Making Sense of a Wildlife Tourism Experience: A Study of Guide-visitor Interactions

Spring, Jonathon Peter
Lück, Michael
Orams, Mark Bryan
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

Interpretation plays an important role in making visitors aware of the welfare and conservation status of wildlife when participating on a wildlife tour. Guide visitor interaction during wildlife tours provides the opportunity for guides to deliver information that educates and inspires visitors to think about what actions they can undertake for the welfare of the animal species encountered. There have been few empirical investigations of learning and behavioural change in the context of guided tours that include studies of the interaction between visitors and guide that is independent of the experience of the participants and/or use the experience of both visitors and guides. The rationale behind this thesis was to explore the relationship between instances of guide visitor interaction during wildlife tours and the personal insights and outcomes visitors gained from their tours.

The aim of this research was to better understand the role of the guides on visitors’ experiences, and to gain insights into the nuances of interactions between wildlife tour guides and the outcomes of these experiences for the tourists. This research set out to explore what scenarios in guided wildlife tours facilitate visitors’ receptivity for learning new information and to examine the role/s guides play in this learning. In order to achieve this goal the following questions were set:

  1. Can visitors and guides identify a situation within a guided wildlife tour where visitors are most receptive to learning?
  2. What are the factors within a guided wildlife tour that influence visitors’ receptivity to learning?
  3. Can visitors’ receptivity to learning be discerned through observable behaviour such as visible signs of affect or curiosity on the part of visitors?
  4. What level of interaction do visitors seek from guides in the learning process of a guided wildlife tour? 5.What role do guides play in the facilitation and enhancement of learning during the guided wildlife tour?

This research investigated the guided tour experiences of visitors on trips operated by two non-government organisations, Pacific Whale Foundation, Maui, USA and Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi, Auckland, New Zealand. The qualitative design of the research was influenced by Forestell and Kaufman’s (1990) and Orams’ (1997) models for interpretation, Burke’s (1945) four tropes, and Flanagan’s (1954) critical incident technique. Using narrative methods this research collected data through participation in and observation of wildlife tours and via in-depth semi-structured interviews with visitors and guides about these tours. The design of the interview process consisted of an in situ phase immediately after the tour, and a reflective interview held at a later date. A total of 10 separate case studies focusing on the events, commentary and conversations during tours were derived and analysed.

The thesis found that guide - visitor interaction plays an important and influential role in shaping visitors’ experiences during wildlife tours. Guides influence visitor experiences through provoking visitors to think about what they hear and see on tours in relation to their existing knowledge and experiences. The research proposes a new model of wildlife tours which emphasises the complex range of influences involved in guide - visitor interactions in wildlife tourism contexts. Those who believed they learnt something from their tours were able to identify instances of guide visitor interaction that created new insights for them about the places and wildlife encountered. Others enjoyed their experiences and attributed the role of guide visitor interaction to reinforcing what they already knew or what they already did.

Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi , Pacific Whale Foundation , Guide-visitor interaction , Face-to-face interpretation , Narrative methods , Participant observation , Humpback whales , Ecotourism , Wildlife tourism , Sustainable tourism , Community-based restoration projects , Guided tours
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