Promoting regional and domestic tourism could revive the revenue sharing scheme across the country enabling communities get past the impact of Covid-19 in the tourism sector which has suspended community support projects, Rwanda Development Board has said. This is according to Eugene Mutangana, the Conservation Management Expert at Rwanda Development Board was speaking at a recent webinar conference on “The Impact of Covid-19 on Wildlife Conservation in the East Africa Community”. Over the years, the government has been distributing part of revenues generated from tourism activities to communities living around the parks. Mutangana said that all tourism and research activities in Akagera, Nyungwe, Volcanoes and Gishwati-Mukura National Parks had been suspended as a preventive measure against the transmission of Covid-19 which reduced tourism revenues. “Suspension of tourism activities has heavily impacted on different economic sectors in the country, including the conservation and tourism product development activities which were mainly funded by tourism revenues. Community members, especially smallholder businesses were heavily affected,” he said adding that at the time there was a risk of poaching. For this year, he said, for example, there would be not much funding for the community projects through revenue sharing scheme as most operations had not had revenues. By last year, over Rwf5.2 billion had been distributed by Rwanda Development Board to 647 community-based projects since 2005. The revenue share programme, initiated in 2005 by the Government, aims to guide investment in the areas surrounding the various national parks in Rwanda by ensuring that 10 per cent of all park revenues are given back to the communities. The projects have availed clean drinking water, milk, health centres, classrooms and housing to members of the communities living around the three national parks; Akagera National Park, Nyungwe National Park and Volcanoes National Park. Mutangana said that opening tourism activities especially domestic tourism is the new normal and could open funding to the revenue sharing scheme. “We have started tourism again. That is mainly domestic tourism. We talk of Rwandans and foreign residents in Rwanda and are also open to private jets and chartered flights,” he said. At least 8.9 per cent of the whole country, he said, is devoted to conservation and the majority of biodiversity is located in national parks attracting tourists. For the last seven consecutive years, tourism has been ranked as the first foreign currency earner in Rwanda. The industry is at more than 80 per cent nature-based and the four national parks make the key axes of the Rwanda Tourism Destination Management Areas. “Tourism plays a major role in the country’s economy, contributing 10 per cent to the GDP and 8 per cent to “off-farm” employment,” he said. In 2019, he said Rwanda received 1.63 million visitors and National parks counted 111,136 visitors with $28.9 million from park entries. Covid-19 has also affected other member states of the East African Community. A survey of African safari tour operators found that over 90 per cent of them experienced declines by more than 75 per cent in bookings, while many indicated they had no bookings at all. According to John Waweru, the Director-General of Kenya Wildlife Service there was a drop-in visitor numbers by 76 per cent, increase in threats of poaching of endangered species, increased threats of transnational crime through porous borders, escalation in bushmeat poaching and associated crime as well as increased human wildlife conflicts due to the influx of people to rural areas. “Internal revenue declined by approximately 92 per cent since Covid-19 in Kenya targeting domestic and regional market, local travelling and experiences will be the new normal,” he explained. According to Christophe Bazivamo, the Deputy Secretary-General Productive and Social Sectors, East African Community there are different measures to help tourism and hotels recover from Covid-19 impact in EAC. “Ministers in charge of Finance in EAC worked on a recovery strategy to help SMEs in the tourism sector, community-based conservation initiatives through measures on taxation and packages to build their resilience and try to recover,” he said. He said enhancing domestic and regional tourism to national parks is among measures that could revive the sector.