This study investigates residents' perceptions of tourism development in a small tourist area in northern Iran named Sare'in, which is famous for its hot springs and thermal tourism. Tourism in this area is run primarily by the local community under the town municipality with limited intervention from Iran's national tourism organization. The study's findings show that even though local people h3ly support current and further/future tourism development, they have ambivalent attitudes towards the impacts of tourism. It is suggested that for the sustainability of tourism development, certain expert assistance and better cooperation with the national tourism organization are needed. The results of this research serve as baseline information for monitoring residents' attitudes in the future, and as a basis for local official decision making about operational processes for future tourism projects.
KEY WORDS:Tourism development, impacts of tourism, residents' attitudes, thermal (spa) tourism, Sare'in (Iran).
Tourism can be an essential part of the local economy and helps to diversify local economies. The tourism industry may create substantial economic benefits for host countries through contributions to government revenues, the generation of employment and business opportunities (Andereck et al., 2005). Some other forms of local revenue are not easily quantified as not all tourist expenditure is formally registered in the macro-economic statistics. Money earned from tourism has a multiplier effect as it is spent repeatedly within the local economy. Tourism can generate jobs directly through hotels, restaurants, local transport and souvenir sales, and indirectly through the supply of goods and services needed by tourism-related businesses. Tourism can induce the local government to make infrastructure improvements that can improve the quality of life for the local people.
Tourism is important because of the enormous impacts it has on people's lives and on the places in which they live and because of the way in which tourism is itself significantly affected by the world (Hall, 2000). However, tourism should be managed in a sustainable way for present and future generations. In recent years, sustainable development has emerged as an important goal and approach to dealing with the cultural, economic, and environmental impacts of tourism. It provides the possibility for tourism to be culturally appropriate, ecologically sensitive, and economically feasible. Therefore, in order to achieve sustainable tourism, the authorities must fully assess and understand the costs and benefits of tourism and the positive and negative effects should be studied and discussed together (Ap & Crompton, 1998; Wall & Mathieson, 2006). There is evidence that residents of countries that attract tourists hold diverse opinions about development in their regions. Understanding the level of satisfaction, needs, and expectations of the local community is an essential factor for any form of tourism development to be successful (Jennings, 2001). Hence, researchers need to identify a set of guiding principles for a sustainable approach, which should be formulated in accordance with how people are living in each area and the extent to which they are employed in tourism (Caneday & Zeiger, 1991).
Due to a lack of a proper tourism policy and management in developing countries, it seems that the damaging impact of tourism may be more prominent there (Mason, 2003). This paper addresses the findings of a survey of local communities with the focus of the discussion being on residents' perceptions of and reactions to tourism development and the impact of tourismon their location where the management of tourism is mainly the responsibility of communities under the town municipality and the role of public sector tourism agencies is marginal.
The location is a tourist town named Sare'in, which is situated in Northwest Iran, an Islamic country where there have been very limited studies undertaken of local attitudes towards the development of tourism. The attitudes of residents towards tourism represent an important way in which this group contributes to policy and public support for or opposition towards tourism (Page, 2003),measuring the impact of tourism in Sare'in could have a significant effect on its future tourism planning and development, management and marketing. The primary aim here is to establish a benchmark or foundation study for the town, enabling future longitudinal and comparative analyses of local community attitudes.
Overview of the Case Study
Sare'in as a tourist town is an exceptional example in Iran and the Middle East for several reasons. It is famous for its thermal tourism because of its twelve hot springs (see Table 1) and pleasant and cool climate, especially in spring and summer. This area is also suitable for skiing for eight months of the year. Sare'in grew in just over three decades from a small village to become a popular tourist town, with a large supply of accommodation compared to other regions in the country as well as other necessary infrastructure. The rapidity of regional development, high degree of involvement of the local community and the key role of the municipal authorities in tourism planning and management are the features that distinguish Sare'infrom other tourist areas in the region.
Sare'inwas known as Sagarti in the Medies period (825 BC) and the Achaemenias era (533-330 BC), with a land area of over 1,280 square kilometres. It is located 24 kilometress to the west of Ardebil city (the centre of Ardebil province) and 612 kilometres away from Tehran (see Figure 1). It is located northwest of Iran's plateau at the foot of Sabalan Mountain. Sabalan is considered one of the best places in Iran for skiing, mountain climbing, walking, and rock climbing (Sadeg Moganlo, 2004). One of its recreational facilities is the newly opened Alvars ski slope, located 23 kilometres from Sare'in. The town has four regular seasons with a mild agreeable summer climate, but the cold in winter as well as during the last weeks of fall is severe. Sare'in has a population of around 4,500 (Iran National Census, 2007) with close and traditional social structures.
