Costs and Benefits of Nature-Based Tourism to Conservation and Communities in the Serengeti Ecosystem




Masuruli, Masuruli Baker

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



People visit protected areas (PAs) for enjoyment and appreciation of nature. However, tourism that is not well planned and managed can significantly degrade the environment, and impact negatively on nearby communities. Of further concern is the distribution of the costs and benefits of nature-based tourism (NBT) in PAs, with some communities experiencing proportionally more benefits, while other communities experience more of the cost. This distribution is complex and differs considerably amongst PAs. This thesis examines the flow and distribution of the costs and benefits of the NBT supply system to conservation and communities in the Serengeti ecosystem, Tanzania. The Serengeti ecosystem, a World Heritage site and a leading global wildlife tourism destination, was selected for this study because of high biodiversity, high poverty, and a high level of NBT activity. The research was guided by four main questions: (1) what is the nature of the supply system of NBT in the Serengeti ecosystem; (2) how do the management plans allow for and guide tourism in the Serengeti ecosystem; (3) what are the impacts of the NBT supply system on conservation; and, (4) what are the impacts of the NBT supply system on communities? A qualitative approach was used, combining document analysis, key informant interviews, and focus group discussions. This involved collecting data from a number of participants: PA agencies; the tourism industry; nearby communities; and non-governmental organizations. Participants were recruited through purposive and snowball sampling techniques. The findings offer an ecosystem-scale perspective rather than the common focus on a single PA. The study uses complex systems theory to help frame the NBT supply system in the Serengeti ecosystem, which is comprised of numerous agents that can be grouped in four major components − PAs, communities, tourism operations, and elements of the wider environment. The agents, such as tour operators, park management, and communities, vary across the ecosystem, and have multiple roles in NBT, including management of attractions, tourism planning and management, and provision of accommodation, transportation, accessibility, information, security, and utilities. There are complex interactions and relationships among these components across the ecosystem, and at local, regional, national, and international scales. PAs interact with tourism operators, PAs interact with communities, tourism operators interact with communities, and the three components are linked to the wider environment. These components of the NBT supply system interact dynamically in a non-linear manner, resulting in mixed outcomes for conservation and communities. The findings indicate the need for an integrated management approach to NBT in the Serengeti ecosystem that is more adaptive and ecosystem-based than currently exists. The wildlife legislation requires all PAs in the Serengeti ecosystem to have management plans, but some do not. The management plans in the ecosystem vary among PAs, with a number of flaws, including inadequate participation of stakeholders, poor use of zoning (design and implementation), and ineffective application of the “Limits of Acceptable Use” (LAU) as a main framework for controlling use. Management can be improved by several measures, including more effective inclusion of stakeholders, and application of the “Limits of Acceptable Change” (LAC) rather than “LAU,” amongst other measures that are outlined in more detail below. NBT in the Serengeti ecosystem is growing, and delivers a range of conservation benefits and costs that vary across the ecosystem. These conservation benefits include: financial support for conservation, improved biodiversity conservation and PA management, raised conservation awareness, and public support for conservation. These benefits can be improved by enhancing the quality of services and tourism experience, charging appropriate fees, PA agencies retaining a portion of tourism revenue, and improving collaboration and participation of stakeholders in NBT and conservation. Conservation costs include financial costs, wildlife disturbance, shifting priorities from conservation to tourism, habitat destruction, and pollution. These costs can be reduced by undertaking thorough investigation of the potential costs and benefits of tourism development, effective management planning, improving provision of information to tourists, and improving NBT management. NBT delivers many benefits to communities, such as income, employment, social services and infrastructure, scholarships, and school fees. These benefits can be improved by participation of local communities in conservation, promoting capacity building in local communities, improving legislation and mechanisms governing delivery of benefits, and encouraging communities to establish Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). NBT results in many costs to local communities, such as loss of grazing land and farmland, conflict (tourism stakeholders, and human-wildlife conflicts), stress to local residents due to increase of human populations, and unintended consequences such as cultural degradation. These costs can be reduced by involving local communities in tourism development and management and developing codes of conduct for tourism operators and PA agencies. Specific examples of suggested actions include: developing and implementing effective management plans; promoting stakeholder awareness of conservation, NBT, and communities; and establishing a forum for discussing interests and issues of stakeholders in the ecosystem. The flow and distribution of these costs and benefits to conservation and communities also varies across the Serengeti ecosystem. Overall, NBT generates substantial benefits to PAs, although considerably less revenue is allocated to conservation activities than is accrued from NBT. On the other hand, local communities experience considerable costs and receive inadequate benefits that are not sufficient to address poverty. Inadequate mechanisms that govern the flow of the costs and benefits, poor governance, and persistent poverty are some of the main factors contributing to the imbalance of the flow and distribution of the costs and benefits of NBT. Finally, a complex systems perspective was shown to be a useful tool in understanding the NBT system as a whole, the dynamic interaction within the system and beyond, and associated costs and benefits delivered by that system. Overall, this study recommends adaptive management, ecosystem-based management, and an integrated approach that recognizes and accommodates the interests of various NBT stakeholders in the Serengeti ecosystem. Specific actions of high priority include developing and implementing effective management plans, adopting LAC in PA planning, capacity building for communities to participate in the tourism industry, and participation and collaboration of NBT stakeholders in the ecosystem.



Costs and Benefits, Nature-Based Tourism, Conservation, Communities, Serengeti Ecosystem