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A Guide to developing an integrated Monitoring Program for visitor management in protected areas

Developing a monitoring program for visitor management in protected areas can be daunting task. The widely adopted IUCN-WCPA framework for evaluating management effectiveness provides a useful, practical starting point. The framework has six main parts: context, planning, inputs, processes, outputs and outcomes. Managers are asked to monitor each of these parts to get a complete picture of where they are being effective and where more work is needed.Read more
Developing a monitoring program for visitor management in protected areas can be daunting task. The widely adopted IUCN-WCPA framework for evaluating management effectiveness provides a useful, practical starting point. The framework has six main parts: context, planning, inputs, processes, outputs and outcomes. Managers are asked to monitor each of these parts to get a complete picture of where they are being effective and where more work is needed (see Evaluating Effectiveness).


Source: Hockings, M., Stolton, S. & Dudley, N. (2004) Management effectiveness: assessing management of protected areas? Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 6(2), pp. 157–174.


Many monitoring programs focus only on outputs and outcomes. This management cycle approach (as shown above) emphasises the importance of looking at all stages of management as all are likely to influence the delivery of desired outcomes and hence achievement of an agency’s management objectives.


IUCN-WCPA Management Effectiveness Evaluation Framework (see Evaluating Effectiveness)

Development of this IUCN-WCPA framework was based on a worldwide review of evaluation systems already in use for protected areas, combined with an extensive consultation process. It provides a system and associated indicators for evaluating management effectiveness, building on the management cycle approach. In order to develop an effective monitoring system monitoring needs to occur for each of the six components. 

This framework involves monitoring and evaluating components of the evaluation elements below:

  • Context – not an analysis of management, but provides information that helps put management decisions into context, e.g. values, threats, opportunities, political environment;
  • Planning – evaluation of appropriateness of policies, plans and design;
  • Inputs – evaluation of adequacy of resources (staff, funds, facilities) employed for management
  • In the context of visitor use, this relates to inputs targeted at visitor management and servicing;
  • Processes – evaluates adequacy and appropriate of management systems relative to management objectives;
  • Outputs – evaluates products or services provided as a result of management, e.g. number of patrols run, restoration activities achieved – whether these have been delivered as planned and to some extent the quantities delivered; and
  • Outcomes – evaluates whether objectives have been achieved.


From a synthesis of STCRC research the following steps guide the development of an integrated monitoring program for visitor management in protected areas.


Step 1. Selection and application of an evaluation framework


STCRC research recommends the IUCN-WCPA management effectiveness evaluation framework. The framework elements and evaluation subjects for visitor management given in the table below provide detailed guidance at the park level. They are derived from and closely relate to the elements and subjects widely used and applied through the IUCN-WCPA framework (see Evaluating Effectiveness). A similar table (see below) is available for the agency (corporate) level. The elements in these tables are also consistent with ecological monitoring allowing integration of results.


The approach relies heavily on the adoption of a values-based approach. Using key values to drive management has advantages. A reliance on values rather than threats is less time-bound and gives a more holistic perspective. Also, values have much greater political currency than threats as they let politicians and other key stakeholders know what is important and should be protected. Selecting key values also enables managers to and monitor and manage what is important.  

Visitor related evaluation elements and subjects - park level


Visitor related 'evaluation subject'

Definition/ scope of visitor related evaluation subject


Values and significance


Identification of key visitor/tourism related values, including recreation opportunities


Priority rating or category with regard to visitor-related importance


Threat identification

Identification of key visitor-related threats

Threat rating

Rating of visitor-related threat or impact level (may be existing and/or potential)

Threat trend

Trend in visitor-related threats

Stakeholder attitudes and relations

Visitor attitudes

Visitor or tourism industry attitudes, visitor reasons for visiting parks, relationship between visitors/ tourism industry and parks - collected as context for planning

Community attitudes

Community perceptions/attitudes regarding visitation to parks

Influence of external environment

External constraints

Availability of alternative recreational opportunities in region, marketing pressures etc




