Development of an interpretation framework for the Kruger National Park
Van Loggerenberg, Elricke
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The growth of the ecotourism industry has resulted in increased demand for ecotourism and, consequently, the demand for one of the most renowned ecotourism destinations in South Africa, the Kruger National Park. Eco-tourists are highly educated and expect information-rich experiences which can be addressed with interpretation services. Previous studies indicated that the Kruger National Park's management neglects the importance of interpretation and, thus, the expectations of interpretation services exceeded the actual experience thereof. Additionally, the Kruger National Park is faced with a decline in public funding and consequently shifted their focus to ecotourism management to support successful conservation management of the park. Interpretation, however is not only considered to be an important educational tool that addresses visitors' expectations for educational services, but also contributes to national parks' conservation mandate since it influences visitors' behaviour to be more in line with respect for the environment, philanthropic support for conservation and general environmental behaviour. Clearly the Kruger National Park should address interpretation services with the aim of addressing visitor expectations but also to contribute to conservation management. The aim of this study is therefore to develop an interpretation framework for the Kruger National Park. To achieve this aim, this study made use of a self-administered questionnaire which was distributed in the southern and northern regions of the park during December 2011 and June 2012 respectively. Only one questionnaire per travelling group was distributed and resulted in 855 completed questionnaires for this study. Furthermore, the aim of the study was realised by means of several objectives. The first objective was to conduct a thorough literature analysis on the components, theories and goals related to interpretation within ecotourism related products. This was accomplished in Chapter 2 and provided a conceptual framework which was tested in the subsequent chapters to provide an interpretation framework for the Kruger National Park. The second objective explored all the methodological considerations for the subsequent chapters (i.e. articles). Due to the limited space available in the articles, Chapter 3 provided additional information or methodological considerations not captured in the articles of the study. The third objective of this study determined the interpretation expectations and experiences of visitors to the Kruger National Park. This was done in Chapter 4 of the study. Factor analyses revealed visitors' expected and experienced interpretation services and compared these factors by means of paired sample t-tests for the park as a whole as well as between the northern and southern regions of the park. The results revealed that there is a gap between visitors' expectations and experiences with interpretation services of the park, however, there are no significant differences between the northern and southern regions‟ interpretation services. In addition to determining the visitors' expectations and experiences with the Kruger National Park's interpretation services; the fourth objective determined market segments for the Kruger National Park based on expected interpretation services. This was accomplished in Chapter 5 of the study by means of cluster analyses (i.e. hierarchical and non-hierarchical) that revealed four distinct markets (i.e. Inquisitive, Eager, Comfort and Quasi-interested seekers). A factor analysis also determined several motivations for visitors to visit the Kruger National Park and by means of ANOVAs and Chi-square analyses, the differences between the market segments based on socio-demographic and behavioural characteristics as well as motivations, expected and experienced interpretation services were determined. The fifth objective of this study determined whether the Kruger National Park's interpretation services have an impact on the visitors' behaviour to be more in line with the park's conservation practices and was accomplished in Chapter 6. This chapter made use of structural equation modelling to determine the multiple relationships between expected interpretation services as well as attitudes and behaviour. Results revealed that visitors to the Kruger National Park are inclined towards positive attitudes towards conservation practices but that the current interpretation services influenced the attitudes as well as the behaviour of visitors negatively and needs to be addressed. Lastly, the results of this research suggest several recommendations for the Kruger National Park as explained in Chapter 7 of this study. Clearly the Kruger National Park needs to address the gap between interpretation expectations and experiences by planning for interpretation in the form of a policy or strategy. The interpretation policy or strategy should also be re-evaluated and amended periodically since visitor‟s needs and markets change. An interpretation framework is presented for the Kruger National Park based on the results of this study to address the current dilemmas of the park in terms of interpretation. Not only did this study provide practical contributions to the Kruger National Park but made several distinct contributions. An interpretation framework was developed that can not only assist the Kruger National Park but which also contributes to the body of knowledge on the topic and can also assist other ecotourism destinations in the same position as the Kruger National Park. This study also confirmed a general classification of interpretation services as well as suggested interpretation typologies that can be used for future ecotourism research. Since there was no guideline available to segment interpretation visitors, this study also made a methodological contribution by proving that expected interpretation can be a viable segmentation base and that the selection of a variable should be based on statistical calculations.