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by Helen Klimmek*

 

Introduction

 

Scuba diving is considered to be one of the fastest growing recreational activities in the world (Hunt et al., 2013). While statistics on current diver numbers vary, it has been estimated that approximately one million new divers are trained every year (Davenport and Davenport, 2006). The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), just one of several global dive training organisations, has issued more than 21 million certifications since 1967 and, in 2012, granted more than 900,000 entry level and continuing education diving certifications (PADI, 2013a).

 

Given that the majority of scuba divers reside in the northern hemisphere and some of the most popular diving destinations are located in the Global South (Garrod and Gössling, 2008), international travel constitutes a major part of scuba diving. Dive tourism, which involves individuals travelling abroad to engage in scuba diving activities, has thus become an increasingly lucrative industry that has come to play a particularly important economic role for many less developed countries (Daldeniz and Hampton, 2012).

 

Interestingly however, despite constituting a growing segment of the tourism industry, there is a general lack of research into the impacts of scuba diving on local host communities. Academic research has been almost exclusively preoccupied with examining the environmental impacts of this increasingly popular recreational activity. This contrasts with the general trend within academic tourism literature which has given more equal consideration to the economic, socio-cultural and environmental impacts of tourism development.

 

The current article seeks to address this deficit by exploring the social impacts of scuba diving in Flores, Indonesia. More specifically, it focusses on determining the extent to which dive tourism contributes to local community participation and empowerment, and explores the potential for dive tourism stakeholders to engage in socially responsible practices. It is hoped that the findings will identify ways in which dive tourism could become more inclusive and thereby more sustainable, not only in Flores, but also in other parts of the world.

 

The scuba diving industry and local communities

 

Dive tourism is commonly categorized as a form of niche tourism (Daldeniz and Hampton, 2012; Mograbi and Rogerson, 2007), which typically implies a tailored and individualised type of travel targeted primarily at elite, higher spending tourists (Novelli, 2005).1 Although dive tourism is part of the general tourism industry and therefore partially depends on related players such as transport and accommodation providers, it also includes specialist service providers such as dive centres, certification/training agencies and equipment manufacturers. Thus, in this article, the term 'dive industry' will be used to refer to businesses and organisations directly linked to scuba diving activities, while the term 'dive tourism industry' also includes general tourism players, and stakeholders, such as governments and NGOs.


Although niche tourism is often regarded as a sustainable form of tourism (Novelli, 2005), there has been very little research into whether this holds true for dive tourism. Existing studies primarily focus on the environmental impacts of dive tourism from a natural science / biology perspective (Hawkins and Roberts 1992; Hawkins et al., 1999; Tratalos and Austin, 2001); studies that do consider the social impacts of scuba diving tend to take an economic perspective by focussing on marine tourism as a source of revenue (Cesar and Van Beukering, 2004; Fabinyi, 2008), tourists' willingness to pay for access to marine parks (White and Rosales, 2003) or the more general topic of marine tourism and its wider impacts on coastal areas (Shaalan, 2005). Academic research into scuba diving has therefore failed to give equal consideration to the 'three pillars' of sustainable tourism (see table in section 2.1).

 

One notable exception is Daldeniz and Hampton's (2012) research on the socio-economic effects of scuba diving in Malaysia. This two-year project resulted in various outputs examining community participation in dive tourism (Daldeniz and Hampton, 2012) and the varying attitudes of dive tourism stakeholders towards sustainability (Haddock-Fraser and Hampton, 2012). Overall, the study found dive tourism to have both positive and negative impacts on host communities by encouraging education and environmental awareness on the one hand, while excluding local people from the socio-economic benefits and decision-making processes, on the other hand. Mograbi and Rogerson's (2007) case study on dive tourism in Sodwana Bay, South Africa, came to a similar conclusion; although the industry created local employment and business opportunities, poorer, predominantly black members of the community were excluded from decision-making processes and the socio-economic benefits of tourism.

 

Based on these findings, it could be argued that in terms of the potential impacts on local communities, dive tourism is not very different from tourism in general, in that it can have a positive and negative effect (Townsend, 2008), and therefore does not merit further research. The dive tourism industry seems to distinguish itself from other types of tourism however, in that it poses particularly high barriers to local involvement due to the high cost of dive training, equipment, and the need for language skills (Townsend, 2008).

 

Furthermore, as Townsend (2008) points out, while the scuba diving industry has been found to play an active role in promoting environmental protection and awareness, it "has not been singled out for criticism over social impacts in the same way that other industries, or even the tourism industry as a whole, have been" (p.143). While there are several positive examples of dive centres, certification agencies and resorts attempting to maximise the benefits of dive tourism to local communities, there has not been a "global, industry-wide move towards or understanding of social issues and dive tourism" (Townsend, 2008, p.143) and there seems to be a severe lack of effort on behalf of, and cooperation between stakeholders to maximise the potential of dive tourism to bring lasting benefits to local communities (Townsend, 2008).

