Assessment of Ecotourism Potentials of Protected Areas: The Case of KAFTA-SHERARO National Park, NW Ethiopia

Assessment of Ecotourism Potentials of Protected Areas: The Case of KAFTA-SHERARO National Park, NW Ethiopia

Addisu Asefaa


Ethiopia is characterized by its high level of diversity and endemism of flora and fauna, scenic and contrasting landscapes, nations with diverse culture and tradition, and amazing historical places. Although these resources are of huge importance for developing tourism industry, which plays an invaluable role in boosting the local and national economy and creating job opportunities, the country is currently known and visited mostly from its historical aspect. Nature-based tourism activities, particularly wildlife-based and the landscape and ecosystem which they are part, in the country’s protected areas is still under developed. This study was conducted in the Kafta - Sheraro National Park, NW Ethiopia, with the main aim to determine the feasibility for development of ecotourism at the area. Specifically, we carried out assessment, in and around the KSNP in June/July 2016, of ecotourism attractions; ii) availability and status of tourist infrastructure and public services; iii) market demand, and supply and competitiveness; and iv) human and institutional capacity of the park. We followed three main steps to undertake attraction inventory in and around the park. First, we carried out a rapid assessment fieldwork to identify, record and characterize potential tourism attractions. Then, we held a series of discussions and meetings with key informants selected from local communities and government authorities found from kebele to regional levels. Finally, we evaluated tourism importance of the attractions using the following criteria, where applicable: uniqueness to the region or the country; aesthetic, scenic or recreational values; community participation (the potential for community members to benefit from this attraction); accessibility; availability of infrastructure; and status (degree of intactness/authenticity). Our data showed that at least 15 (nine natural, six cultural and three historical/heritage) tourism resources were identified from the area, indicating the presence of high potential of the park as one ecotourism destination area in the country. Our results also showed how tourism potential of poorly studied areas can easily be assessed; the procedure we used here could be applied to any similar protected areas of the country, as well elsewhere. As can be seen from the brief SWOT analysis, however, some of the attractions identified and described in the KSNP are associated with poor accessibility, low levels of infrastructure and substantial levels of environmental degradation, all the strengths and weakness and opportunities presented in the SWOT analysis should be considered. Specifically, priority actions needed to develop ecotourism in the park and that should be incorporated in the “10-YEAR GENERAL MANAGEMENT PLAN OF KSNP” include: i) spatial mapping of the products/attractions; ii) developing infrastructure and facilities (road networks inside the park, lodges, campsites, etc.), iii) Promotion and marketing works (developing signposts, broachers, pamphlets, website, etc.), iv) fulfill adequate (and skilled) tourism staffing level, and v) forming and strengthening partnership with local communalities, tourism departments and tour operators, etc.

Keywords: Attractions, biodiversity degradation, conservation, ecotourism development, socio-economy.

  1. Introduction

The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as: “A responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local peoples” (Gutierrez, 2005). It is a subset of nature-based tourism and relates to an experience in remote or natural areas that fosters an understanding and appreciation of the need to conserve the natural environment in a way that sustains the resources, culture and economy of the local community. Ecotourism is becoming the fastest growing industry globally and in most of the least developed countries, in particular, it contributes more than 50% of their GDP and is creating a local incentive for conserving natural areas and enhancing the economic income of the local people (UN-WTO, 2009). However, the success and sustainability of ecotourism development relies on a healthy environment, and socio-economy and political stability; otherwise, poorly planned ecotourism development could lead to a negative resultant outcome on the socio-economy and environment of the destination area (Gutierrez, 2005).

Ethiopia is characterized by high level of flora and fauna diversity and endemism, contrasting scenic landscapes and ecosystems, over 80 ethnic groups that their own unique culture and tradition, a number of ancient historical and religious places, and several geological/archaeological assets (Mckee, 2005). Although these resources are of huge importance for developing tourism industry, the country is currently sharing a small fraction of global tourism market compared to its counterpart east African countries like Kenya and Uganda (Biniyam Admasu, 2011; Addisu Asefa, 2015). Nature-based ecotourism in the Ethiopia is particularly at its infant stage and the country has been mostly known from its historical and cultural aspects with most tourists visiting the northern historical places and the southern nations and nationalities. There are three major impediments in developing nature-based ecotourism (e.g. wildlife-based) in Ethiopia: (i) lack of awareness and recognition of concerned government bodies on the potential that ecotourism has in socio-economic and environmental development of the country, (ii) preservation of protected areas and their biodiversity from the increasing human pressures, and (iii) lack of information on tourism attractions and other products at potential destination areas (Addisu Asefa, 2015). As a result, only few (e.g. Simien Mountains and Bale Mountains National Parks) of Ethiopia’s protected areas are relatively enjoying good tourism arrivals, while such tourism activities are virtually absent in recently (<10-15 years ago) established protected areas, such as Kafta - Sheraro National Park (KSNP).

