Table of Contents
South Africa is always viewed as the one of the most varied and enchanting nations which has exotic blends of people, culture, landscapes and history. Eco-tourism is growing on an increasing rate in the country and has the potential to become one of the major sources of income which will ultimately contribute in the development of the economy (Boabab Travel, 2017). On the other hand, in South Africa, there is not yet a certified byelaw of the term eco-tourism. However, South African Tourism Services Association is working hard for providing high standards of tourism along with focusing on integrity, accountability and quality control. Further, seeing the contribution made by the eco-tourism industry in other parts of the world, South Africa has shown positive attitude in developing the eco-tourism sector so that more number of tourists can visit the country and explore new places. It can be mentioned that the government of South Africa has also focused on improving the natural surroundings in order to protect the ecological environment (Far and Wild Safaris, 2010). It is believed that having a serious concern and taking an effective measures for protecting environment will definitely benefit the eco-tourism industry of the country. It not only helps in protecting the flora and fauna and variety of species but also support in adopting sustainable practices in eco-tourism. In the current study, the researcher will be focusing on exploring the significance of the eco-tourism in South Africa in context to preserving the natural environment and ensuring the socio-economic benefits to the nation.
The rise in environmental concern has enabled the government, tourism industry and tourism companies and other private investors to work for the protection of ecological environment and natural resources. Eco-tourism has a potential to preserve the natural environment by creating awareness among people (Hall, 2010). It has been identified that eco-tourism not only contributes in protecting the natural resources but also make huge contribution in the economy in terms of foreign exchange and tourists traffic. The eco-tourism in South Africa is rising with more number of people becoming aware about the importance of protecting ecological and wildlife environment. The natural environment of South Africa is being affected due to lack of support of government and required investment. Therefore, promoting eco-tourism would be beneficial for the country to deal with the challenges that are hampering natural and wildlife environment (Látková and Vogt, 2012). Moreover, the nation would be able to engage more number of people with the eco-tourism which would help in obtaining socio-economic benefits. On the other hand, it can be pointed out that through the promotion of eco-tourism, the industry would be able to create awareness among the people so that they can make substantial contribution in the protection of ecological or natural environment (Nunkoo and Gursoy, 2012). Furthermore, it can be mentioned giving high emphasis on the environmental issues, the eco-tourism firms or lodges in South Africa would likely be more interested to adopt sustainable practices so that continuous growth in the eco-tourism industry can be maintained. This would support the economy in enhancing welfare of the surrounding community and ensuring the positive growth of the nation.
Findings and Discussion
From the response of the executives of the Eco Tourism company, Jabulani, it has been identified that eco-tourism of Southern Africa contributes in generating high income. The study of Scarpa, et al. (2011) also indicates that the tourism in South Africa has been able to make positive contribution in increasing the flow of foreign exchange and Gross domestic product. This in turn, extensively support the economy of the nation to increase its capital reserves. On the other hand, interviewees have mentioned that the establishment of private reserves and funding rehabilitation works, wildlife relocation and anti-poaching patrols have helped in improving the conditions of tourism in the nation. In that context, it can be discussed that the improvement of tourism has shown positive feedback from tourists and make significant investments, which supports South Africa to generate money. Further, the safety and wellbeing of the wildlife have helped in countering trafficking of animals and poaching for ivory. These approaches undertaken by the tourism industry has helped in obtaining positive return, which has allowed to attract more tourists from different regions.
Another question asked by the interviewees is related to benefit of eco-tourism on the economy. It has been observed from the reply of participants that eco-tourism provides huge opportunities in creating jobs for the locals residing in the surrounding communities. This opinion relates with the viewpoint of Wang and Pfister (2008), where it has been mentioned that eco-tourism across the world always contribute in generating employment. An individual has an option to work as a permanent employee, part time or seasonal workers in the eco-tourism industry. This in turn, help in decreasing the unemployment level in the economy. On the other hand, it is pointed out that the eco-tourism also helps South Africa in obtaining foreign currency. In that relation, it can be discussed that eco-tourism industry has a positive relation in increasing the foreign reserves. This particular industry is also considered as one of the easiest areas to generate foreign currency. Moreover, as the eco-tourism industry generates foreign exchange then the value is utilised further for developing infrastructure of the economy.
