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Understanding Communities’ Disaffection to Participate in Tourism in Protected Areas: A Social Representational Approach

Birame Sarr
Matías Manuel González-Hernández
Jose Boza-Chirino
Javier de León
Institute for Tourism and Economic Sustainable Development, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 35017 Gran Canaria, Spain
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2020, 12(9), 3677;
Submission received: 12 March 2020 / Revised: 15 April 2020 / Accepted: 25 April 2020 / Published: 2 May 2020


This manuscript uses a social-representational approach that allows for including social interactions, history and cultural background to explain and cluster resident attitudes to tourism in protected areas in developing countries. Based on the published evidence on the failure of community-based tourism programmes and projects that aim to achieve community engagement and benefits, and on scholars attributing those failures to the lack of consideration given to the perceptions and ambitions of the communities, that in turn are split into different groups that perceive tourism dissimilarly, we propose a pathway to encouraging community engagement and participation. Field work carried out throughout the settlements neighbouring the National Park of La Langue de Barbarie in northern Senegal allowed to identify three group profiles: The largest minority are reluctant to accept any type of tourism at all, a second minority actively supports another type of community-based tourism, more locally centred, and a third group consists of those mainly wanting to escape their unwanted existence and migrate. We conclude that, to achieve successful sustainable tourism development, interventions should capacitate the group that supports tourism to lead initiatives, seduce the reluctant ones, energise those who seek to migrate and negotiate with the external tourist agents to achieve more equitable tourism development in which locals actively participate.

1. Introduction

The take-off of tourism as a global industry and the wave of decolonising processes that lead to the creation of dozens of new states in Africa are contemporary processes; they happen within the framework of the most transcendental period of growth and structural change that the global economy experienced during the twentieth century (the Golden Age), and it is coincident with the period in which the Latin American economies investigate their potential for diversification and endogenous growth, under the intellectual leadership of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. In this context, literature soon attributed to tourism a high potential to induce economic growth in developing countries by expanding export possibilities from raw materials and primary products to the provision of services to tourists, based on the natural and cultural attractions they treasured [1,2,3,4,5].
According to this approach, landscapes, wildlife and cultural manifestations, which until the advent of tourism barely contributed to the flow of subsistence economies, became components of the gross fixed capital in many developing countries, adding growth potential. Furthermore, many authors saw in tourism the opportunity to incorporate new local entrepreneurs and traditionally marginalised sectors, mainly women, into the productive market economy, which in turn would facilitate more equitable growth.
However, empirical evidence of tourism developments in developing countries offers a less linear, more diverse picture. Many studies have shown that, along with positive impacts on aggregate income, economic diversification, employment in emerging sectors and the improvement of some basic facilities and infrastructures [6,7,8], tourism has also contributed to the depletion of basic natural resources (essentially drinking water), the increase in price of basic goods and real estate and the pressure to raise wages in traditional activities, to highlight the most significant negative effects on the economic sphere. Tourism has also been stated as being disruptive in other social (breakdown of community roles, increasing inequalities, non-legitimate shifts in power of certain groups) and cultural (values, habits, social norms, etc.) realms.
Along these lines, the analysis of the impact of tourism on the life of rural communities in national parks in developing countries has widely attracted scholars’ attention [9,10,11]. The results delivered from case studies are far from homogeneous; instead, a great disparity is observable. Authors claiming the dominance of positive effects underline the creation of new jobs remunerated, specifically for women, wider markets for local products and the opening of local societies to new attitudes and behaviours about innovations and entrepreneurship [12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21].
Without denying positive impacts, some authors focus on a group of new problems that tourism has contributed to in protected areas, while not providing the proper tools to deal with them. Vodouhê et al. [22], Woodhouse et al. [23] and Sène-Harper and Séye [24] bring awareness to the fact that former management strategies kept humans from protected areas using coercion; Scheyvens [25] reminds us that usually resorts and hotels have weak or no relations with suppliers of local products and services and offer poor working conditions and labour rights, while treating local micro-entrepreneurs as competitors instead of allies, refusing to transfer knowledge or undertake joint-ventures. Blake et al. [26] and Dwyer et al. [27] talk about the effect of tourism development on prices, mainly impacting on the poorest communities, while Cole [28] and Gossling et al. [29] provide evidence on tourism that provokes pressure on water supplies that lead to local populations suffering from water shortage. Tourism is invoked sometimes as exacerbating inequalities within rural communities in protected areas between residents connected or otherwise to tourism [23,30].
While the complex relationships between nature conservation and communities surrounding protected areas have remained an elusive issue, some diverse-sourcing initiatives have been developed to specifically build proper solutions and spread learned lessons. Under labels like Pro-Poor tourism [31,32], Sustainable Tourism-Eliminating Poverty [33] or Anti-Poverty Tourism [34], these tourist developments have been promoted and supported by development agencies, governments and donors, but results are still blurred and have been criticised by researchers [35,36]. Some authors point out that tourism planning for protected areas is strongly influenced by the perceptions of managers and planners often from outside the local communities, who experience tourism differently than presumed by the former [37]. The meta-analysis conducted by Roe et al. [38] sheds light on the fact that the contribution required to promote genuine social development is not about bringing communities to participate in an externally pre-defined framework but jointly creating the game rules and developing effective planning and management tools that make locals protagonists in participating actively in the tourist activity and benefitting from it.
To encourage rural communities to get involved in tourism in protected areas (hereafter PA), ongoing processes should provide conditions to heal the wounds caused by the imposition of the PAs, often with violence, and the previous development of economically excluding and socio-culturally foreign and invasive tourism. Amongst the alternative approaches to dealing with integrating the perception of local communities in PA tourism developments, Social Representation Theory (hereafter SRT) shows high potential [37]. Explanations for the social feelings of expropriation due to unilateral PA declaration, of exclusion because tourist developments kept locals aside from decisions and benefits and of otherness for suffering the invasion of foreigners, find a proper place in the SRT. It allows for a thorough comprehension of attitudes and behaviour of locals toward tourism but also helps to cluster them into identified minorities that could lead to transformative tourism-based social processes, widening opportunities for genuine community-based tourism developments in the PAs of developing countries.
Based on evidence from La Langue de Barbarie National Park (hereafter LBNP), in northern Senegal, this article aims at identifying the endogenous factors that preclude rural communities neighbouring the PA to get engaged in tourism development, even when it is self-claimed as community-based tourism, and characterise potential leading groups to be engaged in more genuine sustainable tourism strategies, focussed on local needs. The next section depicts the socio-environmental context of the LBNP as representative of many all over Africa. Here, PA declaration against the majority opinion was succeeded by the development of nature tourism that has recently rhetorically embraced the cause of community participation, but yet still without being put into practice. Section 3 presents the SRT approach that consists of a two-step methodology, firstly validating the constructs that explain perceptions and behaviours of locals towards tourism, and then clustering the local population into groups which are defined according to their perceptions of tourism and the attitudes and behaviours to refuse, not participate in or change tourism in their land. Section 4 presents the main research results, translating them into very visual tools, characterising the groups in search of the minority that could lead a process of tourism change and of community engagement. Section 5 discusses these results in the light of Social Representation Theory, mainly focusing on the aspects related to the building of shared representations, the creation of a common sense on the complex phenomena, the influence of past experiences and the anchoring of new, unknown phenomena to those that people are familiarised with and the role of the active, innovative minorities in social change processes. Finally, Section 6 reflects on the research findings that could contribute to tourism-based strategies that promote engagement and sustainable development in rural communities neighbouring PAs in developing countries.