Tourism has developed in Sare'in over the past three decades. After the opening of the Sablan hydrotherapy complex (which is a two-storey building occupying 7,200 square metres and which is one of the most unusual centres of its kind in the Middle East) in 1997 and a four-star hotel called Laleh by the Iranian Tourism Organization (ITO), Sare'inrapidly developed as a village and became a town well- known for its hot springs and health tourism. Prior to that, the few traditional and old spa baths were run on a small scale. Before developing tourism, Sare'in's population was mainly engaged in farming, husbandry, and honey production. At present, over 70% of the population work in the service sector (Iran National Census, 2007). The majority run family hotels and other related tourism services. The tourism sector is currently the main source of the community's economic revenue. However, some people have retained their previous activities to offset the economic costs associated with the seasonal nature of tourism.
Table 1 about here
Most visitors go toSare'infor wellness, relaxation, and health with the majority of tourists visiting Sare'in for water therapy treatment (wellness), relaxation and health.Their stay is short and averages a half day to 4 days. Besides hot mineral springs, another tourist attraction of this region is Villa-Dareh village, which is 3 kilometres from Sare'in. There, the tourists can enjoy natural waterfalls, cold spring mineral water, small caves, and a spectacular landscape. In terms of heritage, Sare'inhas a historical hill, named Anahita Hill. Its history dates back to 1000 BC and it is one of the most famous sites in Ardebil province. It is registered as number 1976 in the list of National Cultural and Natural Heritage (Sadeg Moganlo, 2004). The mausoleum of Syed Abol-Ghasem (great-grandchild of the sixth Shiite Imam) is one of the destinations of Shia pilgrimage in the region. The ancient tombs around Sare'in are also worth visiting. However, the historical sites inside and around Sare'in are not well explored or maintained due the of lack of cooperation between the national Cultural Heritage Handcrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO), which has formal responsibility for managing tourism in the region, and local authorities based in Ardabil as well as a lack of local desire/interest because of the current profitability of thermal tourism. Many tourists are not informed about the diversity of tourist attractions due to the lack of information. Sare'in has a tourist information office operated during the peak season by the municipality. Destination marketing including printed materials such as brochures, maps, pamphlets, street advertisements, and, more recently, online resources is handled mainly by the municipality.
Sare'in benefits from a large amount of accommodation, including 50 hotels and hotelapartments ranking from 1 to 4 stars. There are more than 120 inns, a considerable number of home stays, 28 government guesthouses, and camping sites (Sare'in, 2005 & 2007). High demand by tourists in the peak season and high profitability during this period for tourism businesses is leading to the development of more accommodation by local enterprises. In addition, there are well-equipped food and beverage facilities, some of which are traditionally decorated and serviced. Local cooperatives, investors, and bank loans make it possible to raise the necessary capital for establishing public accommodation. Most of the property is constructed in a modern style without considering local and traditional architecture, owned, and managed by locals. However, due to the seasonal nature of tourism, they are fully occupied in the summer, semi occupied in the spring and fully closed during the rest of the year. Low occupancy rates during seven months of the year leads to surcharging in order to maintain the establishment as well as increasing room rental prices during the high season. Despite the stock of accommodation and tourist attractions, Sare'in does not have any travel agencies or trained local tour guides.
Map of Sare'in about here
Access to Sare'in is available by road and air via Ardebil. Sare'in is well equipped with all the necessary public services, but as a centre for health tourism, it has only one small medical clinic that is without permanent medical specialists. There is thus a need for better provision for locals as well as tourists. Honey, dairy products, and herbal medicines are the attractive products of this area. Sare'in is a very safe area and, according to the town police authorities, the crime rate and extent of social problems are relatively low.