 

Research location


The study was conducted in the town of Labuan Bajo, located in the West Manggarai regency of Flores. Flores is part of Indonesia's Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT) province and consists of eight regencies (kabupaten): Manggarai Barat (West Manggarai), Manggarai, Manggarai Timur (East Manggarai), Ngada, Nagekeo, Ende, Sikka and Flores Timur (East Flores), each of which is governed by a regency head (bupati).

 

Figure 1Figure 1

Figure 1 Map of Flores and the surrounding area (Erb, 2012)

 

A key tourist attraction in western Flores is the Komodo National Park (KNP). KNP is one of Indonesia's oldest national parks and comprises the three islands of Komodo, Rinca and Padar, several smaller surrounding islands and 1,214 square kilometres of marine habitat (PKA and TNC, 2000). While the park is perhaps best known for the Komodo monitor, or 'komodo dragon', it is also one of the world's richest marine environments and a biodiversity hotspot (Gustave and Borchers, 2008), home to more than 1,000 species of fish, 385 species of coral and 70 species of sponges, as well as dolphins, whales, turtles, dugongs, sharks, and rays (Heighes, 2011). It therefore offers an attractive destination for nature-based tourism such as snorkelling, kayaking, bird watching and fishing (Borchers, 2009) and has evolved into a world-class diving destination attracting a growing number of divers every year. The number of visitors to the area has more than doubled during the past five years, from 20,069 in 2007 to 41,972 in 2012 (Swisscontact, n.d.) a large proportion of whom (approximately 80%) are scuba divers (Makur, 2013a).


With limited accommodation for tourists within the national park, most tourism development has taken place in the two gateway towns of Sape (located in Sumbawa, West Nusa Tenggara) and Labuan Bajo (Flores); the majority of tourists pass through either of these towns during their visit (Walpole and Goodwin, 2001). Labuan Bajo, in particular, has grown into a popular tourist destination and Flores' main scuba diving base.

 

Despite the significant growth in tourism, Flores continues to belong to one of Indonesia's poorest and most underdeveloped regions (Eco Flores, 2012) and the socio-economic gains from tourism have yet to reach those people who need it most. The unequal distribution of financial benefits has been a particularly contentious issue within the Komodo National Park; previous studies have found that most of the revenue is "generated outside the local economy" (Borchers, 2009, p.273) while local communities, living within the park (a population of approximately 4,000 people) and in rural areas outside of the gateway towns, have reaped very few benefits (Gustave and Borchers, 2008). These characteristics make Labuan Bajo a suitable location for an exploration of barriers to community participation in the scuba diving industry and an examination of how stakeholders could overcome these barriers and contribute to sustainable tourism development.

 

A note on defining 'local community'


Defining who is 'local' and part of a 'community' is problematic as it inevitably means including some people, while excluding others (Cole, 2006). Broadly, a community can be defined as "a social network of interacting individuals, usually concentrated in a defined territory" (Johnston, 2000, p.101), however, as Scheyvens (2002a) points out, this still leaves several questions open, relating to scale and diversity:
"would 'the community' include only people from a village adjacent to a new tourism attraction, or villagers from the surrounding area who may also want to benefit from the attraction? Does it include just 'locals', or migrant workers? Does it include only the poorer classes, or also the minority of elites?" (pp. 15-16)


The task of finding an appropriate definition is not only complicated by the fact that communities are usually understood to denote much more than geographical entities, and to refer to more intangible concepts such as shared values, identity and 'community spirit' (Cole, 2006; Scheyvens, 2002a).

 

These definitional problems become particularly apparent in places such as Labuan Bajo, which has been identified as "one of the most 'ethnically' diverse places on the island of Flores" (Erb, 2004, p.8). Prior to its development as a popular tourist destination, Labuan Bajo was predominantly made up of sea-faring immigrants from other islands of Indonesia such as Sumbawa and Sulawesi. According to Erb (2004), it was not until later, particularly as a result of a growth in tourism, that people from the Manggarai region and other parts of Flores began to settle and look for employment in the town (Erb, 2004). Thus, the population of Labuan Bajo changed from:

 

"being a place of predominantly coastal fishing folk, descendent from Bimanese on Sumbawa Island, Bajau, a far flung fishing folk in Indonesia, or Bugis, from Sulawesi, all Muslim, to a population at least half comprised of mountain bred, Catholics, descendent of farmers and not at all proficient in matters of the sea"
(Erb, 2004, p.11).

 

The populations living on the islands within KNP are also a mixture of fisher-folk from Sulawesi and Manggarai from western Flores (Komodo National Park Authority, 2009). Defining 'local' and 'community' is thus complicated by the large variations in ethnic backgrounds, religions and cultures found in and around Labuan Bajo.