2. Tourism, Nature and Society

2.1. Nature and the Society

The northern region of Senegal forms a Sahelian ecosystem smoothed by the Senegal River that separates it from Mauritania, a sedimentary delta with innumerable brackish lagoons that are home to an extraordinary marine and terrestrial biodiversity, a rich fishing bank that has attracted thousands of artisanal fishermen along the coastline. The heritage city of Saint Louis was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2000 [39]. As well as being the capital, Saint Louis also exercised the religious leadership of the country, and was closely linked to the resistance against French colonisation. The demonstration to pray in front of the government palace of the colonial power led by the religious leader Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba on 5 September 1895, is still firmly rooted as a symbol of resistance against the colonisers [40].
South of the city of Saint Louis, along the narrow sedimentary tongue of more than 50 km that separates the Senegal River from the Atlantic Ocean (the so-called Langue de Barbarie), there are around twenty small rural communities dedicated to agriculture, artisanal fishing, gathering, hunting and a small amount of commerce. These communities belong mostly to the Wolof (45%), Fula (35%) and Maure (15%) ethnic groups [41]. These are very old settlements of stable communities that have been obtaining their livelihood from the natural resources of the area for centuries. The extraordinary fragility and vulnerability of the natural ecosystem on which they settle, constantly changing in geomorphology, the salinity of their waters, the aptitude for agriculture and the nutrients that attract marine biomass, have led these communities to develop complex adaptive strategies of survival, whose knowledge and practices constitute one of the cultural elements of greater patrimonial value in the region. Table 1 shows the most populated settlements in that area.
Several strategic decisions adopted over the last decades have shaped the recent history of this region, affecting the living conditions of the population, and particularly rural communities along La Langue. In 1976, the national government enacted the Langue de Barbarie National Park, expanded to 2000 hectares in 1977 [42]. This decision imposed restrictions on the ancestral uses of natural resources, causing major disturbances between the local population and central government forces, which in some cases had fatal outcomes. Conflicts of this nature had already occurred in other parts of the country and Sub-Saharan Africa [43,44,45].
The driving forces behind the creation of the PAs in the region have been multiple and complex. While following international standards this area exhibits natural resources that justify its protection, multilateral organisations and European governments have intervened with a perspective that has transcended to mere conservation [46]. The extension of the Saharan climate influence and the subsequent persistence of droughts [47] persuaded the national authorities of the need to diversify the regional economy through nature-based tourism with PAs as a claim. These would complete a trio of tourist attractions, along with the fishermen’s district and the heritage city of Saint Louis. However, the conflicts that arose regarding the declaration of the PAs suggested that this long-term vision was neither shared nor accepted by a significant proportion of local communities that had not even been consulted. After decades of a conflictive relationship, the Association of Ecoguards of the national park was created in 2001, through which some members of the adjacent communities PA, where they participated in the interpretive guidance of visitors. This decision contributed to pacifying the relationship between the park and the communities, and has been the main link between the two and the development of nature tourism in the area.
During those decades, other decisions would also condition the nature and society of La Langue de Barbarie. In 1986, the Diama dam was constructed to prevent the salinisation [48,49], and promote irrigated agriculture. It modified the flow of the river at the mouth causing changes in the sedimentary dynamics that would progressively lead to the closure of the river outlet to the sea and, thus, increasing the exposure of Saint Louis to the risk of flooding [50]. A fact that would end up happening in October 2003, urging the opening up of an exit for the river waters to the sea (locally named the “breche”), that marine erosion rapidly extended to more than 6 km, and that would end up having dramatic effects on the ecosystem of the river mouth [51] and, consequently, on the characteristics of the National Park, the productivity of natural resources for fishing and agriculture, the tourist attractiveness of the area and thus, on the survival conditions of the population concerned. Figure 1 shows the environmental impact and the location of the affected populations.
Changes in the natural system, like mangrove area reduction, disappearance of many coastal lagoons, aquifers and soil salinisation and fewer fishable resources [52,53,54], have reduced the National Park attractiveness and negatively affected the natural resources available for development. Even the marine flooding of Saint Louis is now more probable. All this has impelled the inhabitants of rural communities to a complex re-adaptation to the new characteristics of their habitat. In some cases, they have resorted to illegal fishing in Mauritanian waters, with the risk of fatal encounters with the Mauritanian coastguards; in others, they are trying to learn how animal biology adapts to changes in salinity and nutrients, to find new species rich in proteins to feed on, and in others by migrating to other areas of the country in search of subsistence opportunities or running the risk of a dangerous exodus to the European border, directly from Senegal or through Mauritania and Morocco.

