Guided tours with long-lasting benefits to parks and people

Guided tours research investigates visitor experiences in a special model of thematically connected guided tours in NSW national parks that are highly successful in attracting repeat participants.

The research was presented in Wolf, I. D., Stricker, H. K., & Hagenloh, G. (2015). Outcome-focussed national park experience management: transforming participants, promoting social well-being, and fostering place attachment Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 23, 358-381.

An author copy is available from tourism.partnerships@environment.nsw.gov.au

Background of study and methods

Park ranger and family explore Hacking River, Royal National Park

These tours are part of the greater 'Discovery - Walks, Talks and Tours' program.

  • Cover a variety of experiences devised for all age groups including hiking/bushwalking, four-wheel driving, mountain biking, kayaking, and special interest tours in ecology, geology, and history.
  • Consist of interlinked episodes that built upon each other sequentially and provide the opportunity for regular participation with the high probability of encountering the same participants and guides.

Outcomes attained by first-time and repeat participants were assessed using a questionnaire and, to capture more detailed insights, semi-structured interviews of repeat participants.

Main insights

  • This type of tour afforded significant benefits to participants, for instance, they developed strong social ties with community members, experienced significant improvements in their health, well-being, and self-competence; further it improved their sense of environmental stewardship and attachment to national parks.
  • Repeat participants experienced greater improvements across the board, especially for the building of relationships with new people from the community, personal development such as 'mastering a challenge', 'finding a deeper meaning and personal growth', and 'learning about or reconnecting with/doing something for myself'.
  • Benefits and their relationship with success factors of the tour were summarised in a conceptual model as presented in Outcome-focused national park experience management: transforming participants, promoting social well-being, and fostering place attachment.
  • The tour series performed outstandingly: it achieved high visitor satisfaction and loyalty, attracting visitors, and those that follow by word-of-mouth, to parks. The tour series demonstrated its strength in enticing people to visit on a regular basis over an extended time period, and 56% of these did so for years. Approximately a quarter of the participants commented that the tour series had encouraged them to visit national parks more frequently.
  • Numerous participants had revisited specific locations seen during the tour, and empowered by their knowledge of places and sights and their increased sense of achievement, guided friends and family to now familiar places.
  • Offered in regular intervals throughout multiple episodes.
  • Linked by a strong thematic connection such as a long-distance hike divided into individual episodes, achieving a regular commitment among participants.
  • May incorporate an empowering physical challenge.
  • Typically guided by the same person, instilling confidence and trust.
  • Importantly, they result in substantive long-term benefits to participants.

Conclusions

These insights underpin the importance of providing tour programs that enable repeated or prolonged participation which, at present, constitute a niche experience in NSW national parks.

A more wide-spread implementation would be valuable, considering their effectiveness at achieving visitor outcomes lasting beyond the experience, attracting underrepresented senior demographics, and generating benefits for parks.