Despite the low contribution of nature-based (wildlife) tourism to the whole tourism market in the country, the overall current status of tourism in Ethiopia shows a positive and an increasing trend. For example, according to The World Bank group (2017) report tourist arrival in the country has increased from 103,000 visitors in 1995 to 864,000 in 2015. Similar reports also indicate that, in the year 2012, tourism has made 12.3% to total GDP; 10.6% to the total employment opportunities; and 7.5% contribution to the total investment in Ethiopia (AWF, undated). This promising increasing trend of tourist arrival is attributed to the increasing level of awareness of Ethiopian government on the importance of tourism in boosting national and local economy, creation of job opportunity and poverty alleviation. There are a number of evidences that show the increasing awareness of Ethiopian government’s on the importance of tourism which has been manifested in the various commitments made by the government to improve the tourism sector, such as: (i) establishment of new organizations like Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority and Ethiopian Tourism Organization, (ii) inclusion of tourism development in several of its national development plans (e.g. the “Growth and Transformation Plan”, and (iii) establishment of several wildlife protected areas (EWCA, 2017). Consequently, the issue of developing nature-based ecotourism in protected areas of the country is now becoming a big agenda for both Federal and Regional Wildlife Conservation and Tourism Authorities. Developing ecotourism at protected areas, in turn, requires assessment of potentials of such areas for ecotourism development; specifically, i) identification of the type of attractions the areas have, ii) evaluation of the suitability of the attractions for ecotourism development, and iii) developing tourism development plans (Gutierrez, 2005).

The main aim this paper was, using KSNP of Ethiopia as a case study, to show how one could easily and rapidly assess tourism potentials of poorly studied protected areas in Ethiopia, as well elsewhere. We chose KSNP as our case study for two reasons. First, it represents one of the recently established National Parks of the country where information on their biophysical resources, in general, and tourism assets, in particular, has been poorly documented. And, secondly, development of a General Management Plan for the park is currently undergoing where “Tourism Management and Development Programme” is one of its main components. The specific objectives were to: i) undertake inventory of tourist attractions in the park; ii) assess the availability and status of tourist infrastructure and public services in the area; iii) assess market demand, and supply and competitiveness of the park; and iv) assess human and institutional capacity of the park.

  1. Materials and Methods

Study Area

The Kafta-Sheraro area was formerly set aside in 1968 as a wildlife Reserve, known as “Shire Wildlife Reserve”. The e present Kafta-Sheraro National Park (KSNP) was designated at the core area of that reserve  in 2007 mainly to conserve the relict populations of the African Elephant found in the area its co-occurring biodiversity and ecosystems (KSNP, 2016). The park had been managed under the auspices of the Tigray Regional Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development until 2009 after which the responsibility of its management was handed over to the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA)—a federal level organization responsible to manage globally important protected areas of the country (EWCA, 2017; KSNP, 2016). The KSNP was offered a legal status in 2014 (FDRE, 2014).

KSNP is situated in the north-western tip of Ethiopia in the Tigray Region, between 14°03’17’’ and 14°27’52’’ north, and 36°41’43’’ and 37°40’31’’ east (Figure 1). The current spatial extent of the park is ~2176 km2, and altitude of the park ranges from 568 m.a.s.l to 1,163 m.a.s.l. (Kinfe Welay, 2016). Administratively the park lies between two zones (North-Western and Western Tigray Zones) and three woredas (=Districts) (Kafta-Humera, Welkait and Tahtay-Adyabo) (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Map showing the location of Kafta-Sheraro National Park.

