The relevance of spatial variation in ecotourism attributes for the economic sustainability of protected areas

De Vos, Alta, Cumming, Graeme S., Moore, Christine A., Maciejewski, Kristine, and Duckworth, Gregory (2016) The relevance of spatial variation in ecotourism attributes for the economic sustainability of protected areas. Ecosphere, 7 (2). e01207.

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In contemporary society, protected areas are increasingly expected to justify their existence through the services that they provide to society. Protected areas offer many important cultural services, but appraisal of these nonmaterial benefits has generally proven difficult and most studies have focused on single case studies. Data on tourist numbers across multiple camps and protected areas provide a tractable and previously unexploited case study for better understanding the economic sustainability of cultural service provision and the relevance of potentially confounding variables (e.g., location and infrastructure) for park sustainability. We used redundancy analysis and linear models to relate a 5-yr monthly data set (2007–2012) of tourist numbers and tourism-derived income in all camps in South African national parks to a set of largely GIS-derived, determinant attributes that captured key elements of location, biodiversity, infrastructure, and accommodation cost at a camp level. Our analysis suggests that the degree to which cultural services can be converted into revenue for conservation is strongly contingent on infrastructure, location, and the business model that the park adopts. When considered alone, ecological attributes explained 14.2% and 3% of day and overnight visitation rates, respectively. In contrast, models that considered ecosystems in combination with other elements could explain 53% and 67% of variation. Linear models confirmed the existence of complex interactions between groups of variables and highlighted individual covariates that affected visitation rates. Significant variables included ecological features that provided aesthetic services, number of water bodies, elevation, available units, unit costs, and distance to the coast, airports, and other national parks. Taken in context our results suggest that it may be simpler than expected to make predictions about the potential future economic viability of protected areas under alternative models of management, illustrate how ecological variables may represent the “supply” side in cultural services, and highlight the complex interplay between ecological and built infrastructure. Encouragingly, this in turn suggests that relatively small, targeted investments in infrastructure could lead to disproportionate increases in tourist visitation rates and hence in increased revenue for conservation.

Item ID: 41009
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2150-8925
Keywords: cultural ecosystem services; ecosystem services; ecotourism; national parks; natural resource management; nonmaterial benefits; protected areas; social–ecological systems; South Africa National Parks; spatial resilience
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© 2016 De Vos et al. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Funders: James S. McDonnell Foundation (JSMF), National Research Foundation of South Africa (NRF), University of Cape Town
Projects and Grants: JSMF Complexity Grant, NRF CPRR Grant
Date Deposited: 15 May 2017 23:18
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4102 Ecological applications > 410206 Landscape ecology @ 33%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410401 Conservation and biodiversity @ 33%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4102 Ecological applications > 410299 Ecological applications not elsewhere classified @ 34%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960501 Ecosystem Assessment and Management at Regional or Larger Scales @ 33%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9613 Remnant Vegetation and Protected Conservation Areas > 961308 Remnant Vegetation and Protected Conservation Areas at Regional or Larger Scales @ 33%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 34%
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