Tourism can improve local living standards, whilst uncontrolled development or interaction with tourists can be destabilising to communities.
It is important to operate with respect for indigenous culture and social development initiatives, while considering, on an ongoing basis, the impacts tourism is having on the communities in which it operates.
Whilst the broader issues pertaining to benefits from tourism accruing to local communities are relevant to the tourism industry in general, they are, however, particularly important to wildlife tourism suppliers as:
- There is close interdependence between local communities and the wildlife/natural resource base upon which wildlife tourism relies.
- The majority of wildlife tourism takes place in rural areas where the lack of other opportunities means that opportunities or problems arising from wildlife tourism can make a real difference to people’s lives.
- The costs of living with wildlife fall heavily on local people (e.g. crop raiding by elephants, deaths of people).
All too often in the developing world, where the majority of wildlife tourism destinations are located, local communities suffer the negative impacts of wildlife tourism (erosion of their culture, human/wildlife conflicts, competition for scarce resources, etc.), without benefiting from the potential positives that an influx of wildlife tourists from the developed world has the power to bring. Wildlife tourism experiences need to ensure that local people benefit financially and/or in terms of their quality of life from tourism and that any socio-cultural impacts are minimised.
In so far as indigenous cultures and communities are concerned, there are a number of critical elements, which form the basis of a comprehensive responsible tourism policy, need to be taken into account. These include:
- Respect For Local Culture
Engage with local communities visited regarding issues of group size, what activities are acceptable, and whether it is appropriate to visit homes or not. Ensure visitors are informed of local customs, traditions and appropriate behaviour. Ensure that the hosts are at ease with cameras and videos and to ensure visitors ask permission before taking photographs and video footage. Use local guides wherever possible. At all times cultivate open and honest relationships that reflect the principle of transparency.
- Create A Tourism Culture
The need to create a tourism culture that truly makes “Tourism Everybody’s Business”. Embrace tourism initiatives that are dedicated to promoting tourism in the region and at the same time are applicable and appropriate to the communities in which it operates. Work with other tourism organisations that are dedicated to the same objectives as yours.
- Identify Potential Impacts
Play an active role in identifying potential positive and negative impacts, ensuring that host communities are aware of the potential negative impacts of tourism and to assist them in making informed decisions about tourism development. Embrace the positive impacts of tourism in such a way as to achieve maximum benefit for all by all.
- Maximise Benefits to Local People and Local Businesses
Tourism can bring significant benefits to local people and local businesses if managed positively. It starts with adopting a fair and equitable employment policy and employment practices with no discrimination according to gender, ethnicity or colour. Offering local people employment in all areas of the business and paying fair and competitive wages is essential. Invest in local people by providing training and career progression opportunities. Where possible purchase locally produced goods and services that benefit the wider local community. Promote and support other community-based tourism initiatives/ enterprises in the area. Where possible ensure that a local guide/chaperone accompanies all group visits to local communities. Create opportunities to contribute financially towards projects that improve the welfare of the local community.
- Support Local Community Projects
For visitors, part of the process of making a difference is to witness or experience the project they are supporting. Where possible including active participation is far more impactful and rewarding.
- Local Community Development Organizations
Community development is most effective when it is a “grass roots‟ needs-driven process and hence being aware of current and the most pressing needs of local communities is vitally important. Additionally, to be effective in delivering optimum benefits, it needs to be professionally coordinated and managed. There are many established professional organisations doing good work in communities, and supporting these organisations through including them in itineraries and offering, where appropriate and welcome, practical support in harnessing travellers’ philanthropy.
- Raising Awareness of Social Issues
In any community there are key issues that are being faced on a daily basis. Some of these may be present in the area you are operating in, such as HIV/AIDS, education challenges, unemployment, single parent challenges. Other issues may be of a broader systemic nature that you, your staff and the community need to be aware of and vigilant against, such as sex tourism and human trafficking.
Cultural experiences have the potential to create important linkages in creating a positive tourism culture in communities. In the South African context, tourism has historically been viewed in a negative light due to racial segregation during the apartheid years. But, if planned and executed responsibly, it also has the potential for creating a real difference in the lives of those involved and the wider community as a whole.
Responsible Tourism is ideally suited to community-based projects and field trips are an opportunity to support such projects, when it is economically sustainable to do so. The important consideration is that they are consistent with a responsible tourism policy and the project’s stated aims include not only benefits accruing to those directly involved in the project, but to the wider community in which it operates.
Field trips have the potential to not only play an instrumental role in supporting community-based projects, but in also initiating projects where the company has established sustainable flows of tourists to an area where the community wish to engage in tourism. Examples of such projects include cultural home stays, local handcrafts, catering and local site guides.