2.2. Tourism Development

The Saint Louis region has remarkable natural and cultural attractions to sustain tourism development: Four protected areas; extensive coastal wetlands full of avifauna, the landscapes of the delta, the activity and traditions of the extensive community of around 15,000 artisanal fishermen; and, above all, the monumental city of Saint Louis, that offers a remarkable cultural activity crowned by its International Jazz Festival [39]. The region has experienced, however, a significant decline in tourism, due to combined factors; the insufficient maintenance of the most emblematic buildings, the urban grid and the basic services of the monumental city, low financial and institutional capacities, have all played a part. The attractiveness of the artisanal fishing community, although still vibrant, is suffering due to the decline of the catches and the marine erosion that destroys their houses. The breche has altered the landscape and the dynamics of the coastal ecosystem, which has lost its appeal and depreciated the image of the destination [55]. In addition, and as a consequence, the social atmosphere, once open and friendly, has become more tense and conflictive, setting a less attractive social environment for visitors.
As a result, the percentage of tourist arrivals in 2015 was 15% lower than in 2002; its participation in the country’s total tourism arrivals has fallen from 13% in 2003 to 4% in 2015. This decrease has affected the accommodation offer, which in 2014 fell to 1634 places, 18.42% less than in 2013. In addition, the occupancy rate declared by the establishments went from 23% in 2012 to 13% in 2016, as a result not only of a lower flow of visitors, but also of a reduction in the average stay, from 1.9 days in 2008 to 1.63 in 2016 [56]. Finally, the segment that most affects our field of study, tourism in PAs, also experienced a reflux in line with the evolution of the region as a whole, and in contrast with the growth experienced by other regions and destinations in the country. The National Park has a hosting capacity for 18 tourists and offers interpretive guidance on six different routes that show the main attributes of the ecosystem. The entrance of tourists to the National Park fell dramatically from 5371 in 2005 to 571 in 2018, reducing turnover proportionally also. The communities under study do not have accommodation for visitors, reducing their participation in tourism to a small number of park rangers who participate in the interpretation of itineraries, and the sale of handicrafts.
Since 2003, the breche, the National Park and tourism have formed a trio of inseparable elements and have intertwined in all the events in recent history. However, the heterogeneity of the social representations constructed from these elements deserves attention. Some differ from others in the direction and contents of the causality that connects them. Thus, while in some cases tourism appears as the vertex of the postcolonial project in a territory without notable raw materials, in others it emerges as an opportunity to effectively break with the living conditions inherited from the colonial past [24]. On the other hand, the breche, an urgent and unreflective response to the flooding of Saint Louis, nevertheless is perceived as being caused by the development of tourism in the representations of those who believe the reason for their troubles lie in this sector. Furthermore, the National Park is perceived in some cases as an extension of the colonial domain and a pretext for the delivery of land to foreign agents, and in others as an ally generator of opportunities. In the following pages we present the conceptual framework that properly explains the perceptions and attitudes toward tourism in the study area, based on the SRT.

3. Theoretical Framework and Prior Analysis

Literature on community based tourism and related issues, especially that focusing on reporting failures in reaching genuine human development in the communities around the natural and rural destinations throughout the developing world, need to be complemented with literature on resident attitudes towards tourism and tourists, in order to obtain understanding on the factors that may explain local communities’ disaffection to tourism and their disengagement of it. However theoretical approaches on resident attitudes towards tourism are not homogeneous. To better discern on the best approach to shed light on the intertwined problems of failure and disaffection, we carried out a prior analysis based on in situ interviews with key informants at the communities neighbouring the protected areas under study. The model was later developed to underpin field research that builds on the theoretical approach that prior analysis revealed to be the most fruitful. The arguments are set out below.

3.1. The Theoretical Framework

The study of resident attitudes towards tourism has occupied a substantial part of tourism research over the last decades [57,58,59]. Most of these studies have been framed into Social Exchange Theory (hereafter SET) [57,58,59,60,61]. Briefly, this argues that attitudes respond to the perception of the costs and benefits generated by tourism for the individuals researched [59,62,63]. These costs and benefits are deployed in the economic, sociocultural and environmental spheres and can be measured through objective indicators and by surveying subjective perceptions [64,65,66,67,68]. This approach usually uses explanatory models based on structural equations that provide weights for the factors that determine attitudes and behaviour towards tourism. Likewise, these models allow grouping individuals in clusters, according to homogeneous perceptions and attitudes towards tourism [69,70,71].
Some authors have reported limitations of SET to properly explain the diversity of contexts and the complexity of the interactions from which the residents’ attitudes towards tourism emerge; these are summarised in ahistoricism, methodological individualism and functional separation between the object and the subject [72,73,74]. Other authors have tried to add the explanatory potential of both approaches by integrating them into their explanatory models of residents’ attitudes toward tourism [75,76]. In our case, we will argue that social attitudes toward tourism that fit the predictions of the SET make up a particular case in the set of possible attitudes, and that, instead, the SRT proposes a more adequate framework for explaining the causes and diversity of social responses to emerging phenomena, such as tourism in PAs in many countries of Africa.
For Moscovici [77], a social representation is a system of values, ideas and practices with a double function: (i) To establish an order that allows individuals to orient themselves in their material and social world, and control it; and (ii) allow communication between them by providing them with a code to unequivocally name and classify the various aspects that make up their worlds and their individual and group history.
Figure 2 shows the process through which a new phenomenon, potentially threatening, is confronted materially and symbolically, anchoring it those already known and conferring social objectivity through the use of symbols, metaphors and icons. The material and symbolic response of the group aims to make the unknown familiar and manageable. The conversations and actions of the individuals in the group are constructing a symbolic universe for the new phenomenon, which is linked to objects and representations that are already established.

