Tourism is frequently the engine that drives growth and development of an area. Since tourism is a "clean" industry, it is often considered as a means to enhance economic development of a community. In undeveloped areas with a particularly appealing natural resource base, nature-based tourism (ecotourism) will inevitably be considered. Consensus of the public is especially important in areas where tourism development is being considered. Successful tourism development is contingent upon the support of local residents. Tourist destinations are doomed to eventual self-destruction if residents are opposed to development. As Heenan (1978) stated, "One point is clear: if the constructive impact of tourism is to be realized, collaborative approaches between diverse stakeholder groups will be needed." A reasonable degree of consensus between residents and members of the business community about the desired direction of tourism development is an important ingredient of long-term success (Ritchie 1985).
Why is tourism development particularly dependent on positive attitudes of local residents? Tourism, unlike many forms of development, carries "the seeds of its own destruction." As Plog (1974) stated:
We can visualize a destination moving across a spectrum, however gradually or slowly, but far too often inexorably, toward the potential of its own demise. Destination areas carry with them the potential seeds of their own destruction, and lose their qualities which originally attracted tourists.
Butler (1980) believed that tourism destinations progress through a recognizable cycle of evolution, with differing stages of popularity. According to Butler, there are six stages through which tourist areas pass: exploration, involvement, development, consolidation, stagnation, and decline. Changes in the physical and social environment can result in a decline of the tourism industry.
Too many tourists can place a burden on a community both environmentally and socially. If the residents of the host community perceive tourism as counterproductive to their welfare, then an attitude of negativity may be shown toward tourists. Repercussions from this may include feelings on the part of the tourists of being unwelcome, resulting in less visitation.
If residents are uncomfortable with increasing tourist numbers, their attitudes may change over time (Doxey 1976). In creating an index of resident attitudes, he asserted that this phenomenon starts with euphoria that tourism will provide an economic boon to the community and progresses on a continuum until antagonism occurs when residents feel overwhelmed with tourists. The result of this animosity on the part of local residents may be a decline in tourism. It is vital therefore, that communities interested in tourism development plan for sustainable growth. One method of ensuring that the desires of the community are reflected in planning and policy decisions that support sustainable growth is the assessment of resident attitudes.
Many studies of residents' attitudes toward tourism development have been conducted over the past 20 years (e.g. Farrell 1979, Christie-Mill and Kurec 1980, Getz 1983, Ap 1992, Allen et al. 1993, Bastias-Perez and Var 1995) . These studies provide valuable information that can be used for guiding land use planning decisions when tourism development is being considered. The first study to address resident attitudes toward the impacts of tourism was conducted by Pizam (1978) who studied residents and entrepreneurs in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He found that intense tourism concentration on a destination area leads to negative attitudes toward tourism and tourists. He also found that the more dependent people were on tourism for their livelihood, the more positive was their overall attitude. That was to become a continuing theme through many years of research and possibly explains why most studies have found a positive perception of tourism to be held by residents of tourist destinations, in spite of their awareness of negative impacts.
Additional research in two beach resort communities found that virtually every aspect of community life is affected in some way by tourism, resulting in changes of behavioral patterns by residents (Rothman 1978). It was found that residents were generally satisfied with their communities, with this being attributed to the economic benefits from tourism, the extended period of time in which residents had been coping with tourism and the fact that tourism was seasonal. Interestingly, one study found that urban residents were more likely to have positive attitudes toward potential tourism development than did those living in rural areas (Pearce 1980).
Generally positive attitudes toward tourism may reflect the incipient or early stage of tourism development in the area (Belisle and Hoy 1980). For most residents, the economic benefits generally outweigh the negative consequences. Even those who do not directly benefit economically from tourism generally support it, although many times with concern about the negative impacts. Perhaps this is because they recognize the alternative possibilities for development. Tourism is frequently believed to be less damaging to the environment and to place less strain on infrastructure than many other types of development, while providing at least some employment opportunities.
