What Price Paradise?

Producer/Writer: Arild Molstad

For the masai people of Kenya, the recent growth in global tourism has brought prosperity. But are they getting their fair share?

Can ancient ways of life co-exist with modern tourism - and at what cost? This is a problem that reaches beyond the African plains – it is a global challenge.

On Kenya’s savannah, the masai are trying to protect more than their rights, they are fighting for their existence, demanding a stronger voice in shaping the future of safari tourism. Also, some masai are beginning to believe agriculture and cattle ranching can be more profitable than catering to a growing herd of tourists. If they are right, Masai Mara and its unique concentration of wild animals and a way of life found nowhere else, could be irreversibly transformed.

In this programme we go on a walking safari on the outskirts of the famous game reserve, a vital area for conservation. The Basecamp Masai Mara is an example of a fascinating partnership between an ecology-minded tour operator and the nomadic-minded masai. Can the two work hand in hand, while protecting precious wildlife?

The Masai Mara National Reserve has been a mixed blessing for the masai. They are restricted from using it for grazing, getting water or firewood. Although they are supposed to share in tourism receipts, very little trickles down to local families. Now they want more. And their demands are beginning to be heard, both by international institutions and the tourism industry. But finding ways to combine the masai’s traditional lifestyle with modern safari tourism is far from an easy task.

Surrounded by wild animals and safari vehicles, we see how tourism can be both a curse and a blessing. As the world’s biggest industry, it can be a short-cut to development, providing water, energy, education and jobs. But with soon 1 billion travelers on the move, tourism also has acquired the power to ruin the environment and create inequalities.

In the camp, the tour operator is creating career and education opportunities for women, who until recently did not benefit from the influx of visitors. And at the World Heritage site of Lamu, a picturesque trading town on the coast, they are working with Unesco, to preserve the vibrant swahili culture, influenced by Asian and Arab visitors over many centuries. Now tourism is the main source of income both for Lamu and Kenya as a whole.

In the programme, the future of tourism is debated over the campfire by a. handful of experts: What will happen to the travel destinations of the world? How to prevent them from turning into orchestrated spectacles for visitors, but tragedies for the residents?

Are we, as tourists, part of the problem or part of the solution? Today the knowledge is there to guide its growth in a sustainable direction. It is now up to governments, the travel industry - and the travelling public to make choices that can save precious cultures - and a wildlife paradise like Masai Mara.