Tourism: a vehicle for local economic development in Aliwal North in the Eastern Cape
Kontsiwe, Nolitha Perpetua
MetadataShow full item record
For a destination to be able to attract tourists, a portfolio of tourism products and supporting services needs to be accompanied by proper tourism management, aggressive marketing activities, funding for tourism and good stakeholder relationships. The findings of the study positively point to availability of a mix of tourism products to attract visitors to Aliwal North, a host of support services, an advantage of being the gateway to the Eastern Cape Province from the Northern provinces and being the main economic centre of the Joe Gqabi District Municipality. The findings emerging from the study also negatively point to challenges such as the mismanagement of tourism, limited capacity and funding for tourism, as well as broken stakeholder relationships in Aliwal North. The evidence from the study also points to tourism being featured as a possible LED strategy for the town in documents such as the Joe Gqabi District Local Economic Development Strategy and the Integrated Development Plans of the Maletswai Local and Joe Gqabi District Municipalities. The evidence shows that in practice, tourism is not a priority and is haphazardly planned for. At the local municipality, district municipality and at the Joe Gqabi Economic Development Agency there are no personnel employed solely for the tourism function. The function is managed by the local economic development personnel. Some of these personnel do not have specific qualifications in tourism and/or experience working within the tourism sector. There was scant evidence of specific plans for further tourism development on the reviewed documents except for an offering that was made by M1(2017) from the local municipality of plans to develop the local nature reserve through funding from the Department of Environmental Affairs. Further tourism development would result in more jobs created which would increase the estimated 600 jobs offered by tourism within the Aliwal North economy (M1, 2017). The claim made by Visser and Hoogerndoorn (2012) that the benefits of tourism in South Africa can be traced back to the marketing campaigns of South African Tourism is a clear indication of the significance of marketing within tourism destinations. This importance is supported by Hyttia and Kola (2013) in their research in Eastern Europe, which showcased how poorly tourism performs in destinations where reliance is placed on tourism products and services with marketing initiatives being ignored. Findings from the study present Aliwal North as a destination that is not maximising the power of marketing. The current marketing initiatives are generic, lack focus and prove that implementation is only done for the sake of implementation. There is no clear evidence that there is awareness on who the target market is or that the platforms and tools utilised are indeed the best tools to reach that target market. The importance of stakeholder relationships in literature is highlighted as key in the implementation of local economic development. Agreement exists on the coming together of the different elements of society, with varying expertise and roles that create a suitable environment for LED implementation. Evidence from the study showcased broken stakeholder relationships between local authorities and private business, between the community and the local authorities and a non-existent relationship between the community and private business. The study participants also spoke of a mistrust of the local authorities. Therefore, the situation presented here dictates fragmentation which can be analysed as a constraint to successful tourism development and LED implementation. Limited capacity for tourism emerged in contrasting views. The study participants from the local and district municipalities that were interviewed, claimed that capacity for tourism development and LED implementation is adequate. They placed blame on limited budgets for travel and operations. The private sector on the other hand pointed at government as incapable of tourism development and LED implementation. The research conducted by Rogerson and Nel (2016) in distressed municipalities which include the municipality within which the town of Aliwal North falls, concluded on institutional as well as human resource capacity challenges as great obstacles that were facing these areas. The challenge of limited funding for tourism development and LED implementation also came out as a point of concern. As was noted by Rogerson and Nel (2016) funding is not set aside for tourism in most of the localities that were part of their study. With such limited dedicated funding, the implementation of LED initiatives will remain a challenge. This was supported by the respondent from the district municipality when she offered that the impact of implemented initiatives was sporadic and insignificant due to limited funding. It can be concluded that tourism, as it is currently implemented in the town of Aliwal North, is probably not the best strategy to drive LED within the town. A key tourist attraction is not operational, a budget is not set for further development of tourism, there is no research being conducted to analyse markets and trends for the town, and marketing activities are few and not suitably focused. There is also an implication of lack of capacity to implement tourism based LED and limited evidence of successful implementation. In the next section, recommendations will be made on how to create an environment that is conducive to tourism as a driver for local economic development.