Attitude of tourists towards ecotourism at Okomu National Park, Nigeria

 

 

O. Digun-Aweto

 Department of Wildlife and Ecotourism Management, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

 

O.P. Fawole

Department of Agricultural extension and Rural Development, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

 

Abstract

This paper examines the attitudes of tourist’s ecotourism an Okomu National Park (ONP). The park falls under Category II in the IUCN categorization of protected areas. ONP is situated in the rainforest region in south west Nigeria. Primary data was randomly collected from 400 tourists visiting ONP.  Quantitative data from questionnaires was analyzed using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS). The findings indicate that 76.8% of the tourists rated being close to nature as very important and 31.1% were very keen on learning about nature. 91.4% of the tourists indicated that the park tour guides actually sensitized them about ecotourism on their trips. The results further revealed that tourists were of the opinion that ecotourism has improved tourist awareness on the need for conservation with the highest mean of ( = 4.09). The study revealed that tourists learn about conservation on their trips to ONP and development of positive attitudes towards ecotourism has a role to play in fostering conservation

 

1.1           Introduction

Protected areas are a vital in conservation of biodiversity (Rands et al., 2010), and has the ability to enhance local communities’ livelihood through nature based tourism which has to be fashioned in a sustainable manner (Scheyvens & Momsen, 2008). Nature based tourism and ecotourism which are often closely related together contribute to the conservation and also the livelihoods of the locals in the area. (Adroin et.al. 2015).  This paper assesses the attitudes of tourists towards nature based tourism and the knowledge level of tourists visiting Okomu National Park (ONP). The park was created from the former Okomu Forest reserve and, is the smallest park in Nigeria, it falls within the Category II of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) system of protected Area classification and is managed mainly for ecological protection and recreation. Although wildlife is a perceived paramount attraction for tourists visiting ONP, there are other nature based activities which are engaging. Tourists visiting ONP experience the rainforest largely untampered and see several species of flora and fauna. Tourists also can get a good view of the park from the Tree house and can also watch over 150 species of bird from this vantage point. Tourists can also utilize the nature trails to facilitate easy viewing. The park has the following objectives which include to preserve for posterity the unique flora and fauna resources of south-west Nigeria under threat from insatiable demand for timber, farmland and bush meat and to provide a site for ecological education and research, and for training conservationists among others. According to (McDonald and Boucher, 2011), predicting the future of protected area expansion has been very difficult, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.  because of low per-capita GDP which means a high level of dependence on firewood for fuel.

Wright (2001) observed that nature-based tourists are sympathetic to environmental issues and are eager to learn. This can be a means to protect the future of protected areas by creating awareness. Orams (1997) stated tourists are more satisfied with their experiences if they are disseminated alongside with educational messages. McGehee & Norman (2001) further stated that these type of first hand experiences with nature can create interests in the natural sciences and can create a sense of responsibility towards the environment. Ecotourism defined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) (Ceballos-Lascurain, 1993) is ‘environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature, that promotes conservation, has low visitor impact and provides the beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations’. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES, 1993), defines ecotourism as ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people According to (Weaver, 2008)’. Ecotourism advocates for sustainability by minimizing ecological costs to the environment and maximizing ecological benefits. Okomu National Park is one of the youngest parks in the country and there is the need to understand tourist’s attitudes to be able to maximize ecological benefits ( Honey, 1999, 2008; TIES, 2013) stated that environmental conservation remains a vital principle of ecotourism. this principle encompasses all interactions and activities relating to the natural environment Page and Dowling (2002). This principle also encourages the education of tourists and locals on the importance of conservation. It is against this background that this study was conducted.

The aim of this study is to understand tourist motivation for visiting ONP, tourist knowledge of conservation and attitudes towards ecotourism. The findings of this study hope to help in further development of ecotourism at ONP and also help increase tourist awareness for conservation in Protected areas.

