Social costs of tourism in protected areas
When working with green-field tourism projects we are often pleasantly surprised by how very conscious rural communities are that tourism can bring risks as well as benefits. Frequently the early community consultation meetings are almost entirely centred on social cost issues. This is especially true of protected areas and their host communities. So this short blog tries to set out some of those potential social risks.
Increased numbers of tourists may disturb community activities, and compete for recreation places and other services. Poorly planned tourism development can lead to increased congestion, littering, vandalism, destabilisation of traditional cultural and social structures, and crime.
Governments may exacerbate these problems if they put short-term economic considerations before all else, for example by building inappropriate infrastructure or failing to establish the needs of local communities. When this happens, the local support for the protected area may be put at risk.
Sometimes tourism in protected areas calls only for seasonal employment, leaving residents underemployed during the slow or off-seasons. However, in some cases this may be to the local communities’ liking.
Where protected area agencies develop visitor management regulations that also affect local residents, there may be negative socio-cultural impacts (e.g. prohibitions on traditional uses such as fuel-wood gathering or on spiritual uses which require entry to the protected area).
Other negative impacts may occur where local traditions become commercialised, and lose their integrity or authenticity. An example would be dances, which had once had a vital social role but which are now put on only for the entertainment of visitors.
Negative impacts are most common when communities are not given choices, or have no control over their involvement with tourism. Outsiders often assign negative connotations to cultural change, while those undergoing the change may be positive about the new ideas or approaches. So it is important that those affected by cultural change be the ones that decide whether this change is acceptable.
Appropriate planning is needed ahead of development, to avoid adverse impacts from the outset; but there are also management techniques that can be used to address problems should they arise.
The dangers are all the greater when there is a sharp contrast between the wealth of tourists and the poverty of the host community. Where this occurs, local communities are potentially vulnerable to exploitation and their voice may go unheard. Both the protected area manager and the tourism provider have a special responsibility in such circumstances to ensure that the community is listened to, and its views allowed to help shape the form of tourist development that takes place.
The solution to dealing with risks and costs ultimately lies in early and ongoing community consultation and participation, as well as thorough and sensitive planning that uses consensus-building processes.
Some points to remember
- Social acceptability increases potential for implementation.
- Use many involvement techniques at all stages of the planning process (e.g. workshops, field trips, open houses, focus groups, advisory committees, etc.).
- Implementation of the plan is much enhanced if all stakeholders take responsibility and ownership of the plan.
- Some workshops can be run over several days to build strong sense of ownership.
- Overcome distrust or other problems, by openness.
- As much as possible, seek information, rather than provide information: this builds greater levels of trust.
Lorton Consulting, together with our specialist associates, has a wealth of experience in tourism destination planning and socially acceptable community consultation and participation processes.
Contact Lorton Consulting about your specific tourism planning and community involvement needs — we would be more than willing to advise you.