Aggie Weighill

Vancouver Island University
Improving Visitors' Experiences Through International Partnerships: Ecotourism has long been used for economic development while also trying to meet conservation goals (Sakar & Sinha, 2015); however, in the global south this has often occurred in communities where access to formal education is limited and local residents have little experience with the tourism. Further, many NGOs and development organizations involved in conservation have limited expertise in the development of tourism products beyond basic tours. Unfortunately, in a competitive ecotourism marketplace communities must become more sophisticated in the development and promotion of tourism products. The purpose of this presentation is to showcase a partnership between a community-based conservation area and a university can lead to improved tourism products and enhanced visitor experiences.

The Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary is a Ghanaian Community Resource Management Area that uses tourism for revenue generation and as an alternative livelihood. The tours developed highlight its natural and cultural compound or resources and it also has a Visitors’ Centre and basic lodge. Initially, expert content knowledge was developed within a few key employees (animal/plant identification and food hygiene); however, a lack of focused and ongoing tourism training and an understanding experiential tourism services were missing.

This presentation will share the outcomes of an ongoing, 8-year collaboration between VIU and the WCHS. Initially focusing on product evaluation, the collaboration now encompasses new project development, capacity training for locals, and visitor experience evaluation. This case study illustrates how international partnerships, targeted capacity building, and a greater knowledge of visitor characteristics can result in improved visitor experiences.

Sustainable Livelihoods within a Ghanaian Protected Area: Located in northern Ghana, the Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary (WCHS) provides an ideal case study for sustainable economic development and poverty reduction through protected area (PA) management. The WCHS Board is responsible for the management of the Community Resource Management Area, a unique form of PA that allows for localized control of land use planning and governance over natural resources (Asare, Kyei, & Mason, 2013). The purpose of this presentation is to showcase an alternative form of protected area that considers both ecological conservation and the economic needs of locals. The presentation will summarize the results of research and community development projects undertaken by Vancouver Island University students as part of the Ghana Research and Study Tour.

Focusing on three economic activities; a) ecotourism, b) organic Shea Nut collection and butter making, and c) external sponsorship, the presentation will illustrate a different approach to PA management, that actively develops sustainable economic activities while also engaging outside partners for economic and project development. Using evaluative research on; a) residents perceptions of the costs and benefits of the WCHS, b) the impact of WCHS interventions in the Shea industry, c) the benefits of a scholarship program, and d) published research on the ecological improvements (Brichieri-Colombi, McPherson, Sheppard, Mason, & Moehrenschlager, 2018; Sheppard, Moehrenschlager, McPearson, & Mason, 2010), it will be shown that the WCHS has improved the ecological health within the CREMA while also benefiting the lives of those within its borders.