3.2. Prior Analysis

Several short periods of co-existence with some communities living around La Langue de Barbarie National Park allowed us to formally interview key representatives and talk on a more informal basis with dozens of dwellers. Reports on the collated information and personal impressions were analysed to hypothesise local attitudes toward tourism. Soon, images of a vivid debate and differentiated attitudes toward tourism raised a heterogeneous social context that was unexpected. Our perception of the most relevant elements of the social representations present in the rural communities is briefly described below.
We started collecting testimonies on when the organised presence of visitors emerges in the eyes of the rural communities of the Senegal River delta, it is perceived as a new and threatening phenomenon. Through social interaction, tourism in the PAs becomes familiar when it is symbolically associated with colonial domination, the struggle for independence, Islamisation, etc., but also with personal freedom, social openness, dreams of higher affluence, etc.; with everything that represents the system of cultural references of the population of the region.
Parallel to the anchorage of tourism to the symbolic referential world of what is already known, objectification of tourism occurs, i.e., translation of the symbolic into something tangible. The construction of a shared social knowledge, a common sense about the tourism phenomenon in the region, is carried out through the use of a set of icons, metaphors and images. The irruption of little white men in vehicles, with new sounds and altered landscapes; the new toubabs that replace the old ones, those with the cassocks and military uniforms; the new bosses of the tourism companies, who have just arrived and already walk around invested with an authority that disdains that of locals; the uniformed rangers, the last ones in the scale of the toubabs, who as subalterns administer the territory for the true toubabs, and who resemble the military of former and current times so much; these are the icons in which the social representation of tourism materialises for many residents in the region.
For other residents, however, the representation of tourism evokes opportunities, material prosperity, cultural novelty, life emancipated from tradition, open-mindedness, new horizons of life perhaps in another country, partners from abroad, economic participation, etc. In the middle of these polarities, there may be a social representation that combines elements of both. So we gain more awareness of the fact that the scope of social representations nesting in the rural communities surrounding PAs is diverse and heterogeneous. The social representation that a particular individual exhibits of tourism in the region, therefore, does not respond to a simple scheme of action-reaction, determined by the evaluation of the benefits and expected costs of the relationship with that activity. The history, exposure to influences capable to shape communication about tourism, psycho-affective characteristics that influence the construction of expectations of what tourism can become, and the proprioceptive capacity to drive changes are also factors influencing social representations that contribute to explaining the attitudes and behaviours present in the social fabric surrounding PAs with respect to tourism.

3.3. The Model

Building on both SRT and the prior analysis carried out on the field, Figure 3 shows the construction of social representations of tourism in the rural communities that surround the PAs. The anchorage to such phenomena is carried out through the axes of reference expropriation/appropriation, exclusion/inclusion and estrangement/familiarity. The expropriation of natural resources, the exclusion from the tourist activity and the imposition of an alien presence that somehow invades and assaults, make up the representation of tourism as a neo-colonial domination. At the antipode is the representation of tourism as an opportunity to re-appropriate natural resources by other means, participation in an industry that opens new opportunities for economic development and cultural exchange with others, with an openness to the evolution and enrichment of their cultural heritage.
Figure 3 shows that different social representations can combine different degree perceptions of expropriation, exclusion and estrangement and their opposites. In addition, it suggests that social representations are dynamic, can evolve; so individuals can move from one representation to another, from one social group to another, depending on the experience lived. On the other hand, social representations contribute to explaining the attitudes and behaviour towards tourism from different social groups. Representations that are both critical, however, can support markedly different behaviour towards tourism. For example, hostility and distancing, in some cases, and active participation aimed at positively transforming its impacts, in other cases. The following pages depict the methodology and main results obtained from our study aimed to show the potentiality of the SRT to indicate a significant analysis of the attitudes and behaviours of rural communities in PAs with regards to tourism and the more effective pathways to help them engage and benefit from tourism.

4. Methodology and Results

After the preliminary fieldwork, the use of a two-step method was decided: A correspondence analysis followed by a cluster analysis. This method is widely used to segment or classify individuals when the variables are qualitative, and is very common in the investigation of tourist markets, for example, to explore the factors related to the motivations of tourists and their subsequent segmentation based on these factors [79,80,81].
In the first step, since the variables that form the constructs are qualitative nominal, the most appropriate statistical procedure to obtain the factors or constructs and their respective profiles is the Multiple Correspondence Analysis (HOMALS) that, working simultaneously with all the various categorical variables, identifies similarities and differences between the individuals.
The second step, to classify individuals into groups that result from the different social representations they have about tourism in PAs, is based on the constructs of the profiles estimated by the HOMALS analysis. We will proceed to form groups through a Cluster K-Means analysis in such a way that individuals from the same group share relatively homogeneous perceptions within the groups and differences between groups.

4.1. Data

The survey was conducted between November 2017 and March 2018, requiring researchers to spend weeks neighbouring dwellers in order to create favourable conditions for carrying out quite long, confidence-based interviews, to generate the final version of the questionnaire. This experience also sought to help local people feel that the only important issue was the genuine expression of their opinions on crucial questions; that answers were not good or bad, but freely delivered. The selected sample consists of 230 residents (natives), which was the sample size necessary for the error as sampling is less or equal than 5%. The structure of both sample and population has been compared through Chi-square test and the goodness of fit is accepted for alpha level less than 0.05.

