Students outside library

ATLAS Africa Conference - African Tourism in Global Society: Central or Peripheral

Tourism educators and researchers from all corners of the globe gathered in Kigali, Rwanda from June 3 - 5 for the 8th ATLAS Africa conference. Delegates presented on a wide variety of topics from community-based tourism and sustainable livelihoods to religious pilgrimages and global service learning. The following is a short summary of the some of the interesting concepts and perspectives that I learnt while attending and presenting at this conference.

Kevin Hannam of the United Kingdom presented on the theoretical concept of mobility, expanding it beyond the common sense understanding of the movement of humans (corporeal mobility) and goods (physical mobility) to also include the notion of the movement of ideas, notions, and images (imaginative mobility). Of particular interest to me was the idea of the narrative that is created (and disseminated) about a destination and how that ultimately impacts on not only who visits a destination but also on the artifacts that are created (and thus purchased by tourists) as a result of the imagined identity of a destination. An example of this is the (re)construction of Kenyan culture as synonymous with Masaai culture.

Oystein Jenssen shared research conducted with a former graduate student (Asa Grahn) on the impact of profound community encounters on long-term experiences. This was a very interesting research that focused on educational study abroad tours from Europe to Tanzania. A key finding of this research was that while iconic touristic attractions were stated as the primary motive for attending – it was the interactions with local community members that students identified as having the more profound impact post-trip. These findings were supported by my own evaluation of the Ghana Research and Study Tour ( that I shared at the conference.

Bright Adiyia from Belgium did a really interesting analysis of the flows of direct economic benefits (livelihoods) from tourism development to local communities in Uganda. It was Bright’s methodology of spatial analysis that was most interesting to me as it helped to measure in graphic way the leakage of tourism benefits. Further, he asked the critical question of ‘how local is local’ when exploring the employment benefits of community-based tourism.
Aggie Weighill & Susan Snyman (Photo: Donna Sheppard)

Those interested in sustainable livelihood development and protected areas/community-based tourism should check out the work of Susan Snyman of South Africa. Presenting on her doctoral research Susan shared the impact of ecotourism employment on rural household income and social welfare in six South African communities. Those employed through ecotourism experienced significant benefits in comparison; however, she made a very interesting observation! She argued that rather than focusing solely on increasing the benefits of the ecotourism and community-based tourism projects, it may be more important to focus on mitigating the costs experienced by residents as many more people experience the costs than receive the benefits!

Donna Sheppard, a fellow Canadian working for the Calgary Zoos Conservation Outreach program, shared a few Ghanaian stories with us at the conference. In her first presentation she highlighted the work that is being done in the Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary to build the capacity of local residents to work in and support the community and the Sanctuary. Through the development of a scholarship program that targets “needy but brilliant” students and requires that recipients return to either help their community (e.g., teach) or the Sanctuary, the WCHS has been able to build a core of educated residents that are committed to the Sanctuary and its goals. Having worked with a few of the scholarship recipients (VIU students have contributed to the fund and supported 1 university student in the program) I have to say that the program is a great example of succession planning and human capital development!

Donna Sheppard (photo: AJ Weighill)
Donna’s second presentation explored the balance between traditional knowledge and beliefs with modern conservation objectives. Sharing the story of the Avu Lagoon Community Resource Management Area (CREMA) in Ghana she illustrated how local ownership and dedication to building the relationships and exploring local traditions helped to not only track the Sitatunga (an endangered semi-aquatic antelope) but to also end both traditional (ritual related) and opportunistic hunting (killing for food or sale if you had the chance). Her experiences highlight the importance of traditional ecological knowledge and the need to take a slow approach that builds trusting relationships.

As a participant at the conference I also contributed to the presentations; sharing research into the gendered lives and tourism perspectives of residents in a northern Ghanaian community (co-authored with Aaron Agyeman, Brianne Labute, & Ashley Coulter) as well as an evaluation of the Ghana Research & Study Tour (GRST) from both the host (Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary) and guest (students) perspectives.

The first presentation highlighted the generational challenges that young adult males are facing in a community with one primary industry (farming) and the heavy domestic load that women face. More specifically, young adult males who have comparatively advanced education (junior or senior secondary), and thus stronger English skills, were resisting against being farmers like their fathers and uncles but were also viewed as selfish and untrustworthy (to a degree) due to their ability to interact (and profit from) tourists. In contrast, women who voiced a desire to become involved in (and profit from) tourism, described a domestic schedule that started around 4:30 am and ended at 8:00 pm. Overall there seemed to be a general lack of understanding of what ‘tourism’ is; however, many viewed it as the panacea to all community problems.

The evaluation of the GRST showed that we have been doing things well but that we can definitely improve! The students were extremely positive about their experiences and the educational, professional, and personal growth they experienced. The community indicated that economic impacts and increased awareness (local and global) were the primary benefits received from our visits. However, it was also noted that there are more targeted tourism projects that would potentially be more impactful than the research conducted and that a greater focus on local capacity building (versus Ghanaians students from other communities) would also result in greater local benefit.

 More details and copies of these presentations can be found on the project website:

The 2015 ATLAS Africa Conference will be held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.


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