The Kafta-Sheraro area is characterized by a mono-modal type of rainfall regime and receives an annual average precipitation of about 600 mm. Rainfall occurs between May and early September although small rains occasionally occur from late September through November (Mekbeb Eshetu, 2002). Overall, average monthly temperature in the area varies between 18.20C to 37.50C, with the warmest period being from April through May while the coldest from July through August (Knife Welay, 2016).

KSNP is one of the most important conservation areas in Ethiopia. It hosts several conservation concern and economically important faunal and floral species and the hydrological system of the park is vital for the survival of thousands of people (EWNHS, 2001; Mekbeb Eshetu, 2002; for detail on this see under the “Results and Discussion” section).

Methods of Data Collection

A taskforce (authors of this paper), consisting of 11 multidisciplinary experts drawn from national, regional and local wildlife and tourism authorities, was established by EWCA. The primary mission of this taskforce was to develop a 10-year (2017-2027) General Management Plan of KSNP. Part of the taskforce’s (team’s) responsibilities was assessing potential of the park for ecotourism development and providing recommendations on the way forward accordingly. It is therefore the data collected during this particular planning stage that were used as the main information source for this paper.

We used three phases to assess tourism potential of the park: preparation for assessment, undertaking assessment, and developing recommendations.

Preparation phase

To prepare for the assessment, the team conducted an initial literature review to gain a basic understanding of the park. This involved gathering preliminary data, both from published and unpublished secondary sources, in the areas of bio-physical (geography, environment, biodiversity, etc.), social and political (policies) contexts, and existing tourism activities (known attractions, services, general trends in arrivals) in and around the park.

Assessment phase

Following the preparation phase, we made assessments of tourism products of the area and their potential for development on five major areas: attractions inventory; infrastructure and services; market inventory (i.e. demand, supply and competitiveness); human and institutional capacity; and socio-economic, cultural aspects and conservation (environmental/biodiversity) situations. Methods used to assess each of these components are described as follow.

1. Attractions Inventory: We followed three main steps to undertake attraction inventory. First, we carried out a rapid fieldwork, between June/July 2016, to observe and record potential tourism attractions of the park. This data collection was undertaken along available road networks inside and outside (border) of the park using four-wheel vehicles while slowly moving with an average speed of ~20 km/hr and transect walk on foot where roads were unsuitable for driving. Overall, this field assessment had covered a total distance of ~3,500 km long (on average ~233 km/day) for 15 days. Second, we held 18 separate focus group discussions (FGDs) with relevant stakeholders ranging from local communities living in and around the park (12 FGDs) to government ranging from woreda (=District) level (2FGDs to regional level. Based on information gathered through fieldwork and stakeholder discussions, we then developed complete list of potential attractions. Finally, we carried out, subjectively based on expert’s opinion, evaluation of the each of the attractions for their potential to attract tourists using the following key criteria: ease of access, potential uses/activities, environmental fragility, socio-cultural concerns, and relative potential market draw (Gutierrez, 2005).

2. Assessment of Infrastructure and Public Services: To understand the availability and condition of basic tourism infrastructures and services in the area, data were collected on: accessibility (transportation) to the park [i.e. to Humera or Sheraro towns) and to each attraction (within the park); communications; and public services such as water, energy, health, and security. These data were collected via direct observation, document reviews and discussions with key informants.

3. Institutional and human capacity:To know the present status and to identify future needs of human resource for developing sustainable ecotourism in the park, discussions were held with park experts and managers.

4. Market Inventory:Currently, tourism activity in the KSNP has been almost absent (<10 annual overseas visitors arrived in 2015). Thus, to assess market demand, supply and competitiveness of the park, we used, as a proxy to KSNP, information [on tourism trends and visitor profiles] obtained from the nearby destination sites (e.g. Aksum) and other protected areas of Ethiopia.

5. Socio-economic, Cultural and Environmental Issues: Information on socio-economic and cultural aspects of the local community, and status of environment and biodiversity was also gathered through field observation and stakeholder discussions described above.

  1. Results and Discussion

Tourism Attractions of KSNP

We recorded 15 (six natural, six cultural and three historical/heritage) different types of tourism attractions in the KSNP, which were classified into three broad groups as: natural, cultural and historical/heritage attractions (Table 1 and 2). These attractions, including their potential uses and activities, are discussed as follow.

