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As part of a special course on sustainable development offered at the University of Ottawa, Vivianne LeBlanc spent a few weeks in Kenya in May of 2008 and was fascinated by the relationship between conservation, ecotourism and the “preservation” of indigenous culture and way of life[2]. Essentially, Vivianne LeBlanc’s experience was textbook: as part of a group, special safari tours were conformed to Western ideals of tourism; bartering for “traditional” souvenirs became second nature and the local indigenous population visited in the Maasai Mara seemed more concerned about the commercial aspects of tourism, such as currency exchange rates, than the experiential. From the development perspective, it is difficult to assess whether this model is sustainable environmentally, economically, socially, and culturally, among other considerations. It is not argued here that the indigenous Maasai did not respect their land to prevent a Western model of tourism from invading their cultural landscape; rather it is posited that there were possible negative impacts from Western civilization on the Indigenous peoples several decades and centuries ago that continue to inform conservation and tourism models today. In other words, Western cultural management is often the only model suggested and imposed for cultural landscape management. When Indigenous peoples from non-Western backgrounds adopt these models, they cannot fully enjoy the synergy that could exist between several key managing stakeholders.

While Vivianne’s experience was one of the colonial model imposed on indigenous land management, Julie M.-A. LeBlanc was able to view a contrasting model in Australia’s “Red Centre”[3]. During a conference trip in 2006, Julie had the chance to visit Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The love and respect for one’s land and how it is exploited, especially in tourism, is felt in the way the site is managed. The Northern Territory’s “Red Centre” is absolutely spectacular. It is sacred land for the Aboriginal peoples and the impact the cultural and physical landscape has on visitors is quite extraordinary. As visitors travel in the “Red Centre” and witness the protruding prehistoric rocks in the desert landscape, the amazement is collectively shared as they exude in wonderment at the exotic nature unfolding in front of them. When the non-Aboriginee[4] tour guide explained that these geological jewels are sacred places for the Aboriginal peoples, visitors cannot but help feel both honoured to be a part of this journey, but also guilty that their own presence at this site, especially for non-Aboriginee, is slightly unnatural. The tourist may try to appease her conscious by rationalizing that the entrance fee contributes to the Aboriginee tribe managing the site but the guilty conscience of the vulnerable ecotourist dictates another message: no amount of “donation” or “payment” could ever replace how this cultural landscape has been modified in part to fit Western ideals of tourism.

Over the decades, sustainable development and tourism have been extensively studied by renowned organizations that focus on conservation and culture, having developed international charters from which to follow (ICOMOS 1964, 1993, 1999, 2007; World Tourism Organization 2005, 2011). More recently, during the 2008 ICOMOS General Assembly in Quebec City, numerous experts in the field of cultural tourism, conservation, park management, indigenous knowledge, and significance of land and heritage shared on the “spirit of place”. Presenters such as Lisa Reynolds Wolfe (2008), Damien Bell and Chris Johnston (2008), Juliet Ramsay (2008), Graham Brooks (2008), Iryna Shalaginova (2008), Kunie Sugio (2008), Paolo Del Bianco (2008), as well as Peter Davis, Han-yin Huang, and Wan-chen Liu (2008) studied how to interact with spaces in a tourism context, how Indigenous peoples viewed their landscapes and how to apply world heritage principles and policies. What becomes more pertinent over the years, however, is the way in which tourists make decisions as these decisions impact the places they visit. These impacts are based on leisure, advertisement and perception, and may be simply affected by the elaboration of national holidays and free time a person may have in a busy work-life schedule, or more intricately affected by economic crises and the competitive regional publicity generated in the sector. The social responsibilities and positive vs negative impacts can be measured in part by the tourist’s carbon footprint or by the ever growing trend of ecotourism[5] (environmental and conservation oriented tourism) (Walsh, Jamrozy and Burr 2001: 195-214; Wearing and Neil 2001: 238; ICOMOS 1999). For example, the World Tourism Organization notes that global climate change and poverty present significant impacts on tourism (and vice versa) and efforts need to be made internationally to respond to these realities (World Tourism Organization 2011). Through an economic and development perspective, tourism has grown into substantial capital ventures for most countries all while having the challenging task of operating under specific policies that shape visiting experiences. These experiences are critical in assessing how, by and for whom land is developed and managed. If, by definition, tourism combines travel, time spent away from home and the activities organized within a recreational context (Hall and Page 1999: 59), all of the impacts noted above are of particular interest in assessing touristic culture and the implications of culture as it is represented geographically. As stated in the ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Charter:

Tourism itself has become an increasingly complex phenomenon, with political, economic, social, cultural, educational, bio-physical, ecological, and aesthetic dimensions. The achievement of a beneficial inter-action between the potentially conflicting expectations and aspirations of visitors and host or local communities, presents many challenges and opportunities.


This article explores three continents as case studies: Eastern Africa’s Maasai Mara in Kenya, Australia’s Uluru-Kata Tjuta, site and the Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve in Canada. The Eastern African and Australian examples are based on participant-observation fieldwork by the authors while the Torngat Mountains serves as an example of the new creation of a National Park Reserve in Canada and of the way to potentially forecast tourism realities based on what was learned in the African and Australian cases. Critical analysis is particularly important in this article as we examine the development approach and land management policies from the tourist’s experiential perspective.

The fieldwork conducted for this article includes a variety of interviews in person and on-line as well as part participant observation on site. Interactive discussions with tourists during tours as well as documented photographs and videos of the tours helped the authors assess pertinent information regarding guide interpretation and discourse as well as visitor reactions. In both the African and Australian contexts, the authors respectively visited the sites discussed. Due to the recent inception of the Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve and its remote access, neither authors were able to conduct on-site fieldwork. Information was gathered, however, through an experienced board member as well as government publications. The remoteness of the location is discussed as a factor for the tourism industry and tourist experience in this article.

The purpose of this article is to illustrate the various levels and politics of planning involved in the recognition, nationalization, and touristification of heritage sites as well as the creation of identities based on local and rural confines. More specifically, with the focus on tourist experience, we attempt to uncover the nature of theory and practice in indigenous, private and public land management for tourism exploitation.

