Nature-based tourism benefits may be unfair
James Cook University researchers studying tourism in nature reserves around the world say the tourism industry’s benefits usually go to individuals but its costs are borne by local communities.
JCU PhD candidate Kamal Thapa led a study analysing 89 reports on the impact of tourism on communities in the protected areas of 33 countries, including Annapurna Conservation Area in Nepal, Kakum National Park in Ghana, Kruger National Park in South Africa and Liwonde National Park in Malawi.
He said prior to COVID-19 restrictions there were at least 8 billion visits to protected areas each year.
“One critical element of understanding the nature and extent of impacts is identifying who benefits from tourism activities, which includes how the benefits are shared among local people,” said Mr Thapa.
He said that benefits were most frequently experienced individually and costs experienced mostly at the collective or community levels.
“The main benefits were employment, business opportunities and income, and the main costs were acculturation (assimilation into a new culture) and abandonment of traditional lifestyle/practices, price inflation and conflict/crime. While most benefits were economic, most costs were socio-cultural,” said Mr Thapa.
He said it’s not guaranteed that local people will always experience benefits from protected area tourism, due to competition from other, more powerful stakeholders.
“For example, in low and middle-income countries, foreign companies often dominate the tourism industry and local people are excluded from decision-making and may lose access to natural resources which they used before,” said Mr Thapa.
He said there is a growing realisation that socio-economic issues are equally as important as ecological and environmental issues in the successful management of protected areas.
“When local people do not receive benefits from nature-based tourism and benefits are accrued to outsiders, or when they perceive costs such as restrictions on resource use, then local people are likely to have a negative attitude towards nature conservation,” said Mr Thapa.
He said proper planning can provide benefit for both local people and protected areas if promoted and implemented with the principles in mind that maximise benefit to local people and protected areas and minimise costs.