Analysis of tourism trends, local community participation and contribution of tourism to rural livelihoods in Murchison Falls Conservation Area, Uganda
Tourism has been identified as a key driver of socio-economic development globally. In developing countries, Uganda inclusive, tourism has been recognized and prioritized as one of the economic growth sectors for investment and development. Uganda’s National Development Plan II explicitly recognizes tourism as a key sector that contributes to socio-economic transformation. In Uganda, local communities living adjacent to national parks and other conservation areas partly depend on tourism for their livelihoods. As part of the effort to increase the understanding of the benefits of tourism to local community livelihoods, this study was undertaken in Murchison Falls Conservation Area (MFCA) and utilized data for the period 1996 and 2015. The specific objectives were to (i) assess the growth trends in tourist arrivals, development of accommodation facilities and services around Murchison Falls Conservation Area (ii) assess the factors that influence local communities’ participation in tourism activities and (iii) examine the extent to which tourism development contributes to local communities’ livelihoods in the adjacent areas. Data were collected using a mixed approach that involved questionnaire interviews, Focus Group Discussions and documents analysis. Data were analyzed using linear regression to show the relationship between tourist arrivals, capacity of accommodation facilities and revenue generated and shared with the local communities. Binomial Logit Regression was also applied to test the factors that influence the participation of households in tourism activities. Data were also subjected to Principle Component Analysis to explain the contribution of tourism to rural community livelihoods. Results indicate that there was a positive growth trend in tourism in MFCA in terms of tourist arrivals, revenue shared with the adjacent communities, accommodation facilities and establishment of community-based tourism enterprises for the period 1995 to 2015. The study also revealed a strong positive relationship (R2 = 0.71) between the number of tourist arrivals and amount of revenue shared with the local community. Socio-economic and demographic characteristics of the local communities influenced their participation in tourism activities. Level of education (r = 0.824), engagement in farm labour (r = 0.651), provision of services to the tourists (r = 0.841), income (r = 0.83) and landholding (r = 0.689) significantly influenced the participation of households in tourism activities. On the other hand, age (r = 0.59) and period of residence (r = 0.430) did not significantly influence the households’ participation in tourism. In addition, tourism contributed to rural community livelihoods through indirect benefits (factor mean = 0.826) as well as support for community-based development projects (factor mean = 0.807). Local communities also benefited from tourism directly through income generation (factor mean = 0.753). However, limited education, financial resources, tourism business opportunities, inadequate economic alternatives and crop destruction by wildlife hindered full realization of the benefits from tourism by local communities. In view of the above findings, the following have been recommended: given the positive growth trend and diverse types of tourists arriving in MFCA, there is a need to provide accommodation, refreshment and food facilities that are affordable by different categories of visitors. There is a need for clear understanding of the adjacent rural households’ socio-economic characteristics which is a vital step in engaging them meaningfully in tourism activities that are also meant to benefit them and enhance their livelihoods. Equally important is the need for tourism managers and local government leaders to consider these characteristics when designing policies and strategies to enhance local community involvement in tourism activities at conservation area level. Additional effort is needed to support in building the local community capacity in community-based tourism enterprises in business development skills through vocational training to sustainably engage in socio - economically beneficial tourism activities. There is a need to also revisit the revenue sharing scheme and progressively increase it from 20% to perhaps 40% achievable over five to ten years. The increased contribution to local community could be separated into support for projects and contribution to a local community-based trust fund to support establishment of community tourism institutions.