- Written by KAMAL THAPA
by Kamal Thapa*
In Nepal and in other parts of the Global South where poverty alleviation is high on the agenda, Protected Area (PA) experts and regional development planners seek to integrate PAs into regional development and turn them into regional drivers of sustainable development. Experience shows that in order to receive the local peoples' support for conservation and reduce negative sentiments, Protected Areas (PAs) management should also meet local needs. In the quest for sustainability and balance between nature conservation and development, PA-based tourism can be one of the best options for meeting such needs and for regional development although sustainable development remains a challenge.
PAs worldwide are, in theory at least, established to protect and conserve the last remaining habitats, ecosystems and natural (cultural!) landscapes in different geographical regions. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) defines PAs, ''as clearly defined geographical space that is recognized, dedicated and managed through the legal and other effective means to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values'' (Dudley 2008). There are 6 IUCN categories of PAs ranging from strict conservation (IUCN category I a) to managed resource use in compatible with nature (IUCN category VI).
Besides safeguarding biodiversity and natural ecosystem processes, PAs should provide livelihood and income for the people living in and around the protected areas, and support different forms of environmental services at the local, national and global level. Present day PA management should not be viewed through the concept of an environmental perspective alone but should be able to address a broad area of social and economic issues (Getzner et al. 2012). In practice, very often conflicts arise between conservationists and economic development interests (Munasinghe and McNeely 1994, cited in Getzner et al. 2012) with people residing in the buffer zone of protected areas being ignored by both. Local communities are often reluctant or even opposed to the declaration of any parts of the region as a PA fearing restrictions to traditional or other current land uses and loss of revenue. For example, the establishment of the Carpathian Biosphere Reserve in the Ukraine brought conflict with locals due to restrictions in forest use, loss of agricultural and pasture land and increase in wildlife population (Wallner et al. 2007, cited in Getzner et al. 2010). Such conflicts are more intense in Asian and African parks threatening the long term survival of PAs and raising questions if these are really effective in achieving their conservation objectives (Shrestha 1996, Weladji and Tchamba 2003, Allendorf et al. 2007, Thapa 2013). In addition, as Mark Dowie has examined in 'Conservation Refugees', the establishment of new PAs has sometimes involved the displacement of indigenous peoples.
Strict rules and PA management regulations appear as the most promising way to conserve biodiversity even though benefits have to be compromised at times (Fischer 2008). On the other hand, strict protection may create internal displacement and even lead to tragedies such as in Rara National Park (Nepal) where almost a third of the people who were translocated people from Rara, a mountain region, to lowland Terai died as they did not manage to adapt to this sudden climate change (Khadka and Pradhan 2010). Similar incidents of displacement and relocation are common in most of the lowland Nepalese parks. In fact, strict enforcement of conservation laws have created conservation refugees worldwide, threatening the lives and survival means of many indigenous (and local) people who resided in the area long before the creation of protected areas.
Protected Areas and Regional Economic Impact
Many PAs, especially national parks, are among currently-emerging destinations of tourism. Regional development pressures sometimes lead to proposals to weaken the pro-conservation management goals of PAs and introduce the promotion of sporting activities, establishment of new visitor infrastructure and the lifting of access bans to sensitive areas of a PA (Friedl et al. 2011). Most conservation projects and PAs around the world would face significant economic shortages if they had to rely entirely on declining (national) government funding, so some are introducing park entry fees for visitors and/or a license fee for tourism companies. In the case of Nepal the entry fee for visitors generates more revenue than the license fee.
Studies in several parts of the world indicate that protected areas and national parks can help achieve regional economic development goals. Getzner (2008, cited in Freidl et al. 2011) identified that the establishment of a PA may help to increase tourism activities by 1% to 5%. This may be lower for countries like Nepal where more than a decade of established national parks has not led to any increase in tourism activities. Job (2008) conducted a regional economic impact study of tourism in two national parks in Germany which showed an income sum (direct and indirect) of EUR 6 m. in Berchtesgaden national park and and EUR 3.8 m. in Muritz national park. This economic impact was the income equivalent of 206 persons and 261 persons respectively.