In context to the question related to social benefits, it has been identified that families living in rural areas can earn money by finding jobs nearby their homes. This helps them to support their family members and meet basic requirements. According to the viewpoint of Webster and Ivanov (2014), it is also evident that eco-tourism firm can recruit people residing at rural regions which can support them in improving their standard of living. Moreover, they can work as a tourist guide or others which can help them to achieve their daily requirements.
Interviewees have explicitly opined that incomes that are by eco-tourism destinations are ploughed back for preserving the natural environment. Money is reinvested into maintenance and rehabilitation programs for injured and sick animals. Moreover, private firms are hired in order to ensure the safety of the animals kept in the reserves. This in turn, helps in combating the animals poaching of animals. The study of Látková and Vogt (2012) also illustrates that if the profits from eco-tourism destinations are reinvested in the preservation of the natural environment that it not only contributes in protecting animals from illegal acts but also helps in the economic development. On the other hand, it has been ascertained that it is crucial for the private game lodges to maintain a profitable business and build relation with the both local and foreign investors in order to ensure that cost requirement for preserving natural environment is met. Thus, it can be pointed out that ploughing back the income can largely improve the natural environment which can potentially attract tourists from around the world.
From the reply of participants, it has been found that eco-tourism has a potential to create a channel which benefits both the state and surrounding communities. It has been understood that vast areas of land are permitted by eco-tourism to be preserved in its original state so that different flora and fauna species can be protected. In that relation, it can be pointed that eco-tourism works together with the state and local association to ensure natural ecology are protected from any damage or illegal activities (Nunkoo and Ramkissoon, 2011).
Another question relating to challenges faced by the eco-tourism industry in Southern Africa has been asked to the interviewees. Ancestral land claims have been found as one of the major issues in the Southern Africa’s eco-tourism industry. Tribal communities asserts that the current land possessed by the government for preserving natural environment belongs to them. This in turn, leads to conflict between the government and tribal communities. Due to this, it is difficult to decide whether the land to be used for agriculture or grazing land for livestock or for mining of natural resources. This pose a big question in relation to the protection of natural ecology. In that relation, it can be discussed that if the eco-tourism industry do not have the required land then it can be difficult to preserve the animals that are on the verge of extinction. Moreover, the conflict over land can lead to loss of vast areas of protected wilderness. On the other hand, it has been observed that if the eco-tourism is not carried out in a sustainable manner then it can hamper the surrounding environment. The study of Lee (2013), indicates that the if large number of tourists visit an eco-tourism destination at one time or annually then it can lead to pollution, habitat loss and high wastage. Overall, this can disturb the areas of wildlife.
It can be further assessed that eco-tourism in South Africa contributes in improving the lives of the surrounding community. It has been pointed out by the interviewees that eco-tourism lodges implement projects, which benefits the community. They build schools, safe drinking water wells in the rural areas, etc. As a result, the lives of the community are enhanced which helps them to lead a standard life and simultaneously improve the conditions of family members. According to the opinion of the Dogra and Gupta (2012), it is also clear that the income that are generated by the eco-tourism industry or companies is contributed in the development of communities so that they can improve their health status, education, etc. On the other hand, it has been observed that the donations are also made by the international tourists which extensively assist the local communities to enhance their living conditions. In that context, it can be discussed that economy of Southern Africa is not developed and high percentage of people live below poverty line. Therefore, the investments from eco-tourism lodges and donations by the tourists largely supports the local communities to meet their basic needs.
