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A quest for risk in nature-based tourism? The case of walking the sandbar at Penguin Island, WA

Gstaettner, Anna (2015) A quest for risk in nature-based tourism? The case of walking the sandbar at Penguin Island, WA. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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Decision making under conditions of risk is only partly understood. This thesis investigates decision making factors of individuals pursuing a ‘risky’ outdoor activity at a popular tourist attraction in Western Australia, namely to cross the ocean on a 700m ridge of sand to Penguin Island, despite the best intentions of the acting land managing agency to deter visitors from doing so. The aim of this study was to better understand decision making processes under conditions of risk in a nature-based tourism and recreation context. Given the unique environmental risks related to this activity, a case study approach was used. Case information was obtained by informal interviews with three key staff involved in the management of the sandbar. Visitor data was collected over the summer of 2014/2015 by means of a survey establishing a profile of visitors walking the sandbar as well as semi-structured interviews to understand what motivated visitors to cross. The Theory of Planned Behaviour was used as a qualitative framework to conceptualise motivational factors.

Results show that walking the sandbar is more than just a means to access Penguin Island but is an experience of great value to visitors. The activity is predominantly practiced in groups and was often seen by walkers as one of the main reasons for visiting Penguin Island. Potential risks involved with the activity were recognised by sandbar walkers but largely described as being applicable only to other people at another time. The benefits of walking the sandbar, which were to avoid the ferry, pursue active living, be nearer to nature, and to experience novelty and adventure within their social circles, outweighed any negatives perceived to be associated with the activity. Normative influences in seeing others walking across were found to be a strong influencing factor in decision making, especially for inexperienced visitors. The popularity of the tourism site as a whole as well as the activity in particular lead visitors to believe that walking the sandbar is and should be an activity provided within a context of visitor guidance and shared responsibilities for safety between visitors and institutional stakeholders.

Publication Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Arts
Supervisor: Lee, Diane and Rodger, Kate
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