The value of wildlife tourism – workshop discussion

The value of wildlife tourism to Australia’s economy and environment

This was a topic discussed at the national workshop “Using Wildlife for Tourism: Opportunities, Threats, Responsibilities” in 2012.

See also:

Preamble from the workshop:

The value of wildlife tourism to Australia’s economy and environment
Moderator Angus M. Robinson, Leisure Solutions® and Board Member, Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife

Australia may well boast lovely white beaches and fine hotels, but so do other countries. Nowhere else however do you find wild koalas, kangaroos, wombats, numbats, platypus, lyrebirds, leafy sea-dragons and a host of other fascinating creatures. Australia also offers the experience of diving in the world’s largest coral reef, miles of safe walking tracks through rainforests or the uniquely-Australian eucalypt forests, swimming with the world’s largest fish, camping out in the wide open spaces of the outback roamed by the world’s largest marsupial and second-largest bird, a greater diversity of parrots than anywhere outside of South America, most of the world’s wild cockatoos and many other special things to do that involve wildlife. How important then is our wildlife to international and domestic tourism, and thus to both the Australian economy and the livelihood of individual tourism businesses?
Participants will discuss the following:

  • Does wildlife tourism in Australia tend to be under-valued, e.g. by some tourism organizations and government departments?
  • Could better recognition of its value assist both with conservation of wildlife and their habitats and assistance to small businesses focusing on wildlife tourism?
  • What do we know already about the value of wildlife tourism to Australia?
  • What might we need further research on to enhance our understanding of its value?
  •  What are some of our major untapped potential wildlife experiences, and are there obstacles to implementing or marketing these?
  • Are there ways in which government or tourism organizations could assist more than they currently do with the promotion of wildlife tourism? If so, what messages should WTA and others be sending to them at this stage?
  • Any other relevant points to be made?

Some of the general points made during the workshop included:

  • Parts of the tourism industry see those involved in wildlife tourism as weirdos or fringe greenies. We need to change this image, which is mis-leading and unproductive.
  • Tasmania has for some time been leading the way in recognising the importance of wildlife to the state’s tourism and promoting it well. Other states and territories would do well to look at Tasmania’s example.
  • Nature tourism – as mentioned by Professor Clem Tisdell in his keynote address – may as a whole be over-valued because of some research methods which do not distinguish between nature tourism being a primary motivation to visit an area or being an add-on to visits for other reasons. However – as also mentioned by Professor Tisdell – not enough research has been conducted on the value of nature in general and wildlife in particular in prompting tourists to extend their visits or make return visits to a locality, and both are very  important to the tourism industry and to local and regional economies.
  • There is also much untapped potential, partly because of people living in a local area not realizing the value of wildlife that is common to them but novel to visitors – e.g. the red kangaroos and bowerbirds.
  • Uluru is disappointing to those wanting to see wildlife, but there are other outback areas which have great potential for wildlife viewing (now being realised in the Flinders Ranges).
  • Most people are aware of the uniqueness of koalas, kangaroos and platypus but there are many other Australian species that do not yet have the publicity they deserve.
  • The National Landscapes throughout Australia provide good opportunity for promoting wildlife in these localities.
  • We have developed wildlife trails for Adelaide, South Queensland and Tasmania – why not for Australia as a whole (rootourism, developed by WTA member Dr David Croft,  already does this for the kangaroo and rat-kangaroo families)
  • more notes will be added soon ….
  • User-pays methods could be developed more 0 both on public and private lands – with proceeds going into conservation projects. Wilson’s Prom and some of the Western Australian national parks that charge entry fees appear to be better managed. There is scope for more use of private lands (and paying land-owners for conserving habitat)  if some of the hassles of public liability insurance  can be smoothed out (subject of another of our discussions)
  • Donations to conservation by tour operators is also to be encouraged
  • Have your say by adding to the comments section below
  • See below for a discussion that followed Professor Tisdell’s keynote presentation on the economics of wildlife tourism

One of the groups discussing the Values of Wildlife Tourism at the 2012 Workshop

Points made about specific questions:

 Does Wildlife tourism in Australia tend to be under-valued, eg. By some tourism organizations and government departments

