A conceptual exploration of marine research tourism in Australia: a study of the conceptual, supply, and demand nature of marine research tourism in Australia

Wood, Peter (2010) A conceptual exploration of marine research tourism in Australia: a study of the conceptual, supply, and demand nature of marine research tourism in Australia. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

Marine research tourism (MRT) is defined as marine ecotourism whereby non-specialist volunteers or tourists pay for a volunteer vacation or conservation holiday to help marine wildlife managers in marine research and contribute financially to that activity (adapted from Ellis, 2003a; Benson, 2005). Examples of MRT organisations worldwide are Biosphere Expeditions, Blue Ventures, Coral Cay Conservation, and Conservation Volunteers Australia. Although Hughes (2008) and Dunstan (2009) have presented case studies of MRT, this thesis is the first study of MRT both on a global and regional (i.e. Australia) scale.

This thesis has investigated the conceptual, supply, and demand nature of MRT with a specific focus on Australia. This investigation was supported by three research questions which ask 1) what are the key features of MRT worldwide and in Australia; 2) what are the shared and contested views of different supply-side key stakeholder groups about MRT in Australia; and 3)what are the preferences of potential MRT tourists for specific MRT products in Australia and why?

Each research question was investigated with a specific research study. Study one explores and describes the manifestation of MRT across a representative sample of MRT products (n=85) worldwide and in Australia. Study two acquires and compares the views of supply-side key stakeholders (n=70) about the supply, demand, and potential for MRT in Australia. Study three measures and describes the preferences of potential MRT tourists (n=311) for different MRT products (n=12) across Australia and associated benefits (n=25). The design and analysis of each study is based on a proposed conceptual framework for MRT that includes; scientific tourism, ecotourism, wildlife tourism, marine tourism, educational tourism, and adventure tourism, volunteer and vacation mindedness; scientific research, environmental conservation, and community development (derived from Benson, 2005; Coghlan, 2007; Ellis, 2003a; Clifton & Benson 2006; Cousins, 2007; Brown & Lehto, 2005; Whatmore, 2008; Lorimer, 2009).

Study one validates the proposed conceptual framework for MRT with the caveat that community development does occur but is not a consistent feature across all MRT products. Orams' (1999) spectrum of recreational marine opportunities and Brown and Lehto's (2005) volunteer and vacation minded concept are found to be dominant influences on MRT. Additionally, SCUBA diving, skilled scientific tourists (e.g. university science students and other marine science enthusiasts), marine wildlife tourism, volunteers and backpackers, were found to notably affect the nature of MRT.

Study one finds that higher quality marine research can be achieved by attracting skilled scientific tourists via MRT products with increased physical adventure, SCUBA diving, environmental remoteness, offshore sailing, tranquillity, higher costs per day, and shorter trips. In contrast, longer term marine conservation is associated with coastal products that involve volunteer tourists and backpackers. These products are associated with lower costs per day, longer duration, and less comfort and hospitality for the tourist.

In world terms, Australia can be considered to be a hotspot for MRT with twenty four percent (n=30) of worldwide MRT products (n=125) occurring in Australia. When compared with MRT elsewhere, Australian MRT is characterised by a prevalence of small and independent organisations (80%). These smaller organisations are typified by liveaboard MRT products that operate in isolated, uninhabited and/or pristine locations, and marine research that focuses on coral reefs, whales, sea birds, sharks, and dolphins. Skilled scientific tourists are more often attracted to those MRT products.

In contrast, MRT elsewhere is dominated by UK or USA owned (87%) larger and/or international MRT organisations (99%) such as The Earthwatch Institute, Coral Cay Conservation, and Greenforce. Those larger organisations are typified by coastal or island-based operations, volunteer mindedness, backpackers, and volunteer tourists, less comfort for the tourist, more skills training, more interaction with local communities, and coral reef and turtle MRT products.

Study two examines the views (n=232) of supply-side key stakeholders about the supply, demand, and potential for MRT in Australia. Eight aspects of MRT are identified and described namely; driving forces, major factors, benefits, physical constraints, opportunities, issues, contested views, and shared stakeholder views. Driving forces for MRT in Australia include an increasingly educated, active, conservation volunteer focused, environmentally responsible, marine documentary watching, and alternative tourist market who are seeking to connect with the marine realm through a MRT product.

Eighty eight percent of respondent views were shared across key stakeholders groups. This can act as a basis for consensus and subsequent collaboration amongst key stakeholder groups for future Australian MRT. However, twelve percent of views were contested. These views indicate that many Australian Government marine researchers and managers will have issues about their involvement in MRT. Their overall issue is that MRT is a tourism enterprise and Government marine research programs are serious endeavours that should not cater to the needs of tourists nor be dependent on funding from tourism.

Study three identifies a set of relationships between, market segments, preferred benefits, and MRT products. Nature documentary viewing, snorkelling experience, SCUBA experience, gender, and age significantly influence the interest of potential MRT tourists for specific MRT products. A MRT tourist's interest in MRT products is found to be influenced by their preferences for marine discovery and exploration, learning from experienced researchers, fun, social interaction, and skills training. A key outcome is twelve tables that describe the relationships between MRT market segments, products, and associated benefits.

Findings from studies one, two, and three are then combined to develop an integrated model of the conceptual, supply, and demand nature of MRT. This model shows MRT to be a tourism phenomenon with many interacting governing, supply, and demand factors that given the right external circumstances can develop into many MRT products with important scientific, environmental, and social benefits.

Finally, from this model, MRT is defined as marine ecotourism where skilled and nonskilled scientific tourists explore and discover marine phenomena, and learn through experienced marine scientists and/or enthusiasts. It is also typically focused on charismatic megafauna; governed by the nature of the marine environment; offers a passive and/or active experience; delivers significant marine research, conservation biology, and/or educational outcomes; and a rich tourist experience.

Item ID: 19034
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: conservation, demand, ecotourism, marine, marine tourism, research, research tourism, science, supply, tourism, tourist experiences, typology, volunteer, volunteering, working holidays
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Additional Information:

Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Wood, Peter, and Rumney, John (2009) Key stakeholder views of marine research tourism in Australia. ISBN 978-0-620-44213-8. Proceedings of CMT2009, the 6th International Congress on Coastal and Marine Tourism In: the 6th International Congress on Coastal and Marine Tourism, 23-26 June, 2009, Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Wood, Peter, and Coghlan, Alexandra (2008) The conceptual nature of marine research tourism and key stakeholder involvement in marine research tourism. ISBN 978-1-921291-33-3. Proceedings of the 18th Annual Council for Australian University Tourism and Hospitality Education (CAUTHE) Conference In: CAUTHE 2008 Conference: Tourism and Hospitality Research, Training and Practice, 11-14 Feb, 2008, Gold Coast, QLD, Australia.

Wood, Peter (2009) Opportunities for marine research tourism in Australia. Papers from First International Symposium on Volunteering and Tourism In: First International Symposium on Volunteering and Tourism, 14 - 15 June, 2009, Singapore.

Date Deposited: 29 Mar 2012 05:24
FoR Codes: 15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150604 Tourism Marketing @ 33%
15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150606 Tourist Behaviour and Visitor Experience @ 34%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1605 Policy and Administration > 160513 Tourism Policy @ 33%
SEO Codes: 90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9098 Environmentally Sustainable Commercial Services and Tourism > 909899 Environmentally Sustainable Commercial Services and Tourism not elsewhere classified @ 34%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970115 Expanding Knowledge in Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services @ 33%
90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9003 Tourism > 900303 Tourism Infrastructure Development @ 33%
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