 

2.0       Literature Review

2.1       Tourism and conservation

According to Ayodele and Lameed (1999), biodiversity of a place is the totality of the species and ecosystems that exist in that place. In biodiversity conservation, it is important to balance the rate of utilization of natural resources with those of their formation in order to maintain stability and ensure sustainability. It is only through the application of effective conservation strategies that those resources are not depleted. Invariably there is a need for sustainable use of natural resources. It is on this basis that Andrew (1998), explained that the main focus of conservation is to satisfy the needs of the present generation without compromising the interest of the future generation by ensuring rational usage of the resource base. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, 2014) defined management as maintenance of a balance between exploitation and conservation, such that management not only requires efficient exploitation of the stock but also its conservation. Reeder (1974) as cited by Ayodele (2002) opined that the conservation program of any species serves to protect what remains and to reclaim some of what has been lost of that species. It is generally accepted that ecological diversity is the best insurance against habitat deterioration and thus, the maintenance of this diversity is the primary aim of conservation.

 

2.2       Tourist Inflow in Protected Areas

Inflow to natural areas is largely driven by tourist’s yearnings to experience natural habitats and to derive pleasure from being close to nature. It is essential for this visits to be guided by sustainable principles to be regarded as an ecotourism adventure. Müllera and Jobb (2009) in a research based on managing natural disturbance in a protected area recommended that there is a need to increase the level of awareness of tourists through educational means because even though tourists are interested in adopting responsible behavior in natural parks and protected areas, their attitudes are usually impartial towards management of these areas. Imrana et.al. (2014) stated that tourists are important stakeholders in protected area management. In addition, tourists represent an important category of stakeholders in aspects related to the management of natural protected areas. A research performed by Müllera and Jobb (2009) has shown that, though interested by adopting a responsible behaviour in protected areas, tourists generally have a neutral attitude towards the management of these areas, especially regarding the existence of possible disruptive factors for the ecosystem. Therefore, it is recommendable to take educational measures meant to increase tourists’ degree of awareness, in their quality of stakeholders.

2.3       Attitudes towards protected areas

Attitudes  towards national parks and protected areas are paramount ingredients  that play a key role in inducing the success of these areas. (Schaal, 2009). Arnberger et. al (2011) stated that “The lower the

acceptance, the lower the probability to protect natural biodiversity and large-scale undisturbed natural processes, promote environmental education, and implement measures for sustainable regional development through eco-tourism”. Mose and weixbaumer (2007) notes that in order to record success in protected area management, attitudes are a key factor to take into consideration when planning for management. Attitudes also affect the acceptance of the venture. Negative attitudes reduce success rate while positive attitudes have the potential to increase success rates (Leibenath, 2000).

 

3.0       Study Area

ONP is situated 60 Km North-West of Benin City, Edo State Nigeria. It lies between latitudes 6015' and 6025'N and longitudes 509' and 5023'E (ONP, 2014). The park is a rainforest ecosystem gazette from the former Okomu forest reserve in 1935. The park is home to a wide range of flora and fauna and some vulnerable species. Access to the park is by road and the road to the park is in good condition. The main source of accommodation for park visitors are the chalets which are located inside the park.  The chalets have a bar, a restaurant and a swimming pool. The hanging bridge is not too far from the chalets.  The chalets have reasonable supply of electricity and water supply. Visitors can easily see monkeys and antelopes not too far from the chalets. The park is also home to endemic species of butterflies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Description: location of okomu national in edo state

 

Figure 1: Map of Edo State, showing the location of Okomu National Park

ONP (2012)

 

 

 

3.1       Methodology

A case study approach using quantitative and qualitative methods was employed. Questionnaires and key informant interviews and field observations were used to obtain data. The data obtained included types of wildlife found in Okomu National park, awareness of ecotourism and conservation and attitude towards conservation by the tourists. Information on tourist products and services, the flagship species tourist interaction with wildlife was obtained from prominent members of staff.

A series of questionnaires was administered to sample the views of the tourists, the questionnaire comprised of closed ended questions.  A pre-test survey was carried out prior to the actual survey in order to fine tune the questions and to ensure that they will capture the objectives of the study. Information gathered from the key informants was used to refine the survey.

