3.1. Profile of Survey Respondents
Of the 483 Tai O residents who were approached, 360 agreed to complete the questionnaire; 351 completed questionnaires were received, yielding a response rate of 72.7%. The chi-square test was done to compare the socio-economic characteristics of the respondents and the Tai O population. The results indicated no significant difference at p
< 0.05 between the gender and age group distribution of the sample and census data, indicating that the sample was sufficiently representative of the Tai O community (Table 2
The gender of the respondents was evenly distributed, with 51.3% (n = 180) male and 48.7% (n = 171) female. In terms of age, over 50% of the respondents were aged 55 or over, followed by 16.7% aged 35 to 44, indicating that the elderly are dominant in number in Tai O. Only approximately 16% of the respondents were less than 34 years old. The respondents’ education level was low compared with the general population of Hong Kong in 2011. More than 30% of Tai O residents never received a formal education, and over 23% had only completed primary-level education. Moreover, nearly one-third of the respondents were retired, reflecting that Tai O is an aging community.
3.2. Expectation of Citizen Participation (ECP)
The component of CP expected by Tai O residents has four dimensions: residents’ views on participation in development process, the role of local residents in tourism development, who should be in charge of decision making for tourism development, and other appropriate aspects of this process.
Aref and Redzuan [10
] noted that participation is a dynamic process that is difficult to predict or quantify using a standard assessment method; they suggest that it originates from and is moulded by individuals’ experiences with participation. Some researchers, such as Taal [37
], have tried to quantify levels of participation. Taal [37
] suggested that such quantification can be misleading because it does not reflect the whole participation process and it is difficult to fit into each category of participation. Therefore, instead of quantifying the level of citizen participation, this study employs the ALCP framework (Figure 1
) as a basis to make this evaluation. The framework characterises levels of public involvement, ranging from the ideal of citizen control to a state of creeping manipulation by officials and powerful interest groups.
In terms of the ECP, the Tai O residents were asked to indicate their agreement with a series of statements in relation to a suitable means of participation in tourism development, the role residents should play in this development, and who should be in charge of making decisions (Table 3
). The residents’ answers were examined based on the mean (M
) scores of each variable from the lowest to the highest. For Hong Kong society as a whole, the residents suggested that the people of Hong Kong should participate in the tourism decision-making process (M
= 3.92), even though they placed the priority of expected participation in tourism development strongly on economic benefits, including job opportunities in the tourism sector (M
= 4.11), sharing tourism benefits (M
= 4.10), and investment opportunities in the tourism sector (M
= 4.03). Similarly, Liu and Cheung [38
] found that local residents who operated tourism-related businesses believed that tourism development in Tai O could enhance economic development. Local indigenous people are more likely to engage in tourism planning and the development process in Tai O [32
Interestingly, for the statements that related specifically to Tai O, the respondents gave higher scores to political forms of participation than to economic ones (Table 4
). They showed strong support for the view that they should be consulted before tourism policies were made (M
= 4.37). When respondents were asked to rank which party was best qualified to make decisions (Table 5
), nearly half chose “government departments and local administrative units in consultation with Tai O residents” (45.5%), followed by “government departments” (14.7%), “others” (14.7%), “a tourism development committee formed by Tai O residents” (11.8), “market forces” (6.6%), “local administrative units” (5.2%), and “regional administrative units” (1.4%). The respondents suggested that local residents’ views should be considered so that their views could be refereed and reflected in the decision-making process. Over 79% of the respondents (M
= 4.13) agreed that local residents should have financial support to invest in the tourism industry. Their agreement with this statement reflects some major characteristics of partnership, the sixth rung of the ALCP and the lowest rung of the citizen power level. Partnership can be the most effective approach when an organised group exists in the community and the leader of that group is held accountable for decision-making. The local community has financial resources that allow them to pay their leaders and to establish his or her team to oversee the whole development. These components may signify that the desired level of participation by local residents is at the partnership rung of ALCP.
The respondents did not agree that the level of citizen participation reached the topmost rungs on ALCP, as they indicated that they have limited knowledge of CP and the decision-making process, which may be because the majority of respondents were older and had a low education level. Although most agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that residents should participate actively in the decision-making process of tourism development, they expressed that they did not have any right or power to contribute to the decision-making process and had insufficient knowledge to make such a decision. Their views imply that the local residents do not understand the concept of CP and are not aware that participation in the decision-making process is important for the sustainable development of their community.