4.2. Questionnaire and Constructs

In order to collect appropriate information to develop constructs that would allow the social representation of tourism, some questions were related (i) to the circumstances that surrounded the creation of the protected areas in Northern Senegal and their impact on the living conditions of surrounding rural communities; (ii) others were regarding the process of tourism development around the area, the role local communities play and how the benefits and harm from tourism have been distributed; (iii) some questions referred to the perception of those surveyed of the living conditions of families and communities they belonged to; (iv) some questions focused on the perceived impacts of tourism development in the area, in economic, sociocultural and environmental contexts; including emotions experienced in different moments of the tourism-local relationship; (v) some questions on personal beliefs, were then contrasted with visitor behaviour especially regarding religion; (vi) also questions relating to governmental policies on the PAs, tourism and the local people’s capacities to deal with them were formulated in order to complete the profile of the surveyed sample; (vii) finally, questions to gather information on the socioeconomic status of the community’s inhabitants were included. Table 2 below indicates the questions that have been used to develop the theoretical constructs on which later social representations of tourism would be built.
The next step consisted of obtaining the attitudinal profile of the surveyed sample with respect to the three developed factors, based on the answers that they delivered for the selected questions referred to in Table 2. By using a HOMALS analysis two dimensions were obtained that allowed for defining four different profiles for each construct. Figure 4, Figure 5 and Figure 6 show the attitudinal profiles referred to as Expropriation/Re-Appropriation, Exclusion/Inclusion and Estrangement/Familiarity, respectively, where each quadrant of the figure defines a specific profile, from Q1 to Q4 (see also results of HOMALS in Appendix A).
(Q1): This profile includes locals that perceive that access to natural resources has improved thanks to the PAs and their living conditions have got better; they do not have a clear opinion on the circumstances in which the PAs were declared or if local communities were informed or asked about creating the PAs; they agree that the purpose of the creation of the protected areas was to promote tourism.
(Q2): Individuals showing this profile perceive the PA declaration has not modified their access to natural resources nor affected their living conditions. They do not have a clear opinion as to whether the communities were or not informed and listened to regarding the PA creation but anyway they are sure that the government ignored the preferences of the local communities, and that the PAs had the intention of promoting tourism.
(Q3): This profile groups together those that perceive that access to resources has become worse or much worse; their living conditions have worsened since the declaration of PAs and promoting tourism was not the main reason behind this; local communities were not informed at all about the PA declaration.
(Q4): This profile groups those who perceive that the access of the communities to the PAs as well as the living conditions has improved notably; they were informed and are sure that the government declared the PAs by exercising their competence to promote tourism.
In summary, (Q1) feels they re-appropriated land and resources thanks to the national park and tourism; (Q2) think that although the government ignored them when creating the PA and promoting tourism, the situation is now better; (Q3) claims that since the creation of the PA everything for them has worsened; and (Q4) everything has improved and the government did what was needed.
(Q1): This profile characterises those who agree that the economic benefits of tourism compensate for any cultural damage that has occurred. The communities, together with the protected areas, have most benefited from tourism. In addition, they consider that the communities have been integrated into the planning and organisation of the tourist activities in the area.
(Q2): This profile describes people who strongly disagree that the benefits of tourism compensate for the damage it causes to their beliefs and customs. They believe that the main beneficiaries of tourism are foreign companies; communities have not been integrated into the planning and management of tourism in the protected areas. They refuse to be integrated into the tourism activity.
(Q3): People with this profile claim that the harm to beliefs and customs is not compensated by economic benefits from tourism; also that economic benefits go far away, mainly to the national government, and do not remain in the area nor benefit the poor. However, they feel participant in the organisation of the tourist activity in and around the PA.
(Q4): This profile includes those who consider that the economic benefits of tourism do compensate for the cultural damage that this activity may cause locally. They feel excluded from the organisation and economic benefits of the tourism activity in the region, while other national and local tourist operators are the chief beneficiaries of it. They see themselves as being in competition with other national operators.
In summary, (Q1) feel completely included in the tourism activity; (Q2) claim external control and benefit from tourism, that excludes them while they refuse it; (Q3) feel included but they are sensitive to the harm that tourism generates for their beliefs; (Q4) feel included and perceive that the economic benefits of tourism compensate for any damage.
(Q1): Those mirrored in this profile hold tourism responsible for the breche and its very strong negative impact on the Senegal River mouth ecosystem. In addition, these people consider that working in tourism is much worse than any of the alternative traditional activities. For this group, tourism is the source of all negative issues affecting the communities around.
(Q2): Those who perceive that tourism generates a range of sociocultural and economic damage by transgressing social values and norms through inappropriate clothing and influencing youth attitudes and behaviours, and preventing access to natural resources. However, they do not consider that working in tourism is per se worse than working in other activities.
(Q3): Individuals who perceive that tourism does not generate remarkable economic, cultural or environmental damage for local populations; at the same time, they consider that working in tourism is worse than any other activity; they feel distant from this activity because of its nature, not because of its consequences.
(Q4): includes those who perceive that tourism does absolutely not produce any sociocultural damage in the area and feel that working in tourism is better than any other activity. They value tourism and the socio-cultural consequences in the region positively.
In summary, Q1 blames tourism for everything bad and do not want to be “touristised”; for Q2 the problem is not the tourism activity per se but its cultural consequences; Q3, on the other hand, represents attitudes deploring tourism more than its sociocultural consequences; Q4 indicates attitudes that see tourism as an opportunity to achieve more open-minded communities.