A Hilton Head study found that even retirees who did not benefit economically from tourism supported its current level although they adamantly opposed any expansion (Martin et al. 1998). They were very interested in protecting their community from overuse by tourists but realized that tourism is important to the economy. Retiree attitudes are becoming increasingly important as baby boomers start to retire. The extent of their impact on decision-making within communities to which they are newcomers is still unknown. Retirees had a profound impact on the town of Hilton Head when they elected a mayor who was anti-growth and anti-tourism. Although he was later unseated (also with support from retirees) because of his radical views that attracted negative national media attention, Hilton Head retirees have shown that they have a strong political impact on the future of that town. Retiree opinions will increasingly have an impact on the planning process.
Community values and objectives change incrementally with increasing tourism (Cheng 1980). Incremental change is rarely controlled and becomes problematic from a planners viewpoint. The significance of incremental change is that it involves many decision-makers who are interested in starting projects, not in halting development. Tourism development is easily started if people with capital to invest become interested. Growth is particularly difficult to curtail when market conditions appear to favor business expansion. The role of government is reflected in policies that favor tourism development that tends to increase the pressures on host communities by stimulating incremental development. While entrepreneurs are usually ready to seize opportunities for tourism development, a valued quality of life may be lost for the residents if the process is carried too far. Uncoordinated growth cannot be assumed to be a blessing to everyone. Therefore, community values and goals need to be identified, with the social consequences of different levels of tourism development evaluated against these values and goals. Thus, a community-oriented plan as opposed to a business-oriented plan should be implemented.
The call for greater community involvement in the planning process is becoming more widespread and deserves close scrutiny (Haywood 1988). Although some communities such as Hilton Head, S.C. and Cancun, Mexico are planned and constructed intentionally as tourism destinations, most destination areas are communities in which local citizen's interests must also be considered. Effective tourism planning at the community level must serve to enhance the effectiveness of tourism for all parties: visitors, concerned citizens, industry operators (including employees), prospective developers, the business community and various government agencies. Thus, it is vital that community participation in the planning process involve all relevant and interested parties in such a way that decision-making is shared.
The private sector is more attuned to profit maximization than socio-economic benefits and believes that a desired balance of development will not be gained without government intervention to ensure resident well-being (Smith 1992). If, however, government lacks the political power or will, implementation of appropriate policy is difficult. The ability of governmental planning to resolve the differences in opinion between beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries without dissension is questionable (Prentice 1993). The ability to reach consensus may depend on the extent to which views of the importance of tourism as a form of economic development, regardless of the expense to the environment, are held by differing segments of the community. While there may be an inevitability about the unequal sharing of financial benefits, the costs are more likely to be shared (Taylor 1995).
Community-based tourism development allows communities to pursue their own development options. Community-based economic development, enhancement of sociocultural cohesion, monitoring of social impacts over time, comprehensive social planning, and independent community decision-making should all be considered (Matsuoka and Shera 1991).
It is clear that assessing resident attitudes and developing community-based plans are vital to sustainable development particularly when that development is based on tourism. The consequences of not making the public part of the planning process may inevitably be conflict, negative attitudes and a less viable path to economic growth. Resident and visitor attitudes are as important as physical/biological limitations in determining the most viable path toward growth and development. It is important that all be considered in determining the limits of growth. (See related section: Resource Use: Tourism.)
As the populace grows, and public lands become more valuable for recreation and resource conservation, public access to these lands becomes an issue. Parts of the public would like to see public lands set aside with only minimal human use allowed. Others argue public land should be used for maximum resource utilization, while others focus on the recreational opportunities, ecotourism, off road vehicle access, boating, fishing, and hunting. These issues are all part of the ACE Basin land management terrain also (See related section: Management ).
Fair approaches to allocating the increasingly limited recreational opportunities are central issues in both public and private recreation management for the future. Public land managers, environmental groups and recreation users are all concerned about how natural resources are recreationally used in this country. Greater numbers of users and more use of mechanized equipment, as well as easier access to backcountry areas are combining to impact the resource base, especially in fragile ecosystems (Cordell 1999).
