Darcy, M., Griffin, T., Craig, M., Moore, S. and Crilley, G. (2007) Protected area visitor data collection and management: Emerging issues and gaps in current Australian practices. In: 17th Annual CAUTHE Conference 2007: Tourism - past acheivements, future challenges, 11 - 14 February, Sydney.
Protected area agencies are charged with the preservation, conservation and management of areas including wilderness, national parks and forests. These agencies are faced with increasing visitor numbers and decreasing budgets at a time where activities like tourism have to be managed alongside their traditional roles as natural resource managers. This paper reports on the outcomes of the first stage of a research project that seeks to guide a nationally consistent approach to visitor use data collection for protected area agencies. First, the paper provides a background literature review of approaches to visitor use data collection for protected area agencies. Second, the paper outlines the participatory action research approach used in the study where thirteen protected area agencies are collaborators in the research process. This approach ensures that the protected areas agencies data needs are central to the research outcomes and recognises the pragmatic organisational cultural issues associated with visitor data collection, management and use. The research process incorporates organisational networking at all levels from head office, regions, branches and individual parks involving management information systems, interviews, focus groups, presentations, briefings and follow-up contact. Third, the paper then presents the emergent themes that examine the issues and gaps in current visitor data collection, management and use systems. The paper concludes with discussion of the challenges to developing a national system of visitor data collection and use.