 

For the purposes of this article, the term 'local community' refers to the fishing communities living on the islands within the Komodo National Park and people living in Labuan Bajo who, when asked, identified themselves as being from western Flores (Manggarai). This definition was chosen as it includes a geographic element (the region of western Flores) as well as subjective feelings of identity and community spirit (i.e. someone who may have been born in a different region but who had lived in the area long enough to identify him/her-self as Manggarai would be included within this understanding of 'local community'). Nevertheless, while it was conceptually necessary to provide this definition, it must be remembered that it represents a somewhat restrictive understanding of a multifaceted and contested concept that automatically leads to the exclusion of some individuals. This relates back to the criticisms directed at community participation typologies and the subjective issue of which groups must participate in a tourism venture for it to be categorized as 'active participation'.

 

Economic Impacts of dive tourism on the local community:

 

Labuan Bajo has seen substantial tourism development over the past few years. Once a small fishing village, the town is now home to numerous hotels, travel agencies, shops, restaurants and dive centres. Tourism infrastructure, particularly dive-tourism related infrastructure (e.g. dive centres), has primarily developed along the 'main road', which stretches along the waterfront and eventually leads to the town of Ruteng 140 kilometres away. Some hotels and restaurants are located on the hills overlooking the harbour or 1-2 kilometres south of the harbour along the coast. A sitemap of the area (see figure below) shows fifteen dive centres scattered along the main road, with the rest located just outside, close to some of the bigger, resort-like hotels. Older dive shops are predominantly located towards the northern part of the road, with newer ones developing to the south.

 

Figure 2Figure 2

Figure 2 Map of Labuan Bajo (not to scale) showing dive centre locations and areas under construction (based on Heighes, 2011 and field notes)

 

Several interviewees noted uncontrolled land use and management as a problematic issue in Labuan Bajo; one interviewee noted: "everybody is building everything everywhere, there is no guidance". While a local NGO has tried to promote a building and site management plan for the area, and this has already been signed and approved by the regency head (bupati), it has yet to be properly enforced.


The lack of legal building- and business permits, and skyrocketing land prices due to speculative investments from outside agents, were mentioned as particularly worrisome developments by several respondents. Although these changes have not directly led to any forced resettlements, they have led to the economic exclusion of many locals who cannot afford the rising rent and real-estate prices. In particular dive centre and NGO staff expressed general concern regarding the uncontrolled and rapid growth of tourism businesses while other business owners and community members viewed infrastructure developments, such as the government’s investment in building a new waterfront promenade (see photograph below) or a second airport terminal, as positive. This finding mirrors results from Malaysia, where dive professionals were generally worried about the speed of development and rising real-estate costs, but local interviewees viewed the development of roads or buildings in a positive light and as signs of modernity (Daldeniz and Hampton, 2012).

 

Figure 3Figure 3

Figure 3 Image showing construction of new tourism businesses (see scaffolding on right hand side) along the newly developed promenade (dirt track at centre of image) (Photograph taken by author)

 

Overall it would seem that the community is benefiting from tourism development in terms of improvements in roads and infrastructure, which could be seen as signs of economic empowerment. Involvement in decision-making, however, is limited to Level 1 on Tosun's (1999; 2006) participation ladder as the local community lacks control over the speed or type of development occurring and are left to come to terms with decisions made on their behalf. The rise in land prices  could also be seen as a sign of economic disempowerment as local elites and outside investors are, arguably, the prime beneficiaries of the booming real-estate market.

 

Employment and business opportunities


Daldeniz and Hampton's (2012) study in Malaysia found a severe lack of trained local dive staff throughout their research locations. A large majority of dive professionals were found to be expatriates, and dive businesses were predominantly foreign-owned. Dive shop owners cited lack of hospitality training and work ethic as prime reasons for not employing more local dive professionals. Other key barriers to local employment were cost of training, the lack of course material in the local language and the availability of international 'volunteers' (Daldeniz and Hampton, 2012).


Research in Labuan Bajo generally supports these findings. Boat staff (e.g. captains and deckhands) were found to be exclusively from Flores or other parts of Indonesia and there were some local and Indonesian dive guides. The majority of dive professionals (e.g. divemasters and instructors), however, were international expatriates. Lack of English language skills, the high cost of dive training, and limited availability of course material in Bahasa Indonesia beyond the Open Water (beginner) level, were cited as key obstacles to greater involvement. Some expatriate dive shop owners gave poor work ethic and lack of loyalty as additional reasons for not employing more local dive professionals. Other interviewees also mentioned international volunteers willing to work 'for free' in return for accommodation as problematic because local dive guides, needing to earn a steady income to support themselves and their families, are unable to compete with the low cost of employing self-funded volunteers.


