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Tourists' support for conservation messages and sustainable management practices in wildlife tourism experiences

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Abstract

A common justification for developing wildlife tourism attractions is that they help to secure long-term conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitats. Managers and guides often highlight their role in protecting wildlife and its habitat, yet little is known about the interests, needs and preferences of the tourists who participate in such activities – how aware are they of conservation issues; how concerned are they about the environmental impacts their visit may cause; do they expect and accept the conservation messages they receive? This research explores the perceptions, preferences and conservation awareness of tourists visiting the Mon Repos Conservation Park in Queensland, Australia. Comparison data from four other sites are also presented in order to provide a wider context for interpreting the data. The findings suggest that wildlife tourism management practices that enlist tourists as conservation partners, communicate the reasons behind any constraints imposed, and present a consistent message regarding interactions with wildlife, are likely to be most successful in meeting the needs of both tourists and wildlife.
Tourists’ support for conservation messages and sustainable management
practices in wildlife tourism experiences
Roy Ballantyne
*
, Jan Packer, Karen Hughes
University of Queensland, School of Tourism, Brisbane QLD 4072, Australia
article info
Article history:
Received 15 May 2008
Accepted 12 November 2008
Keywords:
Wildlife tourism
Interpretation
Conservation
Minimal impact
abstract
A common justification for developing wildlife tourism attractions is that they help to secure long-term
conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitats. Managers and guides often highlight their role in pro-
tecting wildlife and its habitat, yet little is known about the interests, needs and preferences of the
tourists who participate in such activities – how aware are they of conservation issues; how concerned
are they about the environmental impacts their visit may cause; do they expect and accept the
conservation messages they receive? This research explores the perceptions, preferences and conser-
vation awareness of tourists visiting the Mon Repos Conservation Park in Queensland, Australia.
Comparison data from four other sites are also presented in order to provide a wider context for
interpreting the data. The findings suggest that wildlife tourism management practices that enlist
tourists as conservation partners, communicate the reasons behind any constraints imposed, and present
a consistent message regarding interactions with wildlife, are likely to be most successful in meeting the
needs of both tourists and wildlife.
Crown Copyright Ó2008 Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
Wildlife tourism experiences provide opportunities to observe
and interact with animals that may be endangered, threatened or
rare, and are being offered in an increasing number of destinations
world-wide (Cousins, 2007; Orams, 2002; Shackley,1996; Woods &
Moscardo, 2003). This type of tourism occurs in a range of settings
including sites where animals are captive (e.g., zoos, aquariums and
wildlife centres), or natural habitats where animals are non-captive
(e.g., ecotourism experiences, national parks). In Australia, wildlife
tourism activities attract substantial numbers of both international
and domestic tourists. For example, in 2006 approximately 2.2
million of Australia’s inbound tourists (43% of all international
tourists) participated in wildlife tourism activities. In the same year,
wildlife tourism ventures attracted 2.5 million domestic tourists, an
annual increase of 4.4% over the preceding four years (Tourism
Queensland, 2006). These figures provide strong evidence that
increasing market demand for wildlife tourism will ensure that this
type of tourism remains an important facet of the Australian
tourism product.
One of the main arguments for the continuing development of
wildlife tourism attractions is that they help to secure long-term
conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitats (Higginbottom, 2004;
Newsome, Dowling, & Moore, 2004; Reynolds & Braithwaite, 2001;
Wilson & Tisdell, 2001). If carefully designed, managed and deliv-
ered, wildlife tourism has the potential to influence the conserva-
tion knowledge, attitudes and behaviour of tourists and other
visitors (Ballantyne & Packer, 2005; Ballantyne, Packer, Hughes, &
Dierking, 2007). In Australia, ‘‘ecotourism’’ accreditation requires
that the experience ‘‘fosters environmental and cultural under-
standing, appreciation and conservation’’ (Ecotourism Australia,
2008). Similarly, accreditation with the Association of Zoos and
Aquariums requires a commitment to conservation and education,
and many zoos, aquariums, wildlife parks and botanic gardens
include conservation education within their mission statements.
There is evidence that in some settings, however, visitation leaves
imprints that can have cumulative and substantial negative impacts
on wildlife and their habitats (Marion & Reid, 2007). These impacts
include injury, stress or death of animals; disruption to foraging,
nesting or breeding behaviour; habituation to humans; destruction
or alteration of animals’ habitat; and changes to animal feeding
patterns through deliberate or unintentional provision of food
(Chin, Moore, Wallington, & Dowling, 2000; Glick, 1991; Green &
Higginbottom, 2000; Shackley, 1996).
