Opportunities for marine research tourism in Australia

Wood, Peter (2009) Opportunities for marine research tourism in Australia. In: Papers from First International Symposium on Volunteering and Tourism. From: First International Symposium on Volunteering and Tourism, 14 - 18 June 2009, Singapore.

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Marine research tourism is defined as marine ecotourism where marine research is an important part of the tourism attraction (adapted from Benson, 2005). Marine research tourism is also a form of volunteer tourism (Benson, 2005). This paper reports on results from research that aimed to further understand the views of key stakeholders about potential opportunities for both marine research key stakeholders and tourists in Australia. (2009).

For this paper, key Australian marine research tourism (marine research tourism) stakeholders include marine researchers, marine managers, marine conservation groups, marine education groups, and marine tour operators from Australia and elsewhere (adapted from Coghlan, 2007, Cuthill, 2000, Musso and Inglis, 1998). Furthermore, a marine research tourism product must last for one or more days, be advertised publicly, take paying tourists or paying volunteers, and operate on a commercial basis (adapted from Ellis, 2003a).

An online survey and subsequent analysis of 49 key stakeholder views was undertaken. Stakeholders were asked their views about who are potential marine research tourists, what are likely activities and programs for marine research tourists, issues that affect the involvement of volunteers in marine research tourism, and stakeholder opportunities to provide services to marine research tourists.

Survey results indicate that survey respondents consider potential marine research tourists to include marine wildlife tourists, repeat marine research tourists, ecotourists, scientists, volunteers, adventure tourists and SCUBA divers. Additionally, potential marine research tourists in Australia are more likely to be from countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada, Germany and New Zealand. Such information provided a foundation for the assessment of the preferences of potential marine research tourists for different marine research tourism products as undertaken by Wood and Zeppel (2008).

With some exceptions, research outcomes suggests that opportunities for marine research tourism in Australia should focus mainly on ‘popular’ marine research topics whales, dolphin, turtle, seals, sharks, dugongs, penguin, coral reef, sea dragon, coral reef spawning and ship wreck research programs. The research programs that survey respondents appear to have some ambivalence (i.e. maybe or no) about are ship wreck, coral spawning and sea dragon research. Broader suggestions also included research related to climate change, and coastal clean ups. A survey respondent suggested that marine research program that provides a simple mechanism for tourists to get involved and actually participate in the research process is a potential marine research program for marine research tourism.

Simple marine research activities such as undertaking bleach watch, coral watch, fish counts, taking notes, plankton sampling, using cameras and video, temperature measurements, habitat restoration, and data input into a computer are also highlighted as suitable for inexperienced marine research tourists. Such results indicate that opportunities to involve inexperienced volunteer minded tourists in active volunteer tourism roles on marine research tourism ventures that need advanced marine research skills are limited. However, it is suggested that less active but still inexperienced tourists can be catered by quality interpretation, close observation of marine research, and closer interaction with marine researchers.

Survey respondents considered that there are many existing marine tourism ventures such as SCUBA diving, snorkelling, live aboards, aquariums, day cruises, fishing boats, intertidal walks, and coastal based research tours, that can be adapted to marine research tourism. Furthermore, much of the Australian coastline and marine areas have been identified as likely marine research tourism destinations. The main reasons for excluding parts of the Australian marine environment were considered to be relative closeness to population centres and tourism infrastructure, and have relatively comfortable coastal and ocean environments.

Special emphasis is placed on World Heritage and marine parks as suitable marine research tourism attractions. Much interest was placed on the increased role of Indigenous Australians in marine research tourism in Australia. In summary, this information indicates the potential range of marine research tourism attraction across Australia. However, to further ascertain the full potential of marine research tourism in Australia, there needs to be a study of the preferences of the potential marine research tourism market for different types of marine research tourism ventures as undertaken by Wood and Zeppel, (2008).

A likely hindrance to development of marine research tourism in Australia is acknowledged difficulty for marine researchers to supervise volunteer tourists. A marine research tourism guide role is suggested to interpret the marine research to tourists, and ensure that the needs of marine researchers, managers and tourists are met. While a majority of key stakeholders would likely consider this to be good idea, the research suggests that some marine researchers would be hesitant about this suggestion. Factors that would influence the supervision of volunteer tourists are said to include the role of the personalities of researchers and tourists, quality communication, research complexity, training protocols, and time available to the volunteer tourist. Many marine researchers may also be reticent to encourage the development of marine research programs that involve tour guides, operators and tourists.

Furthermore, many marine researchers and managers appear to have an ambivalent view towards the helpfulness of actively involving the tourist within the marine research activity. Most key stakeholders groups also appear to have warranted concerns about any training schemes for potential marine research tourists. Together these results indicate that that many marine researchers and managers are concerned about the involvement of tourism and tourists in marine research tourism. Such views and other stakeholder views are further assessed in Wood and Rumney, (2009).

Research outcomes can be used by entrepreneurial MRT stakeholders to identify and develop MRT. Results are also intended to be directly relevant to marine research tourism in Australia, marine research tourism stakeholders from other locations.

Item ID: 10700
Item Type: Conference Item (Research - E1)
Keywords: marine tourism; scientific research; Australia; coast; ecotourism; volunteer tourism; adventure tourism
Date Deposited: 23 Apr 2010 01:08
FoR Codes: 15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150605 Tourism Resource Appraisal @ 100%
SEO Codes: 90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9003 Tourism > 900303 Tourism Infrastructure Development @ 100%
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