An ecotourism model for South African National parks
The primary objective of this study was to develop an ecotourism model for South African National Parks. South African National Parks' current ecotourism/tourism management strategies were analysed and it was found that no clear guidelines regarding the development and management of ecotourism in South Africa National Parks exists. As South African National Parks (SANParks) is one of the largest conservation and ecotourism providers in South Africa, and because ecotourism tends to occur in sensitive ecological and human communities, the need for an ecotourism model for South African National Parks is crucial. The absence of such a model will prevent the effective and sustainable management, monitoring and control of ecotourism in South African National Parks. A literature study was conducted into sustainable–, responsible– and ecotourism as well as current national and international policies concerning ecotourism in national parks or nature–based tourism. Sustainable tourism requires that tourism development should be of such a nature that a balance is kept between the economy, socio–cultural environment and the physical environment. This is referred to as the triple bottom line. The goal of sustainable tourism is to maximise the positive impacts and minimise the negative impacts on the just mentioned triple bottom line aspects. Responsible tourism has the same goals as sustainable tourism, but stresses the importance of all stakeholders taking responsibility of ensuring a sustainable tourism industry. It should therefore be seen as a pathway to achieve sustainable tourism, rather than as an end in itself. Ecotourism forms part of the sustainable/responsible tourism paradigm. From the literature, four main pillars were identified on which ecotourism is based, namely: conservation and enhancement of natural and cultural attractions; environmental education; sustainable management practices and the provision of an enlightening tourist experience. The literature review also indicated some principles supportive of the pillars that are important if ecotourism is to take place, namely: natural and cultural environment; local community upliftment; long–term planning; ethical behaviour of all stakeholders; environmentally–friendly practices and tourist satisfaction. Quantitative research was conducted. An explorative research approach was followed by the means of a self–administered questionnaire with the aim of determining the perceptions, of both the demand side (visitors to South Africa National Parks) and from the supply side (managers of South African National Parks) on the subject of ecotourism. Fifty–six (56) constructs pertaining to aspects of ecotourism were measured on a five–point Likert scale. The constructs were based on a literature review regarding responsible– and ecotourism. Sources that were used to a large extent to develop the questionnaire include the works of Frey and George (2010), Saayman (2009), Fennell (2008), Spencely (2008), Björk (2007), Diamantis (2004),DEAT (2003) The questionnaire for the visitor survey was launched on the website of South Africa National Parks during March 2011 and ran for one month. During this time, 993 respondents completed the questionnaire. The same questionnaire was sent via electronic mail to the managers of SANParks, namely regional and general managers, hospitality services managers and managing executives. A total of 25 questionnaires were completed. The results of the empirical research were processed by the North–West University's Statistical Consultation Services (Potchefstroom Campus). The data was analysed by means of the SPSS (Statistical Package for Social Sciences) software programme. Statistical methods that were used include: descriptive statistics; exploratory factor analysis; factor correlation matrix and a t–test. The results of the descriptive statistics revealed that the following ecotourism aspects were rated as most important by visitors: everyone (staff and visitors) has a responsibility to maintain a litter–free environment; animals should not be fed; everyone (staff and visitors) has a responsibility to save water and electricity. The managers, however, rated the following as the most important ecotourism aspects: to ensure managers, staff and contract employees understand and adhere to all aspects of the South African National Parks' policy to prevent negative impacts on the environment and local communities; do not feed the animals; and to comply with all relevant national, provincial and local legislation, regulations, licences and permits as may be required. Six factors were identified from the exploratory factor analysis: Factor 1: Product development; Factor 2: Local community involvement; Factor 3: Environmentally friendly practices; Factor 4: Ethics; Factor 5: Food and activities; Factor 6: Policies. The factors recorded serve as important guidelines for the development and management of ecotourism products in South African National Parks. For instance, the factor with the highest mean value was “ethics”. Visitor respondents felt very strongly that rules and regulations should be adhered to by visitors and that severe penalties should be implemented in the case of non–compliance. This was also the definite view of staff members. The research made the following contributions to the discipline of tourism and specifically ecotourism: * This research presents the first ecotourism model for South African National Parks which can assist park management in creating ecotourism products that provide a sustainable ecotourism experience and secure the future of ecotourism in national parks. * It was the first time that the perception of ecotourism was determined from both a demand and supply side in South Africa National Parks, which assisted in identifying the key factors for ecotourism products from. * The results of this research paved the way for SANParks in the development of an ecotourism policy for South African National Parks. * The results further made a contribution to the future development of a national ecotourism policy for South Africa (which currently does not exist). Such a policy can then be applied to provincial parks, private game reserves and game farms in South Africa. * The research contributed to the development of a sustainable ecotourism rating criteria for South African National Parks to allow them to grow closer to an ideal managed system that is in line with sustainable / responsible management aspects. * The results were presented at the First International Conference on Tourism and Management Studies in the Algarve, Portugal on the 27th October 2011. * A contribution was also made to the literature on ecotourism in terms of clarification of what is expected by the users (tourists) of ecotourism products and what SANParks' managers view as important aspects of ecotourism and how ecotourism should be developed and managed. * Finally, this study contributed to the research concerning national parks in terms of ecotourism development and management.