East Africa

Kenya and the Maasai Mara

East Africa has struggled with conservation policies and realities since the 1930s, when the first national parks were created. The inception of these parks was “accompanied by rhetoric that the Maasai [and other tribes] were ecologically destructive and a threat to wildlife survival” (Igoe 2004: 46). The thought processes informing the creation of national parks are rooted in social constructs “based on the premise that the only way to save nature (and especially endangered species) is to forcefully exclude people from areas that are designated as wilderness” (Igoe 2004: 69-70). The Europeans who imposed this system believed that “Africans did not appreciate the beauty of nature [and] they therefore had no right to be in nature. Nature was therefore set aside for the enjoyment of Europeans” (Igoe 2004: 71). Current theories informing conservation are less overtly racist and discriminatory, instead arguing “that parks must be protected inviolate in order to save rhinos and elephants from rampant poaching and, increasingly, to protect biodiversity” (Igoe 2004: 71). Conservation in Kenya, including the Maasai Mara, is encouraged and enforced not only through the Government of Kenya, but also through Kenyan and East African non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as Western governments and NGOs. The theories that promote conservation in Kenya are premised on the belief that East Africa is a place of “forgotten wilderness” and “Eden” (Igoe 2004: 76), needing to be conserved; nonetheless, the historical context of these beliefs and the policies they inspire show how the Eurocentric conservation model, still in place in Kenya today, actually furthers environmental degradation, poverty and conflict (Igoe 2004). The roots of conservation are not malicious – conservation is important in many ways to protect the Earth’s precious biodiversity and sensitive ecosystems. Yet, conservation in Kenya, in practice, is destructive to the environment and individuals, prompting the question of conservation for whom.

Conservation, Development, Policies and Management

Development and conservation are inextricably linked, relying on each other in attempts to protect the environment, to improve the social, economic and political livelihoods of the poor, and to increase the nation’s ability to compete in the global market economy. The balance has yet to be struck between these two critical concepts because the issues of sustainability and intent cause the models to buckle under an extreme pressure, created by the very individuals, politicians, industries and foreigners who depend on their success. Nevertheless, state and non-governmental officials provide great optimism for conservation and development overall, shown through their explanation of various initiatives that each organization develops and implements. Community-based management of conservation, promotion of Kenyan tourists, capacity building programs for communities and information dissemination regarding safe tourism practices in conservation areas are just some of the ideas these organizations are developing in the joint effort to preserve wildlife. In addition, this responsible approach contributes to Kenya’s social, economic and political development. Despite all of these programs and ideas, there are still major problems for conservation, tourism and development in the Maasai Mara, as well as other conservation areas in Kenya. Many of these problems have their roots in colonialism, although a number of current issues arise from political, social and economic uncertainty, especially for those who have been disadvantaged by the fortress conservation model prevailing throughout Kenya. The current Western-inspired fortress conservation model used in the Maasai Mara for wildlife preservation and tourism stimulates resource conflicts and competition over increasingly scarce resources; this contributes to rising poverty rates, increasing levels of ecological deterioration and intrastate conflicts between various stakeholders.

The beginnings of the fortress conservation model are crucial to revisit, because their roots are buried in Western colonial perceptions involving “the idea of East Africa as an unspoiled ‘Eden,’ teeming with wildlife” (Igoe 2004: 46). In the Maasai Mara, the British never fully understood the Maasai’s “extensive nomadic pastoral system regulated by the availability of water, pastures, and sometimes the existence or absence of diseases” (Sindiga 1984: 26). Instead, the British favoured other tribes such as the Kikuyu who were agriculturalists (Knowles and Collett 1989: 435). This has added a new dynamic to intrastate conflict and competition over resources in the Maasai Mara, as staff and safari tour guides are Kikuyu (Getao 2008). Western opinions and theories continue to penetrate Kenyan perceptions, lending themselves to the current exclusionary and discriminatory conservation policies.

The British took the best lands, excluding the Maasai and other communities from their abundant ancestral lands which they had carefully managed and preserved for many years. Tourism and conservation in Kenya are rooted in Western concepts of nature and land management, not taking into account the synergy that could exist between indigenous use of resources and the appreciation of nature and culture from a touristic, outsider perspective. Historically, the most prevalent form of land allocation is privately owned land, although this certainly does not ensure equitable land distribution. Land policies imposed during colonial times continue to fuel intrastate conflicts between and within communities for access to scarce resources. Consequently, pastoralist groups like the Maasai are no longer able to practice their traditional, sustainable livelihoods of livestock herding, and are being pushed further into the depths of poverty. Land is an extremely emotive issue for Kenyans – it represents value and identity (Getao 2008). The Maasai have become a commercial icon, but they continue to struggle with their identity as they are challenged with policies that significantly change their livelihoods and culture.

In addition to historical legacies, tourism also contributes to development problems in Kenya and the Maasai Mara, since it further encourages the government to enforce the fortress conservation model, which increases environmental degradation (Igoe 2004) and marginalizes Kenyans. Tourism is seen by the government as a way to build Kenya’s economy, which is clearly stated in Kenya’s “Vision 2030”, the country’s national strategy and development blueprint. The “Vision 2030” strategy paper wishes Kenya “to be among the 10 long haul tourist destinations in the world” (National Economic and Social Council 2007: 4), specifically by promoting safari parks and by “creating new high value niche products (e.g. cultural, eco-, and water-based tourism)”. Attention is paid to conservation, although the largest focus is on economic measures to boost the nation’s GDP. Arguably, to sustain and promote high levels of tourism, it is imperative that development strategies focus on sustainable conservation. Kenya has breathtaking geography and wildlife; major assets that can, if managed correctly, provide for local populations and support visitors who marvel at the beauty.

