Responsible tourism in rural South Africa: lessons from two case studies on the Wild Coast

Master Thesis


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In Post-Apartheid South Africa tourism was seen as an important tool for economic development and poverty alleviation, especially in rural communities. The term Responsible Tourism was adopted by government in the 1996 White Paper and encouraged tourism that creates competitive advantage, maintains natural, social and cultural diversity and promotes sustainable use of local resources. This study looks at two case studies on the Wild Coast of South Africa, namely; Coffee Shack in Coffee Bay and Bulungula Lodge in Nqileni, which have both been awarded for their responsible tourism efforts. Through a review of the literature, document analysis and semi-structured interviews, this thesis identified a set of responsible tourism criteria applicable to tourism ventures in rural South Africa, while also identifying some of the challenges that come with tourism development in rural areas. The study discusses how responsible tourism approaches and practices can enable not only job opportunities, but also contribute to improving basic living conditions and enhance education and skills development of local communities. Gaining ownership of the tourism venture, meaningful participation of local communities in management and decision making, equal power relations as well as sharing in the benefits were all found to be important enablers in the case studies. A responsible tourism approach also focuses on promoting sound environmental management practices, including respect for local cultures, institutions and local knowledge, thereby contributing to biodiversity conservation efforts and promoting sustainable livelihoods. The study recognised how partnerships with government and NGOs can enable better implementation of responsible tourism policies and approaches, while monitoring results and accreditation can measure these benefits delivered to the economy, community and environment.