Respondents were randomly selected from tourist visiting the park. On completion of the tours, the questionnaires were administered to the tourists. Both International and local tourist were surveyed. Some questionnaires were also left at the park accommodation and the information centre, which were given to tourists who had undergone the guided tours and these questionnaires were collected from them before they leave the park.  A total of 400 questionnaires were returned fully completed. The data was coded and analysed using SPSS version 20.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.0       Results

4.1       Tourist Motivation for Visiting Okomu National Park

Table 1: Tourist motivation for visiting Okomu National Park

 

 

          Activities

 

1

2

3

4

1

Being close to the rainforest

13.3%

3.9%

6.6%

76.8%

 

2

Viewing wildlife

5.3%

10.6%

26.5%

57.6%

 

3

Learning about nature

7.9%

19.8%

41.2%

31.1%

 

4

Having an adventure

20.2%

26.1%

38.4%

15.3%

 

 

 

 

 

Note: Likert scale of Motivation 1= not at all important, 2= fairly Important, 3= Important, 4 = Very important

Probable motivations for visiting Okomu National Park are shown in table 1. Being close to nature and viewing wildlife were the highest ranked reasons for visiting the park followed by learning about nature and lastly having an adventure. Viewing game was also reported by (Kuenzi and Mcneely 2008). Being close to nature had a high agreement (83.4%) and viewing wildlife (84.1%) had the highest ranking of very important and important respectively.  This could be due to the fact that ONP is one of the few parks in the rainforest region of the country and its ecosystem is unique when compared with other parks in the savannah region of the country which have vegetation of open grassland and woodland. Although visibility of game is not that apparent in the rainforest because of dense vegetation and trees, visitors still come to view this unique vegetative cover and are usually intrigued by the canopy layers created by the trees. Okomu is the only area on the unique Southwest Nigerian high rainforest ecosystem protected by law (Lee White, 1988).  There are still a lot of bird species, butterflies, antelopes, which can be easily sighted. Other animals like the buffalo, elephants, civet cats are rarely seen, only their foot prints and fecal dropping give indication that they exist in the park. Learning about nature ranked third in the overall rating (72.3%) this can be due to the fact that many institutions of learning, especially universities and secondary schools bring their students to the park not only to experience the natural rainforest ecosystem but also to learn about nature. The results from the findings can be used by the park to understand the motivations and preferences of  both local and international tourists and in turn tailor their services to specific target groups to attract more tourists and teach conservation education which can help improve the park’s conservation objectives.

4.2       Tourist’s knowledge of ecotourism and conservation  

The results of tourists’ knowledge of ecotourism are presented in Table 1.  From the results 94% of the tourists were aware that ecotourism has helped in conservation of both plant and animals while 93% of them were aware of ecotourism, 93% agreed that ecotourism can be used as a medium to communicate conservation goals. Also 92% indicated that they were aware that ecotourism is a good way of conserving the environment and 92% were of the opinion that ecotourism has helped in aiding community development. Ninety-two percent of the tourists indicated that the park had done a lot to sensitize tourists coming to ONP about ecotourism prior to entering the park. They were also educated on how to behave responsibly in protected areas. 91% of the tourists indicated that ecotourism has helped in fostering development through contact with the locals, while 85% of the tourists indicated that they were aware of conservation programs being implemented by ONP. Also, 84% were of the opinion that they did not notice host community participation in any activity. A similar study by (Mihai ,2008) also reported that 66% of the tourist had a good degree of knowledge of ecotourism, favoring conservation and environmentally friendly actions.

Table 2: Frequency distribution showing tourist knowledge of ecotourism and     conservation

Knowledge

No

Yes

Ecotourism has helped conservation of plants and animals

6.0%

94.0%

Are you aware of ecotourism

6.6%

93.4%

Ecotourism helps educate tourists about conservation

7.3%

92.7%

Ecotourism is a good way of conserving the ecosystem

7.9%

92.1%

Ecotourism aids community development

7.9%

92.1%

Did the park sensitize you about ecotourism

8.6%

91.4%

Ecotourism brings tourists in contact with local communities which fosters development

9.3%

90.7%

Are you aware of any Okomu park conservation programs

14.6%

85.4%

Did you notice any community members involved in park management activities

16.6%

83.4%

Ecotourism sensitization by park is adequate

19.9%

80.1%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

he sake of consistency why not write 91%4.3       Attitude of tourists to ecotourism

