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Pathways between contrasting ecotourism experiences and conservation engagement

Massingham E, Fuller RA & Dean AJ (2019) Pathways between contrasting ecotourism experiences and conservation engagement. Biodiversity and Conservation, 28, 827-845.

It is commonly believed that nature experiences lead to increased concern for nature, and ultimately, the expression of conservation behaviours. Captive and non-captive ecotourism experiences with charismatic megafauna have been associated with conservation support. However, there is little research examining experiences with non-mammalian wildlife, or familiar species in domestic settings. We conducted interviews (N = 427) at two ecotourism destinations in Australia (a conservation-focused zoological park and a rainforest national park), to determine whether these experiences are associated with conservation engagement and if so, the pathways through which these might operate. Interviews identified the elements of experience (site, duration, animal encounter, educational shows, and interpretive signs), the subjective aspects of their experience (positive and negative emotions, learning, connection, reflection), and engagement in conservation (environmental intentions, policy support and signing a conservation-focused pledge). Regression analyses examined the relationship between elements of experience and conservation engagement, while controlling for demographics and nature-relatedness. Participating in non-captive bird feeding at the rainforest site was associated with greater support for conservation policies, whereas visiting the zoological park was associated with greater intention to seek and share conservation information. Mediation analysis demonstrated that both of these relationships were mediated by feeling upset about environmental problems, indicating a role for negative emotions alongside ecotourism experiences in prompting conservation engagement. No element of the experience was associated with signing the pledge, highlighting the challenges of eliciting behaviour change. Overall, these findings suggest that different types of ecotourism experiences may generate different types of conservation engagement, and that that associated negative emotions about the plight of species can foster stronger engagement in conservation issues.

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