PA-based Tourism is a large and growing part of the economy of many countries. For instance, PAs in the United States and Canada in 1996 had a joint economic impact of between USD 236-370 billion (Eagles et al. 2000, cited in IUCN 1998). In three Victorian national parks (Australia) of Port Campbell, Grampians and Wilson's Promontory the total economic benefit to the state (total output) was AUS$ 486.6 million in 2005 (Driml no date). In US national parks visitors spent $12.13 billion within 60 miles of the park and had a total economic effect (significance) of $14.30 billion in sales, $5.19 billion in labor income, and $8.47 billion in value added. This spending supported over 170,000 jobs in gateway regions. The local region captures 80% of all visitors spending as direct sales, with average multiplier effect of 1.47 (Stynes 2011).
From the touristic point of view in PAs, three components play an important role in regional economic impact: total number of visitors, duration of their visit (days spent) and the average daily visitor expenditure. Beyond tourism activities, local products can also benefit from the presence of PAs from branding or labeling thus contributing to regional development. Through the partner management concept and national park branding local products get much more market exposure. For example, in Austria businesses from national park regions partner with a national park thus making them eligible to use national park partner logo in their marketing activities. However, the prerequisite is to meet all the environmental and quality standards developed and approved by the member companies in the network together with national park administration (Getzner et al. 2012). Wattenmeer National park. (Germany) also has partnership with accommodation providers in the region which in return have to communicate with visitors about the national park, comply with environmental standards and adopt regional products and services (Getzner et al. 2012).
Hammer and Siegrist (2008, p155) identified 3 categories and 14 key success factors of PA tourism that can contribute in regional economy. They are,
General conditions of protected area tourism
1. Adequate resources, especially financial, for the management of protected areas
2. Positive attitude to the protected areas and to protected area tourism on the part of the actions involved
Cooperation between the actors involved
3. Genuine participation
4. Regular contacts between representative of the protected area management and local and regional tourism organizations
5. Project related cooperation between different groups of actors
6. Institutionalization of a responsible body with broad range of different partners
7. Conflict resolution through cooperation and exchange of information
8. Good balance of top-down and bottom-up approaches
Design of tourism services and products
9. Intact landscape
10. Value for money
11. Target group oriented, close to nature services
12. Experience orientation
13. Consistent marketing strategy
14. Integration of services on offer in protected area tourism into the regional tourism services chain
Ecotourism in Annapurna Conservation Area, Nepal: Implications for Regional development
The Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA) is the largest PA in Nepal covering an area of 7629 km2 or 762900 hectares (IUCN PA category VI, subject to IUCN verification) that is managed by an autonomous non-governmental organization, the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC). It is also the most-visited PA by foreigners in Nepal (DNPWC 2010), attracting over 60 per cent of the country's total trekkers (Source: forestrynepal.org/project/2923). ACA thus offers very good prospects for regional economic development through tourist expenditure and associated revenue. Among other features, ACA hosts the 10th highest peak in the world, Mt. Annapurna (8,091m) and the world's deepest river valley, the Kali Gandaki gorge (ACAP 1997, cited in Baral et al. 2008). The ACA area is home to over 120,000 residents of different cultural and linguistic groups. ACA is particularly rich in biodiversity harbouring 1,226 species of flowering plants, 102 mammals, 474 birds, 39 reptiles and 22 amphibians (Baral et al. 2008, NTNC 2013). The region contains the world's largest rhododendron forest in Ghorepani region and Tilicho Lake, the world's highest altitude fresh water lake.
The ACA area is rich in cultural diversity as well. Gurung and Magar are the dominant ethnic groups in the south, whereas Thakali, Manange and Loba are dominant in the north. Each of these groups has their own language, culture and tradition. There are also Brahmin, Chhetri and other occupational castes, although, in comparatively smaller numbers. Hindu, Buddhist and pre-Buddhist religions and mixtures thereof are prevalent across the region. The natural and cultural features of ACA have made it the most popular trekking destination in the country, drawing more than 60 percent of the country's total trekkers. Nature-based tourism has been firmly established as one of the most important and competitive sectors of the local economy. There are over 1,000 lodges, tea shops and hundreds of other subsidiary services to cater to the thousands of trekkers, pilgrims and their supporting staff (NTNC, 2013).
