Understanding Visitors’ Experiences in Nature-based Tourism: A Case Study of Komodo National Park Indonesia
The importance of understanding visitors’ experiences has been acknowledged in the tourism field. It is believed that in order to create a successful tourism destination, the local tourism government, management, and providers should explore visitors’ motivations, expectations, satisfaction, and what kind of experiences and benefits visitors want to gain. Thus, destination managers and tourism providers have applied research conducted by tourism scholars into visitors’ experiences in a variety of tourism settings. However, little research has focused on national parks as a tourism destination in a conservation area. This area may be under-researched as the development may be perceived as a threat to the conservation agenda. In fact, tourism development in national parks may have positive impacts for the local community of the nation, and for the park itself by providing a support to its environmental preservation. Studies have shown that tourism has occurred since the early establishment of national parks. In addition to that, nature-based tourism is a significant source of income in the tourism industry of developing countries. Thus, in most cases, tourism activities in national parks are inevitable. Nevertheless, only little attention has been paid to tourism development in national parks in developing countries in Asia, especially in Indonesia. Therefore, the aim of this study is to explore the experiences of visitors to a national park in Indonesia, namely Komodo National Park (KNP), as an example of nature-based tourism in a conservation area in Asia. The knowledge gained from this study can be used to improve the quality of visitors’ experiences by maximising the product development of the site, and to strengthen visitors’ support of sustainable tourism practices. This study adopts a qualitative interpretivist approach. It focuses on the examination of visitors’ motivations, expectations, satisfaction, and on understanding the benefits that visitors gain from visiting the park. The method used involved the collection of 31 semi-structured interviews and 26 photographs. The data were described and analysed using qualitative content analysis, which was then applied to the ASEB Grid Analysis concept. The results highlight that the environmental setting is a strong influential factor in visitors’ motivations to visit the park. This aspect also has a strong influence on visitors’ satisfaction. Furthermore, visitors indicated that wilderness encounters were a strong influential factor that motivated them to visit the park. The study also found that the experiences exceeded visitors’ expectations, due to the opportunity to engage in multiple activities in one location. The findings indicate some weaknesses and threats to the site that were identified by the visitors, but all of them expressed satisfaction towards their overall experiences. The benefits gained by visitors from their leisure experiences in KNP include immediate benefits, such as learning benefits, improved mood, and mindfulness benefits. In addition to that, visitors also gained long-term benefits which come from self-reflection that triggers personal growth, such as changing habits to be more environmentally conscious, and increasing self-esteem. From the analysis, opportunities arise for the park’s management to create a better quality of visitors’ experiences including adding more variation in educational activities.