TODAY is World Tourism Day.
The 2012 World Tourism Day is a timely reminder of the many benefits destinations can accrue from tourism. Among other things, tourism is able to create employment, improve wellbeing of communities, generate revenue for government, and provide opportunities for cross-cultural exchange and understanding.
The Fiji Tourism Development Plan 2007-2016 noted that, "tourism is an activity which involves special relationships between visitors, the industry, the environment, local communities and government".
However, the success of tourism depends on how these relationships can be harnessed and how destinations can sustainably manage their limited resources and capacity to accommodate tourism growth. Small island destinations like Fiji must understand their vulnerabilities and implement management tools to ensure tourism resources are used within their acceptable limits. Many management approaches have been implemented in destinations worldwide and these include: Limit of Acceptable Change (LAC), Total Optimization Management Model, and Carrying Capacity assessments. Recently, other indicators have been incorporated to better monitor and manage changes taking place in destinations. Indicators are used as tools to monitor tourism development and provide decision makers with key information relating to the management of tourism resources within a destination. Sustainability indicators can be used to determine if destinations have reached their thresholds or carrying capacities. When such situations are identified, strategies can then be developed and integrated into the outcomes of sustainability monitoring so that development is more sustainable. In 2009, research was conducted to examine the impact of tourism on Kadavu, an emerging tourist destination.
A case study approach was used to investigate the current economic, socio-cultural, and environmental practices prevailing in three villages and two resorts. The study also looked at the current perceptions of tourists on Kadavu as a destination, at the perceptions of tourism in the three communities and how these communities have been affected by tourism. We learn from the research that all three local communities are supportive of tourism. It is seen by locals as a provider of employment and a generator of income; it has improved their standard of living and has allowed them to value their resources.
Consequently, villagers support tourism because of the benefits they see that result from this form of business and would like to see more tourists visiting the island. For their part, tourists like Kadavu and feel that it should be kept in its present state, but they also feel it could accommodate more tourists without being spoiled. Indeed, many tourists who were interviewed said they would return if given the opportunity. The research shows that the activities at the resorts and in the communities are still sustainable, that is, they are below the carrying capacity level.
However, awareness, capacity-building and mentoring needs to be conducted so that neighboring communities can work together with government and other stakeholders in managing tourism growth in the island.
An environmentally-friendly infrastructure also needs to be put in place, and tourism development practices need to be monitored to identify problems early on. The study highlights the importance of engaging communities in the planning and management of tourism, especially in small islands.
Community leaders should decide on what is negotiable and what is not in terms of what should be displayed to tourists and what should be protected. If tourism continues to grow without control from the communities, people may start reacting differently towards tourists, while tourists might be felt to put pressure on resources, displace locals from traditional places or activities, and cause alterations in the traditional lifestyle.
Determining tourism carrying capacity is vital for island destinations and doing this at the early stage of tourism development is even better. It will then ensure that tourism is planned, developed and controlled right from the beginning. By contrast, many destinations calculate tourism carrying capacity only at later stages of tourism development, when it may be too late.
Tourism can grow in emerging destinations like Kadavu if proper infrastructures and facilities are provided. If more air transport schedules can be facilitated to meet new demand, then there is potential for growth.
Overall, this research contributes to a greater understanding of sustainable tourism on small islands.
Sustainability indicators can be used to determine the level of tourism activities in a destination and can assist government and other stakeholders in implementing strategies to ensure maximum benefits from tourism.
* MARIKA KUILAMU is a lecturer with the USP's School of Tourism and Hospitality Management. The views expressed here are his and not of this newspaper.