Wild bears, real bears, and zoo bears: Discourses of authenticity in polar bear tourism

Authors: Jill Bueddefeld*, University of Manitoba
Topics: Tourism Geography, Environmental Perception, Animal Geographies
Keywords: Nature-based tourism, authenticity, visitor experience, wildness
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Rampart, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Within nature-based tourism discourses, authenticity, remains a prevalent and contested topic. Yet, very little research exists that explores how in-situ and ex-situ nature-based tourism experiences shape discourses of authenticity and “wildness”. This case study research explores visitors’ experiences viewing polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba (in-situ) and at the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s "Journey to Churchill" exhibit (ex-situ). For context, Churchill, Manitoba is known as the “polar bear capital of the world” and claims to be the best place in the world to have a close encounter with polar bears. In Winnipeg, the capital city of Manitoba, an exhibit called "Journey to Churchill" was built with the intention of replicating aspects of the landscape, wildlife, and town-site found in and around Churchill, Manitoba. These two sites then provide a particularly unique opportunity to compare in-situ and ex-situ nature-based tourism experiences, where the effects of place are made visible, since the sites are similar in terms of wildlife, landscape and other contextual factors (such as environmental issues and cultural influence). This comparative case study is important both practically and theoretically, as nature-based tourism experiences often operate under the premise that in-situ visitors will have a more meaningful experience and will develop stronger conservation ethics, attitudes, and behaviors based on their “authentic” encounters. However, there is very little evidence to support this premise and more research is needed to better understand ideas of authenticity and the role of place through these different visitor experiences.

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