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Is it true: Visitors don’t mind congestion in our national parks?

Authors: Norma Nickerson*, Univ. of Montana - Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, Jeremy Sage, University of Montana - Dept. of Geography, Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, Jake Jorgenson, RRC Associates
Topics: Tourism Geography
Keywords: Nature based tourism, national parks, visitation, crowding
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Our large landscape national parks have experienced unprecedented growth in the past decade presenting concerns for the National Park Service’s mandate, “For the enjoyment and benefit of the people.” Congestion on trails and roads, visitor safety, and worries about resource impacts are challenging park managers. But, are the visitors to these parks concerned? Are they still able to enjoy their experience?

We intercepted and surveyed visitors at various attractions throughout Yellowstone National Park during the summer peak season to ask about their experiences in the moment of their trip. For this study, it was hypothesized that asking visitors to respond while they were experiencing crowds and congestion might produce a different response than being surveyed after their visit.

We found that first-time visitors were significantly different and more positive on site-specific issues than repeat visitors. First-time visitors had a significantly higher mean average than repeat visitors on their overall experience. We argue that first-time visitors have no reference except what they see and experience in the moment of this trip, therefore if managers make decisions based on experiences from first time visitors, the experience will generally be a good one and there is no need to change management practices. Repeat visitors, however, possess a wisdom based on past experiences of what is acceptable and good for their experience. First-timers cannot do this. Therefore, the question park managers should ask is: To whom do you manage, experiences of first-timers or those with previous experience in the park?

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