Tourism and its Impacts

If tourism is to be successful in the context of conservation, it must be practiced sustainably with a set of enforced rules; this ensures that tourists do not disturb the wildlife, guaranteeing tourism to remain a stable and reliable income generating industry. However, the only set of guidelines educating tourists about sustainable ecotourism practices is the “Kenya Safari Code”, courtesy of Ecotourism Kenya. Ecotourism Kenya, while not engaged in direct wildlife conservation, is still an important civil society organization (CSO) in the field, promoting sustainable tourism in Kenya. It also has a booklet entitled the Kenya Green Directory 2008, which lists ecologically friendly lodges and parks for environmentally conscious ecotourists. Albeit access to these documents is limited; only upon a visit to Ecotourism Kenya offices in Nairobi could one obtain these pamphlets – the documents and their contents were not made readily available at either the lodge in the Maasai Mara where Vivianne stayed, nor by the safari tour guides. What is even more troubling is that none of these initiatives are enforced. Mr. Owino, chairman of East African Wildlife Society, notes on a trip to the Maasai Mara that “despite all this excitement in tourism circles, the continued survival of the Mara’s amazing wildlife (which of course underpins the tourism business) appears increasingly uncertain” (East African Wildlife Society 2007: 5). Mr. Owino adds that “conservation experts and observers have for sometime been warning that the Mara Ecosystem is degenerating at an alarming rate, pointing out that the ecosystem is seriously threatened by an increasing number of tourist facilities” (East African Wildlife Society 2007: 5). This fact comes into direct conflict with President Kibaki’s goal of increasing tourism in Kenya under “Vision 2030”. Conservation will not only be destructive for communities who have been displaced by the fortress conservation model, but also for wildlife itself, since unregulated and unsustainable tourism will place fragile wildlife and biodiversity in increasing jeopardy. Some animals and habitat are very sensitive to humans and, if threatened or scared, can starve or otherwise disrupt their natural routines. This is an increasingly devastating problem for the cheetah, whose numbers are dropping rapidly as tourism rises (Getao 2008).

Figure 1

Lion surrounded by tourists during a safari in Maasai Mara (V. LeBlanc, 2008)

Lion surrounded by tourists during a safari in Maasai Mara (V. LeBlanc, 2008)

-> See the list of figures

While tourism in Kenya is not solely a Western activity, a vast majority of tourists in conservation areas are Western and increasingly, East Asian. It is becoming clear that conservation is practiced to generate income, and not for the primary purpose of protecting the environment. Tourism in game parks consists of expensive entry fees, lodge fees and safari packages. However, a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) official replied that conservation is not solely for foreign tourists, and that the organization is constantly trying to find innovative ways to increase the number of Kenyans visiting the parks. For instance, from March 21 to April 30, 2008 during the Easter holidays, KWS granted all children below 18 years “free entry into Kenya’s national parks and reserves”[6]. This offer was made “to thank Kenyans for leaving wildlife safe through the post-election crisis”. On the surface, this seemed like an excellent way to boost the number of Kenyan tourists and to renew a sense of ownership and pride for the population. On the other hand, this offer was not a truly legitimate attempt to reconnect Kenyans to their ancestral lands and heritage. It is important to note that this deal was offered to children only, because officials assume that children will visit the park with their parents and families, who are expected to pay park fees[7]. The offer is slightly suspect – a scheme intended to generate small amounts of income after the post-election violence that had caused a severe slump in foreign tourist traffic, crippling Kenya’s tourist industry. It is a stretch to argue that this offer is a sincere effort to reestablish connections between Kenyans and the environment, appearing mostly as a desperate attempt to boost revenue during harsh times. Yet, it would be unfair to assume that KWS cares only about tourism and projected revenue. There is a substantial difference between prices for Kenyans and non-residents, and this is done to promote tourism within the Kenyan population to demonstrate that conservation is not done solely for the sake of foreign tourists, but also for the present and future enjoyment of Kenyans.

The mission of Ecotourism Kenya is important, striving “to effectively link communities, tourism and conservation for sustainable tourism development”[8]. Efforts are made to mobilize communities, including the provision of training and advisory services on how to effectively promote tourism, to ensure that tourism is “community based, owned and/or managed”[9]. Ecotourism Kenya provides training and capacity building which encourages communities to engage in small-scale tourism, and allows villages to receive equitable benefits from tourism and conservation[10]. When meeting with communities, an Ecotourism Kenya official explains that the CSO provides training, information, success stories, and assists the community in developing a plan to increase sustainable tourism in the area through showcasing their culture and traditional livelihoods[11]. A recurring challenge for the organization is noted by the official as miscommunication; communities are often under the false impression that Ecotourism Kenya is a donor organization[12]. When the CSO fails to provide funding and the communities realize that officials are there for capacity-building projects only, villagers become very frustrated, since they are unable to access the funding required to establish a sustainable tourist industry[13]. It is very difficult for communities to harness their assets and manipulate them to fit the high expectations of Western tourists, especially if they do not have funding or marketing resources at their disposal.

While perhaps not having received assistance from Ecotourism Kenya, a particular Maasai village on the periphery of the Maasai Mara reserve seems fairly successful in its endeavour to showcase its culture and traditional livelihoods. When asked if there were other communities surrounding the Maasai Mara allowing tourists to visit their village, Vivianne’s tour guide simply stated that, “this was the best one” (2008), for reasons that were never made clear. Perhaps this community provides the most authentic experience, although the tour guide failed to elaborate. At the entry point to the community, the two Maasai who greet tourists set their price at USD$20 or KES1,200 per visitor, saying the revenue goes towards education for the children of the village and other important items for the inhabitants. Tourists are treated to traditional Maasai dances, as well as a tour of the village exhibiting a manyatta (clay home) and shown how to make a fire without modern means. At the end of the visit, tourists are strongly encouraged to visit the open-air gift shop where they may barter with Maasai warriors for African souvenirs. It is quite an experience, where Western tourists are confronted with a sense of mystery and romanticism towards a foreign culture, but are torn internally by a guilty conscience. This group has had to put a price on their culture and history, because their ability to obtain similar benefits from pastoralism is severely limited by conservation. Very few Maasai benefit from tourism, and most are severely disadvantaged by fortress conservation in the Maasai Mara (Igoe 2004). Even from the brief cultural visit, there were no enforcement mechanisms to ensure stable or equal wealth distribution of the limited funds that enter the community. While the warriors laugh, barter and pose for photographs with tourists, the Maasai women and children make themselves invisible in the background, not seeming to enjoy the presence of Western tourists. Even though gender issues have not been discussed in this paper, they comprise especially confounding variables in development, further exacerbated by the hardships conservation imposes through decreased access to essential natural resources.