  •  People misunderstand the value of wildlife in Australia, despite the huge richness in terms of fauna and flora, but in practice wildlife and local culture and landscapes are the main reasons to go to a specific place for a meaningful experience that s different from home
  • As an experienced guide, it is clear there is an important impact on people through the use of natural places for interpretation, Using natural areas, guides are building stories. However wildlife tourism is often separated from the main focus of the tourism industry as kind of “ugly duckling” [maybe it is yet to become a swan?]
  • There  is recognition of a need to involve indigenous people in wildlife tourism industry, however many Indigenous people feel disconnected or alienated, and thus unable to tell their meaningful stories from one generation to another
  • Australians tend not to value their wildlife, in spite of good  economic value for tourism
  • Government departments tend consider that wildlife tourism is an incidental activity but doing fine, with no red of support
  • The main focus of tourism marketing at the moment does not appear to favour wildlife tourism at all, instead presenting Australia as a destination for shopping, beaches and resorts although these can be found elsewhere and are probably best regarded as “add-ons” to Australia’s unique features.
  • We need to create of a kind of trust, consortium, or partnerships, and perhaps encourage government agencies, tour operators and visitors to use wildlife tourism as a positive tool to support scientific research and conservation
  • How do we manage wildlife tourism’s biggest disadvantage – wild animals may not always turn up when and where people want to see them
  • Our view (as operators or researchers) of wildlife may be quite different from the way the general populace sees it
  • Small operators and casually-employed guides may often have more specialised expertise in wildlife than those who run large operations, and there is much potential for the two to work together (which is already happening with some operations)

Discussion following Professor Tisdell’s keynote presentation on the economics of wildlife tourism:

  • Creation of partnerships should take more importance for all stakeholders, in particular those involved or have more influence in the supply side (operators, businesses, government, researchers, etc.), not only from an exploitation view for profit generation strategy, but more important consolidate conservation efforts in order to obtain more significant outcomes
  • Careful consideration must be taken when investing money in wildlife tourism, not only from the tourists’ point of view but also from operators and conservation issues because some activities can have significant impacts on wildlife
  • Net Economic Value can be measured by Willingness To Pay (WTP); however, wildlife tourism activities are based on the direct in-site experience so it can be very difficult to measure the WTP previous to the actual experience, as a wide range of motives that not necessarily linked to wildlife might be involved. The respondents don’t necessarily know about the ecological importance of the place or the animal species. This should be taken into consideration by operators when designing the experience that they are offering because through this they can attract not only more tourists that are already interested in  conservation or care about wildlife, but the experience selling strategy can actually awaken the attention of those who just want to have an outdoor experience but through this can transform their beliefs and actions towards conservation.
  • Measuring WTP after the actual experience can also be difficult because under- or over- estimates can easily result, without true relevance to the economic value of wildlife.Travel cost method is not very adequate when finding real economic value. The reasons why people pay do not necessarily are related to wildlife there can be involved many other motivations.
  • Using satisfaction to measure WTP could find that people are willing to pay more after the experience because they value more wildlife than previous to the experience. In contrast, some other tourists might not find the value of wildlife after the experience and actually complain about the prices
  • Usually, international visitors tend to be willing to pay more than locals
  • It is necessary to create more tourism-wildlife consortiums or partnerships between the participants (NGOs, tour operators, government, universities)
  • People have a potential willingness to spend time with wildlife, so operators involved in this activity should take advantage of this
  • There is a special importance in the experience of connection with wildlife/animals/nature
  • There is a huge demand (local-international), however it is necessary that operators have the expertise to create a valuable experience and encourage more people to choose for this type of tourism. For example: bird watching tourism should represent an economic industry similar to other countries such as USA and Japan. Another example is in Nigeria, where bird watching industry is one of the biggest economical expenditure which creates local direct and indirect benefits.
  • The recreational aspect of wildlife impact in people and in industry can (and should) be measured
  • Surveys to calculate the net value of wildlife could include travel cost, local efforts (food, catering, transport), and how much people say they would be willing to pay
  • It is recommended to carry out more research to measure the level of satisfaction in people after having the experience with wildlife tourism
  • There is always a value (economical, psychological, etc) of using wildlife


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