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2015-03-17 | story

Community buy-in and conservancies: a Southern African perspective

Dr Sue Snyman conducting an interview with an OmuHimba woman in Puros Village, Namibia. (Photographer: Chris Bakkes)

Development-focused eco-tourism partnerships between local communities and private enterprises are more likely to succeed if the communities living on the edge of protected areas are able to make direct links between the conservation of an area, and their own tangible benefits, the IUCN’s World Parks Congress heard recently.

Speaking at the conference was Dr Sue Snyman, EfD fellow with the University of Cape Town’s Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU) whose research for the EPRU was concerned with the socio-economic impact of tourism on communities in remote parts of Southern Africa.

‘Tourism and conservation need to translate into tangible benefits for communities because then they will value the protected areas. There is a direct correlation between the success of eco-tourism, and community goodwill and their support of a partnership,’ she told delegates at the Sydney-held conference.

‘An example of making the link between conservation and a direct benefit, would be where community members see that they get a monthly salary through employment on a project, where they otherwise wouldn’t get any income.’

Snyman’s findings emerge from a survey of 16 different high-end eco-tourism operations in remote regions of six different African countries from 2009 to 2011, including South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. The projects she visited were all associated with conservation areas where private sector eco-tourism venture Wilderness Safaris operates. Snyman currently works at Wilderness Safaris as the Regional Community Development Coordinator and Regional Director of the Children in the Wilderness programme.

‘One example is the Damaraland Camp in the Torra Conservancy in Namibia,’ she said. ‘This is a joint venture agreement where Wilderness Safaris built the lodge, and after 10 years gave the entire operation to the community.’

The community then agreed to sell back 60 percent of the operation to Wilderness Safaris. Snyman says some communities prefer a joint venture arrangement like this, where they own shares in the operation, and share the risk.

Other communities prefer to have a lease arrangement where they benefit from the fees paid under the lease agreement, but don’t carry the risk and responsibility of running a high-end lodge.

Snyman, who also serves as the vice-chair of the IUCN’s Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist (TAPAS) Group, was appointed to head up a Community Working Group, which was launched at the congress. This group aims to draw up a set of best practice guidelines for how to work together with communities to leverage the benefits of ecotourism for those living in and around concessions.

Listen to her talk here.

For more videos and talks from the IUCN’s World Parks Congress in November 2014, visit Park Talks.

Dr Sue Snyman’s recent paper on community and ecotourism business integration can be found in the journal Tourism and Hospitality Research (

By Leonie Joubert