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Mackellar, J 2009, 'An examination of participants at special interest events in regional Australia', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.
Copyright J Mackellar 2009
Events provide opportunities for communities to socialise, interact and to enjoy a sense of mutual celebration. However, special interest events offer other opportunities for recreation, and for the development of skills, identities and knowledge. Events such as car shows, Sci-fi conventions and Elvis festivals have large numbers of participants, as well as spectators, who have specialised needs and characteristics. This thesis uses a series of five published studies to examine the participants at special interest events and further to understand their characteristics and behaviours. The studies employ a mixed method approach to explore participants at a total of eleven events in Australia. In the first of these studies a spectrum of events is developed to explain the diversity of events in a region, as related to the special interest of participants. The study used a mixed method methodology to examine the differences between audiences at nine events in the Tweed Valley of NSW. The results were used to focus the study more on events that target serious participants. The second study was published as a conceptual paper, providing a comprehensive theoretical framework for the study of serious participants of leisure, recreation and events. The paper posits a model of serious participants (SerPa) for use and refinement in subsequent studies. Papers 3 and 4 explore serious participants at two feature events in Australia, the Wintersun Festival in Coolangatta, and the Elvis Revival Festival in Parkes. Drawing on the serious leisure framework proposed by Stebbins (2001), and other leisure and tourism research, the study explored the characteristics and behaviours of serious participants at these events. Ethnographic methods were used to gain insight into behaviours, through participant observation at the events. The findings further develop the SerPa model, but also identify other themes that are relevant to leisure and event management and marketing. Paper 5 explores the social connections of serious participants made on the Internet, and identifies their relationship to travel planning and events. The study utilised ethnographic methods adapted to the Internet, to identify and discuss the social characteristics of serious participants as fans of Lord of the Rings, and the processes used to collaborate toward travel planning. The study demonstrates the significance of serious participants as a segment of audiences at events, highlighting their contributions to the events themselves. As participants, they make the event happen, and are perhaps more important than consumers (Getz, 2007). They are defined by what they do in their leisure time, more than who they were born as, or by their profession. They have a leisure identity that defines them, and can find support and security in the fanatical system that they subscribe to. This system is usually found in special interest clubs, on-line networks and at events. These social systems help sustain their beliefs, and provide a leisure world where they feel a sense of ‘we’. From their serious devotion and social connectivity, serious participants receive social and personal rewards, which in turn provide more stimuli to develop their skills and/or knowledge. These psycho/social characteristics result in participants searching for new challenges and new destinations, which can facilitate their needs. These are found at events that are designed specifically with serious participants in mind. The study demonstrates that identification of these market segments has important implications for the design and sustainability of events in Australia, and overseas. Additionally, it also has implications for planners and practitioners in leisure and tourism in understanding the extant links between recreation, travel and events.