Visitors Engagement in Sustainable Tourism in Africa.

Introduction

Tourism is an activity that can have a real impact on the sustainable development of Africa. Tourism can be a tool to help or regenerate economic development and to improve the quality of life of visitors and host communities. Making tourism more sustainable will contribute significantly to the sustainability of Africa. Creating the right balance between the well-being of tourists, host communities and the environment, reducing conflict and recognizing mutual dependence, requires a special approach to manage tourist destinations. Equally important for sustainable development, is the special relationship that tourism has with the environment and society, compared to other economic activities, where there is a particular dependence on quality environment, cultural distinctiveness and social interaction, security, and well-being.

Tourism is awash with evidence of the value of travelers/visitors to the tourism industry in general. However, there is limited knowledge of how visitors or travelers are contributing towards sustainable tourism especially in developing African countries. This essay therefore summarizes some of the points discussed by #sttachangemakers on a tweet chat about the contribution of visitors towards a sustainable tourism development in Africa. The discussion revealed that visitors have both positive and negative contributions to sustainable tourism development in unique ways. It was noted that without visitors, Africa as a tourism destination would be struggling to grow its tourism product offering and expand its market share on the global market. Positive contributions of visitors to sustainable tourism development were in the form of destination exposition, destination appreciation, and economic development. Negative contributions were on destination degradation and low economic value.

Visitors’ Contribution to Africa’s Sustainable Tourism.

Firstly, visitors contribute to destination exposition; this is when a visitor plays a part in ensuring that the destination becomes popular within and outside the local community. Well-travelled people expose destinations visited to other tourism stakeholders such as inbound tourists, potential investors, and government departments. To expose tourism destinations to the outside world, visitors assume various positions and functions within the tourism industry such as being information bureaus, ambassadors, and role models to attractions and destinations within the continent.

Secondly, visitors act as information rich, well-researched, and travelled unofficial information bureaus to potential tourists both domestic and international. They provide informal information through word of mouth and personal experiences that is not regulated, not packaged, free, available anywhere and anytime to both active and potential tourists. Tourists as information bureaus are not place and time restricted providing inbound tourists with alternative sources of information. Inbound tourists rely on unprocessed information gained through word of mouth when making travel decisions as they believe it to be the truth as compared to neatly packaged information from official information bureaus. Tourists become more informed on the prevailing environment at the destinations keeping them up to date with changes that might affect their tourism experience. In so doing they become informed travelers which is critical for tourism development.

Besides the visitors, local people who also travel outside their country become default tourism ambassadors when called upon to talk about tourism in their country to people they meet outside their usual area of residence. Local people leave the country temporarily or permanently. As temporary travelers, local people need to know their country better to allow them to answer any question foreigners may ask. This way they would be able to sell their country by giving information based on their personal experience. Such information on destinations and attractions generates curiosity among the foreigners who would want to visit the country in future widening the tourism base for the destination country.

Additionally, through domestic tourism local people assume tour guiding roles. Knowledgeable local people lead inbound tourists around showing them local attractions every time they receive visitors not familiar with the local attractions. The provision of tour guiding services by local people reinforces information sharing through social exchange. This gives a positive image of the conduct of local people which inbound tourists would take back home, share with friends and relatives widening the base for future tourism to the destination.

Lastly, visitors support maintaining attraction authenticity. This is when an attraction remains consistent over time offering same benefits in the same manner as originally presented. On its own, Africa is believed to be a sustainable tourism destination as it still has its attractions intact. Africa still has its culture, flora, fauna, food, mountains, and rivers unadulterated through modernization. For example, animals are still available in the natural wilderness not zoos. The continued practices of traditional cultures provide cultural tourists with essential attractions to enjoy. In the process allowing them to time travel back into the days when the same cultures were experienced through re-enactment of the experiences and listening to stories. The organic foods also create demand from healthy conscious tourists and food tourists. These make Africa a dream destination to visit that will satisfy their needs.

Visitors Involvement in Sustainable Tourism.

We believe that as human beings on this globe, we all emotionally engage in a direct responsibility to be surrounded by our environmental consciousness to then contribute broadly to the reduction of environmental degradation. Thus, #sttachangemakers followed to shed light on tourists’ perceptions of sustainability of green tourism that determine their attitudes and integrate environmentally responsible tourism behavior, which is immediately anticipated by their intention to partake in sustainability of green tourism development.

International tourists look for international tourism destinations where attractive natural and cultural resources exist followed by the great diversity of several aspects and valuable heritage. Visitors, therefore, can be engaged at different touch points of the customer journey. From their interactions with sustainability messages, to being supported in booking responsible packages, being involved in sustainable activities, and being empowered as ambassadors after their stay.

Visitors are also involved in sustainable tourism development through travelers’ philanthropy, i.e., “Travelling with a heart”. Sustainable travel has a far-reaching effect on many levels. Purely from an economic perspective, there is a direct benefit to the area in terms of employment. For each person employed in Africa, around 10 family members derive immediate financial benefit. The communities are supported through employment, healthcare, and education. Education contributes towards the conservation of wildlife as children and youths are taught the importance of protecting wildlife, their economic value to an area and to the communities. Rangers are employed to combat poaching. This is at times mismanaged, but if properly done can make significant contribution to addressing social and ecological challenges in destinations.

Lastly, another common involvement of visitors in sustainable tourism is inclusion of local experiences, mostly cultural tours that end in procurement of art and craft. This is evident through being linked to the services provided by different communities e.g., buying souvenirs from the local people.

Evidence on the visitor’s involvement to sustainable tourism development suggest that without visitors, Africa as a tourism destination would be struggling to grow its tourism product offering and expand its market share on the global tourism market.

