Examining the characteristics of wildlife tourists and their responses to Australian wildlife tourism experiences

Woods, Barbara Anne (2002) Examining the characteristics of wildlife tourists and their responses to Australian wildlife tourism experiences. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Wildlife tourism has attracted increasing academic and industry attention in recent times. There is a general consensus that wildlife tourism is a substantial industry, and consequently there is a need for greater understanding of both visitors and wildlife to ensure sustainable progress. While there has been a dramatic increase in wildlife tourism literature over the past decade, one of the major criticisms levelled at the existing body of research is the lack of conceptual or theoretical basis. Most studies are site specific and focus on particular species, visitors or settings. Consequently, the ability to generalise results is limited.

The overall aim of this thesis is to identify features of successful wildlife tourism experiences from the perspective of the visitor, and apply appropriate theory to explain why these features are important. Features suggested by reviewing the literature were organised broadly into four categories, namely:

• features of the setting, • characteristics of the tourists, • features of the wildlife that make them attractive to visitors, and • features of the interpretation available at the site.

These four dimensions were used to guide the direction of research and the organisation of results in this thesis. In addition to reviewing specific studies of wildlife tourism, the wider recreation and tourism literature was examined for potential theories that may assist a broader understanding of wildlife tourism.

The first study in this thesis had two broad aims. The first aim was to identify which features of the experience were important to visitors and to begin to assess the relative importance of these features. The second aim was to begin an examination of the usefulness of various theories for explaining why these features were important. The study (n=790) asked respondents to describe their best and worst wildlife experiences in an open-ended survey. A qualitative approach was considered valuable for obtaining a respondent-generated list of features and to set the context for more quantitative steps. From these open-ended descriptions, recurring themes were identified. These included interacting with wildlife, being in the natural environment, and learning about wildlife. Further analysis indicated that the theory of 'Mindfulness' (Langer, 1989) was a useful explanatory framework, and that the concept of 'Recreation Specialisation' (Bryan, 1979) was worthy of further research attention.

Using the list of features from the first study, a structured questionnaire was developed. This was applied to visitors in a captive wildlife setting (n=957) and a non-captive setting (n=710). The aim of these studies was to examine the relative importance of features both overall and between different groups of visitors. These studies confirmed the importance of the natural environment, and in captive settings, the issue of animal welfare was paramount. Visitors were segmented according to their level of 'interest in wildlife viewing', as this was a key variable in identifying visitors with different levels of specialisation. Across the two studies there were some results that were consistent with the Specialisation framework, however overall the results were inconclusive. The specialisation framework showed potential for explaining differences in preferences for wildlife tourism experiences, but further research in defining specialisation amongst visitors was required.

In the final study (n=403) a more focussed examination of specialisation amongst wildlife tourists was conducted. Several indicators of specialisation were identified from the literature, and these variables identified significant differences between respondents. However, when the specialisation groups were compared on dependent variables such as preference for wildlife tourism scenarios and participation in interpretive activities, few significant differences were found. The study concluded that while it is possible to identify visitors with varying levels of specialisation in wildlife tourism, this framework is of limited value in explaining differences in preferences for wildlife settings and participation in other wildlife tourism related activities.

Overall, these studies show that wildlife tourists have much in common. Viewing wildlife is considered to be an enjoyable activity, and features such as natural environments, viewing animals in their natural habitats, interacting with wildlife, and learning about wildlife are central and critical components of the wildlife experience. The theory of Mindfulness was considered to be a useful framework for understanding successful wildlife experiences, and a Mindfulness model for wildlife tourism experiences was proposed.

Item ID: 39152
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Alligator Creek; ecotourism; interpretation; Kuranda Rainforest Village; Lake Eacham National Park; Port Douglas; Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary; tourists; Townsville; visitors; wildlife tourism
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Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Woods, Barbara (1998) Animals on display: principles for interpreting captive wildlife. Journal of Tourism Studies, 9 (1). pp. 28-39.

Woods, Barbara (2000) Beauty and the beast: preferences for animals in Australia. Journal of Tourism Studies, 11 (2). pp. 25-35.

Date Deposited: 28 Jul 2015 07:06
FoR Codes: 15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150606 Tourist Behaviour and Visitor Experience @ 100%
SEO Codes: 90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9003 Tourism > 900303 Tourism Infrastructure Development @ 100%
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