Sare'in is primarily visited by domestic tourists (Sare'inmunicipality, 2005-2007). However, the place is also attractive to international tourists who come mainly from countries such as the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as well as Central Asia. There are also small numbers of western visitors, the majority of whom are inbound business tourists to Iran who devote a few days to leisure travel. According to the local official census, the number of tourist arrivals is 4,000 to 10,000 people per day during the peak season (mainly from May to the end of September) which is a high number when compared to the local population. Sare'in attracts over 2 million tourists annually, many of them travelling to Sare'in on package tours organized by travel agencies and tour operators.
The ICHHTO of Ardebil province plays a formal supervisory role but Sare'in's communication with this office is limited. The town is somewhat autonomous in terms of tourism, including tourism investment and management. The town has no tourism office and all tourism projects are mainly run by the local community under the Sare'in municipality. There is no local desire to accept outsiders' investment from the private sector. As a result, tourism revenue remains in local hands and this increases local satisfaction with the benefits of tourism.
Tourism development is defined as 'the way in which tourism develops, and the economic and social effects of that development of the community, local economy region, or country' (Goodrich, 1991, p.59). The definitions of tourism development evolved through time with modifications and the emergence of appropriate measures for statistical, legislative, and operational reasons. All the elements of tourism development are interlinked and, therefore, tourism development cannot be considered as a concept isolated from other tourism related activities (Page et al., 2001). Tourism is a multidimensional, multifaced activity which touches many lives and many different economic activities (Cooper et al., 1993).Tourism development must be based on research and evaluation, to optimize the potential contribution of tourism to human welfare and environmental quality (Getz, 1987).
Local and national governments usually have an essential influence over the local tourist industry by funding tourism projects and providing numerous services including infrastructure, transportation, security, and marketing (Elliot, 1987). The contribution of the tourism industry to the overall economic and social development of a nation explains government support. Without state intervention, tourism development would lack cohesion and direction in order to sustain itself over the long run (Brohman, 1996). In protecting the industry's interests, public sector intervention is necessary to ensure that the associated benefits of tourism are maximized and any potential problems are minimized for the benefit of the economy, society, and the environment.
There are a few studies on respondent attitudes towards and expectations of the public sector (Liu et al., 1987; Allen et al., 1998; Perdu et al., 1990; Rayan & Montgomery, 1994; Madrigal, 1995; Andriotis; 2002; Ishikawa & Fukushige, 2007). Madrigal (1995) studies residents' attitudes towards the role of local government in tourism by grouping residents with similar perceptions of the impact of tourism. The results show that there is diversity of opinion amongst the groups. The degree of Cretan residents' satisfaction with public sector governance is examined by Andriotis (2002). This study indicated that some residents recognized the significant role played by the public sector in tourism development (mainly in promotion, environmental protection, and provision of infrastructure and financial aid for the tourist industry). However, the remainder stated that they have lost confidence in public
governance. They blamed the public sector for the lack of organization, irresponsible acts, bureaucracy, irrelevant tourism policy, high taxation, insufficient funding, and the shortage of infrastructure provision.On the other hand,Ishikawa and Fukushige (2007), investigated the effect of regional tourist development handled by municipal authorities and highlighted a number of significant features. The results show how local communities expect their municipality to take the initiative in implementing or financing tourist development policies. The respondents were most likely to expect the municipality to take the lead in policymaking.
Resident attitudes towards tourist development and its impact provide a significant input in identifying the strategic and managerial priorities of tourism (Tatoglu et al., 2000). An understanding of the identification by the local population of public sector efficiencies or deficiencies due to tourism is essential because it provides an insight into the preferences and interests of the people served (Lankford, 1994). It is essential for tourist development and its successful operation and sustainability (Garrod & Fyall, 1998; Gursoy et al., 2002; Jurowski et al., 1997; Sheldon & Abenoja, 2001). It may also suggest improvements and changes that should be adopted in future policies and plans of relevant destinations.
The consequences of tourism vary according to the form that it takes and the situations in which it occurs (Wall & Mathieson, 2006). The relatively limited number of studies of regional tourist development handled by municipalities (Ishikawa & Fukushige, 2007) emphasizes the need for further research in this matter.
The attitudes of residents towards tourism and their evaluation of the impact that indirectly affects their support for tourist development (Jones et al., 2000) are thus an important topic for research. Therefore, to achieve successful development, the marketing, and operation of existing and future programmes and projects, tourism related planning and policy need to consider the attitudes of residents towards the impact of tourism (Ap, 1992; Lankford, 1994; Haley et al., 2005). Similarly, Tosun (1999, 2006) stated that community members should play a strategic planning role in tourist development.