4.3. Classification of Individuals According to Their Profiles

Taking into account the scores of the centres of gravity shown in Table 3 and from a social representational perspective, the K-Medias cluster analysis led us to define three clusters. Additionally, each cluster has been named according to the aspect that better summarises its attitudes towards tourism.
Cluster 1 (reluctants) anchors tourism to the social representation of colonialism and the struggle for independence, the foreign occupancy of the land and the imposition of an alien culture. They blame foreigners while at the same time they treat local authorities with complacence as they were forced to act against the interest of social majority. More than two thirds of this group show intolerance towards tourism while they hardly appreciate the solidarity actions performed by tourists and NGOs. They align themselves with the history of the resistance movement against colonisation, headed by religious leaders. They are politically and culturally conservative, and are reluctant to social innovation, insisting on the need for keeping the social structure of communities unmodified. They do not want tourism to be changed; they simply do not want tourism. A particularity of this group is the fact that it attributes the responsibility for the breche and its devastating effects to tourism, thus anchoring tourism to social objects that have negatively impacted communities, and objectivising it as the icon of evil. People belonging to this group live mostly in the communities of Tassinere, Pilote and Mboumbaye.
Cluster 2 (game-changers) groups the people pushing for social change in tourism performance, national park management and communities structure and governance. Even if they have had certain success in getting involved in tourism they are not satisfied with the status quo. They work towards a different sort of tourism development; one in which communities have more participation in organising products and experiences, and benefit directly from tourist expenditure. They are politically active about the role of the government and National Park authorities in promoting tourism development. They blame the authorities for putting their own interests before those of the society. They feel that the social and cultural atmosphere of the communities is quite suffocating; they blame local stubbornness for preventing opportunities for better jobs, especially for young people. Furthermore, they do not feel comfortable with religious dogmatism, refusing the division between those that have faith and those that do not or that show openness about the diversity of belief, all of them equal in rights. Tourism, preferably another type, community-based tourism, is seen as a wedge that can help to open up and oxygenate the closure that reigns within the rural communities and promote a pathway of innovation and social change that would bring opportunities. This group is mainly settled in the communities of Ndiebene Gandiol, Tassinere and Pilote and belongs to the Wolof ethnic group.
Included in Cluster 3 are those that are genuinely excluded from the tourism industry (escapists). They would like to participate more actively in tourism but they expect the government to make this possible. In this sense, they are passive, either with respect to forcing the tourism industry in the area to take them into account or with respect to emphatically demanding the government to adopt policies that enable communities to take more advantage of tourism being developed nearby. They are docile about government decisions; they do not feel entitled to pressure the government to make changes in tourism policy, and less so to request being involved in tourism policy-making. The government is simply to be obeyed. They are not enthusiastic about what tourism represents in terms of values, habits and behaviours, but they feel quite comfortable with it. In this group, the tolerant dominate the intolerant with respect to tourism so as a whole they do not perceive tourism as a cultural threat. This group also hosts the majority of those who responded that the greatest advantage of tourism was the support of tourists and foreign NGOs for locals to migrate abroad, which was the answer given by 43.5% of those surveyed. The majority of people in this group live in Mouit, Mboumbaye and Degouniaye.
Figure 7 shows the relative position of the clusters located according to the construct that differentiate each group; it also shows some aspects of the anchoring and objectification processes that have been carried out to build social representations of tourism present in the area.

5. Discussion

Results show the potentiality of the SRT to go deeper into the characterisation of the groups by attributing them properties and roles that are well grounded in research and by dynamically analysing the actual and potential interactions between groups with different social representations of tourism in rural societies living close to PAs. From that perspective, different groups try to influence each other in order to spread their own social representation and drive the society according to their respective agendas [82,83]. Moscovici [84,85] addressed the issue of the influential minorities in social change, providing some useful insights for our research. He named dissident and deviant minorities, the former refer to those who have broken with an institution, propose an alternative view and fight for it. The latter refer to those who draw away from the majority, yet continue to share its views and norms. The reciprocal influence of groups drives the evolution of them, and the society as a whole [86]. The group evolution moves between two extremes, that is, polarisation, on one side, and the majority being abducted by a particular minority, on the other.
Moscovici’s categorisation of social groups matches the aim of our research very well, as shown for the case of Northern Senegal, but it still requires some additional clarification regarding the reference system. When taking the tourism industry as the referential framework, the reluctants act as a dissident minority trying to rescue society from the negative impact of tourism, keeping it far away or, at least, restricting it to a type of so-called halal tourism. In this context, the game-changers show properties of a deviant minority, which is trying to introduce reforms in the tourism system and not question it as a whole, and they work actively for it. They are also criticised by the government, at different levels, and the tourism industry, who both have a high capacity for propaganda. Finally, the escapists represent abdication and passiveness. They are and feel excluded from tourism but they do not blame the government, the park authorities or the tourism industry for it. Neither do they fight actively to change the state of things reigning in the area. They look for scape valves to alleviate depriving living conditions, mainly migration. Reluctants and game-changers try to influence local society in different ways to change the reality. Escapists try to leave.
However, the picture of clusters representations and behaviour is not still complete. By adopting another referential framework, i.e., the sociocultural system ruling within the rural communities, clusters may be re-classified according to the Moscovici’s categories. Those who show reluctance towards tourism locally embody the socioeconomic status quo; they support the local political and religious power that works to maintain the social structure that sinks its roots in tradition as untouched as possible. The game-changers locally adopt the role of dissidents that struggle against the unmovable status quo that asphyxiates any innovative economic and cultural initiative, while pushing society towards more open social mobility structures. The group of escapists is split between those who passively accept the social order that denies them any opportunity to improve their life and those dreaming of migrating abroad.
These results aim at filling the gap in understanding the attitudes of the rural communities towards tourism in protected areas, beyond just a mere description. Several papers focus on describing the factors that preclude communities to participate in tourism [87,88,89,90,91,92]. Some of them proclaim the relevance of considering heterogeneity within the communities in different contexts to then carry out cluster-based analysis to identify groups having differentiated perceptions and attitudes toward tourism [92,93,94,95,96,97]. They show a valuable general picture but one lacking in dynamism and strategic perspective to assist the design of feasible pathways to reorient tourism development in protected areas to more locally controlled developments. Our interest in searching a group potentially performing as game-changers aligns this way. The characteristic of aspiring to community engagement with tourism but, at the same time, to changing the game rules currently in operation in the sector, is what would enable this group to lead the parallel processes of internal consensus building and external negotiation with planners and developers, required to shift tourism toward a more desirable way. It merges partially with the concerns of Perez and Nadal [98], who identify a group of alternative developers embodying the aspiration of part of the Balearic society for a more sustainable tourism.
Additionally, our findings underpin that achieve the shift in local attitudes toward tourism it is first essential to change social representations that are deeply rooted in the process of land expropriation when declaring protected areas, the experience of local exclusion from the design and benefit of tourism activities and the performance of tourism as an alien activity. This would be the mission of the game-changers, feasible only if they become properly empowered. Once this is achieved, other requirements highlighted in literature, such as educational tools, knowledge on the essentials of the tourism industry, funding and so on, can help in reducing the reservations the sceptical residents have towards tourism [90,91].
Results also suggest paying more attention to the non-sociodemographic factors to find the connections that define an individual’s sense of belonging to particular clusters. We share the opinion of Del Chiappa et al. [92] and Jani [96] that research should concentrate more on the personal values of the respondents. This does not make reference to religious beliefs, in line with what was concluded by Zamani-Farahani and Musa [99] for study cases in Iran where Islamic belief and practice resulted in not being related to the perception of the negative sociocultural impacts of tourism. This lack of relation was also what we found in our study case for Northern Senegal. Again, it fits with the SRT assertion that the personal screening of life experiences and social interactions may differently shape social representations of individuals that show similar socioeconomic conditions. It should preclude simplifications and call for a more thorough understanding of community attitudes towards tourism through theoretical approaches and methods that are able to apprehend the process behind the formation of such social representations.