Natural Attractions

Natural tourism attractions recorded from KSNP are depicted on Table 1 and it encompasses, inter alia, landscape, natural mineral deposits, forests/vegetation, river beaches and waterfalls, unique and rare/endangered mammal and bird species.

Landscape: The distinctive geomorphic structure of the KSNP area incorporates deeply dissected valley along Tekeze riverbed, flat plains with slightly undulating to extreme west and becoming more and more undulating with scattered hills and chains of small mountains to the east. These land features altogether form breathtaking scenic views. Some of such specific localities that are outstandingly attractive to tourists and/or could serve as viewpoints include Mt. Hilegin, Mt. Tsirga Girmay, Mt. Emba-durkuta, Keyih Gobo, Kalema, Ziban Wediembi, Tahitay and Laelay Siye, Tebeko Inda Zibie, etc. Most of these sites are in easy reach (may take up to 1-2hr drive) and would potentially serve for trekking, mountain climbing/hiking, photographying, camping, wildlife viewing, bird watching, and picnicking. Found in the park area is a high accumulation of natural minerals, namely gold and marble, which provide sightseeing experiences for tourists interested in geological features.


Table 1: Natural tourism attractions identified from KSNP


Location and description


potential uses

Landscape and Mineral deposits

Spectacular scenic view points at Mt. Hilegil, Mt. Tsirga Girmay, Mt. Emba-Durkuta, Keyih Gobo, Kalema, Ziban Wediembi, Tahitay and Laelay Siye, etc.

Easy (upto 1-2hr) by car

Trekking, Mt climbing, Photographing, Camping, wildlife viewing, bird watching, picnicking,

The magnificent view of the Elephant corridor area between Ethiopia and Eritrea across Tekeze River has a panorama view·      

Easy (upto 1hr)

Hiking, camping, photographing, Elephant viewing, bird watching,

The ample smaller hills and undulating terrain of the areas have panoramic view of different horizons

Easy (upto 1hr)

Landscape viewing, photographing

Tebeko Inda zibie (the Hyena cave): has unique and attractive features including large-sized natural stones with beautiful curvatures and structure, with some of the stones being wrapped around the magnificent and gigantic Baobab tree.

Difficult (>=2 hrs)

Trekking, Photographing, Camping, wildlife viewing, bird watching

Gold and marble




Acacia commiphora wood land, Combretum terminalia woodland, Riparian forest, savanna grasslands

Easy (upto 1hr)


Beaches and waterfalls

Beautiful beaches along all its course, especially near Tekeze village, Humera Town and Sudan side; Tekeze waterfall on Sheraro side

Easy (upto 1hr)

Camping, river rafting, bird watching, picnicking, fishing and swimming.

More than 160 km length of navigable area at the border of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan

Easy (upto 1hr)

Boating and bird watching

Unique and endangered mammal

Unique populations of several endangered mammals, including: African Elephant, Red fronted gazelle, Roan antelope, Waterbuck, Greater Kudu, Leopard, Strip Hyena, etc.

easy to difficult

Wildlife viewing and photographing

Unique and endangered bird species

 Over 200 species of birds   Birds

easy to difficult

Bird watching and photographing

Several globally threatened species (e.g. at least six spp. of vultures)


Bird watching and photographing

Several biome-restricted species


Bird watching and photographing

The only known population for some species like Demosseil crane etc.


Bird watching and photographing

Several wetland birds, including Egyptian plover, Thick-knees, etc.


Bird watching and photographing


Forests/vegetation: KSNP consists of four broad vegetation types: Acacia-Commiphora woodland, Combretum-Terminalia woodland, Riparian forest, Savanna grasslands. Although these vegetation types contain several plant species that have various attractive features right themselves, by virtue of their unique and magnificent morphological and anatomical formations, they also provide opportunities for visitors to learn more about their traditional uses. For example, plant species such as Boswelliapapyrifera—a major source of frankincense gum—and Hyphaena thebaica—a multipurpose tree sued for making several types of traditional foodstuff and house utensils—are known to have valuable genetic stocks that are of valuable economic sources for the local community(Wubalem Tadesse, 2007). Further, these different habitats support different mammal and bird species assemblages, thus provide complementary opportunities for tourists to view different species assemblages.

