Spatial prioritisation of conservation areas on the fringes of KwaZulu-Natal protected areas : application of the characteristics framework using tourism competitiveness.
Prioritisation of conservation areas has become a major area of study over the last few decades as a result of greatly increased rates of biodiversity loss and extinction with the rapidly expanding human population and development. These extinctions are most commonly associated with habitat loss, the prevention of which is part of the mandate of Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (EKZNW). Prioritisation has historically been aimed at areas of predominantly biological importance. Currently, EKZNW faces requests from the South African government to provide jobs, develop communities, and conserve biodiversity. This study proposes that right from the outset of the identification of potential conservation areas in KZN, the tourism potential should be a factor considered by decision makers in prioritisation. In order to present such a case, the dissertation considers the role of competitive advantage within tourism. Multiple linear regression is used to quantify the competitive advantage gained by KZN nature-based tourism destinations by virtue of macro environmental and locational factors. The results of the analyses of competitiveness are used to predict the relative advantage of a number of potential conservation sites currently being considered by EKZNW staff. The thesis is the first, to the author’s knowledge, to consider the prioritisation of conservation areas using tourism competitive advantage at a macro-level as a tool for decision making. This tool could save costs of in-depth tourism feasibility studies at destinations that could potentially be shown to have low potential competitive advantage. Funds could then rather be focused on further feasibility studies at destinations already shown to have some form of competitive advantage. The study analyses secondary financial data, collected from a variety of EKZNW protected areas with different accommodation types. The sources of primary data on the marketed attributes of the destinations are pamphlets and EKZNW internet sites. Panel data are analysed using Tobit regression to identify the effects of changes in attributes of destinations on competitiveness. Three variables identified in the literature are used as proxies for competitiveness: price, occupancy percentage and revenue per available room. The Tobit analyses are supported by estimations using Generalised Least Squares (GLS) regression and the results were found to be relatively robust to changes in estimation techniques. Marginal effects from the Tobit regression analyses are used to rank the relative competitiveness and order priority of conservation for a number of potential sites under consideration by EKZNW. With regard to prioritisation, the Tobit models estimated that the most influential macro-environmental factors influencing the competitive advantage of destinations are: Their location beside the ocean, The presence of the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo), The size of the destination protected area, and The distance from Johannesburg. With regard to competitiveness, important management or destination factors affecting the competitiveness of destinations were: Star rating (i.e. Quality of resort), (star-rated destinations had increased competitiveness), Provision of breakfast within accommodation fee, (competitiveness was lower at destinations that included breakfast in accommodation fees), Facilities inside the accommodation for self-catering, (such facilities are preferred), and Pricing strategies that reflect the relative demand. The thesis results suggest that it is vital to consider the competitive advantage of a site when assessing the site for conservation. A number of the recommendations can be drawn from the study regarding the marketing and management of current EKZNW tourism destinations: the incomes and annual Rand turn-over of these sites could be significantly improved by focussing on the variety of potential tourists and targeting specific niche markets, such as birders and visitors interested in historic or cultural sites. An important future focus for EKZNW could be to set competitive pricing relative to the experience offered in order to improve their overall performance. This is especially necessary when there are large discrepancies between the value placed on an attribute by EKZNW (e.g. high prices for birding) and the behaviour displayed by tourists using that attribute (e.g. low occupancy levels in birding destinations).