Socio-economic impact of an urban park : the case of Wilderness National Park
Mouton, Maria Elisabeth
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The social and economic contribution of tourism to local communities is now being recognised as one of the most vital aspects for the tourism industry. Literature on national parks emphasises the importance of relations between parks and communities, as well as knowledge and understanding of the social and economic impacts of parks on the development of local communities. Although national parks are seen as major tourism assets and the vital role that they play in adjacent communities is understood, still little is known about the socio-economic contribution of these parks to their respective local economies and communities. Socio-economic impact study is important since it provides information that can influence a community's attitudes and perceptions and accordingly, its behaviour, which may create a cohesive society which is important for the success of national parks. The primary goal-of this study was to determine the socio-economic impact of the Wilderness National Park (WNP) on the community of Wilderness. To achieve the above goal, secondary objectives were set, namely: to determine the socio-economic benefits of Wilderness National Park, to determine the social impact of the WNP on the community of Wilderness, to determine the length of residency as an influential factor in the social impact of tourism and to draw conclusions and make recommendations based on the results of the study. Three surveys were conducted (as quantitative research): a community survey (101 questionnaires), a business survey in Wilderness (22 questionnaires) and a tourist survey (85 questionnaires) of tourists visiting the Wilderness National Park. The research outcome contains two components: Article 1 (Chapter 2), a socio-economic impact study (where all three surveys were used); and Article 2 (Chapter 3), a social impact study of length of residency (where only the community survey was used). Research for both articles was undertaken at Wilderness. Article 1 is titled: "The socio-economic benefits of Wilderness National Park". The main purpose of this article was to determine the socio-economic benefits of the WNP to the community of Wilderness. Results indicated that the Park has an impact in terms of production, income generation and employment, and that it is also achieving its goal with regard to conservation, creating economic opportunities and involving the community of Wilderness. Only 24% of businesses indicated that their existence is due to the Wilderness National Park. However, guesthouses and Bed and Breakfast establishments indicated that they benefit most from the Park since 62,1% of the accommodation units' turnover is due to the Park. Food and restaurants indicated that 7,5% of their business is due to the Park, while tourism services estimated this contribution at 33,3%. The results confirm that the total economic leakage percentage is well above 50%, indicating that the urban areas face high leakages. However, in terms of employment creation, the fact that 100% of all workers live in the area under consideration is an indication that the benefits of the Park reach the community members. Overall, the results indicated that the total impact of the Wilderness National Park on the local economy was R12,8 million and that it is an effect of the total spending by visitors. Aspects driving the social value/benefits include improvement of the area; that the Park leads to an increased awareness of nature and wildlife; that it preserves local culture and nature; that the appearance of the area has improved; and that the Park provides the community with an opportunity to visit natural areas. Results further indicated that the Park has a greater social impact/benefit than economic impact/benefit because it is situated in an affluent community. Article 2 is titled: "Length of residency as an influential factor in the social impact of tourism". The main aim of this article was to determine if length of residency influences the social impact of the influence on the community of Wilderness. It further showed that length of residency helps predict positive and negative perceptions of the residents in terms of the environmental, social and economic aspects of tourism. It was found that, since to the establishment of the WNP, the residents which have been living in Wilderness for a shorter period of time indicated that they experienced the social aspects positively, the economic aspects both as equally positive and negative, but regard the environmental aspects as more positive than negative, whereas the residents that have been living in Wilderness for a longer period indicated that they experienced the environmental aspects positively, the social aspects more negatively, and a more negative than positive experience regarding the economic aspects. Thus, length of residency is definitely an influential factor in the social impact of tourism on the community of Wilderness. The results of both articles confirm that the community felt that the Park does have a positive to very positive effect on the quality of the community and has a greater social, rather than economic, impact on the community of Wilderness. The results indicated that length of residency does help predict perceptions of social impacts and is thus definitely an influential factor of the social impact of tourism on the community of Wilderness. This study contributes to the literature available on the (1) socio-economic impacts/benefits of urban parks (WNP), and (2) length of residency as an influential factor in social impacts of tourism.