Gabon's Loango National Park

© Michael Viljoen/Africa's Eden/afrol News
afrol News, 26 July
- A main tourism operator at Gabon's key ecotrousim site, the Loango National Park, has announced today that it "has been forced to abandon" its operations at the park as of September 2010.

This was announced in a press release by Africa's Eden SA, the main tourism operator at Gabon's Loango National Park. The move is a result of the failure of negotiations following a dispute between the Gabonese civil aviation authorities (ANAC) and Africa Eden's sister company SCD Aviation, which ran a regional airline charter company to transport tourists from the capital Libreville to the park.

Even active support of key Gabonese government members could not prevent the severe consequence of "a malfunctioning civil aviation authority (ANAC) that failed to create the conditions necessary for regular and safe aviation transportation," according to the operator. SCD Aviation was consistently refused the renewal of its certificate "even though all requirements were met."

Another consequence of this problematic situation is the fact that the European Union blacklisted all Gabonese airlines in 2008 when a large number of deficiencies were reported with regards to the capability of ANAC "to perform their air safety oversight responsibilities," as states the European Commission.

The decision by Africa's Eden to pull out of Gabon was taken despite investments of more than euro 15 million over the past decade in aviation access and tourism infrastructure and nature conservation. The company has contributed in "building accommodation, eco-camps, training Gabonese staff and eco-guides and supporting research and monitoring studies for the conservation of Loango's exceptional wildlife and biodiversity wealth," it said.

The decision means that Loango Lodge, which since 2001 has welcomed thousands of international tourists to discover Gabon's wildlife rich forests and unspoiled coastline, is closing its doors indefinitely.

"We have made numerous attempts to resolve this dispute amicably for over a year n

Elephant in front of Gabon's Loango tourist lodge

© Africa's Eden/afrol News
ow," said Rombout Swanborn, founder of Africa's Eden and SCD Aviation. "The ongoing events and consequences of not being able to operate our aircraft have financially crippled our organisation, leaving us with no choice but to take this drastic measure."

"We are highly disappointed as a solution would have benefited all parties involved. In the end, the Gabonese people," Mr Swanborn added. Legal action against the aviation authorities in Gabon had been initiated to seek compensation for the alleged financial lossesby the companies.

The tour operator holds that the conflict with ANAC and its pull-out from the country would produce "severe consequences for Gabon's tourism and conservation sector." The Loango National Park has often been described as "the jewel in the crown" of Gabon's 13 national parks.

"The close down of Loango National Park is a major setback in the development of sustainable tourism in Gabon," said Jacqueline van den Broek, marketing manager of Africa's Eden. She added that the company was the main tourism operator in Gabon and that it had "won the country huge global exposure through its promotional activities."

"As of today, we will stop promoting and selling Gabon as tourism destination," Ms van den Broek anounced. "The damage is considerable: over 125 employees will be laid off and millions of euros of tourism investments will be lost, quite aside from the euro 3 million that Africa's Eden has contributed towards research, conservation and education at the park," she added.

According to the company, the business concept at Loango had been defined as "Tourism pays for Conservation". Revenues generated by Africa's Eden were to a large degree reinvested in research, conservation, park management and education activities in Loango National Park, according to the company.

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