The impact of Tourism
Perceptions of the impact of tourism from residents can provide insights into the nature and degree of the impact of tourism on the tourist destination. Local residents' reactions toward tourism have been extensively analysed in the literature, as their importance has been widely recognized by planners and managers, who must take the views of the host community into account if the industry is to be sustainable in the long term. Hence, it is not surprising that research on residents' reactions towards tourism continues to be a topic of considerable interest (Mason & Cheyne, 2000; Carmichael, 2000; Williams & Lawson, 2001; Weaver & Lawton, 2001; Lindberg et al., 2001; Ko & Stewart, 2002; Uriely et al., 2002; Teye et al., 2002; Haley et al., 2005; Cooper et al., 2005; Pérez & Nadal, 2005; Wall & Mathieson, 2006). Among the impacts that have been examined are the economic, social, cultural and biophysical aspects. There is evidence that residents of countries hold diverse opinions about development in their region. Residents tend to agree that tourism has both positive and negative impacts (Pérez & Nadal, 2005; Haley et al., 2005; Dyer et al., 2003; Wall & Mathieson, 2006; Andereck et al., 2005). The local community may have ambivalent attitudes towards tourism (Hernandez et al. , 1996).
Kim and Patrick (2005) identified five dimensions of the positive impact of tourism including resource development and urban revitalization, image enhancement, economic benefits, intercultural appreciation and tourism infrastructure development. Negative economic outcomes, disorder and conflict and traffic problems and congestion are three dimensions of the negative impact. Andereck et al. (2005) identified the following six categories; community services, community image, community life, community problems, community environment, and community economy. The results showed that all the above factors are significant. The results of another study byPérez and Nadal ( 2005), indicated that the respondents were aware of both the positive and negative effects of tourism. In this study, the cultural and social benefits were perceived as an advantage, but of a low degree. At the same time, it was recognized that tourism creates different problems, including over-use of community services, traffic congestion, and high price levels. As a consequence, locals were ambivalent about development proposals that imply an increasing number of tourists in their area. The studyby Haley et al.(2005) to identify the attitudes of residents in Bath (UK) towards tourist development showed that the respondents had a paradoxical attitude towards tourism. Based on this research, it was suggested that longitudinal and comparative research could provide the information necessary for a h3er understanding and better planning decisions. As the various forms of impact caused by tourism have a significant effect on tourism planning and development, management and marketing (Reisinger & Turner, 2003), both the positive and negative impact should be examined to better understand host community attitudes towards tourism (Gursoy & Rutherford, 2004).
Thermal (Spa) tourism
Since ancient times [5,000 years ago], people have been using mineral springs for curative as well as relaxational purposes (Goodrich, 1993). Thermal tourism (Boleti, 2006) is based on the properties of the curative agents found in mineral water (Cooper et al., 1995). Therefore, the term thermal tourism refers to people seeking healing and wellness by using mineral springs. Thermal tourism is a kind of health tourism, which is a new and emerging international business gradually increasing in importance (Lee & Spisto, 2007). Spas, categorized as a form of healthcare tourism, promote healthier lifestyles (Bennett et al., 2004) and represent a kind of wellness tourism (Gee, 1997). Thermal tourism is distinguished by its high average stay, greater than for any other type of tourism, its low dependence on seasons and its impact on local economies (Alen et al., 2006). The general increase in leisure time and prosperity, together with the aging of the population and a change in lifestyle (with greater interest in sports, a healthy diet, and nature) explain the quick growth of this kind of tourism, somewhere between a leisure time activity and health care (Alen et al., 2006).
Overall, there are limited studies on Thermal (spa) tourism. A few authors have studied the characteristicsof thermal tourism in diferent countries such as Turkey (Hoheb, 2008), Greece (Boleti, 2006), Bulgaria (Bojadgieva et al., 2002) and Romania (Cooper et al., 1995). The majority of the available studies are more about the potential of thermal water, the operation of spas, and economic analysis, rather than the impact of spas on regional development and on the well-being of the local community. Vajirakachron, (2004) states that health tourism is a new topic in tourism research with limited work done and which has a need for further research on the subject.
To conduct research in Sare'in, a small town with a traditional society where very little research has been conducted, is not an easy task and the researcher faced culturally based difficulties. In the Azari region in the North- West of Iran, the majority of the people speak a local dialect called Azari, which is related to Turkish. The society is dominated by men and most females occupy marginal positions. Females working in hotels or thermal centres as seasonal jobs come mainly from the nearby cities. However, surveying local female residents is easier for a female researcher than a male in such a society. The author also met the Mayor of Sare'in,selected municipal employees and a local NGO with young members regarding the significance of the role of tourism in the area. This process helped the researcher to get their suppoert to conduct this research.
In order to collect data on local perceptions of tourist development and the impact of tourism, a quantitative approach was used as the main research method. Quantitative research is undertaken when the research is primarily explanatory and mainly concerned with discovering general patterns and distinguishing features of population perceptions (Weaver & Lawton, 2001; Fallon & Kriwoken, 2003, Mbaiwa, 2004). The primary source of data was a structured questionnaire. The first section was designed to assess the residents' general opinions concerning the characteristics of tourism, which included 15 items. In the second section, respondents were asked about their attitudes towards diverse aspects of the impact of tourism caused by tourist development in their region, represented by sixteen statements. The content of the statements was largely derived from relevant previously published research. The number of statements and the measurement scales available to measure positive and negative impacts were refined and modified to suit the context of this study (Table 2). A 5-point Likert type scale (from h3ly disagree (1) to h3ly agree (5)) was utilized to measure the constructs. This measurement is recommended by Maddox (1985) for research on the impact of tourism due to its superior validity. In the third section, socio- demographic data included age, marital status, place of birth, period of residence, education, income, occupation, and level of religion devotion. The questionnaire was written in the Persian language, pilot tested in Sare'in and further refined before the collection of the data.
The study sample comprised permanent residents aged 18 or more, considered the most appropriate to answer questions effectively within a household. Houses around the tourist area, mainly near to the mineral hot spring hydrotherapy complex, were selected. The researcher was accompanied by local research assistants from the community, who were familiar with the local dialect and their presence assisted the researcher by reducing any communication difficulties and helping to inspire trust and confidence amongst the respondents.
The questionnaires were self-administered and the respondents were given a few days to complete the questionnaires by themselves (George, 2003; Lee & Back, 2003; Gursoy & Rutherford, 2004; Adapa & Rindfleish, 2007). The completed questionnaire was scrutinized on the spot and unclear and incomplete answers were immediately clarified and completed. Around 300 questionnaires were distributed in order to make sure that the targeted response rate was achieved. Some questionnaires were not completed, lost, or contained unusable answers. However, 270 useable questionnaires were finally collected (90% response rate). As respondents are more willing to answer when researchers ask them face to face, this method has been shown to yield a high response rate (Andereck & Nickerson, 1997). The researcher also used semi-structured personal interviews with officials and members of the public as a supplementary method during the data collection. The data collection was carried out during the late months of 2007. The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS: version 16) was used for the purposes of data management and analysis.
The profile of respondents is presented in Table 2 .The majority of respondents are male (68.8%) and young (52.4% are less than 37 years old). 63.2 % of them are married, while 35.6% are still single. With regard to educational background, 29.6 % of the respondents have a diploma while 26% studied to university level. 64 % of the respondents were born in Sare'in itself while 65.6 % had lived in the area for 20 years or more. Over half (56.4%) of the respondents state that they have jobs related to tourism. When it comes to the question of monthly personal income, the respondents were not very cooperative and responses are ambiguous because income is a sensitive question in Iranian society and citizens do not like to divulge their financial status for any reason. The majority of the local community (86.4%) had interactions with local tourists while the rate for international tourists was 52.8 %. Regarding respondents' devotion to religion, 62 % stated that they are quite religious, followed by 34.4 % who stated that they are religious. Only 2.8 % of respondents remarked that they are not that religious (see Table 2)
Table 2 about here
Concerning local community attitudes towards tourism, as shown in Table 3, a majority of respondents are in favor of current and further tourist development. They believed that tourism is a major contributing factor to the development of the region and tourism makes them more satisfied about living in the area. The local community is well informed about their active role in being involved in the planning and management of tourism. They stated that, overall; religion (Islam) has no objection to tourist development. They slightly agree that religion has a great influence on the regularity of tourist development and the public sector pays a lot attention to promoting tourism in the area.
The respondents do not agree that tourism is well promoted during the off-season and that tourism marketing and advertising is well managed. They slightly disagree with other statements that public tourism authorities plan and manage well;rules and regulations for tourism do not need to be revised frequently; and there is regular consultation with local people by the authorities in the tourist development process. However, a considerable percentage was neutral about these statements. About 38.4% of respondents agree that the political tension with the West does affect tourist development, while 31.6 % are undecided. About 55.2% of respondents expressed no preference regarding the kind of religion of tourists.
Table 3 about here
The attitudes of respondents towards the impact of tourism illustrate that respondents h3ly agree that tourism creates market opportunities for local products as well as job opportunities for local people. Tourism is also believed to increase the standard of living by means of better infrastructure development. However, around 73 % state that tourism is a cause of increasing land and real estate costs in the region and they slightly agree that the cost of living increases because of tourism. Concerning the socio-cultural impact, they h3ly agree that tourism improves the image of the community; provides better recreational opportunities for local residents; stimulates cultural exchange; and encourages a variety of cultural activities among the local residents. They also slightly agree that tourism does not contribute to an increase in crime; helps to preserve cultural identity and does not affect the religious practices of local people. However, a considerable percentage was neutral about these statements. Concerning environmental impact, attitudes are not so positive. Only 51.6% of respondents agree that, overall, tourism does not disrupt the peace and tranquility of the area. They also state that because of tourism, their area has become too crowded and littering has worsened (see Table 4).
Table 4 about here
The profile of respondents shows that the majority are males and married. Most have received a formal education and have a high attachment to their region. Over half are employed in the tourism industry directly or have a job connected to it. The majority have interactions with local and international tourists. However, they have less communication with international tourists compared to local tourists, which could be explained by the presence of fewer international tourists in the region and language differences. All the participants were Shia Muslims and almost two thirds described themselves as quite religious. It could be interpreted from this data that the religiosity of respondents is at a moderate level, congruent with the results of a similar study on the level of religiosity of Iranians by Hassan (2005).
The h3 positive attitudes towards current and further tourism development are connected to the belief that tourism is a major contributing factor to the development of the region and opportunities for generating economic growth, earning income, and improving the image of destionation. In general, economic benefits are an important influence on residents' attitudes towards tourism and its revenues are what make it so attractive to local communities. This conclusion is supported by Brohman (1996), Brown (1998), and Weaver (1998). Sare'in evolved from a small unknown village to become a destination famous throughout Iran because of tourism. Therefore, tourism is also favoured because of its important role in improving awareness about and the image of Sare'in.
Although the local community believed that the public sector (municipality) gives a lot of attention to promoting tourism in this area, residents are of the view that the public tourist authorities do not plan and manage tourism development well and that marketing and promotion efforts have not been carefully handled. The promotion during the low season, for example, is inadequate (Zamani-Farahani & Musa, 2008). Respondents claim that the local community needs better support from public tourist authorities. They state that tourism rules and regulations need to be revised, perhaps because of the high interference of religion and political factores that may constrain the progress of tourist development. In the same way, a majority of the respondents have no preference regarding a tourist's religion (Zamani-Farahani & Henderson, 2010). During the collecting of the data, some of the repondents also stated that they preferred that religious and political issues should not interfere with tourist development.
A large proportion of the sample is uncertain about the statement that political tension with the West does affect tourism development. This could be attributed to the fact that the majority of tourists to Sare'in are local (domestic) so that tourism there has not faced any damage from political crises. However, in general, tourism in Iran has been negatively affected by political crises during the past decade (Zamani-Farahani, 2009).
The attitudes of the local community towards the economic impact are somewhat ambiguous. On the one hand, they agree that tourism stimulates local infrastructure development, creates market as well as job opportunities and consequently increases standards of living, findings that are consistent with previous studies (Tosun, 2002, Gursoy & Rutherford, 2004). However, on the other hand, respondents believe that tourism is the cause of increasing land and real estate costs as well as the rising cost of living in a way consistent with the work of Haralambopoulos and Pizam (1996) and Korca (1996).
Local perceptions of the socio-cultural impact are very positive. Besides improving the image of the destination, as mentioned before, tourism brings them more recereational and cultural activities and stimulates a cultural exchange between the host and guest. This finding confirms previous research that found support for the cultural benefits of tourism (Jurowski et al., 1997; Besculides et al., 2002; Gursoy & Rutherford, 2004). The local community do not see tourism as a cause of increasing crime rates or affecting their religious duties or their cultural identities. It is expected that the attitudes of local people should be positive at the earlier stages of tourist development when tourism is seasonal and there is a high number of domestic tourists compared to international tourists (Faulkner & Tideswell, 1997).