Participants have mentioned that most of the eco-tourism destinations in Southern Africa are operated with more of a humanistic approach rather than a business strategy approach. People are involved the industry in ensuring that tourists experience an environment which provides home and friendly environment and are free from any discriminations and ill-treatment. This in turn, supports in ensuring the long term sustainability of the eco-tourism industry in the Southern Africa. It has been also discussed by C.F. Chen and P.C. Chen (2010) that when people adopts a positive and friendly behaviour then it is more likely that it not only contributes in engaging more number of tourists from across the world but simultaneously helps in generating income. Moreover, it can be pointed out that when the motive is to satisfy the targeted people then it often leads to positive results. On the other hand, it has been also identified that in Southern Africa, there are various industries and vast number of projects which are more profitable in comparison to eco-tourism industry. The investors are more interested to make investment in other sectors rather than eco-tourism sector. Therefore, eco-tourism destinations in Southern Africa are run with a humanistic approach which supports in its sustainability so that more number of tourists can be attracted or interested to visit the country.
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The response to the question on whether the eco-tourism lodges in Southern Africa are eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable, it has been found that majority of the lodges are traditionally built and are not eco-friendly. However, now lodges have realised the importance of sustainability and eco-friendly practices. Therefore, existing sites are upgraded in order to make it eco-friendly and sustainable. As per the study of Hall (2010), it has been observed that various accommodations that are constructed using natural locally sourced materials and solar panel are found to be more environment friendly. Moreover, they can sustain for longer period of time in comparison to traditional approach used for constructing lodges. On the other hand, example of Singita has also been given which use solar panels, large bore hole water reservoirs which store natural rainfall. It also uses building materials which fit in with the natural environment. These eco-friendly practices support Singita in making contribution to the socioeconomic development of the region and improving the quality of life of local population and protecting the natural environment as well. Thus, it can be illustrated that if more numbers of eco-tourism lodges in Southern Africa follows the eco-friendly practices then it will assist in improving the image of Southern Africa’s tourism industry in global platform. This in turn, will contribute in increasing the percentage of tourists in the country.
It has been found that the eco-tourism industry of Southern Africa face tough competition from agriculture and mining sector. In that context, it can be discussed that both mining and agriculture industries contribute more in comparison to eco-tourism industry. However, the benefits from the mining are considered short-term. It has been identified that due to large extraction of minerals, huge damage will be done to the land from the long-term perspective which will extensively hamper the ecology of the region (Scarpa, et al. 2011). On the other hand, the current climate change and worsening droughts and floods have affected the agricultural farming, which impacted the total revenue. Therefore, in such situations, it is difficult to ensure long term solutions for the economic sustainability. It would be beneficial for the government of Southern Africa to equally lay importance on eco-tourism industry as it will be beneficial in long term in terms both economic development and generating income.
Interviewees have opined that by adopting sustainable practices, the tourism destinations in Southern Africa can be able to improve their operations. It has been identified that by exercising sustainable practices, the eco-tourism industry would be able to enhance the quality of tourism which will help in increasing both domestic and international tourists. An example of Singita lodges has been given. Initially, lodges were using a large generator for meeting the requirement of electricity which was a costly affair for them. This problem has been solved by using renewable energy sources. It not only helped in fulfilling the electricity requirement but supported in cutting down the additional costs as well. On the other hand, it has been understood eco-tourism lodges can install rainfall reservoir for storing rainfall, which can be further utilised for meeting guests daily water needs (Nunkoo and Smith, 2013). Furthermore, a system can be implemented for educating the guest about sustainable use of water and electricity. Thus, it can be illustrated that sustainable practices by the eco-tourism destinations can help in improving operations and quality services can be provided to the tourists.
According to the opinion of participants, it has been observed that high benefits can be attained if proper management and conservation of the wildlife and ecology are done appropriately. It would support in achieving both environmentally and economic benefits which will contribute in the sustainability and survival of the eco-tourism industry. From the study of Kim, Uysal and Sirgy (2013), it is also evident that there is number of cases regarding poaching of animals for ivory. Due to this, wildlife is highly affected, thereby impacting the eco-tourism. In that context, it can be mentioned that it is crucial for the eco-tourism to operate in sustainable manner as it would allow to conserve and protect the ecosystem. Moreover, a positive contribution can be made in terms of profits and increasing tourists’ traffic. On the other hand, it can be pointed out after seeing the current scenario of wildlife tourism of Southern Africa that it holds a bright future and it will provide long term economic benefits.
