Measuring Sustainability in Less Developed Countries: Case of Tourism in the Gorilla Parks of the Democratic Republic of Congo
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This research proposes a method and tool for measuring the sustainability of tourism in Less Developed Countries (LDCs), more specifically the gorilla tourism of the D.R. Congo. Since the Brundtland Report several assessment models have been proposed but have all failed to capture the centrality of sustainability, i.e. stakeholders, the very ones who can take action for sustainability to be achieved or not. This research has helped to design a holistic and stakeholder-centred method and tool for measuring sustainability of tourism, the Sustainability Value Model (SVM) using Social Network Analysis (SNA) method. The SVM tool provides a visual assessment of the sustainability level attained by the tourism sector. It also evidences specific improvement areas for achieving set sustainability targets. The Literature Review emphasises the importance of target setting in measuring sustainability, and frameworks have been developed but there are hardly any that measure sustainability of tourism in a holistic manner, leading to action. Two theories underpin this research; Stakeholder Theory and Social Exchange Theory were found to be the most relevant ones for providing the most appropriate framework for this research. Three research questions were then developed to address the ex-ante measurement gap and a mixed-methods methodology was implemented. It consists of semi-structured interviews and quantitative surveys using rosters. Analysis was carried out by means of the SNA method using UCINET software and NetDraw, its related graphing tool. The results indicate the existence of five stakeholder groups and 26 sustainability indicators in the gorilla tourism of the D.R. Congo. A key finding is the design of the SVM, which graphically presents the level of sustainability or unsustainability achieved in the sector. The research reveals a significant disconnect of relationships between the five stakeholder groups. This high level of disconnect (very poor quality of perceived exchanges) between stakeholders evidences the fact that the sector is vulnerable and prone to break up as its stakeholders hardly support one another. As far as the author is aware, this research is the only one conducted that presents a holistic approach for measuring sustainability of tourism in LDCs with a tool for carrying out the measurement. The results of this research present tourism managers with a practical tool for measuring sustainability of tourism and of any other industry. Academics will find an opportunity to further engage in sustainability measurement in their respective areas of research. Likewise, policy and decision-makers will make savings by easily spotting the most relevant investment areas for sustainability attainment. Key words: sustainability, sustainability indicators, measurement, tourism, social network analysis, stakeholder, social exchange theory, value network analysis.