6. Concluding Remarks

As in the case of northern Senegal, many poor communities surrounding protected areas are disappointed with tourism but several groups within the communities show differing reasons for feeling like that. The group characterisation guided by SRT done above is useful to understand the causes of failure to engage communities in tourism developments but also to obtain valuable insights to successfully undertake genuine community-based tourism developments surrounding PAs. It allows for a thorough understanding of the reactive conservative attitudes of some that reject everything that tourism represents and avidly support the traditional religious-based local power that is being challenged by tourism-associated values, beliefs and attitudes; also the attitudes of those that, although they have achieved greater participation than others in the tourism organisation and benefits, still feel authorities impose barriers on locals to taking full advantage of tourism development, as they regulate the activity to favour foreign and big national investors, and the attitudes of community members genuinely excluded from the tourism industry, that do not perceive any opportunities and do not see future perspectives for upgrading their living conditions other than migrating abroad, as well.
Despite this, tourism possibly is the only activity that can offer livelihood opportunities for locals, by either creatively providing worthy experiences linked to the shattered local nature and society or activating synergies with traditional socioeconomic and cultural activities carried out in that area. However, the promising paradigm of community tourism, spreading worldwide, is in many cases not more than a rhetorical discourse [100,101,102]. From our research in northern Senegal we can draw some insight that may be used as guidelines for an honest intention of making tourism around protected areas a driving force to providing human sustainable development. There is no such thing as homogeneous rural communities having unified perceptions and ambitions about tourism; this just forms parts of the social representation of the external planners, as pointed out by Moscardo [37]. Not recognising complexity inside communities precludes identifying sources of dissent and conflict that wreck the community-based tourism projects once external funding ends.
Community empowerment, required to make tourism a driver for local sustainable development, needs previously to build up a basic consensus between different groups based on a shared representation of what tourism might be and how to reach that way. The leadership of the above-called game-changers to bring others to a consensus is also the pre-condition for increasing communities negotiating power with external tourist agents to arrive to a more locally controlled and equitable tourism.
Building up a consensus means overcoming polarisation that often exists inside the communities. Policies and projects to promote community-based tourism should first identify the game-changers’ profile to then enable them to build an internal consensus and to negotiate with the managers of the PAs, regional planners and tourist agents in order to transfer to the rural communities in the protected area skills that enable them to design and monitor tourism and benefit directly from it. Consensus building calls for game-changers to be able to seduce reluctants in order to softening their anti-tourism attitudes and adopt a more open-minded vision of the potential of tourism as a driving force for communities’ welfare, cohesion and stability and to convince escapists on the advantages of being more active in trying to improve local life conditions underpinned on a renovated inclusive tourism instead of the uncertainty of migrating.
The agenda for bargaining a more inclusive tourism with tourist operators should include the opening of tourism to new and locally based operators and the shifting of the design of products and experiences towards less-alien and more local-culture rooted ones, accepting a more equitable sharing of tourism benefits, and with the regional and national governments and PA authorities, it should include means for local education in tourism management, investment in key infrastructures and facilities and more flexible access to natural resources within the protected areas [103,104]. However, putting this agenda forward emphatically demands a deep reformulation of community-based tourism planning locating perceptions and ambitions of the rural communities near the PAs in the very centre of the mission. For this purpose, the SRT approach may be very helpful.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, M.M.G.-H.; methodology, M.M.G.-H. and J.B.-C.; software, J.B.-C.; validation, J.d.L.; formal analysis, J.B.-C.; investigation, B.S.; resources, B.S.; data curation, J.B.-C and B.S.; writing—original draft preparation, M.M.G.-H; writing—review and editing, M.M.G.-H; visualization, J.B.-C; supervision, J.B.-C. and J.d.L.; project administration, J.d.L.; funding acquisition, J.d.L. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Appendix A