From the reply of interviewees, it has also been found that in order to obtain sustainable practice in eco-tourism, it is important to implement advanced technology which will help in decreasing pollution and wastage of natural resources. The study of Nunkoo and Gursoy (2012), indicates that if an economy is able to combat the threat of pollution and make best usage of natural resources then it largely contributes in the sustainable eco-tourism. It has also been observed the management of the eco-tourism firms would also require to operate in sustainable manner so that better control can be done on the costs and wastage of material. This in turn, would support in providing quality hospitality services to tourists of different regions, thereby, contributing in positive income and return. On the other hand, it has been identified that tourism can face significant risks in regards to environmental damage. It relates with the opinion of Látková and Vogt (2012), where it has been mentioned that due to environmental challenges there can be a risk of wildlife disturbance, soil erosion, littering and excess use of energy and water. Such risks would limit the eco-tourism industry to carry out sustainable practices. Furthermore, it has been ascertained that it is imperative for the tourism industry to meet the requirements of tourists and also, it is important to control the tourists in order to lower down their impact on the environment as a result of waste production. Reducing environmental footprints and waste management can be adopted by the eco-tourism industry in order to gain maximum from the business and contribute more to the economy.
From the response of the participants, it is clearly evident that the Department of Environment Affairs and Tourism works in the area to ensure environmentally sustainable practices of eco-tourism destinations. In that relation, it can be discussed a governing body plays an important role in tracking and monitoring the eco-tourism destinations so that they carry out tourism business in sustainable manner without hampering the natural environment. Moreover, it is important to preserve the natural state of the environment as it will help in protecting numerous varieties of flora and fauna, many wildlife species, etc. In context to Southern Africa, it can be mentioned that it is crucial for the eco-tourism industry to understand the importance of protecting bio diversity. It is also evident in the study of Lee (2013) that by protecting bio diversity, wildlife ecosystem will be improved which will ultimately contribute in the growth of tourism industry. Moreover, the industry would be able to attract more number of tourists and also significant investment can be made from the investors in the tourism sector.
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Conclusion and Recommendations
The study significantly focused on analysing the eco-tourism industry in South Africa in context with the preservation of the natural environment and the socio-economic benefits to the community. The eco-tourism in the country is growing at an increasing rate which is a positive sign for the economy. The eco-tourism authorities and lodges have taken substantial efforts and measures for enhancing the tourism industry and attracting more number of visitors from across the world. It has been identified that South Africa has a rich heritage and culture which has potential to attract the tourists. On the other hand, it has been reported from the study that eco-tourism industry has been able to create job opportunities for local people and provided them option to work as a part-time or permanent workers. This has helped people to improve their lives and enhance their standard of living of the family members and communities. People from the rural communities are allowed to work as trackers, rangers, guides and anti-poaching team. Moreover, the income which is generated from the tourism industry is used for building infrastructure that usually comprises better public transportation, roads and streetlights. Moreover, the profits are also used by the government for developing other business sectors so that high economic advantages can be achieved.
It is evident from the study that South Africa has high levels of crime, unemployment, poverty and lacks infrastructure. Tourism industry along with other industries makes a positive contribution to combat such challenges. Eco-tourism has provided huge benefit to the economy. It has supported in increasing the conditions of wildlife conservations and tourists destinations. This in turn, the tourism industry has become one of the major sources of foreign currency which is essential for the economic future of South Africa. On the other hand, it has been observed that eco-tourism locations are situated in the more remote parts of the nation. Due to this, it is difficult to change the traditional mind set of tribal communities for the betterment of the tourism sector and the economy. Another challenge which is faced by the eco-tourism industry of South Africa is its lack of investment for the protection of natural environment. This may affect the industry if necessary steps are not taken appropriately. It has also been ascertained that eco-tourism of South Africa can create reliance on foreign investors who are willing to make investments in the eco-tourism ventures. As a result, it can develop a business mentality instead of conservationists’ mentality which would impact the tourism industry. In order to tackle such risks, the government officials have established different programs and policies so that tourism sector can be developed.
