Analysing the perceptions of selected tourism stakeholders on rural tourism development in the Vhembe district

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Mukundamago, V.
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Vaal University of Technology
Tourism is one of the fastest growing and largest service industries in the world that occupies the centre of the stage in the socio-economic, environmental and political fields. In South Africa the case is no different where the tourism industry makes a substantial contribution to the country‘s economic growth and almost all nations are in recent times recognizing the importance of tourism and embracing it. Both praised and despised as a development option, rural tourism is increasingly viewed as a remedy, increasing the economic viability of marginalised areas, stimulating social regeneration and improving the living conditions of rural communities. Tourism in the rural areas of developing countries is expanding at a rapid pace and is often a primary means of income in these areas. In many cases, destinations take reasonable advantage of this dynamic industry as a major income, employment, private sector growth and infrastructure development. However, some research endeavours indicate that tourism will never come to dominate all rural areas, particularly in the developing world – there are vast swathes of rural areas for which tourism is not relevant for the foreseeable future. These necessitate the need for the industry to be sustainable. Sustainable tourism development should aim at improving the residents’ quality of life by optimising local economic benefits, protecting the natural and built environment and providing a high-quality experience for visitors. This should also provide a long-term economic linkage between destination communities and industries. It should aim to minimise the negative effects of tourism on the natural environment and improve the socio-cultural well-being of the destination communities. This notion serves as a motivation for this study which aim is to analyse the perceptions of selected tourism stakeholders in the Vhembe district with reference to the community, tourism business owners and local government concerning rural tourism development in this region. Attention was given to the economic, social and environmental influences of tourism by focusing on both positive and negative aspects as well as aspects related to tourism development. The secondary objectives of this study were: (i) to describe different roles, relationships, responsibilities and expectations of stakeholders in tourism by means of an in-depth literature review; (ii) to analyse rural tourism with reference to community involvement in tourism, business contribution, local government support and identify types of resources integral to tourism in the rural areas by means of a literature review; (iii) to empirically analyse the perceptions of selected tourism stakeholders by assessing economic, environmental and social aspects as well as their level of participation, success factors and challenges; and (iv) to draw conclusions and make recommendations on mechanisms that might contribute towards the sustainable development of rural tourism with the focus on relevant stakeholders. To achieve the objectives, this study followed a mixed-method approach where both surveys (quantitative research) and interviews (qualitative research) were conducted. Two surveys were done; one in the community and the second one at tourism businesses in the Vhembe region. It was clear from the results that residents are fairly positive towards the tourism industry and acknowledge the contributions (both economically and socially) to the community and area. There is however room for improving the rural tourism product in order to attract higher numbers of tourists. Government is contributing to the development of the industry but it seems that a lack of skills and marketing campaigns are huge challenges. The business owners are interested in the economic gains from this industry but there is a need for training and mentoring so that the business can grow to such an extent that it becomes an employer to a number of residents. The natural and cultural uniqueness of this area was evident as well as the potential as a tourism attraction. The selected stakeholders however emphasise the importance of cooperation and integrated planning to grow the tourism industry.
M. Tech. (Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Faculty of Human Sciences), Vaal University of Technology.
Tourism industry, Sustainable tourism, Sustainable development, Rural tourism