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dc.contributor.advisorCarr, Anna
dc.contributor.advisorHigham, James
dc.contributor.authorKutzner, Diana
dc.identifier.citationKutzner, D. (2018). The Resilience of Wildlife Tourism Operations to Environmental Change (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy). University of Otago. Retrieved from
dc.description.abstractNature-based tourism operations are sensitive to environmental changes including climate change, yet little is known about their ability to adapt to these uncertain environmental conditions (Scott, Hall and Gössling, 2012). Finding novel approaches which may strengthen tourism operations’ resilience is increasingly important in the tourism context to address rapidly changing social and environmental conditions (Lew, Ni, Wu, & Ng, 2018; McCool, Butler, Buckley, Weaver, & Wheeller, 2013). The future of tourism businesses reliant on wildlife tourism such as birdwatching is dependent on the well-being and maintenance of the iconic species which draw tourists to respective tourism destinations. Cumulative environmental changes, including increases in ocean temperature and the potential mismatch of timing of breeding and the availability of a sufficient food supply, may have devastating consequences for bird populations and consequently threaten the long-term sustainability of birdwatching tourism businesses (Lambert, Hunter, Pierce, & MacLeod, 2010). This thesis presents an empirical study of the social-ecological resilience of birdwatching tourism operations to environmental change on the Otago Peninsula, Dunedin, New Zealand. The Otago Peninsula is an internationally-renowned birdwatching destination which features a variety of rare bird species including the Northern Royal Albatross, the Yellow-Eyed Penguin, and the Little Blue Penguin (Darby & Seddon, 1990; Peat & Patrick, 2014; Peat, 2011; Schänzel & McIntosh, 2000; Tisdell, 2007; Wright, 1998). The thesis critically examines and applies a Resilience Assessment Framework (Resilience Alliance, 2010), and adopts qualitative research methods to identify key themes of birdwatching tourism operations’ resilience to environmental change. A post-normal research paradigm (Funtowicz & Ravetz, 2003) underpins the study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 33 participants from the Otago Peninsula and surrounding local area. Interviews were supplemented with an extensive review of local, regional, and national policy documents and resource management strategies. Inductive coding and qualitative thematic analysis (Patton, 2015) were used to analyze the research data. This thesis investigates three research questions. The first question examines the multiple internal system variables and external system drivers influencing the social-ecological resilience of birdwatching tourism operations on the Otago Peninsula. Five key internal local social-ecological system (SES) variables are identified including; (1) decline of an iconic species, (2) managing predation, (3) species variety and dynamics, (4) tourism system dynamics, and (5) the changing landscape of conservation. Three external SES drivers were also identified including; (1) environmental changes in the ocean, (2) extreme weather events and erosion, and (3) climate change. Overall, tourism operators on the Otago Peninsula were confident in their ability to adapt to environmental change. Despite this, many stakeholders were uncertain about the future of the Yellow-Eyed Penguin (YEP), which has experienced significant population declines over the last thirty years and which serves as a key attraction for tourists to the area. The second research question investigates the ways in which birdwatching tourism operations build resilience to internal system variables and external system drivers influencing the Otago Peninsula birdwatching tourism system. Seven main themes emerged from participants’ responses; (1) increase in conservation activities, (2) collaboration and self-organization, (3) controlling possum predation, (4) product diversification, (5) tourism system responses, (6) changing conservation efforts, and (7) climate change responses. A conceptual framework highlights the strategies pursued by some tourism operators in an effort to cope with SES changes as well as the feedback links among these actions. The third research question investigates the alignment of the policy frameworks and management actions of key wildlife, conservation, and tourism management agencies with the challenges to the social-ecological resilience of birdwatching tourism operations in New Zealand. A document review of relevant national, regional, and local level legislation, alongside the results of the semi-structured interviews of key birdwatching tourism stakeholders, highlights the influence of national marine policy on local tourism operations and the uncertainty associated with national and regional priorities for biodiversity maintenance. This thesis investigates tourism as a complex adaptive system and, in so doing, advances the field from more traditional approaches of tourism research focused on linearity and sustainability indicators (Russell & Faulkner, 1999; Strickland-Munro, Allison, & Moore, 2010) toward acknowledging uncertainty and non-linear change in social-ecological tourism systems (Lew & Cheer, 2018b). It provides critical insights into the factors which may increase or reduce the social-ecological resilience of nature-based tourism operations at various scales. The empirical contributions of this thesis include results regarding the terrestrial-marine interface, within which many New Zealand seabirds exist. The thesis examines and highlights the critical influences of the gaps among terrestrial and marine resource management and conservation policy on tourism systems. The Otago Peninsula birdwatching tourism system features a diversity of birdlife; however, the decline of the YEP population on the peninsula highlights a lack of whole-system resource management which extends across ecosystem boundaries. There is an urgent need for improved alignment of marine conservation legislation and associated policy with the principles of biodiversity protection already realized in terrestrial environments in New Zealand through legislation such as the Resource Management Act (1991). This thesis makes an original theoretical contribution to our understanding of the complexity, diversity, and dynamics of the influences on the social-ecological resilience of birdwatching tourism. It contributes through the application and critique of the Resilience Assessment Framework (Resilience Alliance, 2010) in a new context and conceptualizes birdwatching tourism as a complex adaptive system. It further informs our understanding of birdwatching tourism system drivers, interactions, feedbacks, and tourism operators’ coping strategies. It provides a critical examination of adaptations sought by tourism operators in an effort to overcome recent social-environmental challenges and demonstrates the ability of a social-ecological resilience analysis approach to help identify the possible nearing of a birdwatching tourism system threshold. Furthermore, it contributes to academic discourses about the influences of non-governmental organizations on tourism and planning (Lovelock, 2002, 2003). The thesis offers several pragmatic contributions. Firstly, it points to the potential benefits of centralization among birdwatching tourism operations on the Otago Peninsula to strengthen the current operator network. Secondly, the research stresses the need for better information on potential climate change impacts and opportunities among birdwatching tourism operations in New Zealand. Operators expressed uncertainty about climate change impacts and interest in understanding what the future of the Otago Peninsula birdlife may hold under changing climatic influences. Such information may help tourism operations improve their adaptation planning (Cutter et al., 2008). Thirdly, the analysis of the influences of national and regional level biodiversity protection policy in New Zealand identifies some mismatches of these protection attempts at different scales. Aligning the aims of legislation of different law-making scales can help close these gaps and improve the protection of bird species such as the YEP and the Northern Royal Albatross.
dc.publisherUniversity of Otago
dc.rightsAll items in OUR Archive are provided for private study and research purposes and are protected by copyright with all rights reserved unless otherwise indicated.
dc.subjectsocial-ecological systems
dc.subjectOtago Peninsula
dc.subjectadaptive capacity
dc.subjectNew Zealand
dc.subjectresilience assessment
dc.subjectenvironmental change
dc.subjectclimate change
dc.subjectglobal environmental change
dc.titleThe Resilience of Wildlife Tourism Operations to Environmental Change
dc.language.rfc3066en of Tourism of Philosophy of Otago
otago.openaccessAbstract Only
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