Conservation is not a passing phenomenon in Kenya, as reaffirmed by President Kibaki and “Vision 2030”; it is seen as a vehicle to bring about development for Kenya, through the protection of the environment and the stimulation of the national economy. The sustainability of this initiative is in serious question, as Mr. Owino indicates, because conservation not only alienates local communities from their traditional livelihoods, but is also ecologically destructive, especially for the peripheral regions of a national park, which become overused to a point of irreparable damage (Igoe 2004). Instead of excluding communities from using national park resources, alternatives to the fortress conservation model must be explored. It is important to reiterate the critical nature of the policies that have accompanied conservation, which have unintentionally led to land degradation, increased economic inequality, food insecurity and loss of land tenure rights (Fratkin 1997: 251). Governments, policy makers, activists and organizations of all sorts must re-evaluate their policies, and the manner in which they perceive conservation, development, and cultural heritage.

Central Australia

The Red Centre, Uluru-Kata Tjuta

Landscapes in Australia are important for Aboriginal peoples and represent the creation of life, culture, and the spirit of its indigenous tribes. As written by Luke Godwin and James F. Weiner, “at the heart of the classical aboriginal world view is a concern with interpreting the material conditions and composition of the land” (Godwin and Weiner 2006: 125). This concern is based on the sacredness of land as each place holds specific meaning and spiritual significance for Aboriginal peoples. Elements in the landscape, such as prehistoric rock formations, are “sacred shrines” and the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a perfect example of these sacred petrified shrines, “emerging from the sandy ground” (Viedebantt 2000: 116-117; Photo 2).

Figure 2

Uluru, ”Ayers Rock”  (J. M.-A. LeBlanc, 2006)

Uluru, ”Ayers Rock”  (J. M.-A. LeBlanc, 2006)

-> See the list of figures

Uluru, or “Ayers Rock”, is “Australia’s biggest tourist attraction (and) appears to change colour depending on the position of the sun”, a magnificent sight to behold (Viedebantt 2000: 116-117). In Klaus Viedebantt’s (2000) guide, Marco Polo Australia, Uluru’s sister rock formations, “The Olgas”, are described as “36 round sandstone mounds which make a strange, spectacular sight (and are known by the) Aboriginals (as) Kata Tjuta, which translates as ‘mountain of many heads’” (Viedebantt 2000: 116-117; Photo 3).

Figure 3

Kata Tjuta, “The Olgas” (J. M.-A. LeBlanc, 2006)

Kata Tjuta, “The Olgas” (J. M.-A. LeBlanc, 2006)

-> See the list of figures

UNESCO describes the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Park as

spectacular geological formations that dominate the vast red sandy plan of central Australia [and] form a part of the traditional belief system of one of the oldest human societies of the world. The traditional owners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta are the Anangu Aboriginal people[14].

As written by Terry De Lacy and Bruce Lawson (2007):

The natural and cultural significance of the area has been recognized by the declaration of the area as a World Heritage site, and the importance of the role played by the Anangu, together with the value of the ecosystems present, are recognized by the inclusion of the area in UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme as a biosphere reserve.

De Lacy and Lawson 2007: 167

The Uluru-Kata Tjuta site may be considered as part of what Godwin and Weiner call “footprints” or “known places of habitation of ancestors, and the traces of their life activity that they left behind [and are] very important contribution(s) towards humanizing and historicizing the landscape for virtually all aboriginal communities, particularly in settled Australia” (Godwin and Weiner 2006: 130-131; Photo 4).

Figure 4

Prehistoric cave engravings, Uluru (J. M.-A. LeBlanc, 2006)

Prehistoric cave engravings, Uluru (J. M.-A. LeBlanc, 2006)

-> See the list of figures

Sites like Uluru-Kata Tjuta in Australia attract a variety of tourists with different ideas on the way of experiencing the heritage landscape. Controversial messages about what the site and tourism means to the Aboriginal peoples is also present as are the politics surrounding those allowed to speak in the name of aboriginal culture. The lack of aboriginal tour guides is a particular concern as non-aboriginal guides will never be accepted as true disseminators of the indigenous history and culture at heritage sites. In addition, the Australian Government cites a text of welcome from the Anangu to visitors of Uluru-Kata Tjuta in which the indigenous ownership of the land is clearly stated: “We, the traditional owners, value the park as a place that honours the culture of our people, preserves the fragile ecology of the land of our ancestors and upholds Tjukurpa – the Pitjantjatjara word for our history, knowledge, religion, morality and law” (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities 2011).

Gloria Ingram discusses this issue in her 2005 research: “A Phenomenological Investigation of Tourists’ Experience of Australian Indigenous Culture” (Ingram 2005: 21-34). Ingram 2005’s focus on the phenomenological approach is of particular interest as she explains “what emotions and feelings are stirred by the human experience of indigenous culture in the desert environment” as it relates to the experiential quality of tourism (Ingram 2005: 23). One of Ingram 2005’s respondents compared his experience to a Canadian context about the similarities between the two continental Aboriginal groups, “t[aking] what they needed, never more than they needed” out of their landscape, flora and fauna (Ingram 2005: 26). This example is part and parcel of the structure of experiential tourism as it shows how visitors relate to the “other” and compare or contrast with “others” in their own homeland. The cultural information transmitted is still in part catered to the median tourist who wishes to understand elemental events about the Aboriginal peoples and we shall discuss this later in this article. For the most part, when a tourist visits Uluru-Kata Tjuta, the “magnificence” and “majestic” nature of the site is most striking while the cultural context of how the site is managed and who benefits from it are at times second in interest (Ingram 2005: 26-34).