Table 3 gives an overview of the tourist’s attitude towards ecotourism with an overall mean of 2.77. From the results, statements with mean scores above 2.77 were taken to indicate a positive attitude towards ecotourism by tourists and those below indicated a negative attitude towards ecotourism tourists were of the opinion that ecotourism has improved tourist awareness on the need of conservation ranked the highest with a ( = 4.09).  This statement had the highest mean because the park always makes effort to educate tourists coming to the park about the various programs going on in the park and also on conservation.  92% of the tourists indicated that ecotourism has improved their awareness of conservation. This means that their visit to ONP has exposed them to learning about nature which was corroborated by (Amuquandoh et.al, 2011) in a study on tourist experiences to Owabi national park in Ghana. They stated that learning about nature was a high priority for tourists and was the second most important most experience. Stein et.al.(2003) also rated conservation education and interest in learning more about the environment are paramount factors for ecotourists visiting a protected area. One of the criteria for naming an activity as nature based tourism is the educational dimension (Fennel 1999) which was buttresses by the findings of this study, where about 93% of the respondents agreed that conservation education is not a waste of time. About 85% of the respondents stated that ecotourism has created responsible behavior among tourists. Ballantyne et.al. (2011) individual tourist behavior is affected by visits to protected areas.  Ecotourism has assisted in developing the surrounding community had a mean score of ( = 4.03). Ecotourism had brought tourists to the park that do not only visit the park but also buy food items form host community members who sell various items by the road side which provides an alternative source of income for the locals. Also because of the park, there has been some developmental projects which have come to the area and which will benefit the host communities. In recent times, an example of such a project is the construction of a long stretch of road by the Niger Delta Development Commission which will make transportation of goods and people easier, a road that was hardly pliable in the rainy season.

Due to sensitization of tourists about ecotourism in which the tourists are given a brief introduction to conservation and ecotourism, tourists have become more responsible for their actions in the park ( = 3.99).  Digun-Aweto et.al. (2016) also noted that sensitization by the management has played a role in creating awareness to both locals and tourists about the need for conservation.

The results also indicated that ecotourism provides a firsthand encounter with the natural environment ( = 3.93). The least ranked means were: Games (animals) are meant to be food for the community so why should they be preserved ( = 1.83), I will like to hunt game in the park if given the chance ( = 1.81), I do not care about the ecosystem ( = 0.56), I will never welcome anything that has to do with conservation ( = 1.76). The results above indicate that tourist attitude towards ecotourism is favorable because they are in support of  conserving the park and also favour  the current management practices being carried out by the park.  The attitude of the tourists towards ecotourism can be said to be average because about half of the statements were above the overall mean score of 2.77.  The correlation results between attitude of tourists towards conservation and their knowledge revealed that there is a strong positive relationship between the two variables r(498) = 0.56, p < .01

 

 

Table. 3: Frequency distribution of tourist attitude towards ecotourism

Tourist Attitude towards Ecotourism

SD

D

UD

A

SA

Mean

Score

Ecotourism has improved tourist awareness on the need for conservation

5.3%

1.3%

1.3%

62.9%

29.1%

4.09

 

Ecotourism has assisted in developing the surrounding community

7.3%

-

4.6%

58.9%

29.1%

4.03

 

Ecotourism has made tourist more responsible in their actions in the park

5.3%

-

7.3%

64.9%

22.5%

3.99

 

Ecotourism has helped in protecting our wildlife

6.6%

2.6%

2.6%

62.9%

25.2%

3.97

 

Ecotourism provides a firsthand encounter with the natural environment

6.0%

4.0%

1.3%

68.2%

20.5%

3.93

 

Ecotourism is a way of increasing household income for host communities

6.6%

4.6%

6.0%

61.6%

21.2%

3.86

 

Ecotourism enhances sustainable park development

6.6%

2.0%

6.0%

71.5%

13.9%

3.84

 

Ecotourism  has helped in sustaining the livelihood of the host communities

7.3%

13.2%

2.6%

65.6%

11.3%

3.60

 