Challenges hindering effective visitor engagement for Sustainable Tourism.

#sttachangemakers found that the factors that have emerged as challenges to visitors engagement for a sustainable tourism development related to priorities of national economic policy, authenticity of the destination, mismanagement of philanthropy projects, lack of transparency, lack of destination information, the structure of public administration, an emergence of environmental issues, over commercialization, and the structure of international tourism system. Although the principles of sustainable tourism development are beneficial, their implementation is an enormously difficult task to achieve and owing to the prevailing socio-economic and political conditions in the African continent and developing world. Hence, any operation of principles of sustainable tourism development necessitates hard political and economic choices, and decisions based upon complex socio-economic and environmental trade-offs.

Moreover, implementation of these hard decisions may not be possible unless international organizations encourage and collaborate with governments of developing countries to implement the principles of sustainable tourism development.

Tourism has somehow become a vehicle to channel acts of giving between international visitors, who perceive themselves as being more fortunate than others, and those who live in more precarious conditions. However, there are doubts about whether travel philanthropy translates into effective and equitable development, or whether its expansion has caused what Mary Mostafanezhad from New Zealand’s University of Otago calls a “geography of compassion”, with associated problems of aid dependency, a worsened poverty cycle and delivering ambiguous evidence on its sustainability and impacts. Problems exist when the goal of altruism, the pursuit of individual gain and the desire for social status become blurred motivators behind the act of giving and volunteering. Additionally, mismanagement of volunteer and philanthropy projects too discourages future engagement.

Greenwashing through ineffective certification labels may hinder visitor engagement in sustainable tourism. With the word sustainable comes expectations from tourists — expectations that their tours and accommodations will help preserve the natural and cultural environments of the destination visited. Or, in simple terms, an expectation that the brand is doing things “right.”

Along with an increase in certified sustainable tourism lodging and operators, there’s been an increase in tourism businesses irresponsibly using terms such as eco-friendly, sustainable, green, etc. as a marketing tool. This practice, portraying businesses as sustainable without certification or substantial acts of conservation, is classified as greenwashing. However, the controversy surrounding greenwashing revolves around official certification processes, regulation by tourism authorities, and the sociocultural outcomes of newfound eco-trends in lesser developed nations.

Alongside with the other challenges hindering effective visitor engagement for a sustainable tourism development is a lack of unity among destination planners to proactively engage visitors in sustainable tourism. Destination wide unity is needed to effectively engage visitors. Another challenge is lack of transparency from the facility managers. Maybe it can be referred to as greed, many visitors would wish to give back to the community, but the hosts won’t allow it. Poorly designed engagement programs without commitments, targets or clear outcomes may hinder visitor engagement in sustainable tourism in destinations. Lastly, insecurity and hostility of some destinations remains a big threat to effective visitor engagement for sustainable tourism development.

Role of destinations in enhancing visitor engagement for sustainable tourism.

“When planning for visitor management, many destinations don’t include strategies for visitor engagement, often leading to gaps in experience & feedback.” The following are some of the points suggested by #sttachangemakers on how destinations can enhance visitor engagement for sustainable tourism development; transparent working laws, assurance of destination commitment through incredible sustainable tourism benchmarking system and promoting a strong connection between visitors and destinations.

The relationship between tourism and the natural and cultural heritage of a given area is critical. Tourism destination managers can play a key role in raising awareness and generating direct and indirect support for heritage conservation. From a different perspective, the quality of natural and cultural heritage in many areas is important to generate economic prosperity through tourism, the quality of life of local communities, and the experience that visitors want to live. The protection and management of natural resources is a key objective of the SDS and a way to encourage visitors engagement in the sustainable tourism development.

Social inclusion and equality are important principles of sustainable development. A specific purpose is to ensure that tourism experiences are available to everyone without discrimination. This will bring additional economic benefits. Among the important objectives of the SDGs, is public health, given extensive documentation confirming the positive contribution of holidays to physical and mental wellbeing. This can be achieved by encouraging policies and actions to support social tourism at all levels.

In addition of providing sustainable tourism destinations, tourism operators and tourists themselves should be more actively encouraged to promote sustainability. This must do, partly, with the acceptance of their responsibilities, but also the ability to capture the opportunities that arise. Increasingly, sustainability needs to be equated with quality, tourists must accept environmental care. Employees, communities, and premises are also more likely to be places where tourists themselves are considered important. A quality environment, and a prosperous host community, are worth and should be promoted in every case.

Objectives and opportunities will vary from country to country, but now is universally accepted that much can be gained by sharing knowledge and experiences in sustainable tourism development between countries, to create a framework and recommendations for common progress.

Conclusion.

Tourism has a special relationship with the environment and society, compared to other economic activities, where there is a particular dependence on quality environment, cultural distinctiveness and social interaction, security, and well-being. From one side, if it is badly planned or poorly developed, tourism can destroy such special features that are essential for sustainable development. On the other hand, it can provide incentives to preserve and promote them directly, by promoting awareness and creating revenue to support them, and indirectly providing an economic justification for being supported by third parties i.e., visitors

Visitors or tourists, therefore, can be a tool to help or regenerate economic development and to improve the quality of life of destinations and host communities. Making tourism more sustainable will contribute significantly to the sustainability of Africa. Creating the right balance between the well-being of tourists, host communities and the environment, reducing conflict and recognizing mutual dependence, requires a special approach to manage tourist destinations.

By promoting a strong connection between visitors and a destination, engagement for sustainable tourism, is helpful to generate visitors’ positive emotions toward the place. Highly engaged visitors will show positive psychological and behavioral responses to the destination.

Summary by: Omondi Sheila.



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