The Potential for Community-Based Ecotourism Development

Theoretical Foundation

The initial area of stakeholder theory application was in the business domain. The theory offered the potential for improvement in quality management and operational performance. However, over time it was successfully adopted in other disciplines. The core concept of the theory is stakeholders – individuals or groups that share a common interest in a given system. The activities of stakeholders are usually determined by the magnitude of the group and range from individual to international. The main issue covered by the theory is the effect of the said groups’ participation in a venture on its success. Since the complexity of the said effect increases with the number and magnitude of the involved parties, the necessity emerges for the stakeholder analysis.

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The interaction of institutions and individual users in the tourism industry was aided by the utilization of stakeholder theory in the areas of planning, resource management, and development. Byrd (2007) successfully utilized the theory in a study that identified present and future host communities as well as present and future visitors as the most significant stakeholders in the development of sustainable tourism. These findings provided planners and developers with a more precise image of their target audience and provided them with an overview of the possible approaches to interaction.

Mulale (2005) expanded on the classification of stakeholders participating in community-based natural resource management (CBNRM). According to the author, the saliency, dependency, demand, and risks levels were unique for each stakeholder (Mulale, 2005). Such classification revealed the causes of insufficient incentives available to some stakeholders and, by extension, centralization and regulation instead of devolution and participation. The gradual adoption of the stakeholder theory in the tourism sector allowed for a more encompassing perception of the parties involved in the process by expanding the participant list to include local businesses, indigenous groups, and residents. It also contributed to the shift from the more rigid top-down approach towards a more productive and efficient bottom-up partnership.

Conceptual Framework

The study utilizes two empirically tested conceptual frameworks. The hypothesis was developed based on the hypothesized relationship between the independent and dependent variables and the respectively formulated hypotheses. The two response variables used in the study support the development of community-based ecotourism (CBE) and support for the identified national park. The factors responsible for the alteration of support for the identified response variables were determined through analysis. The identified predictor variables included CBE perception, conservation perception, potential community issues, participation, and demographic variables (age, gender, residence duration, education, and proximity). The conceptual framework identifies the expected direction of associations between the response and predictor variables. The effect of dependent variables on the independent ones was estimated using the method of path analysis.

CBE Perception

According to the academic consensus, the local population tends to view tourism as a positive factor primarily due to its potential for revenue, viability as a driving force for the labor market, and a boost for the development of local infrastructure and social services development (Andereck, Valentine, Knopf, & Vogt, 2005). It is also implied that the said positive attitude facilitates active participation in tourism development. The pattern can be observed regardless of the direct involvement of the population in the industry. The ecological factor further strengthens the described involvement by appealing to individuals and groups with an interest in environmental issues. Positive financial outcomes associated with ecotourism further enhance the favorable perception of the local population. Specifically, the increased investment flow, improved social services, reduced unemployment, and the emergence of related projects lead to greater acceptance of CBE among residents (Andereck et al., 2005). Importantly, the effect is double-sided, with failure to meet the expected social and economic improvements usually leading to the decline of support and eventual lack of active involvement.

Conservation Perception

Perception is an opinion or belief regarding a certain event or process held by an individual or shared by a group. Perceptions are complex phenomena that are formed by a multitude of factors and constantly reshaped as new inputs and interpretations are received by their hosts. In addition to the positive or negative attitude (affective outcome), perceptions determine the actions of the stakeholders (behavioral outcome). The most apparent factor determining the population’s perception of conservation is socioeconomic and is based on the economic aspect of the activity (e.g. financial benefits of the conservation initiative). Other significant factors include the association with the forceful relocation, decreased access to natural resources, and the restrictions placed on cultural and religious activities, such as rituals (Baral & Heinen, 2007). In other words, the resource shortage and cultural conflicts serve as the main reasons for the negative perception of conservation efforts. In contrast, the satisfaction with accrued benefits of the said efforts contributes to the positive perception among stakeholders (Baral & Heinen, 2007). Therefore, improved access to resources has a positive effect on the local population’s conservation perception.