As in Malaysia, the majority of dive businesses in Labuan Bajo are foreign-owned by expatriates from Europe, Australia and the USA. While there are some dive shops under local and Indonesian ownership, it was difficult to ascertain the exact number, as some of these businesses operate on an informal, word-of-mouth basis or specialize in live-aboard trips (trips where guests spend one or more nights on board the dive boat) and do not have a physical office-presence in Labuan Bajo. Nevertheless, it can be safely said that a large majority of the dive centres based in Labuan Bajo are foreign-owned. This coincides with the pattern within the general tourism industry in Labuan Bajo; smaller, less capital-intensive businesses such as warungs (eateries/foodstalls) are largely owned by locals, while large hotels and restaurants are owned by western expatriates or Indonesians from outside Flores. Respondents identified the lack of financial resources and limited access to credit or loans as a key barrier to greater local ownership of dive businesses, which corresponds to findings from previous studies (Daldeniz and Hampton, 2012; Townsend, 2008; Mograbi and Rogerson, 2007).


Daldeniz and Hampton (2012) introduce a 'non-participation category' to describe the low level of business ownership and employment, which is not coerced or imposed but due to a lack of opportunities, financing and training. This also applies to Labuan Bajo. Although there seem to be more locally owned businesses and higher levels of employment in Labuan Bajo than in the research sites in Malaysia, local participation is still severely hampered by lack of capital, and English language and diving skills. This suggests a degree of economic disempowerment as the majority of local people lack the skills and specific training needed to take part in the higher-level jobs in the dive industry and therefore miss out on significant economic benefits.

 

Economic linkages

 

The creation of economic linkages is often cited as a key strength of the tourism industry (Telfer and Sharpley, 2008; WTTC, 2012). The sector has the potential to provide a significant source of income not only for directly related operations, such as accommodation and transportation providers, but also for secondary and tertiary providers of related goods and services, such as food, power and water (Telfer and Sharpley, 2008). Ideally, tourist expenditure should result in the 'multiplier effect' as the money originally spent by tourists is multiplied by making its way through different levels of the economy (Telfer and Sharpley, 2008).


However, critics argue that in reality, a large portion of tourism income is in fact generated outside the local economy, primarily by large transnational corporations based in the west, which reinforces inequalities between the global North and South (Mowforth and Munt, 2009). Particularly mass-scale tourism, which tends to feature large resorts and hotel-chains, has been found to cause high levels of economic leakage as goods and services are often imported from overseas and profits primarily go to foreign owners instead of the local economy (Hampton, 2003; Mowforth and Munt, 2009).

 

Daldeniz and Hampton (2012) study in Malaysia also included an analysis of the economic linkages between dive centres and supporting tourism infrastructure. They found dive centres in two of three research locations, to have a very low economic link to other businesses due to the physical distance between dive shops and the villages and the all-inclusive nature of many resorts, which meant tourists only made limited purchases from the villages.

 

In Labuan Bajo, there are several resort-like hotels offering inclusive services, however, tourist accommodation mainly consists of smaller hotels and guesthouses located close to the main road. Guests at these hotels tend to eat in the restaurants and warungs dotted along the main road and sometimes visit the local market to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. Food served in restaurants is primarily bought in the local market or supplied from Ruteng, while some products are imported from Lombok and Bali. The food available on the diving boats operating from Labuan Bajo is also sourced from the local market or from local restaurants. One dive centre was found to be particularly active in explicitly promoting local produce on its boats and selling locally-made products such as coffee or souvenir items such as necklaces, in the dive centre shop.


The comparably small number of high-end resort hotels in Labuan Bajo has ensured that tourist expenditure is invested into the local economy, however, the rising number of live-aboard companies based outside of Labuan Bajo was identified as a problematic development. Live-aboard tourists are often shuttled directly from the airport to the boat on which they spend several days or weeks, after which they are transferred back to the airport. One respondent also mentioned the growth in 2-day-1-night snorkel trips, which involves guests flying to Labuan Bajo from Bali, spending the night on the trip-providers' boat, one day snorkelling within the national park and then flying straight back to Bali. These types of trips could be viewed as 'enclave tourism' (Britton, 1982) as they encourage very little, if any, interaction between tourists and the local community. Because many of the companies offering live-aboard services are based outside Flores, they also bring very few economic benefits to the local economy. 

 

Socio-cultural impacts


While tourism can have a positive social impact by, for example, increasing employment opportunities and supporting infrastructure development, it can also have a negative influence on society and culture. It can, for example, encourage the commodification of local customs and traditions, cause tensions between those socio-economic groups benefiting from tourism and those excluded from it, and, in some cases, contribute to a rise in crime levels (Telfer and Sharpley, 2008).


Daldeniz and Hampton (2012) found significant cultural tensions between local people, and expatriate dive professionals and dive tourists, particularly with regards to excessive drug use and alcohol consumption, crime and immodest dress. Furthermore, dive centres were found to be doing very little in terms of promoting local culture and heritage by, for example, drawing attention to evening performances or encouraging tourists to purchase locally produced handicrafts.


Inappropriate behaviour, in terms of dress code or alcohol and drug consumption, was not identified as a significant problem in Labuan Bajo. One expatriate interviewee who had previously lived in Thailand noted: "I'm still surprised and offended when I see someone walking down the street with a beer bottle; it's that uncommon". Lacking adherence to appropriate dress-code, a problem in other, more remote areas of Flores (Cole, 2008b), was also not identified as an issue by interviewees.