System design


Adequacy of legislation in relation visitor and commercial tourism management

Management planning


Appropriateness of design in relation to visitor needs

Management planning

How well management planning addresses visitor issues





Staff numbers/time

Adequacy of staff allocation for tourism, visitor management, interpretation (including time allocated by staff; i.e. staff hours)



Adequacy of funding allocation for tourism, visitor management, interpretation

Funding security

Funding security

Security of visitor-related funding allocation

Equipment and facilities


Adequacy of visitor, tourism and interpretation infrastructure, equipment and facilities



Adequacy of visitor-related information, including monitoring programs (including of impacts etc.) and their utilisation for adaptive management







Governance, high-level management and leadership


Effectiveness of administration of visitor management and tour operator permit systems

Building and maintenance of infrastructure, facilities and equipment

Facility maintenance

Adequacy of maintenance of visitor facilities

Human resource management

Staff training

Adequacy of staff training in interpretation, visitor management, tour operator management

Staff skills

Adequacy of skill level in interpretation, visitor management, tour operator management

Relating to people

Law enforcement adequacy

Adequacy of law enforcement in relation to visitors and tour operators

Law enforcement

Law enforcement issues

Identification of visitor/ tour operator related law enforcement issue(s)

Community involvement and relationships

Relationship appropriateness

Appropriateness of relationships with visitors or tour operators

Communication, education and interpretation

Relationship description

Descriptive field for above programs


Adequacy or appropriateness of interpretation program(s)

Community development assistance


Adequacy of communication with visitors and tourism operators

Sustainable resource use - management and audit

Tourism/visitor involvement

Adequacy of involvement of tourism industry/ park visitors (not community in general) in planning and management

Visitor management

Recreation opportunities

Descriptive field for types of visitor opportunities/ character of facilities and services

Visitor services

Adequacy of visitor services in general or other than interpretation and communication

Impact management

Adequacy of management of visitor impacts

Visitor fee management

Adequacy of systems for collecting entrance fees etc.

Tourism management

Adequacy of systems for managing tour operators e.g. permitting, marketing etc.

Managing the resource



Research and values monitoring

Impact monitoring

Adequacy of monitoring of visitor threats/ impacts




Achieving work program

Work program achieved

Achievement of work program relating to visitors/ tourism


Services provided

Provision of specified visitor-related services (e.g. interpretation services).

Visitor use

Visitor numbers, seasonal/spatial distribution

Visitor characteristics

Visitor demographics and other characteristics e.g. income (excludes attitudes).

Operator use

Tourism operator numbers, distribution, characteristics


$ from visitor-related fees




Achieve objectives

Achieving visitor objectives

Achievement of visitor use/ management objectives in general (not specific to any of next 6 rows)

Visitor satisfaction

Extent of visitor satisfaction/ meeting of expectations etc. (even if no explicit objectives in this document)

Visitor safety

Visitor safety/ incident levels (even if no explicit objectives in this document)

Visitor access

Extent to which appropriate/ equitable access to park by visitors/ tourism industry is provided (even if no explicit objectives in this document)

Visitor cognitive outcomes

Attitudes/perceptions of visitors to park/conservation/natural or cultural values or new knowledge gained in response to visiting park/ interpretation programs

Visitor compliance

Extent to which visitors comply with rules (esp. re impact management)

State of park

Presentation values trend

Trend - are the presentation/ recreational values improving or decreasing in quality?

Presentation values condition

Extent to which the recreational values have been maintained

Conservation values condition

Extent to which conservation values impacted by visitors have been maintained

Economic impacts

Economic impacts of park-related visitation on community

Social impacts

Social impacts (attitudes, perceptions, objective measures) of park-related visitation on community, including health


Source: Higginbottom et al., (2010). Current Practices in Monitoring and Reporting on Sustainability of Visitor Use of Protected Areas, STCRC.


