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Challenges to Implementing Community Based Ecotourism (CBET) as a Bottom up Development Approach in the Sinharaja Rain Forest (Sri Lanka)

Community based ecotourism (CBET) is a well-established concept and its implementation has been an important component for many regional development strategies. This thesis argues that CBET originated as a Western concept, and there are many successful CBET projects. However, CBET operates within geo-political, economic and cultural contexts, which generate challenges for its implementation. This research examines a CBET initiative in the Kudawa- Sinharaja site, Sri Lanka which shifted in 1995 from a central government approach to a community forest informed master plan, in line with Western CBET development models. This case study therefore provides the opportunity to explore the success of this CBET project. A qualitative approach has principally guided this research together with statistics to examine the socio-cultural, socio-economic and geo-political context. A total of 293 participants have informed this research, which includes 193 interviews (115 individuals, and 15 different focus groups totalling 78 people) and 100 questionnaire respondents. These participants were surveyed during late 2012 and early 2013, and included both domestic and overseas tourists, local community residents and tourist operators, tourism consultants, and government officials. One of the main findings is that despite plans being developed at a community level, the wider context includes superimposed capitalism, which dominates and counteracts the ideologies of CBET. Superimposed capitalism results in individualistic and competitive behaviours that undermine the collaborative community approach. It encourages poaching and the selling of rare flora and fauna (biopiracy), and results in anthropogenic disturbances to nature. The influence of “drug-sex’ tourism, associated with superimposed capitalism, creates potential for further socio-cultural issues. This research also highlights the strong influence of geo-politics, which operates at both the international and domestic scale. National political conflicts in Sri Lanka have been extreme in recent times and this has generated security related issues for both residents and tourists. Political corruption, access to funds, and the lack of established decision making processes are also associated with geo-politics. This research also underlines the influence of the socio-cultural context such as gender inequality and caste discrimination, which substantially disempower certain people. The thesis concludes that CBET is an appropriate pathway for tourism development in Sri Lanka but recognition of the above problems is required and they need to be addressed, in particular, superimposed capitalism. A well-defined monitoring system and an effective legal framework to control adverse effects are important for achieving CBET goals. The findings of this research will inform CBET in similar developing countries, but caution is required because the geo-political, economic and cultural context is different in every country.
Type of thesis
Halvitigala Ihala Gamage, C. K. (2016). Challenges to Implementing Community Based Ecotourism (CBET) as a Bottom up Development Approach in the Sinharaja Rain Forest (Sri Lanka) (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/9894
University of Waikato
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