Several interviewees opined that Flores' remote location might play a role in deterring many budget tourists, who 'just want to drink and have fun', from visiting the island and suggested that this might be the reason for the lack of socio-cultural problems. Such statements correspond to the negative, stereotypical image of budget, and particularly backpacker tourists, as "unkempt, immoral, drug-taking individual[s]" (Scheyvens, 2002b, p.145) which is often adopted in fictional and academic literature (Scheyvens, 2002b). In fact, a large portion of visitors to Labuan Bajo and the surrounding area are 'backpackers' on a break from work or university, who plan their trips independently and want to explore the area in their own time (Erb, 2005). However, these individuals seem to fit in with the archetypal image of backpackers as 'travellers' whose primary aim is to escape overcrowded 'tourist areas' such as Bali (Erb, 2005) rather than the party-going and drug-taking type alluded to by the respondents.

 

The only clearly definable socio-cultural issue identified during this study related to the differing income levels of foreigners and local people. As one interviewee noted: "there is the general tension that you are essentially seeing foreigners making more money". This could be seen to denote a degree of resentment on behalf of local people towards foreign business owners, who, according to Erb (2013) have felt "increasingly marginalized by the presence of foreigners involved in tourism businesses" (n. pag.). It could therefore be argued, that the dive tourism industry has potentially resulted in a degree of psychological and social disempowerment; local people, who do not share in the benefits of tourism, are confused and frustrated which can cause jealousy rather than cooperation between different socio-economic groups (Scheyvens, 2002a). It should however, be noted that this particular respondent also said that he generally felt very welcome within the community and, although local interviewees mentioned that foreign investors and business owners were major beneficiaries of the tourism industry, they did not allude to any tensions or jealousies resulting from this. Thus, the conclusion that dive tourism may have led to a degree of psychological and social disempowerment can only be drawn tentatively.


In terms of encouraging cultural awareness, research did not indicate any significant efforts on behalf of the dive industry to make a positive social impact by encouraging pride in local culture and heritage. Only one dive centre was found to display information booklets on the various tribes and cultures of Flores, and promote the purchase of locally-produced handicrafts. Thus, the dive industry contributes very little in terms of social and psychological empowerment in this respect. As the following section demonstrates, however, the industry does play a major role in encouraging awareness of and appreciation for the natural, underwater environment.


Environmental impacts


Most research on the environmental effects of scuba diving focuses on the degradation of coral reefs due to diver contact and careless anchoring (Davenport and Davenport, 2006). The dive industry has generally been found to have a negative environmental impact in regards to these issues (Hunt et al., 2013). However, it also takes a prominent role in promoting environmental awareness through conservation initiatives such as Project AWARE (Aquatic World Awareness, Responsibility and Education), environmental guidelines such as the Green Fins code of conduct (a project coordinated by the Reef-World Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme), and smaller-scale, environmental awareness projects promoted by dive centres and organisations around the world (Daldeniz and Hampton, 2012; Townsend, 2008).

 

A concern for environmental protection was also observed in Labuan Bajo. Dive centres were found to take an active role in addressing some of the environmental stresses facing the Komodo National Park such

as destructive/unsustainable fishing and pollution through rubbish and plastic waste. The majority of dive centres participate in regular beach-clean-ups and promote the reduction of plastic waste by, for example, supplying customers with water dispensers to refill their bottles. Several dive centres have also been involved in efforts to promote the development of a Manta Ray sanctuary and visit local schools to give talks and presentations on marine life and general environmental awareness. Some have also provided swimming and snorkelling lessons to children attending nearby schools. These visits have been very popular, and according to a local teacher, resulted in a growth in pupils' enthusiasm for learning about the underwater world and possibly working in the dive industry in the future. This could be seen as a sign of the dive industry contributing to the community's psychological empowerment, as they become increasingly aware and proud of their natural resources.


Dive centres have also attempted to limit damage to coral reefs by fixing boat moorings to prevent careless anchoring, and one dive centre has been providing guests with environmentally friendly soaps and shampoos on some of its live-aboard boats. Another dive centre owner has managed to set up an informal marine protected area by striking a deal with fishermen living on one of the small islands off the coast of Labuan Bajo; in return for refraining from fishing in certain areas they are provided with sports equipment and school material, and the dive centre sometimes sponsors small sporting events for the villagers.
Thus, the dive industry appears to be having a positive impact in terms of promoting environmental awareness/conservation, and social and psychological empowerment through school visits and educational programmes.

 

Summary of dive tourism impacts and barriers to local participation


These results generally support findings from previous studies on dive tourism and local community participation. Dive centres in Labuan Bajo were found to be actively involved in environmental conservation and protection efforts yet local employment and business ownership in the industry was generally quite low. Key barriers to more active participation in the dive industry were lack of training, language skills and limited financial capital. With the exception of live-aboards, the economic linkages between the dive industry and the wider economy were generally found to be quite high.


