Tourism Wildlife Icons: Attractions or Marketing Symbols?

By Tremblay, Pascal | Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Tourism Wildlife Icons: Attractions or Marketing Symbols?


Tremblay, Pascal, Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management


The paper examines the use of wildlife icons as marketing devices and attempts to find out whether the choice and effectiveness of appropriate icons is mainly dependent on the attractiveness of specific species or on their relevance to the environment they represent. In the initial part, it examines earlier studies of animal preferences and their determinants. Subsequently, it queries whether tourists only enjoy wildlife possessing such attributes and proposes that they may relate to wildlife icons which hold value as symbols of place and culture, providing them with a mix of affective and cognitive values. The second part of the paper relates results of a survey which investigated the expectations and knowledge of wildlife by tourists visiting the "Top End" of the Northern Territory in Australia. The survey was designed to contrast various ways of querying tourists about their expectations as well as testing their knowledge through species identification. Results uncovered interesting patterns, suggesting that tourists differentiate between their expectations and assessment of the most appropriate icon and that some segmentation could be undertaken on the basis of these expectations.

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In the emerging literature on wildlife tourism, the nature of the tourist experience is commonly identified as a major research priority (Moscardo, Woods, & Greenwood, 2001). There is a well recognised lack of knowledge regarding the attributes of the wildlife-tourism experience. Of critical importance for the sustainable management of wildlife-based attractions, little is known about the role of particular animal species in attracting tourists to specific destinations. Recent useful work on broad icons such as kangaroos and koalas points to the lack of empirical evidence about uses and impacts of wildlife imagery in destination marketing (Hill, Arthurson, & Chalip, 2001, p. 1). The present paper contributes to the understanding of the links between tourist expectations, knowledge and perceptions towards wildlife icons in a peripheral Australian tourism destination.

A first issue of particular relevance to wildlife-based destination planners and marketing authorities is the extent to which they should and can invest in promoting specific species for the sake of creating icons supporting tourism development. Research in this area is still in its infancy and the present paper aims to contribute to a small number of questions relevant to this broad purpose. Eventually, when more knowledge has accumulated about the contribution of wildlife species to the attractiveness of a destination, researchers will be in a position to address the impact of such marketing investments on the long-term commercial sustainability of wildlife tourism in given locations.

To assess whether wildlife image-building policies are profitable, a large number of specific research questions need to be further considered. They range from determining:

* Whether tourists are primarily attracted by viewing opportunities associated with specific wildlife species (the role and place of specific wildlife species in the tourist's decision process) to eventually establish which animal attributes seem to contribute most to the attractiveness of a place.

* What aspects of the wildlife-viewing experience matter most for the sake of attracting and satisfying tourists (e.g., perceptions about wild versus contrived environments, the perceived treatment of these animals, links with local communities, and ecological status).

* Whether it is possible for tourism planners to construct such symbols and engineer their appropriation for marketing purposes; and whether there is a risk for animal icons to become burdens or acquire undesirable symbolic value in the long-term (they could, for instance, gain negative connotations if ill-affected by tourism and become sources of negative publicity).

* Whether conventional research methods to uncover tourists preferences regarding wildlife experiences are effective; this includes investigating whether tourist wildlife-viewing experiences are sufficiently homogeneous to identify meaningful behavioural patterns (and in particular rely on conventional survey instruments to ascertain the role of wildlife-viewing experiences attributes in explaining behaviour). …

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