This research work discusses issues in tourism to protected areas/parks. Emphasis is given to the relationships between the globally growing numbers of parks, the rise in tourism to those parks and its economic impacts, and finance and management policies used within the parks. In-depth consideration is given to park pricing policies, park tourism competencies, the need for better visitation/visitor statistics, and new tourism management structures. The development of parastatal management structures with greater links between tourism competencies and conservation management techniques is seen to be central to the creation of both successful parks and sustainable tourism within those parks. This research work used a survey methodology and the analysis was done with the SPSS package.
Nature-based tourism is a large and growing global industry, partially dependent upon the attributes of the natural environment and especially that occurring in parks and protected areas. It is heavily dependent upon two fundamental components: (1) appropriate levels of environment quality, and (2) suitable levels of consumer service.
Several countries have nature-based tourism as a key component of their most important export industry, tourism. The economic importance of the tourism industries in these countries is leading to more thoughtful policy and institutional development. Australia, Tanzania and New Zealand are examples especially worthy of note.
The national ecotourism strategy for Nigeria succinctly summarises the background to the aggressive and successful policy development in the country. Ecotourism is shown to offer the potential to generate foreign exchange earnings, employment, and other economic and social benefits, particularly in regional areas. It presents Nigeria with the opportunity to make the most of its competitive advantage, with its spectacular and diverse natural features, unique flora and fauna, and diverse cultural heritage. Ecotourism can also provide resources for environmental conservation and management and an incentive for the conservation and sustainable use of public and private land (Allcock et al., 1994). To ensure the success of the national policy, the Nigerian government committed A$10,000,000 over four years for the implementation of the strategy. Following the national lead, each state started to develop a similar regional policy, the latest being the one for Tinapa Villa (Tourism land, 1999).
Increasing foreign visitation to Nigeria throughout the 1990s and the associated impacts on parks and protected areas led to increased emphasis on tourism management in protected areas (Worboys, 1997; Worboys et al., 2001).
1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE RESEARCH
Nigeria with her with rich and unique array of ecosystems, and a great variety of wild fauna and flora can attract such tourists too, if only the national parks in the country are promoted as tourist destinations.
Each of the national parks in the country namely Chad Basin, Cross River, Gashaka Gumti, Kamuku, Okomu, Old Oyo and Kainji, all have their peculiar animal and plant resources.
Nigeria’s National Parks have wide variety of interesting sites, for example, cultural, historical, archaeological unique ecosystems, and other biophysical attractions for all types and classes of visitors including scientists and researchers.
Today, Travels and Tourism presents some of the unique features of some of Nigeria’s national parks.
CROSS RIVER NATIONAL PARK
It covers a total area of about 4000sq km of mainly primary moist tropical rainforest ecosystem in the North and central parts, and mosaic vegetation on the Obudu Plateau. It is Nigeria’s last Great Rainforest Reserve, and the closest to the Mangrove Swamps on the coastal region.
Wilderness experience: A trip to the Park is primarily important for exploring one of the oldest rainforest in the world. The dense canopy, the tree trunks with their huge buttresses, the coolness of the environment, the freshness of the air and the sweet songs of the forest can never fail to lift even the most casual visitor into that tranquil realm of the soul.
OKOMU NATIONAL PARK
Okomu National Park is the smallest of the seven National Parks in Nigeria. The Park is a rainforest ecosystem gazetted from the former Okomu Forest reserve in 1935. Today, the Park is a good habitat for numerous endangered flora and fauna species.
Okomu is a home of forest elephants, buffaloes, red river hogs, chimpanzees, leopards, bush baby, putty nosed guenon, porcupine, pangolins, duikers, antelopes among others.
The white throated monkey which is one of the rarest monkeys in the world today is found at the park as well. Butterflies and birds are abundant making it one of the best places for bird watching in Nigeria.
The two tree houses (Old and New) the old tree house built on a 140 feet Silk Cotton tree, while the new tree house with 110 feet height also has 30 meters walkway. Both tree houses were to facilitate sighting, from which a panoramic view of the Park could be observed.
There are network of nature trails leading to all areas of interest in the Park. The nature trails afford visitors a walk through a scenic forest ecosystem that facilitates sighting of wide range of plants and animals species.
GASHAKA-GUMTI NATIONAL PARK
It is located in the mountainous region of north-eastern Nigeria adjacent to the international border with Cameroon, and immediately to the north of Mambilla Plateau. The park is the largest and most scenic of all the seven National Parks.
The Park experiences varying pleasant weather conditions, depending on one’s location within the Park.
Fishing sport: Gashaka-Gumti has ideal spots for sport-fishing, one of which is at Mayo Kam near the Hippo-pool. In the dry season the water is crystal clear and one can easily see different varieties ranging from Tiger, Cat fish, Nile perch ,Tilapia fish gliding in the water.
Gashaka Sector of the Park has rugged undulating mountain terrains, excellent for mountaineering and cave exploration. It contains the highest mountain summit in Nigeria the “Chappal Waddi”, which literally means “ the mountain of death” standing at an altitude of 2,400 meters’ above sea level. It is located in the Gotel mountain range. It is characterized by steep, forested slopes, deep plunging valleysand waterfalls.
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