The socio-economic impact of tourism in the Karoo National Park
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Literature on ecotourism and sustainable tourism emphasises the responsibilities and opportunities in protecting national parks through appropriate tourism development. National parks assist in addressing the economic and social challenges facing local, and mostly small, rural communities adjacent to the national parks. Most of South Africa's national parks are situated in rural areas giving tourists access to villages and towns surrounding the park, contributing to the economic and social upliftment of local communities such as in the case with Karoo National Park (KNP). National Parks in South Africa are seen as major tourism assets due to the wildlife and various activities for international and local visitors, but little is known about the socio-economic impact (contribution) of these parks on their respective local economies and communities. This was first realised by Saayman and Saayman who developed a socio-economic impact model that can be used to do socio-economic impact studies on national parks. Tourists to national parks frequently visit local communities. These tourists then spend money on aspects such as crafts, lodging, food and entrance fees, thus enhancing the economy of the villages/towns in the area. These tourists also have a social impact which can contribute positively or negatively on the quality of life of the local community. The aim of this research is to determine the socio-economic impact of the Karoo National Park in South Africa. The research was conducted from 27 March 2007 to 1 April 2007. To achieve the goal of the research, three surveys were conducted: a community survey (240 questionnaires), a business survey in Beaufort West (86 questionnaires) and a visitor survey (104 questionnaires) of tourists visiting the Karoo National Park. The community survey included questions relating to demographic aspects, impact questions pertaining to specific park impacts in the community and personal impacts on residents. A descriptive analysis, statistical analysis and factor analysis was done to interpret the social data and to determine the most relevant social impact factors. The business survey asked questions regarding employment creation, leakages, and income changes as a result of the park. The visitor survey included questions relating to demographic aspects and expenditures. The factors influencing the economic impact of tourism were identified in the study and include the following: production factors, politics, expenditure, inflated processes, leakages and seasonality to name but a few. The results indicated that the Park has an impact on employment, production and general income in the region. Only 4% of businesses' existence is due to the Karoo National Park, yet many of these businesses rely on tourists spending. Guest houses and Bed and Breakfast establishments indicated that they benefit most from the Park. Curio shops indicated that 8.8% of their business is due to the Park, with restaurants indicating 15%. Retailers and service stations also indicated that they give 8% and 20% respectively of their turnover to the Park and tourism and recreation services estimated this contribution at 15%. The results confirm that rural areas face high leakages. However, in terms of employment creation, the fact that 98% of all workers live in the area under consideration, is an indication that the benefits of the park reach the locals. The total economic impact of the Park on the local economy is R4 187 378. The community felt that the park does have a positive to very positive effect on the quality of life of the community. The positive aspects of the Karoo National Park are the fact that the park attracts tourists and assists in conservation. The appearance and image of the town has improved due to property value increase, a significant drop in crime levels, an improvement in entertainment opportunities, an increase in interaction between locals and tourists which is perceived to be positive, an increase in social and moral values and an increase in pride among members of the community. The results show that the park has a greater social impact than an economic impact on the community of Beaufort West. The Karoo National Park impact is not as significant as that of larger National Parks such as Addo Elephant National Park due to its size. From this it is learned that the smaller the operation the lesser the socio-economic impact. This research adds to the much needed research regarding socio-economic impacts of national parks in South Africa.