From the study, it has been identified that profits generated from the eco-tourism are reinvested into the preservation of the natural environment. The income used for maintenance and rehabilitation programs for ensuring the safety of the animals in the reserves. This has helped in curbing the illegal trade of animals who are used for making products or for other purposes. On the other hand, the private eco-tourism lodges also support the tourism industry by investing their income for improving the conditions of animal reserves so that it can help in increasing the number of tourists in the country and thereby, more profit can be generated. Moreover, Fair trade tourism certificate is sought by the eco-tourism lodges. It ensures that they are following sustainable practices to gain more eco-friendly and conscious clients. Further, the eco-tourism make substantial investments in the area which can support in improving the lives of the local people and surrounding community. It has been found that the international tourists and large eco-tourism lodges of South Africa helps in building schools drinking water wells, health care centre, etc. This largely helps the community to improve their living standard. Moreover, significant donations are made by the foreign tourists which aids in the protection of national heritage and tourists destinations.
It can be mentioned as well based on the study that environmental sustainable practices are now adopted by the eco-tourism lodges so that natural environment can be protected and renewable sources of energy can be used more. It has been identified that people have become aware about the eco-friendly practices and sustainable constructions of eco-friendly accommodation. Moreover, the eco-tourism firms are focusing more to upgrade existing sites in order to make it more eco-friendly and sustainable. It is viewed as a long-term advantage for both tourism industry and growth of the economy. Moreover, it is important for the government to equally give importance to eco-tourism industry likewise other major sectors of the country.
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In order to develop the eco-tourism in the country, the following suggestions can be adopted;
It would be important for the eco-tourism lodges and government officials to ensure that tourism advertisement is focused on publications which caters to all-around naturalist rather than focusing on any one particular segment. It would help both the domestic and foreign tourists to explore all the tourists’ locations. This in turn will help in increasing the numbers of tourists in the country. Moreover, it would make the nation a one of the prominent choice for travelling.
The government should plan to develop a world-class infrastructural facilities for attracting foreign visitors and to increase the wealth of South Africa. The nation would require to welcome investment in infrastructure sector from international funding agencies or other major associations for infrastructure development linked with eco-tourism. On the other hand, improvement would require to be made in telecommunication system, information technology system and the baking services in the tourist destinations for the growth of tourism facilities. Moreover, transport arrangement, laying of trails, interpretation skills for guide and basic facilities development are crucial steps for eco-tourism development.
Eco-tourism can be promoted in a large manner through establishing tourist resorts at strategic regions. Unfortunately, neither the department of tourism nor the government has done enough worth mentioning in this respect. Therefore, under the private and public participation, resorts can be developed. On the other hand, proper accommodation centres with modern amenities appropriate for stay of the foreign visitors need to be constructed. Also, the creation of day shelter would be another important step for eco-tourism development.
There would be requirement as well for making improvement in marketing facilities for the promotion of eco-tourism. Major steps need to be undertaken to market tourism potentials of different regions in the country and abroad. An effective marketing will make more number of tourists aware about various tourists’ destinations which can be explored by them. This would help in increasing the traffic of tourists which will ultimately contribute in generating income.
Another suggestion which can be adopted is related to waste management. It is a crucial aspects for promoting eco-tourism. The tourism department of the country with local authorities would require to ensure that the tourist spots are plastic free. Moreover, in order to keep the surroundings clean, sufficient waste boxes need to be placed in all the tourist areas. These waste should be then assembled and disposed in a scientific way. Furthermore, burning of waste should be carried out in safe locations under controlled situations so that natural environment are not affected. For controlling and preventing pollution, hi-tech pollution control equipment would need to be used.
The government and other agencies operating in South Africa would require to examine ways for providing assistance to eco-tourism operations research. It would be necessary to develop eco-tourism plan. Thus, for developing the eco-tourism destinations in the country, there need to be a different plan for each tourist destinations. This will help in the growth of the eco-tourism in the nation.
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