The social construction of Jenolan Caves: multiple meanings of a cave tourist site

Davidson, Penelope Anne (2004) The social construction of Jenolan Caves: multiple meanings of a cave tourist site. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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This thesis explores the relationships and resultant meanings that people have for the place of Jenolan Caves, the most visited cave tourist site in Australia. The aim of the research project was to: further our understanding of the social dimensions of caves tourism in order to comment on issues and practices related to sustainability. The question was approached from a constructionist perspective, which assumes that the world of human perception is not real in an absolute sense but is made up and shaped by cultural and linguistic constructs; it is a constructing of knowledge about reality not constructing reality itself. The findings are based on interviews with staff, visitors and other people who regularly associate with the place of Jenolan Caves. The highlight, and perhaps the most exciting finding, was the rich depth of meaning that Jenolan is given by a broad range of people. Staff and visitors articulated a sense of passion, care and physical engagement. The obvious emotion of place reflects the embodied nature of place experience, other facets of which include the active and sensual ways we interact, and make sense of places we visit. Although sight dominates the experience the sound, touch and smell in a cave are also essential ingredients of the experience. It was clear that emotion is a response we have to place; emotion is also central in the construction of Jenolan as a tourism place. In particular passion and enthusiasm oscillates between visitors and staff, creating a connection between the two and becoming a central facet of Jenolan. Emotions relating to place are also negative and there was a clear tension for many people in close association with Jenolan between protecting place and selling or using place. Two dominant discourses that people draw on to make sense of Jenolan are stewardship and commodification, these are ways of making sense of Jenolan that have different primary goals but in practice are woven together. The tension exists as a very real, expressed frustration, disillusionment, and at times anger for those that work at Jenolan. It is time this tension is acknowledged, if for no other reason than it will inevitably have an impact on the interdependent relationships that exist between staff, visitors and others. That is, a satisfactory visitor experience is vulnerable to negative changes in staff relationship to place. Within the managing organisation, and across a portion of the relevant disciplines, the embodied nature of place experience and interdependence between peoples and place is not fully recognised. It is not fully articulated within the Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust, and in likelihood is not articulated in other protected area agencies. The implications of these findings for the ongoing sustainability of protected area tourist sites, such as Jenolan Caves, is that discourses and approaches are required that open the management system to the sensual, emotional, and interdependent nature of place. A systematic monitoring approach of Visitor Impact Management has been adopted by Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust. On reflection the aim of such an approach is to enable the organisation to identify when strategies need to be altered, that is to learn. The findings indicate that much about the visitor experience is emotional and relates to discourses or ways of seeing that aren’t fully articulated in the organisation. The findings also indicate strong links between place interpretations of visitors, staff, the organisation and others. It is possible that frameworks such as Visitor Impact Management, which examine a component of place meaning in a systematic way, will facilitate solutions to many visitor related issues, but when the issues relate to tacit processes in the organisation or arise from unfamiliar discourses will not be recognised and/or dealt with. Visitor Impact Management located in the broader context of organisational learning may provide a process that opens the organisation to the full depth of place meaning, and provide tools for engaging with a broader variety of meaning-making discourses. Qualitative methodology was adopted to answer these explorative questions. Specifically ethnographic methods of data collection were used: interviews, observations, and document analysis. Semi-structured interviews were undertaken with 79 staff and locals, and 140 visitors. These were recorded through note taking, returned to respondents for inspection (not to visitors), and then coded for items that provided insight into the relationship and meaning that Jenolan had inspired.

Item ID: 1097
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Deposited: 19 Oct 2006
FoR Codes: 15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150603 Tourism Management @ 0%
15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150606 Tourist Behaviour and Visitor Experience @ 0%
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