The role of forests in nature-based tourism and recreation is becoming increasingly important. Forests, in South Africa and abroad are no longer seen simply as a source of timber, but provide spiritual and recreational services to millions of people through forest-related tourism. Consequently many countries have had to try and balance the multifunctional roles that forests play in the forestry and tourism sectors. There has been very limited research conducted to date on the role that forests and woodlands play in the tourism sector in South Africa. The study assesses the current and potential role of forests and woodlands in the tourism sector in selected regions of Finland and South Africa by means of a comparative study. The Mpumalanga and Oulu Provinces were chosen as the two case study regions. The dissertation presents a general picture of the similarities and differences between the regions and countries. The comparison of similarities and differences in the management of forest areas serves to identify different solutions to the challenges faced by the tourism sector in forest and woodland areas of Finland and South Africa. The study further measures and compares tourism providers‟ perceptions towards how they value and use forests and woodlands for tourism and recreation. How and why forests and woodlands are valued should play an important part in how they are created and managed. Management methods are then likely to be more effective and socially acceptable. In addition to examining the role of forests in the tourism sector, it is helpful to understand why people choose to visit forests and woodlands and their attitude towards forests and the environment. The study assesses why tourists visit forest and woodland areas and their attitudes towards forests and the environment. Attitudes of individuals are seen as a major factor that explains motivations for different forms of behaviour and such analysis provides useful information for organisations involved in managing forestrelated tourism. The study uses the Forest Importance Scale (FIS) and the General Awareness and Consequence Scale (GAC) as simple measures of attitudes towards forest importance and usage. Lastly the study assesses and compares the perceptions of tourists and tourism providers and the importance they place in sustainable tourism principles. Both forests and tourism are relevant issues from an environmental perspective and it is relevant for planners and managers both inside and outside the tourism industry to evaluate the level of support amongst tourists and tourism providers towards more sustainable practices. The purpose of this thesis is thus to present the findings of research conducted using a comparative approach including a comparison of two case-study regions, multiple-use Likert scales, in-depth interviews and participant observation as means for investigating the role of forests in tourism. This study reveals that forests are seen to have a significant role for tourism and play an important role in attracting tourism in many communities located near them through nature-based tourism and recreation. Forests and woodlands are especially perceived as important by tourism providers in maintaining and creating the tourism activities in the area. The results reveal that there is a need to increase and monitor local community participation in the regions as there was a high degree of uncertainty regarding involvement of the community in decision-making and tourism development in the regions. Community involvement is one of the vital components of ensuring sustainable tourism. Therefore it is important to monitor the level of community involvement in an area to ensure sustainable tourism development. The study adds a supplier and consumer perspective regarding the importance of sustainable tourism principles. The study reveals that both tourists and tourism providers in Finland and South Africa are very supportive of sustainable tourism principles in the destination. The high interest and fairly similar ranking of issues suggest that tourists and tourism providers largely share the definition of sustainability. Positive perceptions towards sustainable tourism principles will encourage tourists and tourism providers to act sustainably regarding tourism development and management. Finally the results suggest that well-managed and organized tourism in forested rural areas can play a significant role in enhancing the economic, environmental and social development in the regions. The challenge of managing sustainable forest tourism is discussed further and the results from the study aim to provide the foundation on which to formulate principles or guidelines and recommend approaches to be applied in the development and management of sustainable forest tourism in South Africa. Copyright
Dissertation (MCom)--University of Pretoria, 2010.