Beaches and waterfalls: Tekeze River, a perennial river, flows inside the park in the eastern section and becomes park boarder in the north-western boundary. This River alone has a number of attraction/scenic features. For example, the sandy beaches along the river bank, particularly the section near Tekeze villages, Humera Town and Sudan border, are ideal recreational sites for visitors interested in picnicking, boating, rafting, watching wetland birds, fishing, etc. Most interestingly, section of the river that lies at the border of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan are still in use for boating. This rives also has breath-taking waterfalls south of the asphalt road crossing the park.

Unique and rare/endangered mammal species: So far, 43 species of mammals are known to be found in the park (KSNP, 2016). This list includes several conservation concern mammal species, such as African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) and Red-fronted Gazelle (Eudorcas rufifrons) (both with global conservation status of “vulnerable”) and Striped Hyena (Hyaena hyaena) (globally considered as “near threatened”) (IUCN, 2013). The park also hosts considerable populations of other large carnivores like spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), Aardwolf (Proteles cristata) and Leopard (Panthera pardus) and herbivores like the Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) and Defassa Waterbuck (Kobus elypsiprimnus).

Being one of the nine isolated populations of the species currently occurring in Ethiopia, the Elephant population in the KSNP represents the northernmost population of the species on the continent (Yirmed Demeke, 2008). It has been estimated that ~300 individuals of elephants are currently found in the park, accounting for ~15-20% of the total Ethiopian population (Endawek Wendim, 2014; KSNP, 2016). Given that elephants are rapidly declining across their ranges (Shoshani, 2004), the presence in such high number of population which could be seen with little-moderate effort will serve as a major tourist attraction to the park. Furthermore, the KSNP is also the only protected area in the country hosting considerable populations two conservation important antelopes, the Red-fronted Gazelle (a globally threatened species) and Roan antelope [a species legally protected by Ethiopian Wildlife Laws (FDRE, 2009)]. Therefore, the presence of unique populations of several mammal species in the KSNP clearly demonstrates the high potential for wildlife tourism development in the area, particularly for wildlife viewing and photographing.

Globally threatened, biome-restricted and/or Migratory birds: The ornithological importance of the park can be viewed from the fact that the entire boundary KSNP is part of the “Shire Lowland Important Bird Area” of Ethiopia (EWNHS, 2001). Although bird checklist for the park is still incomplete by far, ~204 species are known to occur in the park, of which 33 (16%) of them are migratory species (Addisu Asefa, In Prep.). In addition to such high species diversity, the ornithological significances of the park—thus, from both from conservation and tourism development point of views—can be seen, at least, in four main ways. First, there are eight species that are currently known to be globally threatened, including four critically endangered vulture species, [Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), White-headed vulture (Trigonocepsoccipitalis), Hooded vulture (Necrosyrtesmonachus) and White-backed vulture (Gypus africanus)] (BirdLife International, 2017). Second, the area hosts 6 species (38% of the 16 species of this biome known to occur in Ethiopia) of Sudan-Guinea biome assemblage. Third, it contains several congregatory wetland bird species, including Demoiselle crane (Anthropoides virgo) (Berihun Gebremedhin, 2011). Finally, including Demoiselle Crane, KSNP is the only site in Ethiopia where records of five species came from (Sennar Penduline-Tit (Anthoscopus punctifrons), Rufous-rumped Lark (Pinarocorys erythropygia), House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) and Sudan Golden Sparrow (Passer luteus) (Addisu Asefa, In Prep). Overall, the occurrence of high diversity of species with several rare and biome-restricted bird species in the park indicates the possibility of developing successful ecotourism (even avitourism as a specific segment of ecotourism) in the area for bird watchers and photographers.

Cultural and historic/heritage attractions

We identified six types of cultural and three historical/heritage attractions which would potentially help draw in tourists to the area. Some of the cultural attractions include: traditional lifestyles, religious ceremonies, arts and crafts, traditional music/dances, traditional cuisine, and mode of economic activities such as farming. These attractions allow visitors to learn about the culture of people inhabiting around KSNP (Table 2).