Reducing negative impacts through the implementation of
appropriate policies, planning and management strategies is
essential to the development of a sustainable wildlife tourism
industry (Higginbottom, 2004; Newsome et al., 2004; Rodger,
Moore, & Newsome, 2007). The challenge is to design engaging
experiences that provide close encounters with wildlife yet still
*Corresponding author.
E-mail address: r.ballantyne@uq.edu.au (R. Ballantyne).
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Tourism Management
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/tourman
0261-5177/$ – see front matter Crown Copyright Ó2008 Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2008.11.003
Tourism Management 30 (2009) 658–664
protect animals and their habitats. To achieve this, many wildlife
tourism experiences are accompanied by conservation-themed
interpretation that aims to increase tourists’ awareness of conser-
vation issues and encourage them to comply with pro-conservation
practices while participating in the experience. The primary aim of
such interpretation is to raise awareness and appreciation of the
fragile state of the environment (Turley, 1999), the interrelation-
ships between wildlife and habitats, and the impact of human
activities upon the long-term viability of natural environments and
their wildlife populations (Mason, 2000). According to the
Queensland Environmental Protection Agency (2001, p. 32),
‘‘Park interpretation assists visitors, local communities and
other interested people to better understand, explore, experi-
ence and care for the natural and cultural values of parks..[it]
can also encourage people to conserve nature and protect
cultural heritage in their everyday lives.’’
Research has demonstrated the uses and effectiveness of inter-
pretation in this regard. For example, Orams and Hill (1998)
investigated the impact of a dolphin education program for tourists
hand-feeding dolphins at Tangalooma, Moreton Island (Australia).
Following the introduction of the interpretation, they observed
a significant reduction in deliberate touching and other potentially
harmful behaviour and concluded that educating tourists about
possible negative impacts had prompted voluntary compliance
with behaviour regulations. Likewise, research conducted on
cruises through the Galapagos Islands has revealed that themed
interpretation designed to target tourists’ conservation beliefs can
prompt voluntary changes in their conservation attitudes as well as
significant increases in donations to the Galapagos Conservation
Fund (Ham & Weiler, 2002).
Ballantyne and Packer (2005) emphasise the importance of
influencing tourists’ behaviour not only at the site itself, but also in
their home, work and leisure environments. There is increasing
subscription to the viewpoint that humans are an integral part of
nature and that ‘‘..conservation must occur in varying degrees in
all lands and waters, whether ‘protected’ or not’’ (Shultis & Way,
2006). Thus, interpretive messages and experiences need to be
designed ‘‘not only to meet immediate on-site needs, but also
contribute to enhanced wildlife conservation awareness which
visitors may take with them when they return to their normal lives
or visit some other natural area in the future’’ (Newsome et al.,
2004, p. 32).
Despite the recognised importance of interpretation as a method
of engendering pro-environmental attitudes and actions both
during and after a wildlife tourism experience (Moscardo & Saltzer,
2004; Turley, 1999; Weiler & Ham, 2001), little is known about the
impact of such interpretation on tourists’ enjoyment of and satis-
faction with their wildlife tourism experience. How much impor-
tance do they place on conservation issues; are they concerned
about the environmental impacts their visit may cause; do they
expect and accept the conservation messages they receive? A
review of visitor learning in captive and non-captive wildlife
tourism settings (Ballantyne et al., 2007) suggests that tourists
are likely to enjoy the learning and discovery aspects of such
experiences, and indeed, consider these to be an integral partof the
experience. This implies that tourists may not only be receptive to
conservation messages, but the opportunity to learn about conser-
vation is likely to enhance rather than detract from their experience.
This proposition has not, as yet, been tested empirically.
The current research focuses on the experiences and percep-
tions of tourists and other visitors at the Mon Repos Conservation
Park for nesting marine turtles in Queensland, Australia. Compar-
ison data from an aquarium, a marine theme park, whale watching
tours, and a botanic garden are also reported to allow the Mon
Repos data to be understood in the more general contexts of
wildlife and nature-based tourism. All of these sites use interpre-
tation to communicate conservation messages to their visitors, and
espouse conservation as a key aspect of their mission. They vary,
however, in the extent to which conservation is perceived by the
public as being central to their core business.
The aim of this research is to explore tourists’ awareness of,
interest and engagement in conservation issues, their willingness
to accept conservation messages as part of the wildlife tourism
experience, and the relative importance of the conservation-related
aspects of the experience. Of particular interest in the current study
are tourists’ perceptions of the use of management techniques to
ensure minimal impact on the turtle population, and the extent to
which these management practices successfully create a balance
between the site’s conservation needs and its visitor needs.
