Visitors' memories of wildlife tourism - How wildlife tourism can generate pro-environmental action
Increased urbanisation and technology has led to people feeling disconnected from nature and decreased environmental action. This results in many people finding difficulty in understanding basic conservation and overuse of resource issues.
Nature-based tourism is now playing an important role in providing people with opportunities to have direct contact with nature in a potentially life changing way, while sending strong and educational messages to people. Recent studies have shown that direct experiences with nature promotes an emotion affinity towards nature and can lead to increased environmental action.
The paper being reviewed here focuses on one particular type of nature-based tourism – Wildlife tourism. Wildlife tourism includes zoos, aquariums, wildlife parks and wildlife watching. Wildlife tourism has shown to promote appreciation for wildlife, environmental awareness, environmentally sustainable attitudes and adoption of sustainable living practices.
This article looks in depth into the wildlife tourism experience to better understand the nature of memorable experiences, visitor engagement and enjoyment, and the relationship between their experiences and adoption of positive environmental action and knowledge. But how do we know which experiences through wildlife tourism promote positive changes in environmental knowledge and behavior in people?
This study took place on the Sunshine Coast of Australia over four wildlife tourism experiences. An aquarium (captive animals), a marine based theme park (captive animals), a turtle viewing experience (non-captive animals) and a whale watching experience (non-captive animals). This paper did a qualitative analysis on extended open-ended responses on a follow up survey of 240 people four months after the visit. The survey included 13 questions, 4 of which, the participants were specifically asked to write as much as they could. These 4 questions were
1. What are your strongest or most vivid memories of your visit to [wildlife tourism site]? (For example in relation to how you felt when you saw the [specific animals], other things you saw, or the things you learnt.)
2. Have you talked about your [wildlife tourism site] visit to other people? If yes, what kinds of things have you spoken about? 3. What did your [wildlife tourism site] visit teach you about
marine life and marine life conservation? (For example, do you recall any information about the possible impacts of humans on marine life?)
4. In what ways (if any) have your feelings about your own role in marine life conservation changed as a result of your [wildlife tourism site] visit?
Major themes appearing in visitors responses were identified using a process of coding and categorisation. The results from these questions were then pooled across the four sites to allow common themes to emerge. Four major themes were identified using the pooled data. Then, the raw data was analysed again to gain the frequencies of the four themes. The four major themes of visitor responses were
Sensory impressions (visitors report vivid visual, auditory, olfactory or tactile memories of their experience);
Emotional affinity (visitors report emotional responses to the experience or emotional connections with the animals they observed);
Reflective response (visitors report new insights as a result of cognitively processing their experience or make comments that indicate they have reflected on what they saw or heard); and
Behavioural response (visitors report having taken specific actions in response to their wildlife tourism experience or report a heightened awareness of the need for such action).
Visitors often reported on their memories involving sensory impressions that described visual images conveying immediacy. The sensory memories involved smell, noise, and touch. Most sensory impressions were not limited to any site or species.
Emotional memories were often referred to in visitor responses, and many of these emotions were among the strongest memories. Many viewers felt a sense of empathy and ‘cared’ about the animals well-being. These feelings were much more frequent in the among non-captive animal experiences.
On all four sites, the combination of visitors reflecting on their emotional affinity generated the most powerful impact on the visitors. This often led to a deeper respect and concern for not only the individual animals, but the species as whole. Further, reflection on visitor experiences led to strong emotion feelings, which usually increased the visitors awareness of the need for action and pro-environmental behaviour.
11% of the responders acknowledged that their awareness for the need to improved environmental behaviour was increased after the wildlife experience. Some behaviours indicated were changing household practises, changing purchasing practises, discussion environmental issues, and taking environmental action beyond the home.
The study concludes with a list of criteria that wildlife tourism and wildlife managers should follow to allow the visitor with the most educational and proactive experience. Some things on the criteria include..
Design interpretive experiences that require multiple senses, provide the visitor opportunities to get as a close to the animal as possible, encourage visitors to use their imaginations and enter the animals world, provide environmental information, give examples of how visitors everyday actions can impact the animal (Positive and negative), give examples of things a visitor can do to help, encourage reflection and provide resources.
Although it is unrealistic for one individual to experience all of these criteria and leave with improved environmental education and knowledge. It is recommended that wildlife companies set up web-based technology and perhaps social media in order to remind people of their experiences. The wildlife tourism companies can then draw attention to environmental issues and encourage people to adopt pro-environmental behaviour.
I think the potential for wildlife tourism to generate lasting memories and to encourage people to adopt pro-environmental behaviour and acknowledge is large. However, I wonder how be difficult to achieve as we take into account differences in people, culture and countries. What do you guys think?