In addition to concerns about the impact of intense recreational activities on the resource, land use planners must consider the impact that too many visitors (tourists) have on both the community residents as well as the natural resources of the area. Although measuring the carrying capacity of any area has proven elusive, it cannot be ignored if sustainable growth is to be achieved. The following is a discussion of the various issues surrounding carrying capacity, first from a tourism perspective and then from a recreational carrying-capacity perspective. These issues are important to both land use planners and resource managers.
One definition of tourism carrying capacity is the maximum number of people who can use a site without an unacceptable alteration in the physical environment and without an unacceptable decline in the quality of experience gained by visitors (Mathieson and Wall 1982). O'Reilly (1986) describes two schools of thought. In one, carrying capacity is considered to be the capacity of the destination area to absorb tourism before the host population feels negative impacts. Capacity is dictated by how many tourists are wanted rather than by how many can be attracted. The second school of thought is that tourism carrying capacity is the level beyond which tourist flows decline because certain capacities, as perceived by the tourists themselves, have been exceeded and therefore, the destination area ceases to satisfy and attract them. Factors in the tourism life cycle concept -- in which there are changes over time in the physical environment, the attitudes of tourists, and the attitudes of hosts -- are a logical basis for defining tourism carrying capacity (Martin and Uysal 1990). Thus, tourism carrying capacity can be defined as the number of visitors that an area can accommodate before negative impacts occur, either to the physical environment, the psychological attitude of the tourists, or the social acceptance level of the hosts. Physical/biological deterioration of the environment means that the carrying capacity had been exceeded. When tourists are no longer comfortable in a destination area for reasons that include perceived negative attitudes of the local residents, crowding of the area, or deterioration of the environment, then carrying capacity has been exceeded. In addition, social capacity is exceeded when local residents become anti-tourism because the environment is being destroyed, the local culture is being violated, or they are being crowded out of various activities. This concept has been used to conceptualize the tourism components in a study conducted in Yellowstone National Park which investigated the lifecycle stage of visitation and determined carrying capacity and related changes (Johnson and Snepinger 1993).
Increased use of natural resources is the bedrock of concern about carrying capacity. Managers of outdoor recreation areas are greatly concerned by the continuous yearly increases in recreational use of national parks, forests, and other private and public recreational areas. In their opinion, the biophysical and social impacts resulting from growing use have resulted in the need to find ways to control recreational services in order to prevent destruction of environmental resources without inhibiting visitor/user satisfaction.
Activities such as camping, water recreation or recreational vehicular use all have potential for harm to the environment. The amount of wear and tear that a recreational resource can absorb without negative effects is largely determined by the physical and biological characteristics of the natural resource base. Some resources are more fragile than others. Even light use can cause change to the ecosystem. It is important to keep these changes minimal and within the accepted standard of management of the specific resource (Lime and Stanley 1971, Peterson 1983, Manning 1986). Change in the environment is often considered to be damaging to the resource and to be the point at which use must be limited. Shelby and Heberlein (1984) point out that this is not necessarily true; all human use has an impact but this is not necessarily "damage". Damage infers that not only is there change, but there has been a value judgment that the change is undesirable. Management usually makes this value judgment when change does not correspond to their objectives for the area. Deciding on the limits of acceptable change is important to determining capacity (Shelby and Heberlein 1984).
The effects of recreational use on soil, vegetation, and other physical components of the resource base are well known. Discharge of human waste into water bodies by recreators creates a potential health hazard as well as increasing algal blooms (Lime and Stankey 1971). Bruising and crushing of vegetation is only one cause of damage to ground cover. Soil compaction caused by visitor trampling is also a problem. It impairs root growth and affects tree stability. If the vegetation is sensitive to use, a more resistant species may replace it, which may not be desirable. Changes in hydrologic conditions, such as reduced soil moisture, may also create problems. Experiments have been made by ecologists in order to measure the effects of trampling on vegetation cover. A survey done in Sherwood Forest, England showed that vegetation cover shows damage after visitor density exceeds 40 people per hectare (Hall 1974).
