The involvement of Host Communities in Wildlife Tourism

Members of the host community may be involved directly or indirectly with wildlife tourism, or not involved at all. Host Community involvement is influenced by factors encountered in other forms of tourism.

Direct involvement may take the form of paid employees, managers, owners and operators, or unpaid volunteers. In some countries, communities (as land owners) have initiated development of new wildlife reserves and the community has become the major  beneficiary of the wildlife tourism. As employees in wildlife tourism, hosts frequently work as guides and in some more developed countries it has been found that a large percentage of host community involvement in wildlife tourism takes place on a voluntary basis.

Hosts can also be directly involved through community-based tourism ventures which, ideally, offer a higher degree of control over the activities taking place and a greater proportion of the economic benefits than more indirect forms of involvement.

Hosts may be indirectly involved when, for example, they are recipients of distributed compensation revenue from tourism, but otherwise have no contact. Hosts may also collect lease or concession fees from tourism operators who bring tourists onto their lands.

Host involvement depends upon the wildlife tourism context, and is influenced by factors encountered in other forms of tourism. These include:

  • Level of education/skills/training
  • Extent of employment opportunities
  • Access to capital
  • Number of tourists, and/or access to them
  • Host awareness of outcomes from tourism
  • Host interest in involvement (i.e. the assumption should not be made that all hosts desire involvement with tourism)
  • Access to information, power and resources in relation to other stakeholders
  • Previous experiences with tourism that may motivate hosts to avoid, or embrace, direct involvement.

Additional factors found to be particularly relevant to indigenous involvement include:

  • Lack of education and funding for indigenous tourism programmes
  • Lack of language skills that allow communication with tourists
  • Limited infrastructure
  • Negative attitudes and stereotypes
  • Lack of commitment and self-governance by indigenous people
  • Cultural and religious traditions
  • Government dependency

Host communities, especially those in less-developed countries, rarely initiate tourism development without input from an external source such as a local NGO, aninternational conservancy agency, or a private tourism operator.

Such input is not always exclusively financial and the external source may be responsible for initiating the idea of tourism.

Host involvement may take place at different stages in the development of a wildlife tourism facility and take different forms in those stages. As Mvula Trust discovered in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, the local community initially had little direct involvement in the development and management of tourism in the area, but later began to take some control and initiate projects – such as encouraging tourists to visit villages.

In the wider literature the ‘vital role of community involvement and ownership at all stages of tourism development’ has been stressed. It is also argued that the type of involvement host communities have, can shape the benefits and costs they experience from tourism and may have implications for the sustainability of a wildlife tourism venture.

Lorton Consulting, along with our professional associates, have extensive experience in the development of wildlife and nature based tourism and the related facilitation of host community participation and beneficiation.  Contact us if you need help with your wildlife tourism project and community consultation.

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