Host communities' social impact perceptions and involvement in tourism: Mopani District Municipality
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Host communities in South Africa are often excluded from tourism planning, decision-making and management of projects even though local participation and following a community approach is promoted. The local knowledge and experience, combined with an understanding of tourism development, can however be used to empower communities to participate in tourism effectively. To ensure that the negative social impacts of the tourism industry are mitigated, and positive impacts enhanced, community development must be considered central to all phases of the planning and establishment of conservation areas. The local community is a fundamental element of tourism since, without their support, it is difficult for the industry to be sustainable. With the local participation and community approach, tourism can become extensive in scope and present a range of social outcomes that can even exceed economic gain. Understanding the social impacts of tourism is important as it provides the local governments, policymakers, tourism destination managers and businesses with a basis for initiating residents’ participation processes related to tourism issues. The purpose of this study was to analyse the perceptions of communities regarding the social impacts generated by tourism and their involvement as a stakeholder in tourism development. This goal was achieved through the attainment of five objectives. A sequential mixed-method approach was followed whereby qualitative research was done amongst government officials, and the results of the interviews were used to inform the questions in the quantitative questionnaire which was distributed among local residents in Mopani District Municipality (MDM). The qualitative research found that residents are involved in tourism planning, development and management, as it was mentioned that all projects and problems are based on the needs of the communities to develop a more sustainable tourism industry. Government, in its effort to involve communities, intensified the local economic development (LED) forum that involves all stakeholders and is a channel where issues concerning tourism are discussed. The government is certain that the residents are eager to partake in the tourism processes, as it indicated that there is a good representation at a local level through the LED forum. The residents’ frustrations and negative attitude towards tourism comes from a lack of understanding, as many residents come from rural communities that are driven by the agricultural activities and not tourism. The quantitative research was done by means of questionnaires that were distributed in MDM. Data were analysed and a socio-demographic and behavioural profile was created. Secondly, factor analyses were done on the aspects regarding residents’ participation in the tourism industry as well as their social impact perceptions. Thirdly, the relationship between various participation aspects was measured against social impact factors to determine if it influences social impacts. It was found that it does influence social impact perceptions significantly. The study found that residents value their district with its wealth of natural beauty and resources, which led to considerable tourism growth. It is also clear that, if residents can be part of the local tourism industry it will change their attitudes and support. These findings aimed to inform the tourism planners of the MDM to cooperate with a younger population in tourism as this younger group can identify a multitude of tourism-related opportunities in the community and can influence the social impacts on tourism. It is problematic that a high number of respondents have never participated in the tourism planning process which might be due to the significant number of younger people that took part in the survey. The factor analysis revealed factors describing residents’ cooperation and involvement factors, namely Factor 1 = tourism awareness; Factor 2 = direct involvement and Factor 3 = indirect involvement. The Chi-squared test (X²) with 78 = 1232,466, p˂0,000 clearly indicates that the values have better fit, as values are at zero. These factors accounted for 54,76 % of the total variance explained. From the results, this study reveals that residents’ level of involvement in the tourism industry influences their social impact perceptions; more involvement in the planning and management of the industry positively influence social impact perceptions. Positive social impacts lead to a happier community which will experience an increase in quality of life. Furthermore, positive social impact perceptions lead to stronger support for the tourism industry by the community which, in turn, makes the tourism industry more sustainable.