Though my casual observations are anything but scientific, I would be reminded of my time in Mombasa when reviewing the input of our partner, the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA), for our research on inclusive coastal and marine tourism in the Indian Ocean Rim Region. Supported through the Global Economic Governance in Africa (GEG Africa) Programme, the research sought to understand the opportunities and constraints faced by policy makers and other tourism sector stakeholders in supporting more inclusive coastal and marine tourism, with a particular focus on supporting participation by local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in this sector.
Under the rubric of the Blue Economy, many states and regional organizations, including the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), are seeking ways to generate greater economic benefit from their marine resources; coastal tourism is generally seen as a key component of this effort. Our own policy research at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) is centred around questions of development, equity and sustainability, so our engagement with the theme of coastal tourism as a component of the ‘Blue growth’ narrative led us to ask “growth for whom?” and seek to explore the sustainability of this growth in its social, economic and environmental dimensions. The research took the broader Indian Ocean Region as its focus, but we decided to zoom in on Kenya and South Africa to allow us to get a more granular understanding of how these issues play out in particular national contexts.
It is a common complaint in tourism policy circles that the sector is dominated by well-resourced, well-connected and, typically, foreign business elites – the international hotel chains, sleek tour operators and flashy tourism agencies flush with capital and marketing know-how. Local entrepreneurs, particularly those who are not themselves local economic elites (and here we must also consider marginalized groups such as women and the youth), struggle to access opportunities in the sector, despite the common claim that tourism growth will bring social upliftment and ignite economies for local communities. Instead, we too often we see ‘enclave’ tourism with few linkages to the local economy.
Our review of the literature on inclusive tourism, together with consultations with a range of stakeholders, indicated that the model of tourism that national authorities chose to pursue is central in determining the inclusiveness of the sector. What this means in practical terms is that better entry points for local SMEs are offered by budget tourism sub-sectors, such as the backpacker market, as well as domestic and regional tourism. Another important area of opportunity lay in niche tourism offerings, areas such as eco-tourism, adventure tourism, cultural tourism, even culinary tourism. This is because, in the case of budget or domestic/regional tourists, the market is more forgiving - there is a degree of willingness to accept somewhat variable service in exchange for either lower prices or authenticity of experience.
Focusing on niche forms of tourism also allow emergent operators to differentiate themselves and, rather than competing directly with large, established operators, offer services that may be ancillary.
It is also important for those seeking to support more inclusive tourism to look for opportunities across the tourism ‘value chain’. Local SMEs may find opportunities in supplying a range of inputs – agricultural inputs or fresh fish, for example – or services such as security, cleaning or transport. There is an important caution here. Our research highlights these areas as important entry points for local SMEs. We do not want to suggest that local SMEs do not have the potential to scale up operations and ultimately compete effectively with larger, often foreign operators, or that they should stick to the periphery of the market.
In addition to the higher level question of which models of tourism we should be targeting to enhance inclusivity, there are a range of practical interventions that can be made to support SMEs in the sector. Indeed, it was striking that in both Kenya and South Africa a range of institutions and programmes exist that seek to provide either funding or capacity development for SMEs seeking entry into the tourism market. Stakeholders that we consulted agreed, however, that there were still too many emergent operators who were either not aware of these opportunities or not able to access them for various reasons. For example, small, emergent operators cannot leave their business unattended for weeks or months to undergo training; it is necessary to provide solutions that are appropriate to the needs and contexts of these operators. Funding remains a challenge, but there is an equally strong need for business incubation and support services.
Many emergent SMEs in the coastal tourism sector operate as informal businesses, which limits their ability to access training and finance, so the formalisation of business also requires support. Coordination between various agencies seeking to support SMEs (across levels of government and between government, NGOs and business) is also an important problem. It is only through more effective cooperation and by focusing strategies on the right models of tourism that we can ensure that we achieve more inclusive coastal and marine tourism in the Indian Ocean region.
Alex Benkenstein (South African Institute of International Affairs) is co-author of the report alongside lead author Professor Christian Rogerson (University of Johannesburg) and Nahashon Mwongera (Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis).