The resilience of coral reef tourism to global change and crises

Biggs, Duan (2011) The resilience of coral reef tourism to global change and crises. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Escalating global change may have profound impacts on society. There is concern over a potential increase in environmental‐induced and other crises as a result of this escalating change. In today's highly connected world the impacts and extent of crises may spread in novel and unexpected ways. Thus, there is renewed science and policy interest in the ability of society to cope with and positively adapt to crises and change.

The resilience concept has gained increased attention as a way to understand the ability of ecosystems and society to cope with crises and change. Resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbances or shocks and adapt to change without fundamentally switching to an alternative state. Resilience thinking acknowledges that systems of human and nature are interactive social‐ecological systems and are not isolated from each other.

Coral reef tourism is an ideal sector in which to explore the resilience of society to crises. Coral reef tourism is centred on coral reefs – an ecosystem which is under threat from climate and broader global change. In addition, coral reef tourism is dependent on the flows of people, money, and resources from distant parts of the world. Thus, coral reef tourism provides a lens which incorporates both the impacts of climate and broader environmental change as well as the manifestations of a highly connected world.

This thesis investigates the resilience of coral reef tourism to crises resulting from climate change and other factors on Australia's Great Barrier Reef and in Phuket, Thailand. Key players in reef tourism are the enterprises that take tourists by boat to visit offshore coral reefs. For this reason, this thesis focuses on reef tourism enterprises as the scale of analysis.

A review of the literature suggests the following factors as key determinants of enterprise resilience: financial capital; human capital (skills and ability of enterprises owners and staff); lifestyle values (the extent to which enterprise owners and staff are motivated by lifestyle considerations); social capital (support from family, friends, community, and government); enterprise age and experience; and the ecological condition of coral reefs.

As many of the livelihood benefits from tourism in low and middle income countries stem from enterprises in the informal sector that are not registered, licensed, or taxed this thesis includes analysis of both informal and formal enterprises. Thus, this thesis investigates resilience in three different contexts: informal enterprises in Phuket, Thailand, formal sector enterprises in Phuket, Thailand, and formal enterprises on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. This thesis asks the following research questions: 1) Which factors can predict the resilience of reef tourism enterprises? 2) Are there differences between formal and informal enterprises in the theoretical components of resilience, and in their response actions and the factors that enabled their survival of crises in Thailand? 3) What commonalities can be identified in the factors associated with the resilience of reef tourism enterprises in different socio‐economic and governance settings? And, 4) Are resilient reef tourism enterprises more supportive of coral reef conservation than non‐resilient enterprises and what motivates this support?

Data were collected through semi‐structured interviews with enterprise owners or senior managers. Binary logistic regression analysis was used to determine the factors which predict the resilience of reef tourism enterprises to crises. Strong lifestyle values and high levels of human capital both positively predict the resilience of enterprises on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The results of a binary logistic regression analysis shows that access to finance and higher levels of social capital, in the form of support from family, friends and government during a crisis, predict resilience among informal enterprises in Phuket, Thailand.

There are marked differences between formal and informal enterprises in Thailand in the theoretical components of resilience, and in their response actions and the factors that enabled their survival of crises. Informal enterprises in Thailand report better financial condition in a crisis scenario, and higher levels of social capital in the form of government, family and community support than formal enterprises. Both formal and informal enterprises in Phuket indicate the importance of lifestyle values in their participation in the reef tourism industry. During past crises informal enterprises have responded mainly by temporarily closing down and relying on subsistence or an alternative source of income. The main response by formal sector enterprises to past crises was cost‐cutting.

A redundancy analysis was used to identify the commonalities in resilience among all enterprises surveyed. Social capital in the form of support from government, NGOs, family and friends, perceived good reef condition, and lifestyle considerations such as identity are associated with the resilience of all enterprises. Financial capital is associated with the resilience of informal and formal enterprises in Phuket, but to a lesser extent with enterprises in Australia.

The relationship between enterprise resilience, and enterprise contribution to conservation is important for sustaining coral reefs. Chapter 3 shows how lifestyle values are positively associated with enterprise resilience. Chapter 6 shows how enterprises with high lifestyle values on Australia's GBR have higher conservation ethic scores, and participate more extensively in conservation actions. Hence, enterprises with higher lifestyle values are more resilient to crises and more likely to support conservation efforts.

This PhD contributes to understanding the resilience of nature‐based tourism enterprises to crises and global change in both the formal and informal tourism sectors. The importance of lifestyle values in strengthening the resilience of all enterprises surveyed to crises is a key contribution of this work. In addition, lifestyle values form a nexus with enterprise resilience, enterprise conservation ethic, and contribution to conservation. This thesis provides a basis for more in depth research into the resilience of enterprises and other social agents exposed to crises and the effects of global change. Finally, this thesis is a foundation for researchers and policy‐makers to actively enhance the resilience of the iconic reef tourism sector and enable the continued enjoyment of coral reefs into the future.

Item ID: 27745
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: resilience, nature-based tourism, coral reefs, marine conservation, climate change, environmental impacts, global warming, adaptive capacity, Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, Whitsundays, Phuket, Thailand, reef tourism enterprises, connectivity, lifestyle values, ecotourism, crises, sustainability, vulnerability
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Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Chapter 2: Biggs, Duan, Biggs, Reinette (Oonsie), Dakos, Vasilis, Scholes, Robert J., and Schoon, Michael (2011) Are we entering an era of concatenated global crises? Ecology and Society, 16 (2): 27. pp. 1-10.

Chapter 3: Biggs, Duan (2011) Understanding resilience in a vulnerable industry: the case of reef tourism in Australia. Ecology and Society, 16 (1): 30. pp. 1-18.

Chapter 4: Biggs, Duan, Hall, C. Michael, and Stoeckl, Natalie (2012) The resilience of formal and informal tourism enterprises to disasters: reef tourism in Phuket, Thailand. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 20 (5). pp. 645-665.

Chapter 6: Biggs, D., Ban, N.C., and Hall, C.M. (2012) Lifestyle values, resilience, and nature-based tourism's contribution to conservation on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Environmental Conservation, 39 (4). pp. 370-379.

Appendix 1: Biggs, Duan, Abel, Nick, Knight, Andrew T., Leitch, Anne, Langston, Art, and Ban, Natalie C. (2011) The implementation crisis in conservation planning: could "mental models" help? Conservation Letters, 4 (3). pp. 169-183.

Appendix 2: Biggs, Duan, Turpie, J, Fabricius, C, and Spenceley, A (2011) The value of avitourism for conservation and job creation - an analysis from South Africa. Conservation and Society, 9 (1). pp. 80-90.

Funders: Australian Research Council for Coral Reef Studies (ARC)
Date Deposited: 18 Jun 2013 06:53
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050202 Conservation and Biodiversity @ 33%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050299 Environmental Science and Management not elsewhere classified @ 33%
14 ECONOMICS > 1402 Applied Economics > 140216 Tourism Economics @ 34%
SEO Codes: 90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9003 Tourism > 900301 Economic Issues in Tourism @ 34%
90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9003 Tourism > 900302 Socio-Cultural Issues in Tourism @ 33%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960899 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity of Environments not elsewhere classified @ 33%
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