Conservation, Development, Policies and Management

According to Chris Ryan (2005) in his article “Who Manages Indigenous Cultural Tourism Product – Aspiration and Legitimization”, there are “four main players” in the cultural management of sites: “the Indigenous peoples themselves, the tourism industry, the government… and tourists” (Ryan 2005: 71). The concept of public vs private management of cultural sites in tourism is controversial. As far as government or public interests are concerned, the concept of conservation becomes an issue in the policy-making strategies towards safeguarding cultural sites and may not necessarily be attuned to the needs of indigenous groups exploiting the landscape. As noted by Hall and Page, “the tendency to privatise and commercialise functions that were once performed by government has been almost universal in Western nations since the late 1970s and has affected the nature of many national government’s involvement in the tourism industry” (Hall and Page 1999: 100). The reasons are threefold: “reducing the dependency of public enterprises on public budgets; reducing public debt by selling state assets; and raising technical efficiencies by commercialization” (Hall and Page 1999: 100). The contrasting public sector vs private sectors in conservation for the safeguarding of traditions and traditional way of life vs profit-driven management has impacted tourism both positively and negatively in various locales around the world (Hall and Page 1999: 101-103). It is for this reason that co-management models or joint partnerships between governments and private groups, are becoming a growing and influential trend in managing cultural sites in Australia.

Co-management, a model used in Australia between its government and Aboriginal peoples to manage national parks, has been significantly efficient. According to Margaret Stephenson, lawyer and specialist in the matter of indigenous cultural heritage legislation in Australia, guidelines and policies have been created to promote the protection of land and indigenous cultural heritage (Stephenson 2006: 1-2). Some parts of the legislation, however, failed to protect areas that held specific spiritual or religious significance for the Aboriginal peoples (Stephenson 2006: 1-2).

The Cultural Heritage Acts place the responsibility on the land users and project developers / proponents to ensure that they do not offend the legislation and invoke the penalties under the Acts.

Stephenson 2006: 4

Interestingly, Queensland has Cultural Heritage Duty of Care Guidelines specifically noting that activities should involve “no surface disturbance” including “walking (and) driving” (Stephenson 2006: 6). For a site like Uluru-Kata Tjuta in the Northern Territory of Central Australia, there is notable surface disturbance. The indigenous peoples must be consulted before engaging in any activity that should lead to the destruction of the land which thus includes tourism (Stephenson 2006: 8). It is through a cooperative governance scheme that both the indigenous and government officials are able to effectively manage cultural heritage sites (Stephenson 2006: 14-15).

An equal balance, however, must exist between indigenous management and government management (Sneed 2007: 141). If the scale tips, conflicts arise. Sneed notes that land management needs to be cooperative rather than cooptative and that participation is key (2007: 145-146). De Lacy and Lawson concur:

The joint-management model that has evolved at Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Kakadu has created Australia-wide and international interest. The Uluru/Kakadu joint-management model aims to provide for conservation of the park’s biodiversity while maintaining its value to traditional owners. It attempts to recognize the interests of two cultures and the importance of both cultural and biological diversity. The model institutionalizes cooperation both in long-term planning and in day-to-day management and use. It is characterized by a lease agreement setting out the rights and obligations of the Aboriginal owners and the conservation agency lessee, a board of management comprising a majority from the Aboriginal owners and the requirement of a statutory management plan to provide the policy framework for joint management…. The Aboriginal communities who own these parks in the Northern Territory have expressed strong satisfaction with their operation.

De Lacy and Lawson 2007: 156-157

Yet, with this seemingly perfect model of equal distribution in management, there is still the need to control what tourism activities are conducted on the land and the Indigenous peoples of Uluru-Kata Tjuta have a great brokering challenge in delivering cultural messages and advocacy.

Tourism and its Impacts

The impacts of tourist activities at Uluru are principally twofold: on the one hand, the heritage site generates significant revenue, most of which returns to the Aboriginal peoples and is greatly beneficial to their community; while on the other, human pollution and climbing the 340-metre-high rock creates dissent amongst the very same groups allowing tourism to expand on its land. Though the view must be breathtaking atop the rock, it is not culturally meant to be climbed. The Aboriginals that take care of the site and manage the visitor’s centre are strictly against this tourist experience (Viedebantt 2000: 116-117; Photo 5).

Figure 5

Warning against climbing the rocks, Kata Tjuta (J. M.-A. LeBlanc, 2006)

Warning against climbing the rocks, Kata Tjuta (J. M.-A. LeBlanc, 2006)

-> See the list of figures

While visiting Uluru, part of Julie LeBlanc’s group refused to climb on top of the rock out of respect for these beliefs and, instead, spent hours walking around part of its nine km circumference (De Lacy and Lawson 2007: 167; Viedebantt 2000: 116-117). As part of the culturally-sensitive selection of tourists, Julie walked around the main entrance and noticed the line of tourists, both young and old, climbing the rock (Photo 6).

Figure 6

Tourists lining up to climb “Ayers Rock” (J. M.-A. LeBlanc, 2006)

Tourists lining up to climb “Ayers Rock” (J. M.-A. LeBlanc, 2006)

-> See the list of figures

These climbers looked satisfied that they had been able to claim that one experience before returning home. The question remains: what price is this activity really worth? If the Aboriginal peoples themselves never climbed this rock and found it more sacred to remain on the bottom level and exploit the nooks and caves at their disposal for sacred and gendered rituals, what purpose would a tourist have to climb on top of this rock? This behaviour is not condoned by the Aboriginal peoples, but at the same time, they realize that it is a money-maker.

Some tourists have died falling off the rock and there is a legal disclaimer that clearly states if you should be injured or killed because you climbed “Ayers Rock”, the Cultural centre and the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities is not responsible for indemnities. This is not a deterrent; if anything, it encourages the more adventurous and “extreme” tourist that has taken over the Australian landscape over the past few decades. Hand-gliding, parachuting and sky-diving have all been introduced in tourism “experience” brochures across various parts of Australia to tap into the extreme sports enthusiasm. For specific target markets, there are options to sky-dive and land on a coral reef island named “Paradise” and be part of a coordinated party with 18-30 year-olds. This is the very antithesis of what has been encouraged in ecotourism. As stated by Martha Honey, ecotourism is:

hailed as a panacea: a way to fund conservation and scientific research, protect fragile and pristine ecosystems, benefit rural communities, promote development in poor countries, enhance ecological and cultural sensitivity, instill environmental awareness and a social conscience in the travel industry, satisfy and educate the discriminating tourist, and some claim, build world peace.

