An assessment of visitor profiles, consumption patterns and perceptions as well as the state of coastal and marine tourism (specifically beach) sites in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa.
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Coastal and Marine Tourism (CMT) is the main sub-sector of tourism and has substantial socio-economic and environmental importance. Specifically, CMT is a key economic contributor as well as creating opportunities for social recreational and leisure experiences and promoting conservation and environmental awareness concerning coastal and marine natural resources. However, there are increasing demands on CMT locations that include increases in visitor numbers, residential and business/ industrial demand, natural resource extraction activities, and conservation imperatives. Understanding and balancing these demands are central to sustainable CMT in South Africa. KwaZulu-Natal (with its mild climate and more than 600 km coastline with diverse coastal and marine resources and activities) is South Africa’s key CMT destination. There is limited research that undertakes provincial level analyses that focus on demands and impacts. In this context, this study adopts the drivers, pressures, state, impact and response (DPSIR) framework to examine visitor profiles, consumption of coastal and marine activities, and perceptions of CMT locations in 41 selected beaches along KwaZulu-Natal's coastline. One thousand two hundred (1 200) visitor surveys were conducted at selected beach locations in KwaZulu-Natal using the spatially-based, systematic sampling approach. Additionally, the state of the beaches were assessed using an on-site observation checklist. Forty one beaches were purposively chosen for the on-site observations during off-peak and peak periods to consider seasonality. The use of mixed methods is a methodological contribution since there is limited research that integrates both visit surveys and observation assessments at CMT locations. The results indicate that diverse visitors in relation to socio-economic and spatial characteristics visit CMT locations. The main activities that visitors participate in are coastal recreational and leisure activities, with lower participation rates in relation to marine activities. The economic value of CMT emerges with most respondents being overnight visitors and day-trippers compared to local residents. Of importance is that KwaZulu-Natal is the main source market for CMT followed by Gauteng, the main domestic tourism market in the country. Repeat visitation was noted together with generally high levels of satisfaction with beach experiences and locations. The main visitor spend was on food and drinks, and transportation; with accommodation spend also being important in relation to overnight visitors. In relation to the on-site observations, the substantial increase in the numbers of visitors during peak compared to off-peak periods was evident. Of concern was that although signage indicated that there is awareness of aspects that need to be considered to restrict or limit usage at CMT locations, compliance of rules and regulations was almost non-existent, which is a serious concern. Thus, a key recommendation is that the management of CMT beach locations, especially during peak seasons when the number of visitors and consumption increases substantially, needs to be addressed. Training of security personnel to assist with raising awareness and enforcement is particularly important. Improving infrastructure and services (such as better waste management) is also recommended. This study indicates that the demands on CMT beach locations, which are popular destinations, need to be better managed to ensure socio-economic and environmental sustainability.