Other negative impacts on the environment from recreational activities include those caused by "active physical pursuits" (Edington and Edington 1986). These include riding and sailing, and recreational use of motor- powered devices such as motorboats, dune buggies and trail bikes. Mechanical impacts of trampling feet and vehicle wheels can cause direct damage to terrestrial plants or cause indirect damage through soil compaction or erosion. Boat propellers and boat hulls can cause considerable damage to aquatic plants and animals. For instance, in Florida the manatee is seriously threatened by wounds inflicted by boat propellers.
Even the purportedly harmless sport of sailing has been proven to have a seriously disturbing effect on waterbirds. As a result, it has been shown to cause substantial reduction in the waterbird population (Edington and Edington 1986).
Another popular use of recreational vehicles that can cause extensive environmental damage is that of "dune busting." This sport involves the use of a dune buggy to drive at the face of a dune and up over the dune crest. Repeated attack on the dune can destroy all existing vegetation and create a sand surface which is likely to be eroded by the wind. Since the dune lines serve to check the landward penetration of the sea in storm-prone areas, destruction of the stabilizing and binding properties of the dune vegetation can have dangerous results in terms of human life and property. Repeated episodes of dune busting can create a gully and it is through this point that the sea penetrates during a hurricane (Edington and Edington 1986).
Overuse can also be a problem. Both federal and state public land mangers are placing use restrictions on an increasing number of public lands. These restrictions vary from a total seasonal or annual use-limit to limits on the number of visitors who can enter an area on a daily basis. Rationing of recreational use in national parks is a very controversial political issue with public opinion ranging from those who believe rationing denies access to many who want it, to those who think there should be no use at all (Sax 1980). It has been suggested that the Park Service reserve areas with unusually high quality ecosystems from conventional tourism and restrict access to the "optimum" number of users.
Rather than looking for a magic number to solve the dilemma of managing, limiting or controlling recreational usage, a framework that managers can utilize in allocating and planning recreational resources was developed (Clark and Stankey 1979). The Recreational Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) is a concept for determining the types of recreational opportunities that should be provided, the opportunity desirable in an area, and guidance about appropriate planning approaches (standards by which each factor should be managed). The ROS has specific application in at least four major areas: allocating and planning recreational resources, inventorying recreational resources, estimating the consequences of management decisions on recreational opportunities, and matching experiences recreationists desire with available opportunities.
Taking ROS one step further, researchers developed a new model for resource management of recreational activity. Increasing dissatisfaction with the simplicity of the recreation carrying capacity concept led researchers in the 1980s to develop a new approach to management. Limits of Acceptable Change or LAC was the proposed new framework for recreation management. The LAC approach starts with the proposition that, since any recreational use produces changes in the environment and visitor experiences, the proper question is not how much use is too much, but how much change is acceptable? The LAC approach then suggests a series of decisions that must be made to manage areas. Managers are asked to identify aspects of the biophysical and social environments that are important and can be monitored for change as recreational use proceeds. If changes in these indicators exceed limits determined in advance, action to modify recreational use will be taken. Actions can range from approaches that minimally constrain visitor freedom, to more intensive steps that regulate visitor behavior directly (Wellman 1987).
A significant difference in the LAC model of management from previous carrying capacity models is that managers must work with interested members of the public in defining management objectives, selecting indicators of change, setting standards for change, and determining what managerial steps will be taken to control excessive change. For instance, advisory or task force groups such as those in the ACE Basin are composed of researchers, federal and state personnel, and individuals representing organized and unorganized interests in the study area. These task force groups can be a means to provide continuing public participation in the LAC process. Such groups are a means of informing citizens about the process and gaining their understanding and support.
A basic precept underlying formation of the task force is that a substantial, important body of expertise exists within the citizenry. Another precept is that without public understanding and support, the process is unlikely to succeed. This is a particularly important notion, for it is consistent with the growing realization that resource planning is ultimately a political rather than a technical process (Stankey and others 1984).
