Madagascar reopens national parks post COVID-19 closures

 Friday, September 18, 2020 


Madagascar’s tourism industry took the very first step towards recovery by recently reopening 43 protected areas under the direct responsibility of the quasi-governmental agency Madagascar National Parks (MNP). The government has also authorised the reopening of all natural areas and cultural sites. The reopening came as a relief to members of the local community, who rely on tourists for income, and constantly struggled for survival amid the COVID-19 crisis.

All visitors will be required to adhere to health protocols in order to visit the parks. Usage of face masks and observing social distancing has been made mandatory for the duration of the visit. Visitors are also forbidden from touching animals and have to undergo health screening before entering any national park. They will also have to supply their contact information to enable tracing, so that MNP can reach out and check the health status of the visitors. Additionally, the number of tourists per guide is now limited to four, down from eight as earlier. All group will also have to maintain a 10 meters (33 feet) distance from one another.

The protected areas MNP manages represent just over one-third of the country’s nearly 7 million hectares (17.3 million acres) under protection. In 2019 MNP parks attracted 229,970 visitors and generated $1.84 million in entrance fees, alongside additional revenue to local people in guides’ fees, accommodations, meals, transportation and the like. However, when the government imposed a heath state of emergency in light of the coronavirus outbreak, visitors completely vanished from the country.

The country’s National Federation of Guides estimates that around $5 million in guiding revenue would be lost in 2020 if the pandemic-induced restrictions continue. In June, the group predicted the losses would cap at $2.7 million if tourism were to resume in September, the peak of Madagascar’s tourist season. Even with the parks reopening, the effects of the health crisis will reverberate for a long time.

According to reports, Analamazaotra National Park and nearby Mantadia National Park experienced less pressure during the lockdowns than other protected areas in Madagascar. With tourists and park managers forced to stay home and local people under even greater economic duress than usual, several parks suffered from heavy illegal logging, hunting and fires.

President Andry Rajoelina informed after the reopening of national parks that international flights will resume to the tourist destination of Nosy Be in the northwest starting in early October. He also mentioned that his team is considering reopening the country’s main international airports before the end of the year as Madagascar’s parks would not be able to resume business as usual until all airplanes start landing.

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