Visitor monitoring is vital for effective protected area management and requires the systematic gathering, analysis and integration into management systems of data relating to both the natural environment and visitors over time. Park monitoring has historically focused on the physical and biological aspects of the environment, with the systematic collection of visitor data being generally overlooked, and managers relying on ad hoc approaches.Read more
Visitor monitoring is vital for effective protected area management and requires the systematic gathering, analysis and integration into management systems of data relating to both the natural environment and visitors over time. Park monitoring has historically focussed on the physical and biological aspects of the environment, with the systematic collection of visitor data being generally overlooked, and managers relying on ad hoc approaches. To address this shortcoming the STCRC, in partnership with Australia’s protected area agencies and tourism organisations, has undertaken a range of research on visitor monitoring.
Research into visitor use of protected areas initially focused on:
- exploring key elements affecting the quality of visitor experiences in national parks and other protected areas in Australia;
- examining levels and patterns of visitation to Australian national parks and other protected areas, as well as tourism industry involvement in these areas through commercial tour operations and facility provision; and
- identifying the main reasons why tourists visit national parks and other protected areas and factors that affect the quality of experiences sought.
A key finding was the lack of good quality time series data in all jurisdictions, making it difficult to discern any clear trends and patterns in visitation levels. Subsequent research has focused on improving the collection, storage and application of visitor data for the planning and management of protected areas. A set of simple guiding principles for visitor monitoring are providing covering overall system design, data collection, data storage and data application.
The most recent research has focused on developing a systematic, nationally consistent approach to collecting and managing visitor data across Australian protected areas jurisdictions to inform protected area management, planning and decision-making processes. The information collected is most relevant to the park level of management, but is also of central interest for corporate reporting.
There are three important areas of focus for visitor information
- The types of data collected;
- The use of data;
- The storage and management of data.
Data that should be collected by protected area agencies fall into two broad categories: core and supplementary.
A recommended survey instrument (questionnaire) has been developed (which can accommodate both core and supplementary data collection) for the collection of information on visitor use of protected areas. Key recommendations for visitor surveys include:
- Keep questionnaires short and limited to information required for management decisions;
- Continue including questions in visitor surveys about the importance of and satisfaction with key services and facilities;
- Always ask about overall satisfaction (used for corporate performance reporting) in surveys;
- Choose a sampling approach that provides the best possible data for decision making; and
- Provide training for staff administering surveys and where possible rely on direct contact for questionnaire distribution and return.
This survey instrument readily lends itself to software-based approaches to data collection, aggregation, dissemination and reporting of park-based activity across Australian protected area agencies.
In addition to this strategic research, a number of site-specific studies at key Australian nature-based tourism destinations have been undertaken (see reports listed below). These focus on visitor use, satisfaction, visitor experience and visitor patterns. Survey destinations include: in NSW – Barrington Tops National Park, Mungo National Park, northern NSW national parks and Kosciuszko National Park; in Victoria – Brambuk-Grampians National Park and Aboriginal Cultural Centre, Melbourne and its Metropolitan parks, and Mt Buffalo National Park. Other related research has investigated the factors associated visitor experience and track usage in national parks.