Having established the level of, and barriers to, local community participation in the dive industry in Labuan Bajo, the following section will analyse the role various dive tourism stakeholders are playing in supporting sustainability and local participation.

 

Stakeholder roles in overcoming barriers to local community participation


The importance of tourism stakeholders working together in order to facilitate community participation and empowerment has been increasingly recognized within academic literature. As Timothy (2003) observes, the tourism industry is a complex domain "where no single individual or group can resolve tourism issues by acting alone" (p.373). This domain is made up of interdependent stakeholders such as governments, NGOs and the private sector who all have a role to play in supporting sustainable tourism. These roles include capacity building through skills training, networking, development of infrastructure and provision of funding for small and medium enterprises (see figure on following page).


More specific to dive tourism, Townsend (2008) identifies a number of key roles various stakeholders can play to support community involvement. Governments should work in coordination with the industry to identify skills required and promote training opportunities and improve chances of local employability. Dive centres could play an important role by working with schools and training centres to raise awareness for career opportunities in the diving industry and to encourage local involvement. They can also help develop language and diving skills of employees in non-diving positions and give them the opportunity to come into more regular contact with tourists and thereby develop their customer service and language skills. Training and certification organisations such as PADI and Scuba Schools International (SSI) can increase the availability of training materials in local languages and draw attention to social issues through sustainability labels and dive centre certification schemes, while NGOs can emphasise the link between conservation and poverty reduction and encourage communities and private businesses to work together (Townsend, 2008).

 

Figure 4Figure 4

Figure 4 Potential roles of governments, NGOs and the private sector in supporting community involvement (Adapted from Simpson, 2008 and Scheyvens, 2002a)

 

This research revealed several promising initiatives seeking to overcome barriers to local participation in Flores' dive tourism industry, particularly lack of training, language skills and financial resources. One local NGO has, with the support of a major dive certification agency, been able to subsidise the dive instructor training course enabling four local divers to become certified instructors. Two of these instructors are now part of the local Dive Guide Association which seeks to, among other things, increase levels of local employment in dive centres. These instructors have also been involved in certifying fishermen living within KNP and helping them to find internship positions within dive centres in Labuan Bajo where they have the chance to gain work experience and possibly continue their dive training in the future. The NGO has also provided some villagers from Komodo Island with access to capital through the creation of a co-operative, which opens up opportunities for future business ownership. Another NGO, while not directly involved in initiatives to increase local involvement in the dive industry, has been very active in bringing tourism stakeholders together and creating a forum for discussing sustainability issues related to tourism.


While most dive centres have supported these NGO efforts by, for example, agreeing to employ interns, some businesses were found to be particularly active in supporting community development and pursuing initiatives of their own. One dive centre devotes part of its budget to community projects and employs a staff member who dedicates 50% of her time to local education and training programmes. One of these projects involves offering students at a local school the opportunity to take part in swimming and diving lessons. While it is hoped that this programme will result in employable dive professionals in the future, the aim is also to give children and young adults the opportunity to go into the water to 'see what's out there' and increase awareness of, and admiration for, the marine environment within the community. Although this programme is in its early stages, the dive centre plans to make it "open source and replicable" so that other businesses who want to take part in the initiative can do so.


In terms of encouraging wider skills training, research revealed a number of dive centres, NGOs and hotels offering English language training to staff members, although it was noted by interviewees that the development of language skills was a key issue requiring more attention.

 

Obstacles to stakeholder success


Despite these positive examples of stakeholders working towards improving local participation in the dive industry, the study also highlighted some issues requiring more attention, and several barriers to successful project implementation. The following section outlines key issues facing the government, NGOs and the private sector in encouraging sustainability in the dive industry:

 

Government


The government's role in supporting sustainable tourism development seemed to be a particularly contentious issue in Labuan Bajo. Interviews and informal conversations with community members revealed distrust towards the government and little confidence in its ability to implement successful, sustainable tourism policies. The Indonesian government recognizes tourism as one of the biggest sources of foreign exchange earnings and a major contributor to local welfare (FIRST Magazine, 2012) and has, in an effort to further increase the tourism flow and its associated benefits targeted some regions as priorities for tourism-related investment. According to Indonesia's Master Plan of Expanding and Accelerating Economic Development 2011-2025 Flores is part of the 'gateway for tourism' which spans from Bali to West Nusa Tenggara (Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs, 2011) and is also home to two of sixteen 'strategic national tourism areas' which have been prioritized for tourism development from 2012-2014 (FIRST Magazine, 2012).


Officially, sustainable tourism development is central to these plans and the national government works in close cooperation with the eight districts of Flores to help ensure an "integrated action plan to develop sustainable tourism" (FIRST Magazine, 2012, p.55). In reality, however, there is a lack of collaboration between Flores' districts and there is a concern that the national and provincial government primarily focusses on promoting the area as an attractive tourist destination, while giving little consideration to how a growth in visitor numbers will be dealt with locally.


