Local Residents' Perceptions of Tourism Development Impacts: The Case of Aqaba, Jordan
ABSTRACT This study revolves around a rigorous investigation of the delicate balance between tourism development itself, and the considerable impacts that it has on the local society where, and when, it flourishes. Taking the city region of Aqaba (Jordan) as an example, the study aims to explore the residents’ perception(s) towards tourism development and how the community perceives the development impacts. The main purpose of this study is to address the matters related to the local residents’ perceptions towards tourism development and its impacts on the Aqaba city region. Therefore, a study on Aqaba city was conducted to explore the following objectives: to identify, investigate, and evaluate the local residents’ perception of tourism and how it affects the socio-cultural, economic and environmental fields. It also investigates how these primary elements affect their personal and societal satisfaction, and examines the levels of awareness that local residents have of the tourism sector and tourists, as shown through their perceptions toward the most important touristic sites in their local area. The study also discusses the degree of involvement that the local residents have in the tourism sector, by asking local investors and employees in tourism for their perceptions and opinions about the opportunities offered by tourism generally. Furthermore, the study has explored how residents perceive the jobs now available to them, and how they perceive women who decide to be involved and work in the sector. The final section deals with the considerations of the local community in the formation of tourism sector policies, by exploring the extent to which the government stimulates local entrepreneurship. The study design and findings were primarily based on methods of interpretive and qualitative social studies. In a total of more than 55 qualitative interviews with heads of households, employees in the tourism sector, local investors, representatives of the local and national administration, as well as some additional expert interviews, the main patterns of the development of tourism in Aqaba and its perception have been identified. The results of the study show the need to qualify, educate and empower the local community, in order to participate effectively in the process of tourism development. ix The residents’ participants were divided into three groups: local residents (which include heads of households), employees and investors in the tourism sector, the national and local representatives’ authorities in the tourism sector, local and national experts, and international organisations which are operating in Aqaba. The research utilized qualitative methods for social research, using the techniques of the problem- centred interview according to Witzel (1982), which deals with a brief questionnaire, dialogue guidelines, audio recordings and a postscript. The fieldwork was carried out from January the 1st to the end of August 2017 in the Aqaba city sites. The spring and the summer are the best seasons to observe tourism activity and, accordingly, the community reactions towards tourism. In contrast, in June the number of tourists slowly declined until the end of August, at which point Jordanians working abroad return and Arab visitors begin to arrive due to the summer holidays. Most interviews took place at the subjects’ workplaces and the duration varied from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. The interviews were located in the homes of personal friends and their relatives, making the process more comfortable and easier for everyone involved in an interview. The experts from Amman and other cities in Jordan were contacted directly by the author of this dissertation. The process of interpreting qualitative data began from physically categorizing slips of paper to using a computer software program, such as the programme MAXQDA 10. After the completion of the interviews, the tape recordings and researcher notes were transcribed. Then the transcripts were categorized according to the responses of the participants to the interview, in order to help to determine the issues relating to the study problem. The study discovered the following main outcomes: Firstly, the residents' perception towards tourism development has an impact on their relationship to the cultural and historical sites, however ill-defined. It has also been discovered that local residents have very poor awareness of cultural and historical sites in general, and the sites in their vicinity in particular. With concern to the residents’ attitudes towards tourism and tourists, the overall opinions and perceptions expressed by most of those interviewed show positive feelings about the presence of tourists in their city. That perception of tourists among most of x the residents is enhanced by the levels of economic potential gained from tourism, along with a persistent supposition held by many local residents that ‘tourists are all wealthy people’. The second issue deals with the economic impacts that tourism development has on the local residents near the tourist attractions in Aqaba, where many residents have become dependent on the tourism sector, and others have yet to see any significant economic benefit. The reason for this is that Aqaba is now considered the second most important tourist attraction in Jordan after Petra, thus many hotels have been developed, and the impacts of this development on the locals and their culture are still somewhat restricted. Some participants expressed the view that tourism does not contradict their religion in any way, while some of them fear the potential of negative impacts on the younger generations. In the context of the environmental impacts, the research shows that most of the residents at tourist sites have become increasingly aware of the cleanliness of the city sites due to tourism development, while also holding that the development of tourism to some extent is a type of modernity and does little harm to the environment. Furthermore, some local residents’ perception toward the environmental impact of tourism and the satisfaction with the change in the residents' lives was recorded positively. However, careful consideration of the environmental impacts of tourism development is needed in order to sustain a balance between tourism development and the local residents’ satisfaction. The perceptions of the local residents are important and can directly affect the development of the tourism industry. In order to ensure the success of tourism planning, the involvement of the local residents in these areas is of utmost importance. Moreover, the main reason for the government’s commitment to tourism development is due to the potential of creating new jobs. Regarding this, it was noteworthy to discover that on the local level of a resident of Aqaba city the tourism sector is still not yet looked upon as reasonable and suitable employment by resident job seekers. The main reasons behind these perceptions are the inadequate role of the present education and training centres, the low rate of wages paid to employees who do enter into tourism services and activities, the lack of health insurance and job security, and, to some extent, the traditions, beliefs and social values of the community. xi In addition, there are some fears which most of the interviewed residents have in recommending women for positions in the tourism sector. Reasons that lead to this attitude are the lack of awareness of the sector in general, the perceptions that the services or activities in the tourism sector may contradict the local customs or values, and the substantial fear that interaction with ‘tourism’ will affect gender relations in their community. Furthermore, regarding the question if government regulations facilitate the inclusion of small and medium local investors, and therefore encourage further tourism investments and projects, many local investors stated that the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquity (MoTA) and the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) are not doing enough to enhance their investments in tourism. They regularly added that tourism is managed primarily by favouritism and a lot of bureaucratic formalities. A final note related to this study is that the interviewed residents feel largely excluded from the participation and planning process of tourism development, and that they state that the benefits for locals from tourism investments is subsequently very limited. Regarding tourism planning and development at the tourist sites in Aqaba, the research shows a need for more public awareness of the importance of tourism, and its benefits and positive influences, in order to better manage and plan for the future. Thus, there is an obvious need for effective education and training centres for all groups of residents to improve the human resource development, and continue to support the small and medium enterprises and their products. Finally, there is a need for improving the knowledge, vision and interests of all residents in the planning and managing of projects purposed to develop the inclusion of local residents. Based on its findings, this study argues that local residents’ perceptions are a vitally important factor in understanding their desires and needs regarding tourism development and its impacts in Aqaba. Moreover, based on the findings collected by this qualitative method, this research concludes that the local residents do indeed wish to have a real role in the tourism development, decision-making and management process. In fact, they want to see decisions about tourism development in their area made jointly by the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) and the local community. They wish to be involved in the benefits of hosting tourism and tourists. The community also wants to see a tourism impact which contributes positively towards poverty alleviation, the prices of goods and services, xii employment, entrepreneurial training, income-generating projects and generally household incomes. Aqaba residents look upon tourism development with the hope of it prospering in the future and to the improvement of everyone involved. Finally, Aqaba is a cultural and historical tourist destination and, although cultural tourism is almost entirely dependent on the Small and Medium Entrepreneurs (SMEs), the tourism sector in Aqaba and Jordan, in general, are focusing on the international markets, which are represented by foreign investments in Amman, Aqaba and the Dead Sea. Thus, the study suggests considering this move of tourism policy towards local investments and assessing the impact of this process to the overall benefit of the tourism product.