A synthesis and gap analysis of public conservation area visitor research in Australia 1995-2010

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Lovelock, B, Reis, AC & Farminer, A 2011, A synthesis and gap analysis of public conservation area visitor research in Australia 1995-2010, NZ Department of Conservation, Wellington, New Zealand. ISBN: 9780478149326

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Increasing the participation of New Zealanders and overseas visitors in recreation and tourism activities in public conservation areas is a priority task for the Department of Conservation (DOC). To help achieve this goal, DOC commissioned research to investigate and review the literature on outdoor recreation and tourism (nature-based, eco- and heritage tourism), focussing on visitor demand for and participation at public conservation areas, and the segmentation of those visitors, for both New Zealand and Australia. This report provides a synthesis of the information gathered in the Australian research bibliography, outlines the key trends and issues relating to visitation to conservation areas in Australia and identifies the key gaps in knowledge.

Due to its diverse landscape and large area, Australia presents quite a different environment from New Zealand in terms of the demand for nature-based activities in protected areas. Although the market for these activities is constantly changing, Australia seems to have a more resilient nature-based tourism industry. Visitation to natural areas appears to be on the increase, with few locations experiencing a decline in visitation. Residents are highly aware of parks and are increasingly undertaking day visits to enjoy those areas.

A significant difference between the New Zealand and the Australian literature is that the former has tended to concentrate on particular activities, such as tramping, whereas the latter has been more general in nature, identifying broader trends. Still, it is clear that water-based activities are extremely popular in protected areas, as well as birdwatching and other wildlife viewing. Visitation is dominated by well-educated, male, high-income earners. Domestic visitors tend to visit parks and conservation areas that are less well known, with other family members, whereas international tourists visit mostly iconic ecotourism and/or wildlife tourism destinations.

Various approaches to visitor segmentation have been used in nature-based tourism and recreation research in Australia. The choice of approach (e.g. segmentation by activity, motivation or geographic origin) is related to the destination, the services provided and the opportunities available in the area as well as the different markets previously identified.

Segmentation by travel or visit motivation is the most popular form of visitor segmentation in Australia. The beauty and naturalness of protected areas, the desire to take a break from ‘real’ life, the desire to relax and rejuvenate, and the unique opportunities provided by parks for outdoor recreational activities are the common motivations for visitors to New Zealand and Australian protected areas. The Australian literature, however, more often highlighted that families use the opportunity to provide their children with a natural learning experience when visiting protected areas, compared to the New Zealand literature.