Stakeholder perceptions of ecotourism impacts and management issues in relation to private game parks : case studies of the Ezulwini Private Park and Tala Private Park in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Desai, Sumaiya Amod.
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Ecotourism has generated great interest from governments, tourism enterprises, tourists, conservation groups, the private sector and other stakeholders in the industry. A reason for this interest is the availability of pristine natural environments, especially in Africa. The need for more rigorous data on economic, environmental and social impacts of ecotourism development from different perspectives and stakeholders is central to unpacking key issues related to sustaining ecotourism in Africa that is both responsive to environmental as well as social and economic needs. There seems to be a need for a better understanding of ecotourism’s impacts, and how those impacts are affected by various developmental needs and management strategies. South Africa is a country which is closely linked with disputes resulting from land claims as a result of apartheid. Thus, this thesis attempts to unpack issues relating to the historical legacy, the proliferation of Private Game Parks in South Africa and related issues of privatised concentration of natural resources, access and affordability as well as potential social, economic and environmental impacts. Research was undertaken in two Private Parks in KwaZulu-Natal: Ezulwini Private Park and Tala Private Park. A fundamental ingredient for stakeholder involvement is collaboration among key players. The specific stakeholders identified for this study were: visitors, local communities, tour operators, Park personnel, Park managers and the Private owner of both the private Parks. The research employed both qualitative (participatory approaches) and quantitative (questionnaires) techniques when collecting data. The study revealed that visitors to Ezulwini Private Park and Tala Private Park listed important factors regarding their own efforts to promote ecotourism such as: conserving nature, limiting the over-utilisation of resources, being environmentally conscious, reducing water consumption, being litter conscious, spreading the conservation message via word of mouth and visiting more ecotourism destinations. There is a good level of interaction between the tour operating company (that carries out tours to Ezulwini Private Park and Tala Private Park) and the community. This is attributed to visitors purchasing from cultural villages and the use of local tour guides. The local communities living near the private Parks indicated that no relationship exists between the community, management and staff of the respective private Parks. Participatory exercises (venn diagrams, mental mapping and problem ranking exercises) were conducted with focus groups. These focus group discussions established heterogeneity within the respective communities and emphasised the need for the involvement of all community members who best understand and have the greatest stake in social, economic and political issues linked to the Parks. According to the Park personnel at Ezulwini Private Park and Tala Private Park local communities were somewhat involved in the activities and decision-making of the private Parks. However, the Park owner of both the private Parks stated that the local communities were not involved in the activities and decision-making of the private Parks. To mitigate social, environmental and economic impacts it is imperative that all stakeholders are consulted as this will reduce conflict and enhance consensus.