Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

On the Prescriptive Utility of Visitor Survey Research: A Rejoinder to Manning

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

On the Prescriptive Utility of Visitor Survey Research: A Rejoinder to Manning

Article excerpt


Manning (this issue), in his reply to our paper on the relationship between encounters and experience quality (Stewart & Cole 2001), contends that we "dismiss encounters and crowding/solitude as potential rationales for limiting use" and that we discount the "potential usefulness of research on crowding and related norms." He states that we are more concerned about inappropriately limiting public access to parks than we are about the importance of making sure that the quality of visitor experiences is not diminished. His reply contains several arguments for the need to establish use limits in parks and wilderness areas. He reminds us of important cultural and personal values that will be compromised if we allow visitor numbers to go unchecked and warns of the potential disappearance of recreation opportunities with low levels of encounters. He champions the utility of planning frameworks, such as Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP), as means of insuring that standards for a high quality recreation experience are not violated. He gives many examples of visitor survey research that he and his associates have conducted in various parks, which include assessments of preferences for number of encounters, trade-off analysis and stated choice modeling, and argues extensively that this research is useful.

We share these same concerns with Manning, are quick to support him on these issues, and value the research that he and his associates have conducted. The three of us have collaborated on research projects and have had numerous spirited discussions regarding research strategies that might contribute to maintenance of high quality recreation experiences. Manning's response encapsulates many of the ideas and mutual value orientations that the three of us have in common. However, by framing our paper as an argument against use limits, as insensitive to the need to protect opportunities for solitude, and as an argument that "park and wilderness experiences should go unmanaged" is a gross misunderstanding of our paper. We are strong advocates of the need to protect a diversity of opportunities for recreation experiences, including outstanding opportunities for solitude, that often require limitations on use. In addition, our paper does not argue against the usefulness of visitor survey research on crowding and related norms. In fact we have argued elsewhere (Cole & Stewart, 2002) that such data has "the potential to inform managerial decisions about encounter standards" (p. 323). Given Manning's profound misstatement of our position and conclusions we welcome the opportunity to clarify.

What We Found and What We Concluded

Our empirical research showed that as number of encounters increased, most Grand Canyon backpackers felt more crowded, were less likely to achieve a sense of solitude/privacy, and reported that this adversely affected the overall quality of their experience. However, the magnitude of effect of number of encounters, perceived crowding, and solitude/privacy achieved on overall experience quality was weak. That is, most participants reported generally high quality experiences even when they had numerous encounters. This is neither an unexpected nor a completely new finding. What is different-beyond our research design-is our interpretation of this finding.

Since researchers first substantiated that the quality of visitors' experiences (originally measured by asking them how satisfied they were with their trip) was weakly affected by encounters or crowding, this finding typically has been explained as the unfortunate result of a methodological problem (e.g. Shelby & Heberlein, 1986). Following in this tradition, Manning devotes several pages to the problems of "overall visitor satisfaction" as an evaluative construct. He is careful to use the term "overall visitor satisfaction", despite the fact that we are equally careful to refer to the construct as "overall experience quality" and do not use the word satisfaction in our multiple-item scale. …

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