Unlike PAs in many major tourism destinations, Nepalese PAs impose a park entry fee to international visitors and Nepalese visitors alike. This entry fee helps generate money needed to carry out park management activities and there is a provision to channel back 30% to 50% of park income to buffer zone communities to support local community development, implementation of conservation programmes, promoting conservation and environmental awareness, skill development and capacity building.
The total number of visitors in ACA in the fiscal year 2011/2012 was 102,570 (GoN/ MoCTCA 2013). ACA management charges a tourist entry fee of NRs. 2000 (approximately US$ 20) per visitor/ entry. Baral (Baral et al. 2008) found that the average daily expenditure of tourists visiting the ACA region is US$ 20.86 and that the average visitor stays for 14.85 days. Since, Nepal is a low income country with a per capita income of USD 721 (GoN/MoF 2013), the income generated from the touristic expenditure and park entry fee (total USD 330) cannot be underestimated. Thus, taking all these statistics into economic impact analysis, the gross turnover from park entry fee, tourist expenditure and income equivalent or number of jobs created by the ecotourism is given below.
*Note: The income equivalent was calculated based on the per capita income of Nepal. Total economic activities (or impact) due to tourism is divided by the national average per capita income which gives the number of jobs equivalent. We can say this is the per capita income equivalent.
Note 2: Since this data in the above table is taken from different sources from different time, it may not represent the true scenarios of current ecotourism activities in the ACA region. Furthermore, due to the construction of several district and rural roads within the ACA region, the trekking duration is reduced.
Note 3: Mountain protected areas like ACA are trekking tourism destinations. Besides the park entry fee, there is the provision of Trekkers Information Management System (TIMS) card with additional fee initiated by Nepal Tourism Board and Trekking Agents Association of Nepal. It is compulsory that tourists purchase this card before the onset of trekking. Free and Individual Trekkers (FITs) have to pay US$ 20 and tourists going through trekking company have to pay US$ 10. Since it is not clear how much of the total trekkers are FITs, this extra fee levied to tourists is excluded from the above analysis.
The above Table illustrates in a convincing way that PAs can generate funds to support regional development. Further, the multiplier effect of tourism provides more benefits in the wider scale. In US national parks, this multiplier effect was 1.47. Tourism business in national parks as elsewhere is demand driven which requires an appropriate visitor management plan to reduce any negative impacts (Job 2008). Nevertheless, PAs are not a panacea for regional economic development as some PAs fail to attract tourists. For instance, Khaptad National Park in west Nepal received just five (5) foreign visitors in the fiscal year of 2009/2010 (DNPWC 2010).
The result on gross regional economic impact and income equivalent displayed in the above table from the example of ACA, Nepal should be taken as an illustrative example only and is shown to verify how the protected areas can contribute to regional development. This analysis does not consider value added tax which should be deducted from gross revenue of tourist income and does not consider value added ratio too which should be added to net sales to achieve total income effects and employment effects (according to the Hubert Job Method developed in Germany for analysing the economical effects generated in protected areas, as explained in the Guide To Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas - Baltic Protected Areas and Tourism - EU Project Final Report – 2011, pp.60-63 available at http://www.parksandbenefits.net/images/stories/
The number of visitors in the ACA region is increasing every year (DNPWC 2010) and its growing international recognition for adventure and nature-based tourism provides the basis for a further increase in visitor numbers. In order to reduce its negative impacts on the environment and local resources an appropriate visitor management tool must be employed. The tourism products and services are not originated in the region itself and the lack of retention of tourism income in a destination is a major concern in Nepal. The majority of the income is often taken away by outsiders or city dwellers (Sharma 1992, Banskota and Sharma 1998, cited in Sharma 1998). The income leakage is as high as 60 % to 65% in ACA region (Sharma, 1995c cited in Sharma 1998) whereas the share of imported goods among lodges in Ghorepani is 76.41% and 68.09% in Ghandruk (Banskota and Sharma 1995a, cited in Sharma 1998).
