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Best practice and interpretation in tourist/wildlife encounters: A wild dolphin swim tour example

O'Neill, F., Barnard, S. and Lee, D. (2004) Best practice and interpretation in tourist/wildlife encounters: A wild dolphin swim tour example. CRC for Sustainable Tourism



Tourism and the natural environment are two concepts that appear to have become closely associated due to the increasing desire for tourists to visit natural areas, and ‘tourism, like the natural environment, needs to be managed to be sustainable’ (WATC & CALM 1997, p2).

Unfortunately the natural environment often comes into conflict with an economy driven tourism industry that seeks to utilise natural resources for economic benefit, ultimately exploiting them in the process. However, stakeholders within the tourism industry are starting to take more conservation-based approaches to managing the increase in tourists seeking nature-based settings. The emergence of nature-based tourism, and particularly ecotourism, are products of this (Dowling 1996).

The focus of this study is based on a specific component of nature- based tourism, which is tourism involving interaction with wildlife. The wildlife in question is marine mammal species Tursiops, or the animal commonly known as the bottlenose dolphin. One way of managing wildlife/tourist interaction is the establishment of Best Practice guidelines. In order for a nature-based tourist operation to be managed effectively, social, environmental and economic goals must be set and methods of best practice implemented to ensure that these goals are met. In addition, according to Orams (1996) and Moscardo (1998) management of tourist-wildlife operations requires indirect techniques such as education and interpretation, which attempt to appeal to the tourists’ ‘caring’ side, therefore encouraging them to take an active role in protecting the environment.

This study explored the issue of ‘best practice’ within the wild dolphin swim tour program at the Dolphin Discovery Centre (DDC) in Bunbury, Western Australia. In 1999 a Code of Practice was developed by the tour licensee to reduce the potential for negative impacts of swimmer activity upon the local dolphin population. Surveys (pre and post tour) were developed to examine tourist satisfaction of certain guidelines within the Code of Practice. This examination included assessing tourist expectation, satisfaction and effectiveness of the education and interpretation methods used to manage the tour. The practical outcome will be to provide an Industry Manual and video of Best Practice guidelines for use by Dolphin Swim Tour operations.

Item Type: Report
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Series Name: Wildlife Tourism Research Report Series; No. 25
Publisher: CRC for Sustainable Tourism
Copyright: © 2004 CRC for Sustainable Tourism Pty Ltd
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