Buoyant NWU pools expertise on sustainable diving tourism
Scuba diving at high-latitude marine localities such as Southern Africa and the Mediterranean Sea has significant tourism potential. Tapping into this necessitates a strong focus on sustainable diving tourism, and this is an area where the North-West University (NWU) has been making a substantial contribution for the past four years.
In 2014, the research unit TREES, known as a leading entity in the field of tourism research in Southern Africa, was invited by the Polytechnic University of Marche, Italy, to participate in a multi-million Euro grant application under the Marie Curie RISE actions, as part of the EU-funded programme Horizon2020.
The winning project is a multidisciplinary and international consortium by the name of Green Bubbles. The project spans fields ranging from the medical sciences to the biological and environmental sciences, involving collaborations between seven countries, namely Italy, South Africa, the Netherlands, Malta, Turkey, Mozambique, and the United States.
The aim of the project is to promote the sustainable development of the scuba diving tourism industry at high-latitude marine localities possessing enormous tourism potential. Thus, the project focuses on scuba diving tourism in the Mediterranean Sea and Southern Africa, in particular, diving hotspots in Northern Italy and Southern Mozambique.
The milestones of the project, intended to ultimately promote a quality label for sustainable scuba diving operations, were underlain by substantial social, economic and human dimensions assessments, which were led almost entirely by the research team at TREES.
With a budget of approximately half a million Euros at its disposal, TREES was able to engage in a number of secondments, that is, exchanges with other entities in the consortium, to collect data and engage in networking and learning activities over a period of four years. A total of 14 established and emerging researchers from TREES have been participating in the project through secondments and research.
The team has been working specifically in the fields of integrated tourism systems; economic impact of scuba diving tourism; willingness to pay for and to participate in conservation; impact of tourism on resident communities; business analysis of scuba diving operations; business models; market segmentation; tourism marketing; environmental awareness and self-assessment within the scuba diving tourism sector; governance and co-management in marine reserves and protected marine areas; scuba diving safety and risk mitigation; and diving events.
In addition, TREES has played a substantial role in community engagement initiatives including Citizen Science and Ocean Literacy, by organising, promoting and launching educational events in collaboration with other partners, and by building solid ties with governance authorities of the African case study.
TREES had still other roles in the project, including communication, dissemination and education, targeting various audiences via different channels from the social networks to courses and popular articles.
As Green Bubbles is coming to an end, all the goals set for this project by the consortium are being achieved. TREES’ contribution has entailed 99 secondments to Europe, 10 research trips to Mozambique, at least 15 scientific publications in international journals and as many conference presentations, the creation of two postgraduate courses in the curricula of marine biology students, one Citizen Science programme, and numerous unconventional dissemination outputs.
The quality label for sustainable diving operations, which is the final product of the project, will be officially launched in October 2018 at the closing project meeting. The results of the successful participation of TREES in this research endeavour are the international recognition of the university as a leading institution in the field of tourism studies, and a continuing collaboration with European countries, reflected in ongoing applications for EU and NRF funding.