Honey 1999: 4

If we revisit the Kenyan context, Honey comments on this model as destructive to the natural way of life for the fauna: “Hordes of camera-carrying tourists packed in minivans have endangered the cheetahs, which must hunt during the day to avoid having their kills snatched by lions and hyenas” (1999: 54). From a conservation point of view, tourism can endanger species as has been the case in areas like the Galápagos islands (1999: 101-130).

Tourists thus have the choice to make decisions that impact the cultural and bio-diverse landscape as well as the people who manage and live in it. A tourist can be a part of what Julie LeBlanc describes as the “thin” experience, that which scratches the surface of Western ideals in tourism and the thrill-seeking “adventurer” in search of “exoticism”; or the tourist can be a part of the “thick” experience, that is, engaging in socially responsible tourism, learning about cultural policies or the mori of the people occupying the land visited before engaging in certain activities, as well as giving back to the community through volunteer actions. The “thick” experience is part of the ecotourism definition. The effects of how tourism is managed and not only the sites themselves, is always a challenge to the indigenous groups and governments that work together on delivering a product which should be both appealing from a leisure perspective and responsible conservation-wise.

Northern Canada

Labrador and the Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve

The Torngat Mountains, Labrador’s first National Park Reserve and Canada’s forty-second National Park (Parks Canada 2011), is “unspoiled wilderness” that “cover[s] nearly 10,000 square kilometers [and] is characterized by towering mountains, a rugged coastline [and] dramatic fjords…. According to legend, [it] is also ‘home to the Spirits’ and gets its name from Torngarsuak, an Inuktitut term meaning Great Spirit, or controller of the spirits” (Juergensen 2007; Nunatsiavut Government 2009). According to the Nunatsiavut Government:

the natural features [of the Torngat Mountains]… are of such a scale and beauty that those who come here are often unable to capture in words what they have experienced in their souls. It is a land where breathtaking fjords slash inland for 80 kilometers; where cliffs rise abruptly from the sea for 900 meters; and where the big skies of Labrador are home to peaks rising 2000 meters above sea level.

Nunatsiavut Government 2009

The physical description of the Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve is similar to that of Uluru-Kata Tjuta’s in that they both include the indigenous cultural and spiritual meaning of the land to its people. The land has been inhabited by Inuit “for almost 8000 years” (Juergensen 2007) and attracts the outdoor enthusiast who enjoys the wilderness, rough and unchartered terrains as well as kayaking and hiking. The National Park Reserve’s novelty will not soon wane as it has the immense potential of tapping into a niche market that may be more inclined towards ecotourism. As stated by ICOMOS:

Niche travelers come in small numbers, they spend a healthy sum of money, and they leave. They are, as a group, therefore highly desirable as visitors to the often fragile contexts of World Heritage sites. To satisfy niche travelers, however, will require not only the patient work of the conservationist but also the experience of the tourism expert to provide the quality service that niche travelers require.

1993: 3

Co-management and recognition of niche markets are perfect examples of how to implement government legislation within parks while respecting indigenous cultural belonging to land and consequently ensure capacity development in the region. In Parks Canada’s Superintendent message, Judy Rowell stated:

The story of the establishment of this park is a story of working with Inuit as equal partners. Parks Canada recognizes and honours their special historical and cultural relationship with the land. Inuit knowledge will be incorporated in all aspects of park management. In fact, co-operative management is a defining feature of our park, and one that we view as a shared accomplishment.

This co-management principle is essential in achieving positive and inclusive indigenous participation. The following section will describe how the business relationship developed in keeping with conservation policies and sustainable tourism practice.

Conservation, Development, Policies and Management

In both the Australian and Canadian context, these national parks are culturally and spiritually significant for the Indigenous peoples. The purpose of turning these sites into tourist attractions is questionable though it may be explained as a way to ensure conservation, to honour legal claims associated with lands, to grant public access, to acknowledge cultural diversity, to encourage self-government, and acquiring profit. From a government perspective, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is “responsible for two mandates … which together support Canada’s Aboriginal and Northern people in the pursuit of healthy and sustainable communities and broader economic and social development objectives”[15].

Under Indian and Inuit Affairs, INAC negotiates comprehensive and specific land claims and self-government agreements on behalf of the Government of Canada; oversees implementation of claim settlements … manages land; and executes other regulatory duties under the Indian Act…. The Northern Development mandate derives from statutes enacted in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Act, 1970; from statutes enacting modern treaties north of 60°, such as the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act…. Consequently, INAC, in partnership with other federal departments and stakeholders … lead the development and implementation of an integrated Northern Strategy that … focus[es] on strengthening Canada’s sovereignty, protecting our environmental heritage, promoting economic and social development, and improving governance so that Northerners have greater control over their destinies[16].

As far as land management is concerned, especially in the Torngat Mountains case, we have to consider the Nunatsiavut Government, who is involved in the creation and management of the National Park Reserve.

The notion of a National Park in the Torngat Mountains dates back to the 1970s when it was recognized that no natural region such as this was protected in Canada. In 1992 the governments of Canada and Newfoundland and the Labrador Inuit began investigating the feasibility of a National Park as a means of protecting the land for all Canadians.

Nunatsiavut Government 2009

Agreements were made to include Inuit in all processes of settlement and management as well as to ensure “mutual respect” and the “recognition that the Torngat Mountains National Park is a fitting symbol of the overlapping values that bind us all together as Canadians. Truly a gift to us all” (Nunatsiavut Government 2009). In an on-line interview with Julie LeBlanc, James Igloliorte, Chair of the Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve Board, shared his views on the board and the reference to mutual respect when including Inuit in all processes of settlement and management:

Any time you have a board with only advisory capacity with respect to the responsible authority who is a federal government minister, the potential exists for an ineffective process, since the minister may ignore or minimize the recommendations. Happily, Tongait KakKasuangita Silakjapvinga (the Board’s chosen Inuktitut name – Torngat Mountains National Park) speaks directly to the management and staff of the Park, many of whom are Inuit or respected people with plenty of knowledge of the region, society and culture. These individuals are unlikely to minimize or ignore their working companions as they relate the Board business to the Minister. This I think, is the key to making this particular Board feel empowered and effective in reaching not only Parks Canada goals but also Inuit aspirations.

