The socio-economic impacts of tourism on poor rural communities : the cases study of Mpembeni, a community bordering the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
The relationship between protected areas and the surrounding communities is important in enhancing the success of both parties. The aim of this study was to examine the socio-economic impacts of tourism on poor rural communities adjacent to the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park with specific reference to Mpembeni community. Triangulation (a multi method approach) was used to find out attitudes and perceptions of the communities towards tourists, resources within the park as well as the role of communities in the development and promotion of tourism in the park. The study of the Mpembeni Community adjacent to the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park (HUP) shows that this community benefits in various ways. Accessibility to natural resources such as meat, grass, firewood and water was cited as one of the benefits. Participation in the operation and management of the park was yet another benefit that was identified. In addition, the results show that a range of opportunities for positive interactions with park's management/staff include job opportunities, good working relations and joint problem solving. Tourism development as a benefit was revealed 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 involve the sale of handicraft products, job opportunities and cultural activities. Furthermore, education/ training programmes particularly children wildlife camps, capacity building and the training of tour community guides were also cited. In addition, natural resource management including the establishment of the Community Conservation Game Reserve (CCGR) and participation in decision-making were also identified as speci fic benefits. The socio-economic impacts in all the identified specified areas except with participation in the management of the park where local communities are not fully involved were positive. This suggests that there is a need to involve local communities in the operation and management of the park as well as other community-based tourism ventures in order to uplift their standards of living. KEY TERMS: socio-economic. impacts, tourism, poor rural communities