On the other hand, overcrowding during the high season, the lack of facilities and poor management may lead to negative local perceptions concerning the environmental impact like crowding and littering. Similar findings were found in studies by Mbaiwa (2003), Puczko and Rat (2000). It is expected that Sare'in is likely to be environmentally degraded in the near future if measures are not taken to address the problem by officials. Sare'in needs better urban and regional planning.
In short, although many in the local community endorsed positive statements about tourism, there were still ambivalent attitudes. Similar findingswere found in studies by Hernandez et al.( 1996), Mason and Cheyne (2000), Upchurch and Teivane(2000), Andereck et al.( 2005) andPérez and Nadal ( 2005).
Conclusion and Suggestions
The exploratory study presented in this paper confirms the dominant idea of tourism as a favoured tool for an area's economic development. Tourism is seen in Sare'in primarily in terms of its economic benefits. However, sustainable tourism should also take full account of the current and future economic, social, and environmental impact, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities (Beioley et al., 2008).Tourism in Sare'in is still in its early stage of development. While this is the case, issues of sustainability are not given much consideration. Sustainable tourism development requires an approach and policy making to implement the necessary partnership between the government and the local community. Tourism in Iran requires serious efforts concerning planning, marketing, and promotion strategies to increase the number of inbound tourists interested in the country. Sare'in is a good example of a tourist region with high potential, which is characterized by certain limitations and shortcomings concerning tourism development. The Sare'in community has been exposed to tourism for three decades, but it has much more to learn. The lack of expertise and competence in tourism-related matters may influence the effectiveness and efficiency of the development approach in the long term. Local government tourism organizations should be given assistance to address and include the concerns and interests of the local people in their administrative territories under certain conditions. Unwillingness on the part of the local community to accept outside investment should also be overcome by more information, training, and education. Additional financial resources should be made available for the local government to use particularly for community development projects and the organization of participatory activities.
Sare'in needs to improve its infrastructure, ameliorate regional inequalities, and engage in tourism planning to be able to host tourists all year round. The spa centres need better facilities and maintenance and they should be managed under the medical authorities. Sare'inneeds better facilities to offer a good product and service in order to create a feeling of complete satisfaction and to assure the loyalty of different types of consumers (tourists). To meet customers' demands, health spa establishments need to know exactly what are the service expectations of customers, and their subsequent evaluation (Alen et al., 2006). The seasonal nature of tourism in Sare'in is largely due to the two factors of climate and holiday periods (Davison, 1996). Climate change seems beyond control, but changing holiday patterns or designing new products is possible.
Travellers seek new and different holiday experiences (Ross, 2001). In recent years, a new form of healthcare tourism has evolved. While seeking mainly recreation, tourists spend their spare time engaging in multiple activities within the spa or the nearby environment (Völkel & Weber, 2005). For these reasons, innovative products that combine wellness and health tourism and other tourism experiences like ecotourism, sport/winter tourism, heritage tourism, and cultural tourism should be considered as a means of raising the level/number of domestic and international tourists. Furthermore, Sare'in has the potential to become a centre of thermal tourism in the region and provide treatment and rehabilitation for a variety of diseases and illnesses.
Being located in a Muslim country and surrounded by Muslim countries gives Sare'in an advantage in attracting Muslim tourists from the region, especially from the Middle East and Middle Asia/Caucasia. Residents of Persian Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia are also drawn by the greener, wetter, and cooler regions such as Northwestern Iran as recreational destinations (Seddon & Khoja, 2003).
This study has implications for tourism public policy makers, planners, managers, and tourism investors as well as the local community. Sare'in needs a medium and long-term tourism master plan for its development.This requires close cooperation between tourist organizations, local officials, and the local community.It is suggested that this kind of research should be carried out continually at different stages of tourism planning and development to identify the differences in the perceptions of the impact of tourismby locals. The impact of tourism must also be monitored on a continuous basis if adverse effects are to be avoided, or at least ameliorated, and the benefits maximized. Therefore, further research into resident attitudes would be appropriate.
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