Tourist experiences and Cultural Ecosystem Services in a sand desert

Authors: Manuela Gutberlet*, University of Johannesburg, School of Hospitality and Tourism, South Africa
Topics: Tourism Geography, Human-Environment Geography, Global Change
Keywords: Tourist experiences, Cultural Ecoystem Services, wellbeing, qualitative methods, desert, The Sultanate of Oman
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Natural environments such as open desert landscapes have a mythical, imaginative impact on the tourist experience and spiritual and aesthetic values, Cultural Ecosystem Services (CES) for humans. The research studies a geographically little researched, emerging nature and adventure destination, the Sharquiyah Sands desert in the Sultanate of Oman. The British explorer Wilfried Thesinger was one of the first Europeans traveling through the harsh desert environment on the Arabian Peninsular in the last century. How do tourists imagine and experience the desert environment? The findings contribute to the understanding of imaginaries, tourist experiences and CES within a desert environment. The research is primarily based on qualitative methods. To support my findings, a questionnaire survey was distributed to mega-cruise tourists (N=320) and in-depth interviews were conducted with different stakeholders. Results show that tour guides play an important role in mediating tourist experiences. Tourists romanticise an imaginary, quiet, empty place that can be compared to a sacred space, promoting self-transformation, a deep connection with the space and sociality with nature and/or with others. A framework shows the influence of imaginaries and the spiritual and aesthetic values of the desert landscape. Some CES have degraded, for example due to crowding and built infrastructure. My suggested framework can justify a long-term protection of the desert environment with its high value of CES for human wellbeing.
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