Step 2.  Develop indicators for relevant evaluation subjects

The STCRC has a number of research reports providing guidelines to help identify indicators for evaluating the effectiveness of visitor management in protected areas. These reports also explain how to collect, store, analyse and then use (in management) the information obtained from these indicators. Details follow.















Ecological – Aquatic


Step 3. Set priorities for monitoring 


Protected areas are managed in a resource-poor environment. As such, setting priorities for what will and won’t be monitored (and then managed in response to the findings from monitoring) is critical because there are never enough resources to do everything. First, monitoring should only be undertaken if it will improve protected area management. Second, the choice of what to monitor must be based on priority setting. Priorities are influenced by how monitoring can contribute to protected area management. Contributions are usually to one or more of the following (from Evaluating Effectiveness):

  1. Better management under changing circumstances;
  2. Effective resource allocation;
  3. Accountability and transparency; and
  4. Involving the community and promoting protected areas.  

Priorities must also be based on:

  1. Whether the benefits of monitoring (e.g. to biodiversity, visitors, communities) and follow-up management exceed the costs; and
  2. The likelihood of:
    • Monitoring being able to measure what matters.
    • Management actions subsequent to monitoring being undertaken.
    • Management actions subsequent to monitoring being successful in moving a protected area towards desired outcomes.

Such priority setting has received rapidly increasing attention in conservation management, where an analysis of the values at risk, biodiversity/community/visitor benefit, probability of success and cost is being used to guide resource allocation decisions. The term ‘triage’ (taken from emergency medicine) has been proposed to describe this process of prioritising the allocation of limited resources to maximise the benefits to conservation. 


Elements of risk management are also evident in these priority setting processes, with the consequences of action (or inaction) and the likelihood of success (or otherwise) being used to decide where they allocate scarce resources. There are two tiers in considering the ‘risk’ associated with monitoring visitor management: the risks associated with monitoring itself and those associated with follow-up management. The ‘consequences x likelihood’ analysis needs to be applied to both.


Step 4. Implementing the monitoring program


Some tips for implementing a monitoring program:


Conduct of monitoring and evaluation

  • Get baseline information as early as possible;
  • Use pilot studies when developing new monitoring systems to ensure the system is suitable before instituting on a wide scale;
  • Build flexibility into systems for collecting and storing data for monitoring and evaluation;
  • Provide adequate training and support for on ground staff who will conduct monitoring;
  • Repeat monitoring and evaluation at regular time intervals, with appropriate interval depending on what is being evaluated; and
  • Agency staff conduct monitoring and evaluation, with review by external facilitators every 3 to 5 years.


The following tips relate to data collection and storage and their application in management: 


Data collection

  • Explore simple, innovative data collection techniques;
  • Use an adequate, representative sample;
  •  Undertake systematic, regular collection of visitor data;
  • Ensure data collected have spatial and temporal elements where possible;
  • Use limited resources wisely;
  • Use existing and secondary data;
  • Regularly calibrate counters; and
  • Aim for quality not quantity of data.
Data storage
  • Verify data to ensure they are error-free before storage and use;
  • Geo-reference data so they can be used in spatial databases and associated applications;
  • Design and maintain databases that are user-friendly;
  • Guarantee the confidentiality of data;
  • Display and provide data outputs in ways that readily inform decision-making; and
  • Transfer data efficiently and accurately to storage databases.

Data application in management

  • Use the available visitor data for numerous applications;
  • Collect data to enhance understanding of visitor perceptions, motivations and values; and
  • Establish and maintain strong links between data collection and application.

Step 5. Adaptive management


Monitoring is the ‘check’ part of the adaptive management cycle (see the figure below). Adaptive management relies on collecting information (monitoring) to determine what has been achieved (outputs) and how this has contributed to desired outcomes (e.g. values protection).


 Source: Susan A. Moore and Kate Rodger (2009) Recommendations: Reforming management planning for national parks, conservation parks and nature reserves in Western Australia – 2010 and onwards. Report prepared for the Conservation Commission of Western Australia, by Murdoch University.


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