Sail-Komodo, an international maritime event due to take place in September 2013 which will see hundreds of yachts and cruise ships sailing through KNP, was mentioned as a prime example of the provincial and national government's lack of concern for local issues. While the event has been marketed as an opportunity to boost tourism to the Nusa Tenggara Timur province, the local community has largely been excluded from the planning stages of the event (Makur, 2013b). One local tour guide noted that the promotional banners and advertisements lining the streets of Labuan Bajo were the only source of information available to local community members and even expressed uncertainty as to whether the event was still taking place. Several interviewees wondered how the small harbour would cope with a sudden influx of boats and yachts and doubted that the event would bring any economic benefits to the local community. These observations could be seen to demonstrate the government's focus on macroeconomic issues and attracting foreign investors but a disregard for local empowerment and participation (Scheyvens, 2002a). A general lack of trust in the local government was also conveyed through comments such as "government employees get a salary no matter what... so they don't care about these things".

 

NGOs


Unlike governments, NGOs are often seen as neutral providers of community support given their not-for profit status and the fact that they do not directly represent state interests (Scheyvens, 2002a). The NGOs working in Labuan Bajo were found to play an active role in disseminating information, bringing stakeholders together and pushing for greater local empowerment and participation. Generally, interviewees thought highly of these efforts, although some noted a lack of cooperation between NGOs and two interviewees conveyed a feeling of distrust towards the organisations' goals and motivations. As Simpson (2008) points out: "NGOs have often been criticized when involved in tourism initiatives for their lack of transparency, lack of commitment and excessive focus on self-promotion" (p.8) and the attitudes and actions of foreign-based NGOs can run the risk of being interpreted as neo-colonialism. This was, to a certain extent, evident in Labuan Bajo as one foreign-based NGO was criticised for investing in unnecessary and expensive new offices throughout Flores, bringing in outside consultants to "tell us what to do" and working on projects without coordinating with other locally-run initiatives.

 

Private Sector


According to Simpson (2008) "a combination of conscience, pressure (legislative and lobbyist), necessity and a desire for capturing a maturing and growing market" (p.9) has led to an increasing focus on behalf of the private sector for sustainable approaches to tourism. This is reflected in the existence of industry associations such as the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) and private sector initiatives such as responsibletravel.com, which promote sustainable business practices within the tourism sector (Simpson, 2008).


The diving industry has also demonstrated a growing concern for sustainability issues through certification schemes such as PADI's Green Star Award or SSI's Ocean Ranger Code. However, as this research and previous studies have noted, such schemes are almost exclusively concerned with environmental sustainability and any efforts to include social elements take place on a smaller scale and are primarily driven by the passions of individual dive business owners. Generally, the competitive nature of the dive industry means that the profit-motive stands as a key barrier to pursuing more sustainable and ethical business practices, which are not perceived as 'business critical' by the majority of dive business owners and training agencies.

 

Recommendations


The community's low level of trust in the government's ability to prioritise local interests, act transparently and enforce regulations, means that NGOs and the private sector play a particularly important role in promoting responsible practices within the dive tourism industry in Labuan Bajo. As outlined above, NGOs have been successful in providing networking opportunities for tourism stakeholders and have even been investing in dive instructor training. However, there are also signs that the social impacts of the dive industry are being overlooked; one foreign-based NGO, which has been actively supporting the sustainable development of Flores' tourism industry, has devoted little attention to the dive industry in its projects because tourist exit-surveys have revealed high-visitor satisfaction with the services provided by dive operators. The NGO has therefore chosen to focus on issues relating to accommodation providers, restaurants and tour guides (R1). This implies a lack of awareness of the dive industry's significant role within western Flores' tourism industry and its socio-economic impacts on the local community.


Given that not everyone wants to, or can be trained to work as a dive professional (Townsend, 2008), NGOs should not only invest in training local dive staff but also encourage dive businesses to engage in business practises that support the local community in other ways. The provision of English language training, for example, is not only beneficial to the operation of dive centres but also increases the general employability of local people. While dive professionals willing to work 'for free' in return for accommodation were seen to have a negative effect on the community, they could make a positive impact by getting involved in English language/conversation classes for local people. Encouraging dive centres to display locally produced handicraft and products could also go a long way towards promoting investment in the local economy.

 

Furthermore, while the efforts by individual dive operators are laudable and to be encouraged, it would seem that wider changes within the dive industry cannot take place without larger scale initiatives (Scheyvens, 2002a). Given that the profit-motive prevents many business owners from exploring more sustainable business practice alternatives, NGOs could play a key role in providing independent research and guidance on how dive centres can support the local community in commercially viable ways. The Green Fins code of conduct (Hunt et al., 2013) demonstrates the potential for NGO-private sector collaboration within the dive industry. Funded and managed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and The Reef World Foundation, the programme provides consultation and incentives to dive centres to limit their impact on marine life (Hunt et al., 2013) and demonstrates the potential for a similar programme that includes issues of social sustainability. Rigid codes of conduct that impose local employment quotas would be overly restrictive and presumably be looked upon unfavourably by business owners and would also be difficult to enforce and implement. However, the development of a 'best practice' guideline describing how dive centres can support local communities as well as mitigate their environmental impact could be the first step towards encouraging more responsible behaviour in the dive industry. Such practices could include training local staff, participating in local education workshops and providing members of the local community with work experience opportunities.


