Tourists' perceptions of tourism impacts on the environment : the case of South African National Parks
Du Plessis, Liezel
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There has been a tremendous growth in the nature-based tourism industry during the past decade, but this growth has not come without problems. The growth in nature-based tourism numbers led to an increase in pressure on the environment. To counter this pressure, a 'greener' form of tourism emerged that aimed to reduce the environmental impacts caused by nature-based tourism on the environment by applying sustainable management approaches. The latter will assist in ensuring that the environment remains conserved and protected for future generations. Some of the prevailing negative impacts tourism has on the environment are soil erosion, littering, wildlife disturbance, water pollution, ground trampling and the overuse of water and energy. It is important that these impacts are managed in a sustainable manner in order to ensure conservation of the environment. However concerns have been raised regarding the relationship between the growing number of tourists and their effect on the environment, particularly in protected areas such as National Parks. National parks are a centrepiece of conservation, universally acknowledged as the indispensable core of any effort •to preserve biodiversity and, more specifically, a high environmental quality. The leaders in nature conservation and ecotourism in South Africa are South African National Parks. As the leaders in conservation, this also underlines the importance that national parks in South Africa are managed in a sustainable (environmentally friendly) manner in order to minimise the adverse effects caused by tourism. A useful indicator which can be used to determine whether environmental impacts occur is to measure the tourists' perceptions thereof. This measurement will enable management to manage National Parks as more sustainable units and be able to reduce the impacts that tourism are known to cause. The main aim of this study was therefore to determine the perceptions of tourists regarding the environmental impacts of tourism in South African National Parks. This was achieved by identifying different key areas in national parks where tourist activities take place, and to measure tourists' perceptions regarding the impacts they perceived. A non-probability sampling method was followed with a convenience sample drawn. Results were obtained through a web-based survey posted on the official website of South African National Parks. Four hundred and fifty-one (451) completed, usable questionnaires were received. The results were structured into two articles as follows: Article 1: 'How environmentally friendly are South African National Parks?" The main purpose of this article was to determine those environmental impacts which, as the consequences of nature based tourism, need management attention to enable South African National Parks to be seen as being more environmentally friendly. A factor analysis was used as a tool to achieve the goal. Six factors were identified namely: Fauna and Flora; Management; Tourism impacts; Aquatic impacts; Tourists trails and routes and lastly Tourism development. The identification of these factors is vital for park managers in order to enforce policies and practices that minimise the environmental impacts caused by tourism to enable South African National Parks to be seen as environmentally friendly. Article 2: 'Environmental impacts influencing tourists' experience to South African National Parks'. The main purpose of this article was to identify those environmental impacts seen as impacting negatively on tourist experiences in South African National Parks. A factor analysis was conducted to identify the factors influencing tourists' experiences. The five factors identified were: Pollution; Tourism product offering; Park violation; Environmental management and Tourism impact. An analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted to determine whether there is a significant correlation between visitation frequency and the effect environmental impacts have on the tourists' experience. Factors that proved to have a significant value when compared to visitation frequency were: pollution, park violation and tourism impacts. The data revealed that tourists with a high frequency of visitation to South African National Parks experience environmental impacts to a greater extent than tourists with a lower visitation. These results will assist park management to manage the relationship between the environment and tourism, and so provide tourists with a unique nature experiences without compromising the environment. This research revealed that tourists are of the perception that environmental impacts do, in fact, occur in South African National Parks due to tourism and, further, that these impacts do influence tourist experiences negatively. Environmental impact aspects identified by this research can therefore be used by park management to provide better ecotourism products that are more environmental friendly, as well as providing unforgettable nature experiences for potential tourists to South African National Parks.