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dc.contributor.authorCatlin, James
dc.contributor.supervisorProf. Roy Jones

Popular demand for tourism experiences in the natural environment, and in particular for human-wildlife interactions, is increasing. Whale shark tourism at Ningaloo Marine Park on the North West Cape of Western Australia is one such wildlife interaction activity that has grown in popularity in recent years. From the late 1980s, when it was a little known specialist activity in a remote location, whale shark tourism has grown into an iconic tourism industry that now attracts up to 10,000 tourists seasonally. The research conducted for this thesis examined various aspects of the industry with a particular focus on the changes that have taken place over the course of the industry‘s development.To achieve this objective, data was primarily gathered through a series of participant questionnaires administered over several whale shark seasons. This information was integrated with content analyses of official documentation, tour operator feedback, and field observations. This elicited a rounded perspective of the industry which was contextualised using a theoretical framework for non-consumptive wildlife tourism devised by Duffus and DeardenThe growth in this tourism industry has been accompanied, over a relatively short period, by a shift in the nature of the participants. Originally specialist wildlife and nature based tourists exclusively focused on the opportunity to swim with whale sharks partook in the tours. Now a much wider cross section, sourced from the general tourist population in the region, wish to swim with the whale sharks. This shift in specialisation was also found to have decreased the amount expended in the region per capita. The specialised tourists, who originally dominated the industry, were significantly higher spenders; so much so that, despite the large increase in participant numbers, the total amount expended in the region by whale shark tourists has remained essentially unchanged.In addition to this focus on specialisation and expenditure other issues related to the implications of change in this industry over time were investigated. The main means by which tourists found out about the industry were informal marketing mechanisms such as word of mouth despite the industry being established for over a decade. Furthermore, even in such a remote tourism region, the major constraint on participating in whale shark tours remained financial.Finally changes in the licence conditions for operating the tours over time were researched through content analyses of the State government‘s expression of interest processes and responses from tour operators. This approach highlighted both the increasing regulatory demands and the commercial pressures experienced by the tour operators. This suggested that there is a delicate balance between the environmental and economic dimensions of regulation.Overall the insights gathered from the research revealed the consistently dynamic nature of this tourism system. The results also permitted some development and expansion of the wildlife tourism theory developed by Duffus and Dearden while in turn highlighting the usefulness of this framework in assisting in the management and planning of wildlife tourism industries.

dc.publisherCurtin University
dc.titleDevelopment and change in the whale shark tourism industry at Ningaloo Marine Park, Western Australia
curtin.departmentDepartment of Social Sciences
curtin.accessStatusOpen access

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