Ecotourism as a catalyst for promoting local economic development: an evaluation of the developmental impacts of Bulungula Lodge in Nqileni, Eastern Cape
Tourism is one of the fastest growing global sectors, with current international tourist arrivals exceeding 935 million, and projected arrivals to exceed 1 billion by 2020. Community-based ecotourism has been suggested as a possible avenue for poverty eradication and local economic development in South Africa's remote rural regions, which are characterised by undeveloped infrastructure, poorly functioning schools and few economic opportunities. This is especially true of the Wild Coast region in the Eastern Cape Province, which is characterised by the contrasting elements of abundant natural resources eminently suitable for tourism development, and abject poverty. The central objective of this qualitative study is to evaluate the developmental impacts of the Bulungula Lodge and related initiatives, in order to assess the extent to which ecotourism can be used as a catalyst for local economic development. This includes the conservation practices employed by the enterprise, as well as its contribution towards conservation knowledge amongst community members. In addition, the study undertook to assess the extent to which the Bulungula Lodge and related initiatives has provided employment, and facilitated local participation in decision making and skills development in order to contribute towards sustainable livelihood outcomes. The findings indicate that Bulungula Lodge and related initiatives contribute positively to the local economy through job creation, skills development and local collaboration. However, Bulungula Lodge is faced with a number of factors which constrain the attainment of development goals, such as an inactive local and provincial government, low human and physical capital stocks and an inability to expand without threatening the sustainability of the natural resource base. In conclusion, the study provides numerous recommendations in order to increase the effectiveness of projects and employment within an environment devoid of government intervention. Among these are strategies for improving an understanding of conservation amongst community members, as well as strategies to improve adult education and the empowerment of women in the decision making process.