LAC has become the most accepted method of controlling access to wilderness recreational areas. The National Park Service has incorporated many of the same elements and underlying logic as LAC in its Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP) process. The primary difference between VERP and LAC is that VERP is intended to be used in all areas of a park, both frontcountry and backcountry. Like LAC, VERP has both biological/physical indicators (those indicators that measure impacts to the biological or physical resources of a park) and social indicators (those indicators the measure impacts on park visitors that are caused by interactions with other visitors or with park or concession employees.) Measurable indicators are selected for monitoring key aspects of the visitor experience and resources. Then standards are assigned based upon management goals. Determining what standard to apply to different parts of the park is difficult. Since VERP is driven by indicators and standards, a considerable amount of effort has to be spent determining them. VERP is being tested in Arches National Park to refine the process and to provide a model for application to the National Park System (Hof et al. 1994).
During the 1990s, the US Army Corps of Engineers developed and is currently testing a process titled Quality Upgrading and Learning (QUAL) for establishing carrying capacities at Corps lakes. The Limits of Acceptable Change process involves long planning periods and considerable expense. When proposals are made to develop facilities such as marinas at Corps lakes, a shorter time frame is needed. A distinction is now being made by the Corps between capacity decisions and capacity planning. When a decision situation arises, a simplified data collection and analysis system is applied to either resolve the decision or move ahead into a longer-term planning application.
The QUAL process places emphasis on two aspects of quality of visit experiences: the reasons for choice of the specific place for the desired recreation activity (what is important to the visitor for the experience), and changes observed in the area in important visit attributes. Social data collection (systematic visitor counts and interviews at specific places) is important for recreational capacity planning of lakes (Chilman et al. 1995).
Carrying capacity will continue to be a concern for resource managers and planners. Although the perfect means of attaining the optimum number of recreationists or visitors is still unresolved, it is important to be aware of these issues and the potential problems surrounding them in order for management to address them during the land use planning process.
The fragile and unique character of the ACE Basin presents a significant challenge for increased economic development. As residents of the ACE Basin and surrounding areas evaluate their communities for economic development potential, the challenge is to identify sustainable development alternatives.
The fundamental tenets of sustainable development is that it should:
In keeping with these underlying concepts of sustainable development, economic development for the ACE Basin through nature-based tourism is a viable means of conserving diverse natural and cultural resources, as well as improving and diversifying local economies. In fact, the essential defining qualities of nature-based tourism are highly compatible with the land management strategies already in place on public properties within the Basin. Nature-based tourism, similar to ongoing public resource management practices in the ACE, is characterized by: sustainability, conservation, respect for the resource, learning, appreciation and responsibility.
One of the primary goals of nature-based tourism is to assist in the conservation of natural resources. In fact, a mutually beneficial relationship between conservation and development is inherent with nature-based tourism in order to protect the natural resources that such businesses depend upon. Through nature-based tourism, the economic value of the ACE Basin can be leveraged by providing high-quality visitor experiences without compromising the environmental integrity of the Basin. Successful sustainable development, including nature-based tourism and unlike traditional consumer-driven tourism, is shaped by the supply of the resources, not the demand.
For ecologically sensitive areas with highly restricted carrying capacities, nature-based tourism is a viable development initiative because it does not have broad-based appeal. In fact, nature-based tourism is a highly specialized niche market that appeals to a narrow segment of the overall tourism market.
For the ACE Basin, this is an important characteristic of nature-based tourism. Because of the markets limited appeal, it ultimately helps restrict visitor demand and environmental impact on the areas carrying capacity. Equally important is the fact that economic return is not sacrificed because of the limited market share. In fact, psychographics for nature-based visitors demonstrate their overall positive cost-benefit to a natural and environmentally significant destination that nurtures nature-based tourism. Generally, nature-based visitors:
Similarly, their trips are
These same visitors are willing to spend more for quality "natural" experiences than the average visitor. According to Travel Industry Association of America (1998), 43 million people in the US consider themselves ecotourists to some extent, and are willing to pay an 8.5 percent premium to stay in what they perceive to be environmentally sensitive properties. Among all visitors who spend at least $5,000 annually for travel, a slightly higher proportion (29%) are nature-based tourists, compared to all types of travelers (26%) (France 1997). An example of the financial impact of nature-based tourism is evidenced by the willingness of bird watchers to spend money in 1991 they alone generated more than $18 billion in travel related expenditures.
