Wildlife tourism, host communities, and sustainability. Some thoughts.
The support of the local population is essential for the development, successful operation, and sustainability of wildlife tourism. Achieving the goal of favourable community support for the tourism industry requires an understanding of how residents formulate their attitudes toward tourism.
We know that host interaction with wildlife tourism ranges over a broad spectrum and the interest in both wildlife tourism and human dimensions of wildlife tourism has grown considerably in recent years. We also know that the place and role of host communities and their relationship to and interaction with wildlife will have a direct impact upon the sustainability of those resources. This is broad field that holds tremendous importance for all concerned with wildlife tourism attractions.
The host community is a fundamental component of any tourism system. It is one of the three major components (the tourist, the resource, the host) of wildlife tourism. Wildlife tourism activities have many impacts on a host community; therefore, any increase in wildlife tourism as a recreational pursuit will inevitably be accompanied by a growth in numbers of local people affected by tourism.
For the purpose of this blog, hosts are defined as those who live in the vicinity of the tourist attraction and are either directly or indirectly involved with, and/or affected by, the wildlife tourism activities.
Hosts and Sustainability
The host community is an important element to consider in the concept of sustainability. The sustainability of wildlife tourism is dependent, in part, on its support from the areas’ residents. Host satisfaction is related to both the involvement of local community members in wildlife tourism activities, and the benefits and disadvantages of wildlife tourism to host communities.
Social and cultural issues need to be considered because of the importance of host acceptance to the overall sustainability of a wildlife tourism attraction. Determining how to make a wildlife tourism attraction sustainable from the perspective of the host community requires an understanding of the interplay of elements affecting both the perception of, and support for, that tourism.
While some of the issues have been studied in relation to tourism systems in general, to date there have been very few studies specifically related to wildlife tourism.
Impacts and Attitudes
There are many factors that influence host community attitudes toward, and satisfaction with, wildlife tourism attractions. The actual and perceived impacts of wildlife tourism will influence the attitudes of the host community and ultimately have an effect on sustainability.
It is postulated that wildlife tourism will only be sustainable where there are benefits for the host community (these may be social and/or cultural, and environmental and will not necessarily be confined to economic benefits).
The actual and perceived social and cultural impacts of wildlife tourism are numerous. Impacts on the social environment are likely to affect the behaviour of individuals, community groups, lifestyles, value systems and religious or traditional ceremonies. Members of the host community may be introduced to changes and new behaviours or ideas that have the potential to affect their attitudes, values, norms and motivations. The magnitude of the impacts is likely to vary with the number of tourists, the length of stay, the importance of the wildlife to community life before tourism, and its place in cultural history.
The host population’s acceptance of wildlife tourism is likely to vary depending on the way in which the host community interacts with the tourist and wildlife. A rural community whose lifestyle has incorporated consumptive/destructive activities (for example, shooting for food, sport and trophy hunting, destruction of habitat) may be introduced to a new understanding of wildlife. The establishment of an ecotourism venture based on wildlife or an enclosure venture may broaden world views of local residents.
Some concluding thoughts
Host participation is not a proven solution to all problems. If hosts resent the intrusion and attention of outsiders, for whatever reason, then it is reasonable to assume that they might also resent the existence of a wildlife tourism attraction.
Community involvement in wildlife tourism attractions varies widely from region to region and from one attraction to another within a region. For example, there exist wildlife tourism attractions that have a high level of community involvement as well as attractions that have little, or no, involvement from the local community.
The attitudes of host community members will also vary from region to region and from one individual to another within a region. For example, attitudes towards activities such as hunting and fishing will vary from one host community to another and also between members of a host community.