The majority of income is garnered by a limited number of accommodation providers thus creating economic disparity between hotel owners and non-owners. The average gross income for hoteliers (546 in total) in ACA is US$ 20,212 (Baral et al. 2008) which is far beyond the per capita income of US$ 721 (GoN/MoF 2013). Almost all of the hotel businesses are family business. There is not any per capita income information induced by tourism but assuming the average size of family or household of 4.88 in Nepal (ekantipur, 2012, http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu-post/2012/11/30/on-saturday/the-rise-of-the-nuclear-family/242311.html ) the per capita income from this figure is US$ 4141.80. which is very much than the national average per capita income.
Visible proof that the local community are benefiting from tourism includes improved village trails, establishment of child day care centers, income generation activities, supply of drinking water, and local level infrastructure development such as micro-hydro power. Another important indicator is the fact that ACA is the first PA in Nepal not to deploy the army to protect its natural resource base and biodiversity. (the Army operates as a de facto, rather than de jure, law enforcement agency and protector of Nepalese parks. Even before the establishment of a formal PA system in Nepal in the 1970s, the Army used to guard the Rhino Sanctuary under Rhino Gasti (Rhino Patrol) while there was also a wildlife/hunting unit of the army based in the palace).
Nepal's National Park and Wildlife Conservation Act (1973) stipulates that 30% to 50% of the park income (from tourism and all other sources) has to be returned back to the community for conservation activities and community development action. According to Baral et al (2008) about 70% of the revenue generated from the visitors entry fee is returned back to the community.
The income generated by the park entry fee is returned back to the local community in the form of integrated conservation and development projects through which all the people residing within the ACA territory benefit. An increase in the entry fee, as recommended by Baral et al. (2008), could generate more money to invest in conservation and development projects. Baral's study tried to assess the attitude of tourists towards future increment in entry fee (contingent valuation method based on hypothetical market), measuring the international visitors Willingness to Pay an entry fee in ACA. The study found that tourists are willing to pay more than the current fee.
The government of Nepal has recently increased the entry fee in many state-managed PAs. In mountain parks the fee was raised from Nepalese Rupees 1000 to NRs 3000 (abt US$ 10 to 30) in 2012. During this period there has been a slight decrease in visitor numbers, but we can not be sure if this was due to the fee increment or if a further increase would lead to a further decrease in the number of visitors. In a study carried out by the author (in the context of an M.Sc. degree) in Langtang National Park (Nepal), 70% of the respondents were willing to pay more than the current entry fee (USD 30) and 83% were willing to pay same or more than this.
Participatory management of nature conservation and development projects in the region also contributed to a successful PA management in ACA. Participatory PA management in ACA is based on integrated conservation and development programme (ICDP) concept. The main operating principles in ACA are peoples participation (involvement of the local people in all phases of planning, decision-making and delegation of responsibilities), catalytic role ( the project, ACAP, acts as a matchmaker between international and national agencies, and the local community to obtain expertise and resources) and sustainability (projects and programmes that can be managed at the local level once the external fund dries up are implemented, investment by locals in cash and kind for conservation and development activities have ensured its sustainability and gives ownership feeling) ( Mishra, 2003)
Figure 1: Organizational structure of Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), Nepal
Source: adapted from Huber et al. (2013, p. 88)
ACA is a good example of participatory PA management and the first PA in Nepal not to deploy the army to protect its natural resource base and biodiversity. Systematic tourism planning and participation of local people in the decision-making process are prerequisites for the sustainable management of PAs, for financial sustainability and contribution to regional economic development. On the contrary PA management which excludes the local community from using the park resources and the decision-making process usually ends up creating conflicts and fails to meet their conservation, social and economic goals.
Mr. Kamal Thapa is a recent graduate with Masters in the Management of Protected Areas from the University of Klagenfurt, Austria. Previously, he has obtained a Masters in Environmental Management from Pokhara University, Nepal. He has also completed post-graduate courses at the University of Bergen, University of Oslo and the University of Helsinki. His professional and academic interests are in ecosystem services, environmental management, park recreation and ecotourism, protected area management and sustainable development.
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