Due to the characteristics of the population, Tai O residents did not show confidence in taking full responsibility for tourism development in Tai O. They believed that decisions should be made by the government and relevant administrative units by taking their views and opinions into consideration. There are a number of reasons why the majority of the respondents did not suggest that the tourism development committee should be composed solely of local residents. Most respondents believed that local residents held different opinions on tourism development and most were only concerned with their self-interest, particularly those with relevant businesses. They did not believe that the local residents were equipped with sufficient ability to implement a tourism development plan. Therefore, great assistance from the government is an appropriate approach to make a tourism development project successful [38
]. Second, they felt powerless to establish a committee with all members selected from the local community, given the high level of illiterate residents and aging population [39
]. Third, there is a lack of residents with a relevant tourism background who could form a capable committee. Fourth, the respondents had little knowledge on how to establish such a committee. Fifth, the respondents were suspicious about whether they would be empowered by the government to be in full responsibility of Tai O’s development [3
]. Sixth, some respondents were skeptical that they would obtain sufficient financial and technical support to take initiative to implement a development plan through a self-constructed tourism development committee. However, they did not want the decision to be made solely by the government because they had the general impression that some government officials ignored their needs and did not safeguard the interests of the local community. They preferred that the government participate in decision-making because they believed that abundant resources such as human capital, financial support, and technical assistance could be gained if relevant governmental units were involved in the decision-making process [32
]. Most respondents believed that the multi-stakeholder approach, which is a common approach in sustainable tourism development where different stakeholders are participating in the decision-making process, should be adopted in the case of Tai O, even though the local residents may have limited knowledge on this concept.
The discussion above suggests that the level of CP expected by Tai O residents in tourism development falls on the sixth and lowest rung—partnership—of the citizen power level of ALCP [42
] (Figure 1
), as the local residents indicated their willingness to take part in the decision-making process, and their desire to be empowered to participate in the decision-making process and to make appropriate decisions through effective negotiation with authorities. This aligns with the characteristics of rung six of the ALCP [43
]. However, the population’s structure, low levels of education, and lack of tourism knowledge are barriers preventing them from reaching the highest rungs of ALCP.
3.3. Actual Citizen Participation (ACP) of Local Residents
The results of the questionnaire survey revealed that the majority of the respondents (68.7%, n
= 241) did not consider themselves to be involved in the decision-making process for tourism development (Table 6
). The reasons given can be categorised into two aspects: thirteen are categorised into personal aspects, and the other three fall under the public aspect. The most common personal reasons for the local residents to not participate in the decision-making process were a lack of availability (27%, n
= 65), old age (18.3%, n
= 44), and being unclear about their role. ‘Criticisms of public participation activities in the past’ ranked fourth among all and included the following: inadequate opportunities were provided for residents to take part in such processes; residents were not invited to attend public consultation activities; there was limited opportunity for residents to voice their views in public forums; and insufficient public forums were provided to allow them to participate in the decision-making process. The criticism “residents were not invited to attend public consultation activities” is consistent with the results regarding the respondents’ awareness of and attendance at the two public forums (Table 7
). More than one-quarter of the respondents had not been aware of and had not participated in the public forums (1st: 32.3%, n
= 112; 2nd: 24.8%, n
= 86). Five local residents believed that they were not welcomed by the government to participate (2.1%), and two believed that the decision-making process was monopolised by the Tai O Rural Committee (0.8%); that is, that local residents lacked influential power in the decision (Table 6
). The reason for this perception may be that the majority of the residents were not interested in participating in the decision-making process because they thought that they were too old and unqualified for the process. Moreover, the workforce in Tai O is busy at work and do not want to spend time participating in this process. Third, the members of the Tai O Rural Committee were in charge of the whole decision-making process and discouraged local residents from engaging in it. The findings suggest that personal conditions are a prominent factor in shaping citizens’ participation in Tai O and might inhibit CBT participation [39
Although Tai O residents were willing to be counted into the decision-making process for tourism development, the actual participation level was still low, and their actual participation placed on the fourth rung of ALCP. The local community had low participation in public consultation activities because it was not well informed about these activities and because of the timing of these activities (Figure 1
). Our questionnaire survey results reported that the local residents were less aware of the public forums and their participation in these consultation activities was low. Lack of awareness and the inconvenient schedule of the activities are two main reasons for this low attendance. Most respondents (over 40%) obtained information on the public forum through two channels: the bulletin boards of the Tai O Rural Committee and the Islands District Office, and banners in the Tai O Car Park. Approximately one-third of respondents obtained the information through personal networks, implying that the public forums were not well promoted by the government to encourage participation. Apart from the publicity of the public forums and scheduling, Tai O experiences structural barriers to successful CP as a result of the characteristics of the population (aging population and a high illiteracy rate).
Regardless of the effectiveness of public forums, Tai O residents have been given a chance to learn more about the project and voice their views. However, the government offered no assurance to take their views into account in the decision-making process. This situation offers evidence why their current actual participation level placed on the fourth rung of ALCP. The government’s low transparency with regard to the public consultation process led to distrust among residents that their community interests were not safeguarded during the decision-making process. They were afraid that decisions were made in favour of powerful interest groups, such as well-established tour operators, multinational companies, and influential individuals in the community.
According to the results of the questionnaire survey, we can place Tai O residents’ actual participation level on the fourth rung (consultation) of the tokenism level on ALCP (Figure 1
). A high level of citizen participation was not achieved in the case of the Tai O development project. Organising public forums could become a standard procedure for the government in Tai O development projects. The government could therefore claim that they have gleaned community opinions before making decisions and received empowerment from the local community for their decision.