With respect to the co-management model in dealing with ecological and cultural landscape challenges and the Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement in Labrador, James Igloliorte states:

Since the framework of the co-management model owes its existence to the vision of goals within a Comprehensive Land Claims Agreement, which necessarily means Inuit aspirations developed in a culturally sensitive way, then land and resource use perpetuated and accommodated within a National Park setting is well-developed. With mutual respect for the other’s strengths, the co-management board is exercising a real form of self-government.

Personal Interview with Julie M.-A. LeBlanc

This empowerment for Inuit is particularly noteworthy as it speaks to the nature of the land claim agreement as well as the favoured relationship in managing indigenous land for tourism use. In a 2007 address, the Honourable Jim Prentice, former Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, stated that the Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement Act’s “Benefits Agreement for the Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve”, was part of the $38.7 million added to the $40.1 million implementation money attributed to land ownership and rights agreement for the people of Nunavik[17].

Important sums of money are significantly injected into these projects and this is part of the incentive enabling Indigenous peoples to use their lands for traditional purposes such as fishing, hunting and trapping, all while benefiting from the tourism economy. In return, the Government of Canada opens a part of this land to its citizens for tourism and generates revenues. It will be interesting to see future developments in this park especially from the policy perspective, as it should be noted that when creating policies, it is important to acknowledge the indigenous population about the management of protected land. As Stan Stevens writes :

Concern for indigenous rights requires the fullest possible recognition of Indigenous peoples’ land tenure and subsistence practices. The imposition of settlement and land use restrictions by outside authority violates Indigenous peoples’ sovereignty and self-determination…. Traditional use policies that have been imposed by outside authorities can be coercive and paternalistic, creating “cultural zoos”.

Stevens 2007b: 270

From a policy perspective, the analyst has cause for concern due to the fragile states of promoting national lands and working with indigenous/aboriginal claims. Amita Baviskar’s (2000) discusses this phenomenon well: “claims about knowledge figure centrally in this conflict – how ‘ecological degradation’ is determined or which management practices are superior – and are closely linked to claims over natural resources” (Baviskar 2000: 101). Co-management seems to be the model overcoming challenges in maintaining the ecological and cultural respect of the land (Baviskar 2000: 103).

Even though in Canada “preserving northern lands” became a focus in the early twentieth century, it was not until “the 1970s … that the establishment of protected areas, especially national parks, became national priorities and the subject of heated public debates” (Sneed 2007: 135). In his 2007 article “Co-Management,” Paul Sneed writes:

The apparent successes of existing co-management regimes in fish, wildlife, and protected area management … have persuaded many conservationists and Indigenous peoples that co-management, the sharing of protected area management authority and responsibility by Native peoples and national government officials, is a useful institutional arrangement for uniting their interests…. Co-management offers great potential for bringing about the convergence of environmental conservation, rural development, and cultural preservation.

Sneed 2007: 136

Much like the Australian context, the Torngat Mountains’ co-management agreement is all the more inclusive for recognizing indigenous rights and conservation issues.

Tourism and its Impacts

Tourism in the Torngat Mountains is foreseeably different than that of Maasai Mara and Uluru as Northern Canada is not as accessible, nor climatically as attractive as the Southern hemisphere destinations. In a sense, the more experienced adventurer would be more willing to visit an area like the Torngat Mountains. Visiting frequentation numbers would therefore not be comparable to Maasai Mara or Uluru. The tourist experience would be completely different and perhaps less invasive in the Canadian case.

Before examining that context, however, it should be noted that the “adventurer” model is in itself questionable. As described by Daniel J. Boorstin (1962), the “adventurer” is motivated to explore and “see the unfamiliar” (Boorstin 1962: 78). This is a romantic definition of the adventurer, but in keeping with tourism in the context of Maasai Mara, Uluru and the Torngat Mountains. According to Stephen Wearing and John Neil (2001); “research has moved beyond conceptualizations of the tourist as ‘wanderer’, ‘gazer’ or ‘escaper’, the focus has shifted to the character of the experience itself” (Wearing and Neil 2001: 233). It is, in fact, this experience that we have viewed in the African and Australian cases that are also present in the Canadian case. Even though the romantic “exploration” notion of tourism has shifted from simply exploring a landscape to understanding it from a cultural angle, there are still relevant examples of how experiential tourism can revert back to the thrill-seeking market.

The “strangeness” factor in the adventurer’s context may also be measured in risk value, thus affecting not only the way in which a tourist/traveler visits a region, but also in how it affects local living conditions. While certain risks outweigh the comforts of specific activities or accommodation values, some tourists may rationalize the “exotic” as a pretext to perform identical recreational activities otherwise practiced in their own homeland. These recreational activities are strongly tied to identity for a tourist. Hall and Page note, “recreation may also lead to an enhanced self-image, where the identity becomes a basis for motivation because recreational activities can lead to a sense of belonging to a particular and identifiable group” (Hall and Page 1999: 30). This is in keeping with the “thin” or “thick” experience of tourism we have discussed earlier, especially with the more “extreme” tourist seeking what Daniel Boorstin describes as a “pseudo-event”, that is the planned tour for a specific sociodemographic market (Boorstin 1962: 117).

Boorstin writes about the dichotomy of the “adventurer” in Africa wanting Western comforts in accommodation selection (Boorstin 1962: 80). In other words, an “adventurer” in an exotic geographical destination would openly seek the safari, hike or kayaking through rough and unchartered terrains or waters, but may prefer to relax in a Sheraton instead of a tent in unpredictable climatic conditions and facing potential risks of being mauled by a wild animal.

Risks and identity are tied to the tourism experience and affect how land will be exploited in this market. Invasiveness of land becomes a concern, and in the Torngat Mountains case, we may witness a better model of tourism exploitation compared to Maasai Mara and Uluru. As Hall and Page write “natural settings and outdoor recreation opportunities are clearly a major component of tourism, perhaps especially so since the development of interest in the nature-based and ecotourism activities” (Hall and Page 1999: 5). With the Torngat Mountains, “nature-based” activities are affected by the weather and as it is a northern destination, would attract a small number of tourists during a delimited period each year.

