Government Ecotourism Policy Involving Local Communities

Australia’s national and regional governments have been considered as having a history of excellent ecotourism planning and policy, which include a concern for local community benefit from ecotourism. Dowling (2001) says this ecotourism development began when the federal government implemented a National Ecotourism Program from 1994 to 1996. The program’s goals included a request for tourists’ appreciation of indigenous culture. The program incorporated the National Ecotourism Strategy, which serves as a guide for planners and managers to develop ecotourism in Australia. In addition, the Ecotourism Association of Australia (EAA) and the Australian Tourism Operators Association (ATOA) created the National Ecotourism Accreditation Program (NEAP). NEAP certifies ecotourism products according to principles, including “contribution to local communities and sensitivity to different cultures” (Dowling, 2001, p. 143). According to Fennell, Buckley, and Weaver (2001), The Queensland Ecotourism Plan, created by the Queensland Department of Tourism, Sport and Youth, is an example of a local government policy for ecotourism that includes the ideal of local community benefit. The state plan contains an aim to compensate the local community appropriately for the use of their resources.

Range of Local Community Participation in Australian Ecotourism

Indigenous Australians, the Aborigines, benefit from seeking employment from and investment in ecotourism, and also insulating themselves against negative impacts of ecotourism. According to Wearing (2001), the people in Uluru and Ayers Rock take advantage of the employment opportunities of ecotourism. They guide tours, interpret their tracking skills, and show how they process food. The Gagudju people have decided not to seek employment on the basis of their cultural knowledge and invested in the tourism infrastructure and own two hotels in Kakadu National Park (Wearing, 2001). In addition to gaining benefits, the Aborigines are able to protect themselves against the negative impacts of ecotourism. For example, the people of the Umorrduk area in North Western Arnhem Land maintain their cultural integrity by controlling tourism access to certain areas and activities. Aboriginal tour guides regulate the tourists’ entrance and photographs of sacred sites and also limit the tourists’ knowledge of traditional activity.

Case Example of Aborigine Ecotourism Operation

The Kuku Yalanji people of the Wet Tropics Rainforest of Queensland, Australia run their own tour operation called Kuku Yalanji Dreamtime Tours (Sofield, 2002). These Aborigines guide tourists through the rainforest lands that they originally occupied. The rainforest acts as a vital component of their cultural heritage. Sofield (2002) observes, "Over the centuries, the people followed seasonal cycles as they camped, hunted, and gathered food, medicines, and other materials for daily use. They traveled along a complex of interconnecting walking tracks that led to campsites, places of cultural significance and social and economic importance, and resource-rich areas" (p. 121).

Tourists travel upon some of these walking tracks and also around the bottom of Mount Demi to learn about the ancestor myths derived from these places. According to Sofield (2002), the “interpretation of the landscape is as much a cultural and spiritual as an environmental experience because the stories and songs related by the guides emphasize their belief that nature and culture cannot be divided or viewed separately” (p. 122). All of the people’s language, myths, songs, and dances relate to their reality and understanding of the environment. Before outside influences, the people used these cultural expressions as ways to survive their harsh environment. These vehicles of knowledge created a respect for elders in society, who passed on this information to the youth, binding the two generations together. Traditional customs usually find it difficult to remain relevant in today’s capitalist world. However, ecotourism allows these cultural traditions to maintain their relevancy in the passing of indigenous knowledge onto younger generations. Sofield (2002) says, " It is assisting in the adaptation by the Kuku Yalanji to contemporary wider Australian society by creating employment, by the generation of indigenous entrepreneurship and small business development, and by providing an economic base to revive indigenous communities" (p. 122). With the tool of ecotourism, the Kuku Yalanji are able to revive and maintain their cultural identity based on the landscape in order to empower their society.

Chapter 5 – Discussion of Findings

This Discussion section analyzes the interviews and observations of the Findings section in order to understand the forces that create positive and negative ecotourism impacts on local communities in Kenya. The section also compares the Findings section’s description of Australian ecotourism to Kenyan ecotourism in order to explore the possible local community benefits that Kenya can achieve with its ecotourism industry. The Discussion illustrates the lack of Kenyan ecotourism policy that seeks to benefit local communities and the successful ecotourism program in Australia. Australia’s program demonstrates the need for Kenya to adopt and develop policies that are directed towards local community benefit.

Analysis of Ecotourism Organizations in Kenya

The interviews in the Findings section show the direct and indirect impacts of ecotourism that are outlined in the Literature Review. Again, the direct impacts listed in the review are the human-wildlife conflict, local community ecotourism projects and socio-cultural changes, and political corruption. Economic leakage, domestic tourism, international tourism marketing, and political unrest and terrorism comprise the indirect impacts. The public, private and academic organizations of Kenya generally have different perceptions that determine how concerned or well informed they are about these direct and indirect impacts of ecotourism, which can be positive or negative. Their attitudes towards these impacts affect their relationships to local communities and therefore local community benefits.

Analysis of KWS Tourism Section

Sammy Towett demonstrates that although some of the KWS’s goals assist in the indirect positive benefits of communities in Kenya, the KWS’s lack of action concerning direct positive benefits hinders the KWS’s ability to benefit local communities. Towett’s attitudes towards international tourism marketing and domestic tourism are positive for local community benefits. Towett suggests that the KWS sees competition with other African nations for tourist revenue as a problem, showing the government’s need for better international tourism marketing. As stated in the Literature Review, the strength of international tourists to Kenya and the well being of the country’s economy is indirectly related to local community benefits of tourism. Therefore, the KWS helps local community benefit by moving in a direction towards better marketing. Another attitude that helps local community benefits is Towett’s suggestion to increase domestic tourism. The KWS rewards people for domestic travel by reducing citizens’ visitor fees into protected areas.

The KWS’s priority for conservation yet refusal for local community benefits policies is contradictory. Towett shows that the KWS fails to realize the importance of the direct relationship between local community benefits of ecotourism and conservation. For the KWS to completely accomplish its priority of conservation, it needs to join forces with the county councils and legally ensure that communities receive benefits from ecotourism. The KWS’s unwillingness to confront the county councils results in an inability to resolve the issue of improving local community benefits from conservation. The KWS does express some concern for local community benefits by building schools and hospitals; however, this contribution does not compare to the creation of benefit enforcement policies.
Overall, the KWS is concerned with indirect impacts on local communities such as international tourism, marketing, and domestic tourism. However, its failure to recognize problems such as the weak linkage between local community benefits and conservation threatens the possibility of local community benefits from ecotourism in Kenya.

Analysis of the Ecotourism Society of Kenya

Joseph Kathiw’a demonstrates that ESOK’s primary goals are different than KWS’s priorities. ESOK’s priority is local community benefit, whereas the KWS’s priority is conservation without a strong feeling towards local community benefit. ESOK feels strongly about conservation and private investor benefit from ecotourism; however, the two are less important than local community benefits. ESOK’s logical explanation for this hierarchy of concerns is because local community benefits have usually been pushed aside by conservation (creation of protected areas without recognition of indigenous land ownership) and investment (disproportionate distribution of profits that favored usually non-local investors). ESOK thinks that because of this past and present ignorance of the importance of local community benefits, problems with conservation and ethical tourism development continue today. ESOK feels that Kenya can overcome these problems with policies that guarantee local community benefits from ecotourism and control economic leakage.

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