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Risk and responsibility: Managing visitors in recreational protected areas

Gstaettner, Anna Maria (2020) Risk and responsibility: Managing visitors in recreational protected areas. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Self-guided recreational visits to protected areas can involve exposure to a variety of environmental hazards and the risk of injury or death. Accidents and incidents occurring in these areas may be followed by litigation actions against managing authorities. If visits to national parks are framed as managed tourism and recreation products, do visitors expect that natural park experiences are safe?

The thesis is a ‘PhD by publication’ comprising five original journal articles. The first paper explores responsibility for safety from the perspective of protected area management agencies in Australia, defining the context within which risk management decisions are made. The second and the third paper then focus on the examination of the extent and nature of visitor risk. First, trends and patterns of visitor incident occurrence in Western Australian protected areas are analysed. Aspects that contribute towards unintentional injuries are then identified and the importance of comprehensive incident reporting is discussed. The final two papers consider the visitors’ perspective of risk and responsibility for safety. Four visitor groups are identified that differed in their perceptions on responsibility-sharing in four Western Australian parks. The final paper examines visitors’ expectations of the level of risk management control and explores aspects that contribute to visitors feeling safe in parks.

Adopting an interdisciplinary mixed-methods approach, the research includes an email-based Delphi study, an epidemiological approach to analyse visitor incident data, and a fieldwork component with data obtained through a visitor questionnaire. Each study was driven by an underlying curiosity about how visitors approach risk, how much management guidance is demanded by visitors in natural tourism settings and what elements affect individual efforts to staying safe. Park managers and visitors largely agreed that management agencies have some obligation to manage the safety of park experiences, albeit acknowledging that visitor behaviour is a significant driver of incident occurrences. Many of the visitors sampled in this research attributed at least some responsibility for safety to management agencies and responsibility-sharing perceptions affected some aspects of preparedness for risk.

Results of this thesis suggest that risk management and control is a desired attribute of nature-based experiences in recreational protected areas, with the extent of management intervention affecting visitors’ confidence to deal with an emergency situation during their visit. However, park management agencies need to consider the wider implications when additional risk management measures are introduced if they affect people’s appreciation of danger and their perceptions on the requirement to prepare for risk.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): College of Arts, Business, Law and Social Sciences
United Nations SDGs: Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
Supervisor(s): Lee, Diane, Rodger, Kate and Weiler, Betty
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