Table A1. Inertia and variance explained by the dimensions of the HOMALS analysis.
Table A1. Inertia and variance explained by the dimensions of the HOMALS analysis.
Expropriation/Re-Appropriation. Discriminant Measures.
Opinions on the creation of protected areas (Q4)0.330.220.27
Protected areas were created to promote the development of tourism (Q6-2)0.460.410.44
Since the declared protected areas, access to natural resources has gone (Q7)0.570.3780.47
When the protected areas were created, the communities were informed or their opinion was asked (Q3)0.490.420.46
The creation of protected areas made more difficult local communities living conditions (Q5-1)0.490.510.45
Percentage of variance54.6745.3250.00
Exclusion/Inclusion. Discriminant Measures.
Economic benefits outweigh harms tourism inflict to our belief and culture (Q29-1)0.630.260.44
Presently local communities are involved in protected areas’ tourist activities organization (Q11)0.590.620.60
The first beneficiary from protected areas’ tourist activities incomes (Q12-1)0.540.490.51
Percentage of variance58.3545.2751.81
Estrangement/Familiarity. Discriminant Measures.
What are the first harms tourism do to local communities living near protected areas (Q16-1)0.650.590.62
Harms tourism is liable to cause to local communities, these first ones exist on the protected areas (Q17-1)0.500.300.40
Compare working in tourism and working in fishing or agriculture (Q23)0.440.550.49
Percentage of variance52.9947.7450.36


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Figure 1. Rural communities, the protected area and the breche. Source: Authors’ own work.
Figure 1. Rural communities, the protected area and the breche. Source: Authors’ own work.
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Figure 2. The formation of a social representation. Source: From Wagner et al. [78].
Figure 2. The formation of a social representation. Source: From Wagner et al. [78].
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Figure 3. The social representation of tourism in LBNP. Source: Authors’ own work.
Figure 3. The social representation of tourism in LBNP. Source: Authors’ own work.
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Figure 4. Components of the construct Expropriation/Re-Appropriation. See details below.
Figure 4. Components of the construct Expropriation/Re-Appropriation. See details below.
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Figure 5. Components of the construct Exclusion/Inclusion.
Figure 5. Components of the construct Exclusion/Inclusion.
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Figure 6. Components of the construct Estrangement/Familiarity.
Figure 6. Components of the construct Estrangement/Familiarity.
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Figure 7. Clusters and social representations of tourism in rural communities, Senegal river mouth.
Figure 7. Clusters and social representations of tourism in rural communities, Senegal river mouth.
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Table 1. Number of inhabitants in the communities surrounding La Langue de Barbarie.
Table 1. Number of inhabitants in the communities surrounding La Langue de Barbarie.
VillageNo of Inhabitants%
Ndiebene Gandiol482634.2%
Dare Salam4002.8%
Source: Authors’ own work with information from the municipality of Rao, Saint Louis Region, Senegal.
Table 2. Variables, modalities and frequencies used to build the constructs.
Table 2. Variables, modalities and frequencies used to build the constructs.
1. When the protected areas were created, the communities were informed or their opinion was asked for and taken into accountDisagree or strongly disagreeNeither agree nor disagreeAgree or strongly agree
2. Opinions on the creation of protected areasThe government only exercised the competencies it has right to.The government ignored the voice of the communitiesThe government should not have declared the protected areas
3. Protected areas were mainly created to promote the tourism industryDisagree or strongly disagreeNeither agree nor disagreeAgree or strongly agree
4. Since protected areas were declared, communities’ access to natural resources……has got worse or much worse…has remained equalBetter or much better
5. The creation of the protected areas worsened communities living conditionsAgree and absolutely agreeNeither agree nor disagreeDisagree or strongly disagree
1. Communities participate actively in the organisation of tourism in the protected areasDisagree or strongly disagreeNeither agree nor disagreeAgree or strongly agree
2. Who are the main beneficiaries of tourism in the protected areas?Foreign companies and national governmentProtected areas and local businessesThe rural communities
3. The economic benefits of tourism compensate for the damage to beliefs and customsDisagree or strongly disagreeNeither agree nor disagreeAgree or strongly agree
Estrangement (Otherness)/Familiarity
1. Main socioeconomic, cultural and environmental damages caused by tourism to rural communitiesSocioeconomic and cultural damagesEnvironmental damage (the Breche)No damage has been caused
2. Danger to local culture and believesDress, bad influence, drugs, prostitutionThreaten our traditions and lifestyleNo remarkable damage
3. Preference to work in tourism with respect to other activitiesWork in tourism is worse or much worseNeither better nor worseBetter or much better
Table 3. Central scores of groups regarding the three constructs.
Table 3. Central scores of groups regarding the three constructs.
ConstructsCluster 1
Cluster 2
Cluster 3
Individuals in each group99 (43.1%)67 (29.1%)64 (27.8%)

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Sarr, B.; González-Hernández, M.M.; Boza-Chirino, J.; de León, J. Understanding Communities’ Disaffection to Participate in Tourism in Protected Areas: A Social Representational Approach. Sustainability 2020, 12, 3677.

AMA Style

Sarr B, González-Hernández MM, Boza-Chirino J, de León J. Understanding Communities’ Disaffection to Participate in Tourism in Protected Areas: A Social Representational Approach. Sustainability. 2020; 12(9):3677.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Sarr, Birame, Matías Manuel González-Hernández, Jose Boza-Chirino, and Javier de León. 2020. "Understanding Communities’ Disaffection to Participate in Tourism in Protected Areas: A Social Representational Approach" Sustainability 12, no. 9: 3677.

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