Valuing access to national parks in Nepal

Funding parks, communities and conservation in a developing country

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‘Thank you for visiting Chitwan National Park’. We hope you enjoyed your visit and are aware that your entrance fee is funding valuable conservation work and supporting the local communities. (Photo by Ram Pandit)


KEY MESSAGES:
  • We estimated visitors’ willingness-to-pay (WTP) fee to access Chitwan National Park
  • We found that visitors’ average WTP is substantially higher (>2.5 times) than the current entry fee
  • This evidence led to an immediate policy change by the Nepalese Government resulting in a significant increase in resources available for conservation

Everyone knows Nepal for its mountains and natural beauty. Part of that beauty is the country’s network of national parks and reserves which were established to protect its internationally significant biodiversity. How much are visitors prepared to pay to access these parks? It’s a critical question because those entry fees are the primary source of revenue for running the parks. But would putting up fees turn away visitors and lead to a loss in revenue? I was asked by the Nepalese Government to provide a bit of evidence on what visitors are willing to pay to enter their national parks. My analysis suggested that a fee increase would lead to a signficant increase in revenue and available resources to the government. This was enough for the government to increase entry fees, and there have been many positive developments that have flowed on from that decision.

The blackbuck antelope, another of the local species being reintroduced after becoming locally extinct. (Image: DNPWC)

The blackbuck antelope, another of the local species being reintroduced after becoming locally extinct. (Image: DNPWC)

Nature and community

Nepal has established 12 national parks and many reserves and conservation areas to protect the nation’s natural assets. The oldest of these—Chitwan National Park—was established in 1973 to protect against deforestation and poaching, particularly of the one-horned rhinoceros. Chitwan was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, and has become one of Nepal’s most popular tourism destinations, attracting thousands of local and international visitors each year. Entry fees paid by visitors to protected areas are the primary source of revenue for Nepal’s national parks. To encourage local support, many national parks also direct a portion of their entry fees to surrounding communities to use for development and natural resource management (including conservation) purposes. Up to 50% of revenues are redirected to communities. Nepalese authorities suspected that existing entry fees for Chitwan National Park had been too low. The appropriate level of fee increase, however, was uncertain. And raising the entrance fee was not something done lightly. Businesses depending on the tourism trade feared that raising entry fees would lead to a decline in visitor numbers. So, while the Nepalese Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) proposed an increase in entry fee, such a change was not supported by the Ministry of Finance due to intense opposition by tourism entrepreneurs.

Willingness to pay

To help throw some light on the consequences of raising park entry fees, I was asked to investigate the ‘willingness-to-pay’ for entry to Chitwan by domestic and international visitors. The analysis also explored the factors affecting this willingness, and the trade-offs among entry fees, visitation demand and park revenue (Pandit et al, 2015). We interviewed three groups of visitors: domestic (Nepalese), foreigners from south Asia, and foreigners from other places. And we undertook the surveys during the tourist off-season with the reasoning that this was the time that the Nepalese economy was most sensitive to a tourist downturn.
What we found was that a visitors’ average willingness-to-pay was more than 2.5 times the then entry fee. In other words, charging more was unlikely to deter visitors but could lead to significant increases in revenue.

Ram Pandit at the launch of a new program to reintroduce species (like the water buffalo in the poster) that have gone locally extinct. Such programs have been assisted by the increase in resources generated by the increase in park entry fees. (Photo by Ram Pandit)

Ram Pandit at the launch of a new program to reintroduce species (like the water buffalo in the poster) that have gone locally extinct. Such programs have been assisted by the increase in resources generated by the increase in park entry fees. (Photo by Ram Pandit)

Real-world impact

Now, as academic studies go, this is not rocket science and it’s unlikely the analysis will win a Nobel Prize. But that wasn’t why I did it. We aimed to generate evidence to assist in policy development. And, on this score, our study has proved enormously influential. Using the evidence from this research, the DNPWC successfully petitioned the Nepalese Ministry of Finance to revise the entry fee policy for protected areas throughout Nepal. Resistance from tourism entrepreneurs ceased and entry fees increased throughout Nepal. “The research findings provided the scientific basis to convince the politicians as well as local people,” says Mr GP Bhattarai, the Deputy Director General of the DNPWC. “Without this evidence the process [for reviewing] the revenue rate would have been further delayed.” And what has raising entry fees led to? In the case of Chitwan, the immediate impact of fee revision was an almost doubling of park revenue. Local development has ensued, and new conservation activities have been funded. For example, the extra revenue has helped finance the reintroduction of locally extinct species, and funded successful anti-poaching programs that recently saw a period of over 1,000 days with no rhinoceros poaching.

Visitors to Chitwan National Park were surveyed on their ‘willingness-topay’ to enter the iconic national park. (Photo by Ram Pandit)

Visitors to Chitwan National Park were surveyed on their ‘willingness-topay’ to enter the iconic national park. (Photo by Ram Pandit)

Collaboration and engagement

CEED-funded staff assisted in the analysis of the data, and also in a mentoring capacity to integrate environmental decision science into the research outputs, extending the impact of these results. The research was conducted in close collaboration with staff from the DNPWC who, with the assistance of some local hotels and tourist operators, did the on-ground data collection. Findings were communicated to stakeholders through briefings, workshops, presentations, and networking opportunities. Perhaps the most significant impact of this research has been the response from inside the Department. Chitwan National Park’s Chief Park Warden, Mr RC Kandel, testified that this research had given the Department “an opportunity to enhance academic and managerial capability on science-based management”. This has helped foster a new mind-set toward the use of research to underpin policy development and decision-making processes, which is being transferred to other areas of their work.  And this is not the end of the story. We are looking at new research topics to strengthen links with the Department over the coming years. But the take away message from this exercise is that a bit of good research can go a long way when it sets out to be policy relevant and there is a window of opportunity.

More info: Ram Pandit ram.pandit@uwa.edu.au

Reference

Pandit R, M Dhakal & M Polyakov (2015). Valuing access to protected areas in Nepal: The case of Chitwan National Park. Tourism Management 50: 1-12. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261517715000035


The heart of the jungle

Chitwan means ‘heart of the jungle’ and Chitwan National Park is regarded as Nepal’s premier natural attraction. It was established in 1973 and granted the status of a World Heritage Site in 1984. Home to around 70 species of mammal, it is noted as being one of the last refuges of the one-horned rhinoceros and the Royal Bengal tiger. (Images DNPWC)

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