Similarly, a number of historical and/or heritage tourist attractions were identified, including old-aged churches, caves and burial grounds. There are natural rock caves found near Aditsetser that had been used by the TPLF as a meeting/assembly hall during the early guerilla fighting time; these caves were considered as a historical attraction. In addition, three sites (found around Menta-Dibue, Tekileemba and Ayifora/Doni) were identified that have been used by the indigenous Kunama people as tomb/grave and spiritual sites for several years since their ancient ancestral time till now. Key informants from members of the Kunama people explained about the nature and purpose of the sites as follows: “… a big hole is dug, leaving a small gate at the top, where dead bodies of people are placed; females are placed on the left side and that of males on the right side. Members of the community visit these sites every year for memorial service and to pray for their dead ancestors.” Although these sites are not used as burial places at present, the people still visit them once annually to present their prayers. Thus, all these cultural and historical/heritage resources described have huge potential for ecotourism development in the KSNP area.



Table 2. Description of cultural and historical/heritage tourism attraction identified from KSNP.


Name and description

Location and timing

Potential activities/uses


Ritual, religious and festival ceremonies celebrations of Kunama and other community

Everywhere in the surrounding villages and any time

Learning culture


Kunama village

Watching how and from what materials they are made; buying as a gifts to home friends

Traditional Tigre and Kunama Music and dances

Everywhere in the surrounding villages and any time

Traditional Dancing, cultural learning

Traditional cuisine (e.g. Feta) and beverages (Tela)

Everywhere in the surrounding villages and any time

Eating and drinking

Farming style using camel (one riding/leading and the other plowing)

Kunama village

viewing, photographing

Traditional gold mining

Central part of the park (any time)

viewing, photographing

Traditional resign tapping

Almost everywhere


Historic/Heritage Attractions

Several ancient Churches

In all villages (plus at Mt. Embadurkutan)

Appreciation and photographing

Burial sites of Kunama people:    An ancient ancestors’ tomb /grave site of all kunama tribes found where they use them as a
place to present memorial services and pray for their ancestors every year.·      

 In the centre of the Park at Menta- Dibue, Tekileemba, and Ayifora/Doni localities

Appreciation and photographing

Meeting natural  Halls of TPLF during the early gorilla fitting time found at Aditsetser

Learning military wisdoms and tactics

Learning history




Infrastructure and public Services

Information on the availability and condition of basic tourism infrastructures and services in the area is presented on Table 3. These data show that although access (transportation) to the park [i.e. to Humera or Sheraro towns) is easily available, access to each attraction (within the park) is difficult due to poor road networks. Other public services such as telecom communications water, energy, health (hospitals and clinics), and security are relatively available easily and in better condition compared to in other remotely situated protected areas of Ethiopia (Table 3).


Table 3. Description of tourist infrastructure and services available in/around KSNP.


Locations served

Safety and/or reliability

General condition

(a) Transportation





Tar highways connecting Addis-Humera either  through  Mekele and Gonder towns


Very good

Secondary roads

There are several dirty road inside the park connecting several of attraction sites


Needs renovation


Humera  Airport connecting Humera to Addis, Mekelle and Gondar airports


Very good

Car rental

Present at Aksum

Very good

Needs forming collaboration

Inbound tour operators

Present at Aksum

Very good

Needs forming collaboration

Bus terminals and service

Humera bus station connecting Humera to Addis, Mekelle and Gondar airports

Very good

General condition

(b) Accommodation




Hotels and lodges

Several hotels available at Humera and Shire towns

Good-very good

Lodges should be built in/around the park

Camping sites

Some available in the park


Poorly designated and developed

(C) Other services





Available at Humera town and other nearby towns



Security (Police station)


Very good



Mobile networks available anywhere

Very good

Very good


Institutional and human capacity

Tourism is a people-oriented business and depends on quality service from trained managers and employees (Eagles, 2002). However, currently available capacity of the park to engage in tourism development is very low (only 1 tourism expert is present), suggesting that hiring qualified and adequate number of tourism officers is one of the top priority actions for developing sustainable ecotourism in the area.

Market inventory: Tourism market demand was assessed in two ways: type of visitor and geographical origin. Demand was assessed in two ways: type of visitor and origin. Based on visitor profile information obtained from Aksum town and other protected areas of Ethiopia, which we used as a proxy for KSNP, type of tourists that are expected to visit KSNP include: i) sightseeing tourists (tourists that make one day trip), ii) trekking; iii) backpackers (young visitors with low income whose accommodation and other services preferences are low to moderate level), iv) game viewing, v) bird watching, vi) cultural, vii) Historical/heritage, viii) Boating and rafting. By origin, most tourists to Ethiopia and its protected areas are from North America and Europe, with some tourists coming from South Africa and within the country (domestic visitors).