Furthermore, indigenous ownership is present in the Canadian and Australian cases but lacking in the African case. In this instance, indigenous ownership is synonymous to ecotourism. In his analysis from the Tl’azt’en Territories, Northern British Columbia, Sanjay K. Nepal defines indigenous ownership as “an activity and enterprise focused on maintaining the natural and cultural integrity of the land and people where it is developed [and] a viable economic activity” (Nepal 2005: 112). This part of tourism is tied to “self-determination” and “self-reliance” as safeguarding traditional ways of life and the land are positively enforced through tourism policies (Nepal 2005: 112). The economic impacts on tourism are affected by these policies and by the socio-cultural experiences of tourists. There are “both positive and negative attitudes towards tourism” in the community perception and it is through the community benefits that it is often measured (Hall and Page 1999: 128). For example, petty crimes are negative impacts on local communities just as human pollution and derived product waste, but the cost of housing, the accessibility to certain services and products as well as the cultural visibility may be perceived as positive outcomes from tourism (Hall and Page 1999: 128). In rural areas, tourism may rhyme with sustainable development and cultural promotion, and not necessarily be perceived as a consumable space with the sole purpose of developing recreational/leisure activities for profit. It is hoped that in the Torngat Mountains case, the benefits will outweigh the negative impacts in short and long-term planning.


Finally, with three different case studies, the cooperative model seems to be the most adaptable but must be open to the possible legislative agreements between governments and Aboriginal peoples with respect to the reclaiming of lands for aboriginal collective sustainable use (De Lacy and Lawson 2007: 173). This may eventually happen in the Torngat Mountains case if there is significant land disturbance. In a way, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta model may be adapted to a Canadian context but should be compared within a contextual framework as Canadian legislation differs from Australia’s in land claims and treaties. In Australia’s case:

Tourism, which generated $25 billion in revenue in 1990-1991, is of major economic importance…. Much of it occurs in areas of high natural and cultural value. Aboriginal communities owning land that is a protected area may look toward ecotourism ventures as a way to achieve economic independence.

De Lacy and Lawson 2007: 174-175

The Australian Aboriginal tribes have significant input in land use, accessibility and economic profit especially when the tribes feel it is exploited inappropriately (De Lacy and Lawson 2007: 175). At the same time, though it may seem like a perfectly inclusive approach to managing cultural landscapes, up until recently, very few Aboriginals were employed in these parks. It has since changed but there remains significant cynicism towards the utopic image that joint or co-management seems to imply.

The co-management model is also rarely documented in rural development impacts and seems to be more illusory for government policy-makers. Essentially, the skepticism lies in the fact that many policies are proactive in theory but too politicized in practice (De Lacy and Lawson 2007: 182-183). To overcome these problems, land rights and claims are key in establishing ownership and use. In the Australian case, with Uluru-Kata Tjuta, land rights help empower Aboriginal peoples and it is through responsible legislation that the joint management model may work. For these models to work effectively, Indigenous peoples have to “propose that their homelands be considered protected areas and themselves carry out protected area policy-making, planning, and management” (Stevens 2007b: 279).

In contrast, the East African model faces problems that currently surround conservation. The negative impacts of how land has been managed in Kenya were not initiated by Kenyans, but were born through highly discriminatory policies implemented by the colonial regime. Today, policy makers must be reminded that “pastoral production is not necessarily harmful to wildlife conservation” (Fratkin 1997: 254). Thus, regions such as the Maasai Mara could plausibly entertain pastoralism and conservation, as well as sustainable tourism. Such action requires overturning backward Western thought processes that have led conservation for far too long. Overall, the question can be summarized as one of sustainability. The path down which conservation is currently heading is degrading quickly, and hope for its regeneration and sustainability wanes with each moment. This is where the Canadian and Australian models of joint management and self-government could possibly be entertained in an African context, while recognizing the different historical realities these continents faced in their respective interactions with colonialism.

Long-term partnerships between governments and indigenous/aboriginal organizations will be important to create and foster in the Torngat Mountains case. For the joint model to be successful, the inclusion of indigenous cultural management is pivotal as is further research on the long-term rural socio-economic and cultural impacts. Some Indigenous peoples may not feel the need to have their land used for tourism even with the access, rights and privileges attributed to it. With more than three decades’ worth of research from government departments like INAC, we are only beginning the journey towards effective co-operative governance between non-aboriginal and aboriginal/indigenous groups.

From an experiential perspective, tourists need to be engaged in how they visit, from their own presence in a region to the activities they choose when in an “exotic” land. Policies have been implemented to protect indigenous land management from destructive and ecologically-questionable behaviour. As was observed firsthand by the authors in the African and Australian contexts, the southern climate also affects the types of tourists that these regions attract and for this reason, Northern Canada may not be the first destination of choice. Northern Canada’s “niche” market of tourists may be beneficial from a conservation perspective because of the lower frequentation numbers, its remoteness in nature and the technical expertise required to treck the land, yet it is due to this “niche” market that the region becomes more vulnerable in the highly competitive sector that is tourism.

A question to ask at this point is the necessity of assessing Nepal’s theory of “competitive disadvantage” for northern indigenous tourism (Nepal 2005: 123-124). Perhaps it is not so much of a concern, as the integrity of land, its people and how it is being managed may be more inclined towards a responsible and responsive tourism policy. The “unspoiled” nature of the Torngat Mountains may remain so for decades still to come due to the lack of frequentation. On the other hand, if sustainable and economically-viable tourism is important for the Indigenous peoples inhabiting the area, perhaps an exploitation plan will be developed and implemented to generate profit. The special rights Inuit have over the Torngat Mountains following the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement (LILCA) enable the protection of the area and grant control to Inuit for “harvesting ... food, [and using the land for] social and ceremonial purposes”[18]. Co-management has made it possible for Inuit to settle and inhabit the area; therefore, should exploitation of the land be made in such a way that it would compromise the agreement for the Indigenous peoples, the land would be reclaimed by Inuit. Evidently, sustainable tourism may generate numerous positive economic, social and cultural impacts. With the appropriate legislation and policy, governments and aboriginal stakeholders may learn from past successes and failures to ensure land, resources and culture are exploited sustainably and respectfully in a co-management framework, especially in the context of experiential tourism.