Ecotourism has helped in saving our forests

12.6%

9.3%

4.0%

57.6%

16.6%

3.56

 

Ecotourism has fostered community participation in the park

6.6%

2.0%

39.1%

36.4%

15.9%

3.53

 

Conservation reduces consumption of animal protein

13.9%

11.3%

5.3%

57.6%

11.9%

3.42

 

Ecotourism is a means of enabling tourist to exploit the park

15.2%

17.2%

.7%

60.3%

6.6%

3.26

 

Ecotourism leads to advent of disease

24.5%

43.0%

6.0%

21.2%

5.3%

2.40

 

Conservation reduces sources of income for host community

19.2%

62.9%

2.6%

9.9%

5.3%

2.19

 

Ecotourism makes tourism more expensive

16.6%

72.2%

2.6%

4.6%

4.0%

2.07

 

Conservation of wildlife and flora is foreign to our culture

19.2%

73.5%

2.0%

2.6%

2.6%

1.96

 

Conservation education is a waste of time

23.8%

68.9%

2.6%

1.3%

3.3%

1.91

 

 

Conservation is another form of colonization

20.5%

70.9%

6.0%

2.0%

.7%

1.91

 

 

Conservation limits the use of traditional herbs

23.2%

69.5%

2.6%

3.3%

1.3%

1.90

 

 

Ecotourism is a means of depriving the people of their natural environment

20.5%

74.8%

2.6%

1.3%

.7%

1.87

 

 

Ecotourism is one of the ways of exposing the community to danger

26.5%

68.9%

.7%

2.0%

2.0%

1.84

 

 

There is nothing to gain from conservation

28.5%

66.2%

1.3%

.7%

3.3%

1.84

 

 

Games (animals) are meant to be food for the community so why should they be preserved

25.2%

70.9%

1.3%

1.3%

1.3%

1.83

 

 

I will like to hunt game in the park if given the chance

25.2%

70.9%

1.3%

2.6%

-

1.81

 

 

I do not care about the ecosystem (forest and animals)

28.5%

68.9%

.7%

2.0%

-

1.76

 

 

I will never welcome anything that has to do with conservation

27.2%

70.2%

2.0%

.7%

-

1.76

 

 

Grand Mean

 

 

 

 

 

2.77

 

 

                             

 

Limitations of the study

There was a hindrance to the conducting of the survey during the data collection, the paramount ruler, the Iyase of Udo, was kidnapped by some unidentified youths which disrupted the survey and prevented tourists from visiting during the planned period of data collection. Also, the interview schedules had to be interpreted to some of the respondents for a better understanding of the questions.

 

5.0       Conclusion

Ecotourism is a rational method for nature reserves to both realize ecological protection and to benefit their local communities. Ecotourism provides platforms to help conserve flora and fauna especially threatened species through improving tourist knowledge and creating positive attitudes but the goals of ONP and ecotourism may not be achieved except there are proper channels for connecting these experiences with action. These can be realized through proper dissemination of the conservation message and to follow through and connect the tourist’s motivation based on the experience with their home environments.

National parks are an important means to achieve conservation but to muster support for conservation in Nigeria which is regarded as a developing country, there is the need for tourists to have a good experience in viewing wildlife and enjoying the natural scenery and trails. Tourists were motivated by viewing the rainforest and also viewing wildlife but visibility of game in the rainforest is highly limited because of the vegetation. ONP is one of the few national parks in the rainforest region in Nigeria and because of its small size, it should be promoted to attract both international and domestic tourists. Also the management needs to create a management plan that can aid viewing of wildlife such as hanging walkways through the canopy layers. This can even assist in fighting poaching of elephants in the park and also other game. The proposed walk way can turn out to be very effective because it will increase the area that can be covered in a short distance and can be the eye in the sky for poachers on the ground. Acquah et.al. (2016) stated that visit to protected areas can help in creating the right attitude towards conservation for primary, secondary schools and universities which is also being done at ONP. Students who come to the park are sensitized towards conservation, this can be used by the national park service to help inculcate conservation awareness in the youth in the country

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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