Finally, dive certification and training agencies have the potential to act as major contributors towards an industry-wide recognition of the social impacts of dive tourism. Their potential to influence practices within the dive industry is extensive, considering that they not only certify thousands of dive professionals every year, but also act as a certification system for dive businesses (most reputable dive centres are rated by organisations such as PADI, according to instructor capabilities and facilities) (Mograbi and Rogerson, 2007). This means that these agencies not only certify thousands of dive professionals and recreational divers, but are also represented by a large number of dive centres around the world (PADI, for example, is represented by more than 6200 dive shops and resorts) (PADI, 2013b).


Given this level of influence, simply making dive training materials available in more languages, could be key to increasing local employment in the industry. Drawing attention to guidelines for responsible tourism behaviour that include environmental and social issues could also play a part in making the dive industry more sustainable by promoting responsible behaviour not only on behalf of dive businesses but also dive tourists. Importantly, given the growing tourist demand for sustainable tourism alternatives (CREST, 2013), such moves would not only be beneficial to local communities but also commercially realistic and could therefore coincide with the profit-maximizing focus of many private sector players. This is supported by the example of a dive centre in Labuan Bajo, which, while charging slightly higher prices than other centres in the area, attracts a large percentage of its customers due to its ethical approach to dive tourism. As the dive centre founder put it: "It is my intention, completely and totally to embarrass the other shops, to show not only profitability but growth by doing operations like this. I can financially show and prove the benefits of doing these things".

 
Conclusion


On the whole, this research supports findings from previous studies on the impacts of dive tourism on local communities. While dive centres in Labuan Bajo were generally found to contribute little in terms of social and psychological empowerment, they do play a major role in encouraging local awareness of and appreciation for the natural, underwater environment. Furthermore, in terms of community participation, it was found that although there are some locally owned dive businesses and a few local dive professionals in Labuan Bajo, limited language skills and the high cost of dive training are the most significant barriers to greater local employment in the industry.


In addition, the investigation revealed several promising examples of NGO and private sector initiatives seeking to increase local involvement in the dive tourism industry and identified several obstacles reducing the likelihood of long-term success. It was argued that NGOs could play a greater role in providing independent research and guidance on how dive centres can support the local community in commercially viable ways, and that the private sector, especially dive training organisations, could adopt a leading role in the promotion of responsible practices. Thus, the paper successfully identified initiatives in Labuan Bajo that could be replicated in similar contexts and described potential complications, and their possible solutions, to consider when starting similar initiatives.


Importantly, this dissertation has focussed on NGOs, the government and the private sector as key tourism stakeholders, but has not given much consideration to the role tourists themselves play in the tourism development process. NGO's and businesses can influence tourist actions by providing them with guidelines for responsible behaviour and information on ways they can support the local community, however tourists can also exert influence by pressuring tourism operators to adopt sustainable practices and by supporting ventures that involve the local community (Scheyvens, 2002a). While research in Malaysia indicated a low awareness on behalf of dive tourists for social and environmental issues (Haddock-Fraser and Hampton, 2012), conversations with tourists in Labuan Bajo indicated that sustainable business practices did sometimes feature as a prominent reason for choosing one dive centre over another. Given dive tourists' close interaction with the underwater environment, it could be argued that they have a vested interest in maintaining a healthy underwater environment and therefore might value sustainable practices more than other tourists who do not come into direct contact with the underwater world. Further research into dive tourists' views on sustainability could give more insight and potentially make dive industry leaders aware of the value of adopting responsible practices that include environmental and social issues.


Another potential topic for further research is the socio-economic impact of live-aboards. While live-aboards were identified as problematic by interviewees due to their enclave nature, time and practical constraints did not allow more in-depth research into the subject. It would, however, be interesting to explore how live-aboard operators view issues of environmental and social sustainability and what measures could be implemented in order to ensure greater live-board tourist interaction with the local economy. Given the growth in popularity of live-aboard operations in Labuan Bajo, this topic would be particularly worth addressing and might also be relevant to other remote locations in the world.

 

About the Author:


Helen Klimmek is currently an Intern with IUCN. She has a BA in Politics and an MA in Tourism, Environment and Development. Ms Klimmek is particularly interested in sustainable tourism and marine conservation and has worked as a dive instructor in Egypt and Palau. She has also completed internships with the UNDP, Blue Ventures and the IUCN. The author may be reached through her LinkedIn profile.

This article is based in a dissertation submitted as part of a MA degree in Tourism, Environment and Development at King's College London.

 

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