The number of visitors is increasing in the region, and published reports detailing the charms and attractions of the ACE Basin are appearing more frequently. Additionally, the ACE Basin is lodged between two of South Carolinas strongest visitor destinations Charleston and Beaufort-Hilton Head. No longer a Lowcountry secret, the demand for recreational experiences within the Basin is increasing. The deliberate development and growth of nature-based tourism is envisioned as a land planning and long-term management strategy for an environmentally fragile, economically challenged area.
Large areas of environmentally sensitive areas such as the ACE Basin cannot be successfully conserved at the economic expense of local residents. In order to take an active stance in managing this vast area, educating residents and visitors alike to the areas significance is essential, and therein lies the role of nature-based tourism. By providing residents and visitors with learning and recreational opportunities so they better appreciate the significance and tenuous quality of the areas fragile resources, individuals will begin to value the resource from a personal perspective. As they learn about it, enjoy its recreational qualities, and appreciate its contribution to their own quality of life, they are more likely to experience the resource in a responsible way and become life-long advocates for its protection and conservation.
Nature-based tourism is an avenue for sustainable growth and development. It is a recommended direction for economic development and a long-term resource management strategy for the ACE Basin, one of South Carolinas most environmentally sensitive and economically challenged areas.
From the size and importance of this market, to the key features of nature-based tourism products, to the demographic /psychographic characteristics of the nature-based visitor, to the environmental and ecological significance of the ACE Basin area, nature-based tourism appears to be a viable economic development alternative to traditional development -- either industrial recruitment or volume-driven tourism. Among the features that make nature-based tourism an attractive direction for development in the ACE Basin is the:
The ACE Basin is perceived to be a destination-quality resource with exceptional value for nature-based tourism. The Nature Conservancy even considers the ACE Basin to be among the "35 last great places in the world". However, as good as the resource is, the available opportunities to fully appreciate its beauty, ecological complexity, wild qualities and cultural heritage, do not measure up to the caliber and "visitor value" of the resource. NBT visitors to the ACE Basin today find a modest range of services of varying quality.
The tourism industry has obvious opportunities to expand in the ACE Basin, particularly in the area of land-based tourism. Although the Lowcountry and Resort Island Tourism Commission as well as the Walterboro-Colleton County Chamber of Commerce actively promote land-based tourism, bird watchers and hikers still represent under-utilized audiences for nature-based tourism in the ACE Basin. The problem in the central portions of the Basin appears to be a lack of overnight lodging facilities for organized trips. Bed and Breakfast type lodging is available in areas surrounding the ACE Basin and this approach may work well in areas near Highway 17, if appropriate property is available. This type of lodging has proven to be very attractive in other rural areas and would fit well with sustainable growth goals.
Participation in paddlesports has risen dramatically in the U.S. over the past five years and this trend is likely to continue. Thus, interest in this type of activity will probably increase in the ACE Basin as well. The upper reaches of the Edisto are currently well utilized, but the Ashepoo, Combahee, and lower Edisto Rivers represent areas where expansion may occur. These areas have tremendous potential for day trips and topical trips such as historic uses of rivers, rice culture development, and many others. The lower ACE Basin is excellent for kayakers who are interested in camping or fishing. As paddlers discover available access points in these areas, utilization will increase.
Power and sail boat trips should show a growth trend as well, particularly in the lower ACE Basin. If current operators prove successful, then it is likely that any expansion will be in the lower ACE Basin. Boat tour operators are currently taking trips into the Basin from the Beaufort and Seabrook Island areas, as well as Edisto Beach. As more lodging becomes available, this type of tour may become much more commonplace and offer greater access to the ACE Basin.
The visitor product gaps that currently exist within the ACE Basin are an indicator of a potential development opportunity. Rapidly becoming nationally and internationally recognized for its beautiful scenery and wildlife, coupled with its current product/service gaps, the area appears ripe for the development of nature-based tourism. If carefully developed in a way that values the long-term integrity and conservation of the resource above all else, nature-based tourism should offer significant economic growth potential for the entire region due to the presence of the ACE Basin.
A. Kirkley, Kirkley and Associates
B. Martin, SCDNR Marines Resources Division
E. Wenner, SCDNR Marine Resources Research Institute
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