This research was presented in Wolf, I. D., Stricker, H. K., & Hagenloh, G. (2013). Interpretive media that attract park visitors and enhance their experiences: a comparison of modern and traditional tools using GPS tracking and GIS technology. Tourism Management Perspectives, 7, 59-72.
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Interpretive media to guide park visitors
Effective interpretation is an important tool for park managers in attracting visitors and enhancing their experiences. Advances in technology have expanded the range of interpretive media available however their effectiveness in nature-based settings has not been well established.
This research compared the performance of modern technical media with traditional media along the scenic Bradleys Head walking trail in Sydney Harbour National Park within the Sydney metropolitan area. Compared were:
- audio tours delivered by an MP3 player
- GPS-triggered multi-media tours
- text-rich vs. image-rich pamphlets
- text-rich vs. image-rich interpretive signs.
It was hypothesised that people prefer traditional media over modern media as the technicality of the latter may distract from the outdoor experience in the natural environment, which is a major motivation to visit national parks. However, modern media were expected to enhance short-term factual learning and to attract more visitors to stop at sights and spend more time there to engage with interpretation, as well as to motivate them to access sights off the main path.
The media were evaluated by measuring the following:
- Attracting power: percentage of visitors who stop at a sight to engage with interpretation.
- Distracting power: number of detours that visitors take to access sights off the main path.
- Holding power: time spent at a sight.
- Visitor satisfaction with the media.
- Willingness to give word-of-mouth recommendations.
- Short-term factual learning.
To evaluate the effectiveness of the different media types this research used a questionnaire-based survey in combination with the GPS tracking of visitors, which is a comparatively new and insightful technique that generates high-precision data on visitor movements. This is the first study that compared the performance of interpretive media based on an in-depth evaluation of spatio-temporal visitor data.
The Interpretive media that attract park visitors and enhance their experiences: A comparison of modern and traditional tools using GPS tracking and GIS technology research publication provides detailed insights on all results including on the effectiveness of GPS tracking and GIS for such an evaluation process and how well this approach complements more traditional techniques.
Figure 1 maps, for example, show how effective interpretive media (all media types pooled) are in attracting visitors to stop for at least 60 seconds at a sight compared to visitors exploring the trail without use of interpretive media: except for at the trail head, virtually nobody stops at the different sights.
Fig. 1 Percentage of visitors that stops at sights along the Bradleys Head walking trail in Sydney Harbour National Park using interpretive media (left map) or without interpretive media (right map).
How do modern technical media compare to traditional media as tools for park interpretation?
GPS Multi-media Navigation Tour performed well compared to traditional media
- achieved an intermediate attracting power
- highest distracting power
- highest holding power.
The GPS Multi-media Navigation Tour was also rated more highly than the audio tour for the overall experience with the medium and for facilitating fun.
Visitors were more willing to provide word-of mouth recommendation for the GPS Multi-media Navigation Tour than the audio tour.
Both modern media achieved the highest satisfaction ratings for discovery and learning and were most efficient at facilitating factual learning.
- Considered most conducive to socialising and more relaxing and consistent with a nature-based experience.
- Signage outperformed pamphlets by achieving a stronger attracting and holding power, higher overall satisfaction with the medium and greater word-of-mouth recommendation.
- The differences between image-rich and text-rich media were that the former received a higher satisfaction score for facilitating a fun experience but a lower degree of factual learning.
Fig. 2 Percentage of visitors that stops at sights along the Bradleys Head walking trail in Sydney Harbour National Park using different interpretive media (left graph; IR = image-rich, TR = text-rich) and their average stop time (right graph; IR = image-rich, TR = text-rich).
Our research revealed that the choice of media is fundamental for effective interpretation as it influences visitor satisfaction, word-of-mouth recommendation, short-term factual learning and all three attracting, distracting and holding power. These are highly important performance indicators for visitor interpretation in NSW national parks and other protected areas that aim to attract and maintain significant visitor numbers.
This research was able to generate in-depth knowledge on the optimisation of modern and traditional visitor interpretation in national parks. This constitutes the foundation for an informed and up-to-date management of park interpretation in light of rapidly advancing technology that becomes widespread in society and expands our current opportunities for visitor interpretation.
While this study demonstrated that modern technical media can be effective tools for park interpretation, traditional media continue to play an important role, especially for those visitors who prefer a nature-based experience without the intrusion of technology.
This research exemplifies how the implementation of GPS tracking and GIS technology is crucial to generate reliable and novel performance measures that assist park management in decision-making on the types of interpretive experiences that best meet their requirements.