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Potential Community Issues

The local population can express concerns regarding the introduction of tourist activity in the region. The most common issues are caused by the expectations of the increasing cost of living after the influx of tourists, the possibility of traffic congestion, noise pollution, littering, environmental damage as a result of the construction effort, and the rise in criminal activity (Gursoy, Jurowski, & Uysal, 2002). It is important to note that the possible negative issues do not necessarily determine the final decision of the stakeholders and can be mitigated by the expectation of benefits. A study by Gursoy et al. (2002) revealed that despite a range of issues voiced by the respondents, the decisions were driven primarily by the expected socio-economic benefits of the initiative. It should be emphasized that the level of community support (or lack thereof) is not determined solely by the voiced negative expectations. While limited evidence exists that can be interpreted as a confirmation of the significance of community-based issues, it has not been conclusively proven and should thus be considered in combination with other factors.

Participation

Resources such as national parks hold additional value due to the capacity for interaction with natural resources offered to the participants. The most recognizable examples of interaction include camping, sightseeing, horse riding, and walking. The engagement in the said interaction provides “experiences that are emotionally and spiritually rewarding” (Cordes, 2013, p. 186). The positive nature of the outcome is thus the primary driver for individuals seeking to engage in them. Other determinants of the degree of participation include the access difficulties associated with proximity to the site, the support caused by ideological alignment with the goals of the project, and the observed effects of the development of the tourism industry. The overwhelming majority of evidence suggests a positive relationship between the identified variables (Andereck et al., 2005). In other words, the degree of stakeholders’ involvement in the process of management of resources was associated with positive attitudes towards tourism activities and, by extension, better support for conservation efforts.

Demographic Variables

The perceptions detailed in the previous sections are not distributed evenly within the population. Several demographic variables have been determined as strong predictors of intra-group differences. For instance, younger individuals tend to express greater support for the development of the tourist industry while older individuals perceived it as a threat to cultural traditions. In other words, age is inversely associated with stakeholder involvement. Next, male residents are more likely to hold a positive perception of conservation efforts than females. In addition, the level of education is known to positively influence participation in tourism development. Finally, a stronger historical connection with the location contributes to weaker involvement, probably due to integrity concerns (Andereck et al., 2005). This information suggests the significance of residence duration as a demographic factor.

Proximity

The proximity of the stakeholders’ residence to the site of the tourist zone of interest has also been determined a demographic variable of high significance. A study by (Gursoy et al., 2002) revealed that the individuals who were living closer to the tourist site were more likely to support its development and expressed more favorable views towards the issue whereas the residents of rural areas farther from the site were less likely to participate due to negative attitudes. The findings suggest that the evaluation of benefits and adverse effects of the initiative. However, an inverse pattern was observed among the potential users of the recreation resource, where people who lived closer to it expressed less support and were more negative towards the activities than those farther away.

References

Andereck, K. L., Valentine, K. M., Knopf, R. C, & Vogt, C. A. (2005). Residents’ perceptions of community tourism impacts. Annals of Tourism Research. 32(4), 1056-1076.

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Baral, N., & Heinen, T. (2007). Resource use, conservation attitudes, management intervention and park people relations in the western Terai landscape of Nepal. Environmental Conservation, 34(1), 64-72.

Byrd, E. T. (2007). Stakeholders in sustainable tourism development and their roles: Applying stakeholder theory to sustainable tourism development. Tourism Review, 62(2), 6-13.

Cordes, K. A. (2013). Applications in recreation and leisure: for today and the future (4th ed.). Urbana, IL: Sagamore Publishing LLC.

Gursoy, D., Jurowski, C., & Uysal, M. (2002). Resident attitudes: A structural modeling approach. Annals of Tourism Research, 29(1), 79-105.

Mulale, K. (2005). The structural organization of CBNRM in Botswana. Web.

The Potential for Community-Based Ecotourism Development
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