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2015-03-17 | News

‘Best practice’ for development-focused eco-tourism on the cards

Working in her capacity as a development and eco-tourism specialist in Southern Africa, working group head Dr Sue Snyman, demonstrates a training programme during a handover of laptops with village elders in Sinde Village, Zambia. Photographer: Mike Myers

How can tourism operators and nature conservationists leverage the most eco-tourism benefits for communities living on the borders of protected areas and conservancies?

This is the motivating question for the newly minted Community Working Group, launched by the IUCN’s Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist (TAPAS) Group in November 2014 at the World Parks Congress held in Sydney. The working group is headed up by South African development and eco-tourism expert, Dr Sue Snyman.

‘We now have 46 members from 24 countries who are part of the working group. All our members represent agencies who are working with communities that live on the edge of conservation areas or with research institutions investigating tourism and conservation,’ explains Snyman, a research fellow with the South Africa-based Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU) at the University of Cape Town.

Some are members grappling with the issues of communities that are very remote and rural, such as those living on the edge of the conservancies where Snyman conducted her own doctoral research in Malawi, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Others are working with communities living in small towns adjacent to protected areas, such as some in the United States.

‘But we are all dealing with same issues about how to include these communities into eco-tourism activities. At the moment, we are all working independently, and often making the same mistakes,’ she says, ‘so by drawing up these best practice guidelines, based on case studies from our member countries, we can learn from each other’s experiences.’

A key focus is to collaborate on research looking at ‘benefit-sharing’, and the social and economic benefits and costs associated with tourism and protected areas.

‘There are different ways to include people living around conservation areas. One mechanism could be a lease agreement, where the community gets a fee from a private operator who runs a lodge on their land,’ explains Snyman.

Another model is a joint venture agreement, where a community will be shareholders in the operation and share the risks and dividends.

Communities can also benefit from employment associated with tourism and conservation in their area. Or they could become suppliers of goods and services, such as working as tour guides, or offering cultural experiences and home stays.

In her research in Southern Africa, Snyman found that remote lodges here have not been successful in getting a supply of fresh produce from local communities, another model for a supply-based partnership between tourism operators and communities. She found that remote communities were usually not able to supply the volume and quality of produce that the lodges need.

The working group has 46 members, including a diverse range of developed and developing world country members, from Ecuador, Costa Rica, Vietnam and Laos, to the United States, India, Russia and the Czech Republic.

The best practice guidelines are expected to be ready for distribution towards the end of 2017.

Snyman, who is also the TAPAS Group’s vice-chair, says the platform is open to organisations and individuals working in ‘benefit-sharing from tourism and protected areas, those interested in local community development and engagement with communities living in or around conservation areas, and to researchers and practitioners from all sectors, including academia, government, private sector’.

By Leonie Joubert