An investigation of the socio-economic impacts of ecotourism in rural areas : a case study of Nompondo, a community bordering the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP), KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Nsukwini, Sakhile Bongamandla.
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Community involvement seems to be a key element of both nature conservation and ecotourism and is largely perceived to include public participation in decision-making and communities’ receipt of benefits from ecotourism. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP) communities have suffered a great desertion economically in the past and it is one of the disadvantaged regions in KwaZulu-Natal. The aim of this study was to investigate the socio-economic impacts of ecotourism in rural areas adjacent to HiP with specific reference to the Nompondo community. Triangulation (a multi-method approach) was used to examine the extent and nature of interaction between the Nompondo community and the management of HiP, to examine attitudes and perceptions of the communities towards HiP, including resources within the Park that are likely to impact on the lives of Nompondo community as well as the role of communities in the development and promotion of tourism in HiP. The study of the Nompondo community adjacent to HiP indicates that this community benefits in various ways but not to their level of satisfaction. The study indicates that members of the Nompondo community are allowed access to resources such as meat, thatching grass, firewood and water. Participation in the operation and management of HiP was yet another benefit that was identified. However, this was limited with a few households and community leaders generally participating. In addition, the results show that a range of opportunities for positive interactions with the Park's management/staff include job opportunities through the expanded public works programme, good working relations and joint problem solving. It should be noted that despite the opportunities created, these do not sufficiently meet the demands in the community where poverty and unemployment remain high. Ecotourism development as a benefit was discovered through two specified areas, namely, interaction with the tourists as well as the desire to have more tourists visiting the community and the establishment of other tourist facilities in the community. The respondents also cited opportunities for tourism and related incomes, which include sale of handicraft products, job opportunities and cultural activities. These, however, generally provide inconsistent and low income revenue streams. Furthermore, education/training programmes were also cited. In addition, natural resource management including the establishment of the Umkhombe (white rhino) ecotourism project and participation in decision-making were also identified as specific benefits. The socio-economic impacts in all the identified specified areas except with participation in the management of HiP where local communities are not fully involved were positive. This indicates that there is a need to involve communities residing adjacent to protected areas, particularly the Nompondo community, in the operation and management of the Park as well as other community-based tourism endeavours in order to uplift the quality of their lives.
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