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An investigation into the concept of and factors leading to impact creep and its management

Smith, A.J. and Newsome, D. (2006) An investigation into the concept of and factors leading to impact creep and its management. CRC for Sustainable Tourism, Gold Coast, Queensland.

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This study defines and explores the nature of impact creep within the context of two contrasting case studies. The methods applied in undertaking this study consisted of a literature review and development and distribution of questionnaires to visitors at Monkey Mia and an interview of managers at Monkey Mia and Tree Top Walk. The project considered impact creep relevant to both public and private facility developments.

Impact creep can be defined as a temporal sequence of changes that lead to a site being more developed. These changes confer both negative and positive impacts. Each impact creep situation may be deemed unique according to different tourism situations and attractions.

Both Tree Top Walk and Monkey Mia have a history of increasing visitation which has increased the potential for further impacts. Management has responded accordingly and the resultant actions have reduced negative environmental impacts through site hardening and associated developments. The resultant development in turn appears to have contributed to an increased attractiveness for a wider visitor profile.

At both Monkey Mia and the Tree Top Walk increasing visitor numbers were not an immediate concern. Generally visitors to both sites are predominantly first time visitors on a multi-destination trip. Visitors to these sites are most likely to visit in family groups or with friends of two to four persons, aged in the 25 to 49 year age bracket. In both surveys there were a higher proportion of females to males. At Monkey Mia, the majority of respondents are from overseas and Western Australia with the lowest proportion from interstate. In contrast, at Tree Top Walk, the proportion of overseas, Western Australia and interstate visitors was fairly even. Respondents were most likely to travel to the respective regions in passenger vehicles and generally stay for short visits (less than a week). The main attraction for respondents was the natural area attraction, i.e. dolphins at Monkey Mia and the Tingle forest/Tree Top Walk at the Valley of the Giants.

The Monkey Mia visitor survey was also used to determine if management actions of site hardening detract from the visitor experience and to determine how visitors feel about highly developed sites such as those that contain permanent accommodation facilities and infrastructure. The survey revealed that visitors generally prefer natural landscapes with limited facilities. However, the facilities provided were not seen as being detractive and had no influence on the quality of the visit. Moreover, facilities may be considered as a positive influence because of the convenience they offer.

A major difference between the two case studies is that impact creep has occurred according to different policy directives. Tree Top Walk was developed under a management plan that had clear guidelines. Monkey Mia had no management plan and joint management with the Shire of Shark Bay. When accommodation facilities were developed at Monkey Mia, the Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) recommendations were ignored in favour for economic returns and political pressure. A notable difference between the two sites, therefore, is that Tree Top Walk has no accommodation facility so the visitation period is short, while Monkey Mia has accommodation which means that limiting visitor use is problematic because as many as 600 people stay in the vicinity of the interaction area overnight.

For Tree Top Walk a dispersal strategy in the form of a visitor centre may help to focus attention away from the main attraction during busy periods and during wait times if restrictions are operating due to heavy demand. Because of the potential for increased visitation, crowding, conflicts and reduced visitor satisfaction at Monkey Mia limitations on use may have to be applied. Previous work has shown that use/access restrictions, in the form of a reservation or permit system, may be the best approach.

Item Type: Report
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Environmental Science
Publisher: CRC for Sustainable Tourism
Copyright: © CRC for Sustainable Tourism Pty Ltd 2006
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