In terms of market supply and competitiveness, tourism facilities and infrastructure inside KSNP are generally under-developed (see Table 3) compared to some other National Parks of the country that have moderate-to-luxurious government- or private-owned tourist lodges; examples of such parks include Awash, Simien Mountains, Bale Mountains, Omo, Mago, Nech Sar. Therefore, prior to undertaking ecotourism development planning in the KSNP, responsible bodies [planners and implementers] should learn best experiences from these protected areas.

Socio-economic, cultural and environmental context

Kunamas are indigenous community to the area although Tigres are the largest ethnic group currently living around the KSNP most of who moved to the area recently via resettlement Programmes). The livelihoods of these communities based mainly on livestock husbandry and cultivation and largely rely on natural resources of the park to fulfill their demand for construction and fuel wood, resin collection and livestock grazing. Although these activities are legal prohibited, according to FDRE’s Wildlife Law (FDRE, 2009), it has been presumed to be difficult to minimize such unregulated resource extraction as most of the users have no alternative options. In addition, there are several other forms natural resource uses that have been found to critical threats to biodiversity of the park, including unregulated traditional gold mining, fire burning, wildlife poaching, etc. (Endawek Wendim, 2014). Thus, park management should work with local communities and governments to mitigate such threats. Fortunately, all the communities, including government authorities, consulted during our fieldwork have shown their positive attitude towards conservation and ecotourism development in the area. Therefore, ecotourism development in the area can serve as a potential economic alternative and strategy to address issues related to the current prevailing conservation challenges and community livelihood improvement in the area.

  1. Conclusion and Recommendations

The results of this study showed that KSNP has high diversity of tourism attractions, which in turn indicates the high potential of the area as one ecotourism destination area in the country.  It also showed how tourism potential of poorly studied areas can easily be assessed; the procedure we used here could be applied to any similar protected areas of the country, as well elsewhere. As can be seen from the brief SWOT analysis, however, some of the attractions identified and described in the KSNP are associated with poor accessibility, low levels of infrastructure and substantial levels of environmental degradation.

Table 4. Summary of SWOT analysis of ecotourism development in the KSNP.





High diversity of attractions

Increasing threats to biodiversity

Infrastructure and Services

Transportation to the area well developed

Lack of road networks inside the park

Hotels available

Available hotels are of low standard

No lodges and appropriate camp sites inside the park

Availability of mobile networks, health and security services

Lack of tourism awareness

Promotion and marketing

some attempts made (e.g. broachers)

No website, signposts, etc

Human/institutional capacity

Highly committed park experts and managers

Inadequate staffing level

Low tourism budget




Socio-Political, and environmental factors

Presence of conducive private investment, tourism development and conservation/land use policies

Unpredicted border crossing by Eritrean army

Relatively good peace and stability

Previous bad image on security issues in the area

Global Economic crisis

Climate change (increasing temperature)

Local government and community participation

High willingness

 Failure organize and misunderstandings among them




Availability of other destination sites along the route (Axum, SMNP, etc)

Communication gaps



Presence of tour operators at Axum

Several universities in the nearby


Therefore, in the “10-YEAR GENERAL MANAGEMENT PLAN OF KSNP”, all the strengths and weakness and opportunities presented in the SWOT analysis should be considered. Specifically, priority actions needed to develop ecotourism in the park, and that should be addressed in the new plan, include: i) spatial mapping of the products/attractions; ii) developing infrastructure and facilities (road networks inside the park, lodges, campsites, etc.), iii) Promotion and marketing works (developing signposts, broachers, pamphlets, website, etc.), iv) fulfill adequate (and skilled) tourism staffing level, and v) forming and strengthening partnership with local communalities, tourism departments and tour operators, etc.


All the local communities, and woreda, zonal and regional government bodies who were involved in the discussions are duly acknowledged. We also would like to thank Girma Chebud and Afework for providing us a safe and responsible driving service during data collection. Field work for this study was funded by GIZ-SDPASE project.


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