2. Method
2.1. The research site
The Mon Repos Conservation Park, near Bundaberg in Queens-
land (Australia), is operated by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife
Service (QPWS) as a turtle-based wildlife tourism venture. Access to
the Park is limited to tours operated by QPWS staff. Approximately
30,000 visitors each year are able to view turtles nesting on Mon
Repos beach between October and February, and hatchlings
emerging from January to March. In the studies reported here, over
90% of visitors were tourists, i.e., visitors from outside the local area
who had travelled to, and were staying at least one night in the
area. For the purposes of this paper, no distinction is made between
tourists and local visitors, and the terms ‘‘tourists’’ and ‘‘visitors’’
are used interchangeably. In most cases, the term ‘‘tourists’’ has
been preferred due to the focus of this paper on tourism manage-
ment practices, but this should not be taken to imply that local
visitors have been excluded from the dataset.
The Mon Repos Visitor Centre has interpretive displays and
signage on turtles and conservation, as well as an outdoor amphi-
theatre where rangers conduct interpretive talks and show videos
and slides. Much of the commentary focuses on conveying the
importance of protecting turtles and their habitats. There is
a mobile van selling light refreshments and a small souvenir shop.
Facilities are basic (e.g., composting toilets) in keeping with the
beach conservation theme.
The centre opens nightly at 7.00 pm. Upon entry, tourists are
assigned to one of five groups based on when they made their
booking. There are approximately 60 people per group, with a limit
of 300 people per night. Turtle viewing occurs between the hours of
7.00 pm and 2.00 am, with Group 1 being taken down to the beach
to view the first turtle or hatchlings, Group 2 to view the second
and so on. Groups spend approximately one hour on the beach
watching ‘their’ turtle or hatchlings and listening to interpretive
talks given by park rangers or volunteer guides. The turtles are wild
animals – there are no guarantees that turtles will emerge on any
given night.
Australian turtle rookeries are fundamental to the long-term
survival of four of the world’s six species of marine turtles (Wilson
& Tisdell, 2001). Allowing tourists to observe nesting and hatching
turtles has the potential for severe negative impacts, as adult turtles
may abort the nesting process due to torchlight, camera flashes,
human interference and noise. In addition, nests may be trampled
and hatchlings may be affected by handling (Jacobson & Lopez,
1994; Newsome et al., 2004; Wilson & Tisdell, 2001). At Mon Repos,
tourist management practices have been designed to minimise the
impacts on nesting and hatching turtles. These practices include
waiting until nesting turtles start digging their nest before taking
tourists onto the beach; shepherding groups while on the beach;
limiting the use of torches; restricting tourists’ movements while
R. Ballantyne et al. / Tourism Management 30 (2009) 658–664 659
hatchlings are running towards the ocean; and limiting the use of
flash photography. Mon Repos also serves as a site for research and
development of turtle conservation strategies and monitoring of
turtle populations. National Park rangers assist in this process by
collecting data on turtle and hatchling numbers as part of the tour
guiding experience. At times, it is necessary for rangers to relocate
eggs in order to increase the chances of hatchling survival. Tourists
may participate in this relocation process under close supervision
by Mon Repos staff.
2.2. Procedure and participants
Although this paper focuses mostly on data from the Mon Repos
Conservation Park, comparable data from other sites are also
reported to allow the Mon Repos data to be understood in the
context of wildlife tourism and nature-based tourism more
generally. The data reported here were collected as part of three
separate projects. The first project aimed to explore a number of
aspects of conservation learning in wildlife tourism, and was con-
ducted at the Mon Repos Conservation Park in January–February
2006, as well as at three other wildlife tourism experiences in
South-East Queensland (whale watching cruises, an aquarium, and
a marine theme park). The second project (included here for
comparison purposes only) aimed to measure the environmental
awareness, interests and motives of botanic garden visitors, and
was conducted at the Brisbane Botanic Garden in September 2006.
The third project was designed to evaluate visitor management and
interpretation strategies at the Mon Repos Conservation Park and
was conducted in January–February 2007.
In Project 1, all visitors queuing for admission to the Mon Repos
Conservation Park were approached and invited to participate in
the research. Those who agreed were asked to complete and return
a pre-visit questionnaire before entering the site, and to complete
and return a post-visit questionnaire, using an addressed, postage-
paid envelope, within the week following their visit. Similar
procedures were also used at the other three wildlife tourism sites.
The pre-visit questionnaire obtained demographic and psycho-
graphic data, including respondents’ awareness of, interest and
engagement in conservation issues. The post-visit questionnaire
obtained information about the perceived role of wildlife tourism
in providing information about conservation,aswellas
a number of questions about the experience itself and respondents’
learning outcomes. These latter data are reported elsewhere (Bal-
lantyne, Packer, & Falk, in preparation). A total of 452 pre-visit
questionnaires were distributed and returned at Mon Repos; 142
(31%) of the post-visit questionnaires were mailed back.
In Project 2, pre-visit information about respondents’ aware-
ness of and interest in conservation issues was collected as
people entered the Brisbane Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-tha. These
data, together with information about motives for visiting, are
reported by Ballantyne, Packer, and Hughes (2008).
The aim of Project 3 was to examine visitors’ perceptions of the
visitor management and interpretive practices at the Mon Repos
Conservation Park in order to inform strategies to enhance these
practices and increase visitor satisfaction. Respondents were asked
to complete and mail back post-visit questionnaires – 1200 ques-
tionnaires were distributed and 469 (39%) were returned. The
questionnaire collected both quantitative data (rating scale
responses) and qualitative data (open-ended comments) about the
importance of various visitor services, facilities, interpretation and
conservation-related aspects of the experience,aswellas
demographic information and ratings of visitor satisfaction
(reported in Packer, Ballantyne, & Bond, 2007).
The numbers of participants in each of the three projects,
together with the data collection methods used in each, are sum-
marised in Table 1.
2.3. Data analysis
Descriptive statistics were produced to summarise Mon Repos
tourists’ awareness of, interest and engagement in conservation
issues, their willingness to accept conservation messages as part of
the wildlife tourism experience, and the relative importance of the
conservation-related aspects of the experience. Differences
between sites were investigated using non-parametric Kruskal–
Wallis and Mann–Whitney tests. The Wilcoxon test was used to
investigate the relative importance of different items within
groups. Open-ended responses regarding the use of tourist
management techniques to ensure minimal impact were analysed
qualitatively, by identifying the major categories and themes
emerging from participants’ responses.
3. Results
3.1. Tourists’ awareness of, interest and engagement in
conservation issues
Information regarding tourists’ awareness of and interest in
conservation issues was collected in Project 1, before they entered
the site. Similar information was also collected from visitors to an
aquarium, a marine theme park and whale watching cruises
(Project 1), and a botanic garden (Project 2). Comparisons with
these other sites (Table 2) indicate that wildlife tourism participants
were more aware of and interested in conservation issues than
botanic garden visitors (Kruskal–Wallis
c
2
(4, N¼1200) ¼17.75,
p¼.001, for the item ‘‘I am interested in learning more about the
environment’’; and
c
2
(4, N¼1198) ¼17.75, p<.001, for the item ‘‘I
actively search for information about conservation’’), but therewere
Table 1
Summary of data collected and number of participants in each of the three projects.
Variables Project Data collection method Participants & sites
MR AQ TP WW BG
Awareness and interest in conservation
issues
1Pre-visit questionnaire: 3 items rated on 7-point scale from 1 ¼doesn’t
describe me at all to 7 ¼describes me perfectly (see Table 2)
U
450
U
288
U
234
U
291
As above 2 As above U
150
Engagement in conservation behaviour 1 Pre-visit questionnaire: 12 items rated on 5-point scale from 1 ¼never
to 5 ¼always
U
447
U
293
U
233
U
298
Willingness to accept conservation
messages
1Post-visit questionnaire: 4 items rated on 5-point scale from 1 ¼strongly
disagree to 5 ¼strongly agree (see Table 3)
U
137
U
234
U
218
U
253
Importance of conservation-related
aspects of the experience
3Post-visit questionnaire: 21 items rated on 5-point scale from 1 ¼not at
all important to 5 ¼extremely important (see Table 4)
U
463
Perceptions of use of tourism
management techniques
3Post-visit questionnaire: Open-ended comments U463
MR ¼Mon Repos; AQ ¼aquarium; TP ¼marine theme park; WW ¼whale watching tours; BG ¼botanic garden.
R. Ballantyne et al. / Tourism Management 30 (2009) 658–664660
no significant differences among the four wildlife tourism sites (
c
2
(3, N¼1052) ¼7.54, 3.04, 5.05 respectively, p>.05, for the 3
questions in Table 2). As botanic gardens are easily and freely
accessible to local residents, it is considered likely that botanic
garden visitors are more representative of the general population
than those who choose to travel and pay admission to, wildlife
tourism experiences.
Participants were also asked to indicate the extent to which,
before the visit, they engaged in a range of conservation actions that
could impact upon the quality of wildlife habitats. These included
actions with a direct and immediate impact (e.g., picking up litter,
participating in public land or water cleanups) and less obvious
actions such as reducing waste and energy consumption which have
an indirect or long-term effect on animal habitats. Most respondents
at the four wildlife tourism experiences reported that they
frequently engaged in conservation actions that require a low level
of commitment (recycling, conserving water, conserving energy);
sometimes engaged in conservation actions that require a moderate
level of commitment (purchasing environmentally friendly prod-
ucts; talking to others about the environment; picking up other
people’s litter); and never or rarely engage in conservation actions
that require a high level of commitment (participating in a public
land/water clean-up; doing volunteer work for a group that helps
the environment; donating money to a nature or conservation
organisation) (see Tabl e 3). There were no significant differences
among the four wildlife tourism sites for moderate or high-
commitment behaviours (Kruskal–Wallis
c
2
(3, N¼1231) ¼3.23,
p¼.357;
c
2
(3, N¼1251) ¼1.364, p¼.714 respectively). Visitors to
the marine theme park were more likely to report frequent
engagement in low commitment actions than visitors to the other
three sites (88% compared with 78%; Kruskal–Wallis
c
2
(3,
N¼1253 ) ¼11.351, p¼.010).
3.2. Tourists’ willingness to accept conservation messages
In the Project 1 post-visit questionnaire, participants were asked
to indicate their agreement with four statements. The first three
concerned the role of wildlife tourism in giving information about
(a) marine life; (b) conservation issues; and (c) conservation
actions. The fourth statement was worded such that agreement
indicated non-support for conservation messages, in order to gain
an insight into the effect of acquiescence. Each of the four state-
ments was rated on a 5-point scale from strongly disagree to
strongly agree.
The results (Table 4) clearly indicate that, even if as many as 17%
of respondents were acquiescing, a clear majority (at least 75–80%)
supports the inclusion of conservation education in wildlife
tourism experiences. (The range 75–80% was calculated by sub-
tracting the percentage of respondents who agreed with both
Statement 1 and Statement 4, i.e.,17% of the total sample, from the
percentage who agreed with each of the supportive statements, i.e.,
92–97% of the total sample. As some of these respondents would
actually have supported the inclusion of conservation education,
this range is if anything an underestimate of actual support.)
Support was greater at the Mon Repos Conservation Park (94–97%)
than any of the other wildlife tourism sites - whale watching
cruises (70–77%); aquarium (65–72%); and marine theme park
(63–67%). Significant differences were found between the four sites
on Statements 1, 3 and 4 (Kruskal–Wallis
c
2
(3, N¼841) ¼13.89,
p¼.003, for Statement 1;
c
2
(3, N¼838) ¼8.18, p¼.042, for
Statement 3;
c
2
(3, N¼836) ¼30.65, p<.001 for Statement 4).
Respondents at the non-captive wildlife tourism sites (Mon Repos
Conservation Park and whale watching cruises) were more likely to
agree that people should be given information than at the captive
wildlife sites (aquarium and marine theme park). Of further
interest, comparing within groups, is the significantly higher
endorsement for practical information about what people can do to
help protect the wildlife rather than information about conserva-
tion issues (Wilcoxon, Z(N¼835) ¼7.41, p<.001). This difference
was statistically significant at all four sites (all Z’s >3.05, p<.002).
3.3. Relative importance of conservation-related aspects of the
experience
In Project 3, respondents were asked to rate a range of features
of the Mon Repos experience on a five-point scale according to how
important each feature was to them. These 21 features included
aspects of the turtle-viewing (beach) experience, interactions with
staff, the visitor centre and the booking procedures. (They were also
asked to rate how well Mon Repos performed on each feature, and
this is reported in the unpublished evaluation report, Packer et al.,
2007.) Responses are presented in Table 5, with items divided into
those that most, some or few respondents rated as extremely
important (see Note to Table 5 for further explanation).
Of all the aspects respondents were asked to rate, the one they
considered more important than any other aspect was that the
experience had minimal impact on the turtles. This item was given
the highest rating (5) by 88% of respondents. Other items of major
importance focussed on the interpretation aspects of the experi-
ence, and in particular, the opportunity for informative and pleasant
interactions with staff. Aspects of the turtle-viewing experience on
the beach were also considered extremely important. Features that
were considered to be least important related to the facilities of the
centre such as food and beverage outlets, activities for children and
adults, audiovisual presentations, seating, and signs and displays.
Having the opportunity to take photographs was also accorded low
importance, and the qualitative data discussed below explain how
this is a further indication of the importance tourists placed on
having minimal impact on the turtles. The fact that after their visit,
85% of respondents indicated that they would be willing to pay extra
for the experience at Mon Repos in order to support turtle conser-
vation, further supports the importance to tourists of the conser-
vation-related aspects of the experience.
Table 2
Comparison of respondents’ awareness and interest in conservation issues across the five research sites (percentage selected top two ratings
a
).
Mon Repos Whale watching cruises Aquarium Marine theme park Botanic garden
I often think about whether my actions harm the environment 38% 40% 37% 43% 36%
I am interested in learning more about the environment 38% 42% 38% 43% 28% ***
I actively search for information about conservation 13% 15% 14% 11% 8% ***
***Significant differences between sites, p<.001.
a
Percentage rating 6 or 7 on a 7-point scale, where 1 ¼‘‘doesn’t describe me at all’’ and 7¼‘‘describes me perfectly’’.
Table 3
Respondents’ engagement in conservation actions.
Never/rarely Sometimes Often/always
Low commitment conservation actions 1% 19% 80%
Moderate commitment conservation
actions
7% 56% 37%
High commitment conservation actions 63% 31% 6%
R. Ballantyne et al. / Tourism Management 30 (2009) 658–664 661
3.4. Perceptions of the use of tourist management techniques to
ensure minimal impact
Respondents were asked to provide comments on the different
aspects of the experience, as well as the things they most and least
enjoyed about the visit. Although visitors were mostly positive
about their experience at Mon Repos, many of their comments
reflected concerns about minimal impact issues. Respondents were
highly supportive of the tourist management practices that had
been implemented to protect the turtle population from the
negative impacts of tourist visitation. They were concerned,
however, when these practices were either seen to be ineffective, or
applied inconsistently by centre staff and volunteer guides.
People expressed concern that large groups (approximately
sixty people in each group) made it almost impossible for guides to
shepherd and control visitors’ movements on the beach. Not only
did this make it difficult for tourists to view the turtles orturtle nest
and hear the guide’s explanations, they were also concerned that
such large groups could easily cause harm to nesting turtles and
hatchlings. Group numbers are deliberately set at sixty so that the
large circle of people offers some protection for the turtle from
other sources of light on the beach. This is done for the comfort and
safety of the turtles, yet this is rarely explained during the experi-
ence. Tourists’ responses suggest that they would be happier to
accept the group size if they knew the reasoning behind it.
‘‘I would have paid double to be in a smaller group. Tonight
there was one guide with a large group of people, who had to do
all the data collection. Another turtle coming up the beach was
scared off by poor group control. I feel very bad about the human
impact tonight!’’
‘‘There were too many people in a group to make this a pleasant
experience (for us and I suspect staff and even the turtles).I
understand that there is a heavy demand for turtle viewing;
however, I think catering to that demand to such an extent is
counterproductive to the experience and the goal of
conservation.’’
‘‘Maybe the group needed to be slightly better controlled. I felt
a little worried for the turtle and would have been horrified if it
had gone back to sea without laying due to the disturbance.’’
Other similar issues raised by respondents relate to the appro-
priateness of animal handling (of eggs and hatchlings) by both
tourists (children in particular) and guides; the use of torches to
guide the hatchlings to the water’s edge; and the use of flash
photography on the beach.
‘‘I didn’t like it that people were being allowed to handle the
hatchlings, there were over 60 people taking photos of hatch-
lings with flashes, inches from the turtle’s face.’’
I think there were too many people around each turtle, too many
torches and the turtles must get stressed.’’
‘‘I felt concerned about hatchlings being guided to the beach by
children, moving feet etc.I thought we would be viewing wild
habitats but the hatchlings were very affected by the humans
and torches, etc.’’
‘‘I was very concerned for the baby turtles’ welfare.People
should be forbidden to take photos, and the centre should sell
professional photographs instead.’’
One of the key messages reiterated throughout the centre’s
signs, displays and talks is that lights on the beach disturb nesting
turtles and impede hatchling navigation. For this reason, much of
the centre is in semi-darkness. Yet on the beach, tourists are
allowed to use flash photography and torches. This inconsistency
does not go unnoticed by respondents. Their comments suggest
that they would be willing to sacrifice the opportunity to take flash
Table 4
Comparison of respondents’ willingness to accept conservation information across the four wildlife tourism sites (percentage agreement
a
).
Experiences like this should: Mon Repos Whale watch cruises Aquarium Marine theme park Total
1. Give people information about marine life and marine life behaviour % 4–5
a
99% 98% 96% 97% 97%
%5
b
58% 59% 44% 50% 52%
2. Give people information about conservation issues % 4–5 94% 91% 89% 93% 92%
% 5 46% 45% 39% 46% 44%
3. Give people practical information about what they can do to help protect marine life % 4–5 96% 94% 93% 93% 94%
% 5 60% 57% 46% 53% 53%
4. Let people view marine life without giving them anything but the basic facts % 4–5 8% 26% 31% 34% 27%
% 5 6% 12% 11% 14% 11%
% Of respondents who agreed with both statement 1 and statement 4 2% 21% 24% 30% 17%
a
Percentage agreement, i.e., rated 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale where 1 ¼‘‘strongly disagree’’; 2 ¼‘‘disagree’’; 3 ¼‘‘neither’’; 4 ¼‘‘agree’’; and 5 ¼‘‘strongly agree.
b
Percentage strong agreement, i.e., rated 5.
Table 5
Respondents’ ratings of the importance of various aspects of the Mon Repos expe-
rience, in decreasing order of importance.
A. Rated extremely important by most participants
a
%5
Minimal impact on turtles 88
Staff are knowledgeable 83
Staff are friendly and helpful 82
Able to ask questions 70
Ease of booking process 72
Accurate pre-visit information 72
Efficient organisation (of turtle viewing) 69
Tickets are reasonably priced 70
Able to get close to turtles 68
Ranger/turtle guide talks on the beach 66
B. Rated extremely important by some participants % 5
Sufficient number of staff 63
Ranger talks at the visitor centre 54
Toilet facilities 54
Parking 49
Visitor centre displays & exhibits 43
Seating 43
Activities for children 41
C. Rated extremely important by few participants % 5
Audiovisual presentations 33
Able to take photographs 30
Activities for adults 23
Food and beverages 19
a
Items were rated on a 5-point scale, where 1¼‘‘not at all important’’ and
5¼‘‘extremely important’’. Three levels of endorsement were introduced to aid
interpretation of the data: ‘‘Rated extremely important by most’’ (at leasttwo-thirds
of respondents rated the item ‘‘extremely important’’); ‘‘Rated extremely important
by some’’ (between one-third and two-thirds of respondents rated the item
‘‘extremely important’’); and ‘‘Rated extremely important by few’’ (fewer than one-
third of respondents rated the item ‘‘extremely important’’).
R. Ballantyne et al. / Tourism Management 30 (2009) 658–664662
photographs for the sake of the turtles’ welfare. For example, when
asked for comments about the turtle-viewing experience, 12% of
comments (1 in 8) expressed concern about too much photography
and/or handling of animals. The frequency with which these
concerns were mentioned reinforce the finding noted above that
minimal impact on the turtles is the consideration of highest
importance to tourists.
4. Discussion and conclusions
The evidence presented here suggests that visitors to the Mon
Repos Conservation Park overwhelmingly support the conservation
aspects of the experience and place primary importance on minimal
impact concerns, at the expense, if necessary, of their own experi-
ence and personal comfort.
Most respondents reported that they were already engaged in
conservation actions that required a low level of commitment, and
approximately 1 in 10 were actively involved in high-commitment
activities such as participating in public land or water clean-ups.
Wildlife tourists were more aware of andinterested in conservation
issues than the general public (as indicated by comparisons with
botanic garden visitors), and strongly supported the inclusion of
conservation messages as part of the wildlife tourism experience.
Tourists were particularly interested in practical information about
what they could do to help protect the wildlife, rather than general
information about conservation issues.
Interpreters working in the context of wildlife tourism should
ensure that they address tourists’ needs for such practical infor-
mation. Given that many tourists will return to home environments
far away from the site itself, they need to be encouraged to extend
their desire to protect the specific species they have encountered, to
other species that are closer to home, or to more global environ-
mental concerns. As noted by Ballantyne, Packer, and Hughes
(2008), visitors need to be persuaded that their individual actions
have an influence on the sustainability of the earth’s resources for
future generations. The findings of this research are encouraging
for interpreters and highlight wildlife-tourists’ potential recep-
tiveness to, and support for, minimal impact and conservation
messages.
Mon Repos visitors displayed stronger and more consistent
opinions than wildlife tourists at other sites regarding the use of the
facility to promote conservation themes. This maybe due to the fact
that the Mon Repos site is operated by the Queensland Parks and
Wildlife Service, and is promoted and perceived as a conservation
venture. Further research is needed to investigate the extent to
which tourists’ support for sustainable management practices
varies according to the site they are visiting and the perceived
motives of management. For example, would visitors consider the
needs of wildlife above their own in the context of wildlife tourism
that is provided on a for-profit basis by a private company; what
importance would they place on the conservation of species that
are not endangered; and to what extent is the impact of interpre-
tive messages dependent on the perceived authority, enthusiasm
and commitment of the interpreter?
4.1. Management implications
Of particular importance to the management of wildlife tourism
attractions is the finding that tourists are more concerned that the
experience should have minimal impact on the turtles than they are
about a range of other items relating to their own experience and
personal comfort. People expect that restrictions will be placed on
their activities in order to protect wildlife, and in fact become quite
distressedif they perceive thatthe animals are suffering as a resultof
their presence. Management strategies could build on this sense of
‘‘good-will’’ by enlisting tourists’ assistance as conservation partners
wherever possible, rather than enforcing rules and regulations to
control tourist behaviour. The consistency in visitors’ support for
conservation themes across the range of sites included in this study
suggests that highlighting the organisation’s engagement in conser-
vation initiatives could become a valuable part of the marketing
activities for wildlife and nature-based tourism experiences.
The findings of this study suggest that the key to balancing the
needs of tourists with the needs of wildlife, is to clearly commu-
nicate the reasons behind particular management practices in
terms that relate directly to protecting the animals from human
impacts. Valentine and Birtles (2004) note that ‘‘in many instances
the desire for greater proximity [to wildlife] is driven by the thirst
for a close up photograph’’ (p. 31). This study demonstrates that
most tourists are willing to forego both proximity and photography
in favour of protection.
One of the management problems identified in this study was
the perceived inconsistency in the messages tourists received about
management practices at Mon Repos. Although there were good
reasons for all the practices employed, these were not always
communicated clearly to tourists. Such ‘‘mixed messages’’ can
undermine the credibility of the information source (Marion &
Reid, 2007) and thus severely limit the effectiveness of the inter-
pretive experience. In some cases, inconsistencies across wildlife
tourism sites can also lead to confusion for tourists. For example,
when is it acceptable to handle or touch wildlife? When is it
acceptable to feed wildlife? Most wildlife tourism experiences in
Australia do not allow tourists to touch animals (Rodger et al.,
2007), and actively discourage any handling of wildlife. Guides at
Mon Repos, or other sites where wildlife handling is allowed,
should therefore explain the conditions under which such actions
are acceptable. In the case of Mon Repos for example, moving newly
laid eggs beyond the high tide mark is fundamental to the survival
of the clutch and an integral part of the protection and monitoring
function of the conservation service. This is an exception to the
normal practice in National Parks, which is necessitated by the
endangered status of the animals, and needs to be carefully
explained to tourists.
While handling animals can cause stress, it need not do so if the
experience is well managed and supervised (Green & Giese, 2004).
Occasionally, as in the case of Mon Repos, direct manipulation of
wild animals and their habitats is necessary from a conservation
perspective (Higginbottom & Tribe, 2004). In these cases, the
emotional affinity engendered by such close experiences can have
a powerful influence on tourists’ subsequent conservation attitudes
and behaviours (Ballantyne, Packer, & Sutherland, in preparation).
The important lesson from this study is that the reasons for these
actions, and their potential benefits, need to be emphasised both in
visitor centre displays and during the experience itself. Ensuring
that messages are consistent, and the reasons for management
practices are explained, will enable greater control to be attained in
the management of wildlife tourism experiences without
compromising either the visitor experience or the animals’ welfare.
In fact, the knowledge that they are accepting restrictions for the
sake of minimal impact is likely to make the experience even more
special for tourists. Conversely, if tourists have cause for concern
about the impact of their visit on the welfare of the animals, even if
this is perceived rather than real, it is likely to detract from their
enjoyment and satisfaction.
Experiences that offer encounters with wildlife, conservation-
themed interpretation and clear guidelines for wildlife-tourist
interaction have considerable potential to enhance tourists’
learning and influence their long-term behaviour. The challenge is
to develop management practices that provide meaningful, care-
fully monitored and thoughtfully interpreted wildlife encounters
while simultaneously protecting wildlife and its habitats. If wildlife
tourism operators make the effort to better understand their
R. Ballantyne et al. / Tourism Management 30 (2009) 658–664 663
visitors’ needs, motives and expectations, they may find that, in
many cases, the needs of tourists and the needs of wildlife are not
necessarily in conflict.
Acknowledgements
Project 1 was undertaken with the support of an ARC Discovery
Grant, and Project 3 with the support of the Burnett Shire Council.
We are grateful to those who contributed to the data collection at
Mon Repos: Nigel Bond, Linda Peach, Elizabeth Tanner, Cathy Gatley
and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
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