Better lives for all? : prospects for empowerment through marine wildlife tourism in Gansbaai, South Africa : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Development Studies at Massey University, Manawatū, Aotearoa New Zealand

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Little is known about the consequences of burgeoning commercial marine wildlife tourism (MWT) for communities in the Global South. Gansbaai, the location for this research, has a concentration of twelve MWT operators; it also faces the triple challenge of unemployment, poverty, and inequality. Given their privileged access to marine common resources, empowerment and tourism policies position MWT permit holders as key agents of development. This research examines how MWT contributes to development for less advantaged residents of Gansbaai. Here, development means better lives and sustained empowerment for residents and rebalanced power relationships between social actors. A novel Tourism-Empowerment Framework guided observation and analysis of empowerment interfaces, expressions of power, and empowerment processes and outcomes in MWT. A mixed methods approach drew on administrative data, participant observation, and interviews with civil society, private sector, and government actors. Crucially, the results revealed government actions, persistent societal power imbalances, and structural constraints circumscribed prospects for empowerment through MWT operators. Therefore, the ability of private firms to advance empowerment was restricted. Nevertheless, the results show how business processes advanced empowerment in several dimensions for most residents linked to operators. Substantial investment in human and local economic development by some MWT operators meant benefits extended beyond business owners and employees. Empowerment manifested as strengthened ability and agency to attain personal goals through decent work, increased household resources, enhanced skills and self-confidence, expanded social capital, strengthened collective power, and greater influence over decisions that affect their lives. Further, most less advantaged residents of Gansbaai were marginalised from the multidimensional benefits of MWT, and some people experienced disempowerment. Many interventions were operator-defined, charity-based, prioritised business benefits, and maintained power imbalances. Altogether, the findings suggest unequal empowerment, uneven impact on the six dimensions of empowerment, simultaneous empowerment and disempowerment, and a muted effect on structural transformation. In the final analysis, while MWT appears to have progressed multi-dimensional empowerment for some residents, claiming that MWT has led to rebalanced power relations and better lives for all less advantaged residents of Gansbaai would be disingenuous.
Listed in 2022 Dean's List of Exceptional Theses
Marine ecotourism, Economic aspects, Social aspects, South Africa, Gansbaai, empowerment, marine wildlife tourism, power relations, actor-oriented approach, mixed methods, South Africa, Dean's List of Exceptional Theses