The social, economic and environmental impacts of ecotourism : case studies of the St. Lucia area and the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg region in South Africa.
The study focuses on two World Heritage sites in KwaZulu-Natal (uKhahlambaDrakensberg Park and the Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park). It sets out to critically examine the social, economic and political aspects of natural heritage in the context of sustainability and contestation. How these heritage landscapes are managed, and in particular how decisions regarding its use and identity are taken, is the central issue under investigation. In particular, this research examines the how an understanding of stakeholder perceptions allows current management strategies to be assessed for their effectiveness and relevance to the stakeholders in the regions and the development of new management strategies which are relevant to stakeholder needs. In this regard, a central concern is to identify and evaluate the degree of participation in resource management, conservation and in direct ecotourism activities links to the heritage sites. Stakeholders will vary in their ability to influence decision-makers and they are also unlikely to gain or lose out equally from particular courses of action. These are all issues which need full consideration in approaches to sustainable tourism management. This study focused on the following stakeholders: neighbouring rural communities, tourists, accommodation personnel and tour operators. Questionnaire surveys were administered to each of the stakeholder groups identified above. Furthermore, participatory exercises (venn diagrams, resource mapping and problem ranking exercises) were conducted with focus groups. The study reveals heterogeneity within and between communities under study in relation to socio-economic aspects and perceptions regarding the Parks and levels of participation in activities linked to the Parks. In relation to heritage sites, the questions of ownership, transparency and accountability are particularly important. The study of ecotourism impacts and their management offers many opportunities to reflect on the importance of sustainability. The impacts, as outlined by the findings of the study, provides the opportunity for the implementation of biodiversity strategies linked to the establishment of conservation priorities, mobilising and establishing partnerships, identifying biodiversity threats and benefits, and providing incentives to conserve.