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

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Lovelock, B, Farminer, A & Reis, AC 2011, A synthesis and gap analysis of public conservation area visitor research in New Zealand 1995-2010, NZ Department of Conservation, Wellington, New Zealand. ISBN: 9780478149302

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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 New Zealand research bibliography and identifies key gaps in knowledge that future research needs to address. The main findings are that the international visitor market is still increasing but the status of the New Zealand domestic visitor market is less certain—available research does not fill the gaps in our deeper understanding of this market. Motivations for visiting conservation lands remained unchanged over the period of the literature review. However, changes in the makeup of the population mean that DOC needs to better understand this current and future market. Understanding and responding to cultural differences in recreation behaviour are especially important if DOC is to attract new customers to conservation lands. Such an approach may also help DOC to prepare for forecasted changes in the international visitor market, with the emergence of non-traditional source markets (e.g. China and India).

Further research is required on participation (and non-participation) by marginalised members of the population such as the disabled, people of lower socio-economic status and those unfamiliar with the outdoor recreation opportunities offered by DOC. Family demand for use of DOCmanaged lands is also worthy of greater research attention. There is a lack of information on visitation to conservation areas that do not have national park status, particularly in the North Island. Visitation by locals and ‘other’ activities, especially water-based ones, are also underresearched. There is also a lack of information on visitor demand for and participation at historic sites in general, and in particular for the built heritage that DOC manages. The sizeable quantities of data from visitor research have yet to be drawn together and analysed collectively. There is also a need to better integrate the findings of previous reviews of visitor research and the resulting recommendations to avoid further fragmentation of that information. Importantly, longitudinal (over time) and regional or conservancy-wide studies are needed; most of the visitor research is site specific or was undertaken at one point in time. Furthermore, there has been little focus on the actual visitor, and his or her longitudinal relationship with DOCmanaged areas. Such studies will assist in understanding wider visitor flows and patterns of visitation, and the overall dynamics of visitation to public conservation areas.