Tackling the challenges of studying special-purpose populations can help local policy makers and tourism operators. | Researcher: Luis Catela Nunes
Ecotourism and birdwatching
Ecotourism has been advocated as a way to promote economic beneﬁts while ensuring nature conservation. In that context, birdwatching, consisting of the visitation of sites where birds can be observed, identified, and photographed, is an activity that does not consume natural resources and is actually quite dependent on habitat quality.
Of course, local policy makers and tourism operators are particularly interested in implementing management actions that could increase the birding activity and the associated economic returns. An understanding of birdwatchers' preferences for the attributes of a particular site is essential for such goals. However, this task may well prove to be a rather tough challenge as illustrated in the case study conducted by Nova SBE’s Professor Luis Catela Nunes and colleagues.
Birdwatching in the Azores
The researchers focus on the case of Cabo da Praia, an artiﬁcial wetland in the Azores famous for watching a large number of migratory bird species coming from America and Europe due to its central position in the Atlantic Ocean. The knowledge of this area has spread among birders and is today visited by enthusiasts coming from many different countries.
The team carried out a survey to birders that had visited the study area. The objective was to measure the differential value given to the construction of new infrastructures and/or preservation of the habitat characteristics (e.g. observation structures, trash cans and collection, car parking restrictions, water reservoirs that attract birds).
Obtaining information about the birdwatching activity presented a number of challenges. No ofﬁcial data exist differentiating this special purpose recreation population from the overall tourists. Identification of the birder population and their contacts is not readily available. There is no information on the number and type of birders traveling to this destination. Also, birders visit the site in a heterogeneous way. Seasonal patterns are common in recreation groups, often demanding on-site surveying in different periods, sometimes throughout an entire year. These are common problems that often discourage the implementation of stated preference studies for this type of populations.
A major contribution of this study is to propose an approach that is able to deal with the typical challenges of surveying special-purpose populations such as nature-based recreational groups (e.g. birders, anglers, hunters, canoeists, or hikers).
These challenges are overcome by the development of a new mixed-mode sampling strategy that makes use of today's online social networks and communication tools (e.g. websites, personal webpages, blogs, Skype, and Facebook).
The mixed-mode survey
As in other survey-based studies, when designing a stated preference study, a decision needs to be made concerning the sampling strategy and the method to deliver the questionnaire since these aspects can have distinct inﬂuences on the overall results. An important decision that must be made is the choice of the survey mode (e.g. face-to-face (f2f), mail, telephone, Internet or e-mail). It requires weighting several factors, including the type of questionnaire, target population, sampling method, and the cost and time available to conduct the survey.
Mixing modes offers the possibility of trading the disadvantages of one mode for the advantages offered by another. However, since the nature and magnitude of coverage, non-response, and measurement biases may differ across modes, it may reduce the comparability of data collected by the different modes.
The researchers develop and test a mixed-mode survey that includes f2f and phone/VoIP questionnaires. It is original in that: (1) the questionnaire is exactly the same between the two modes, (2) it is an electronic self-administered survey, and (3) the interviewer intervention is limited to the provision of additional information when required. These choices were made with the speciﬁc purpose of minimizing the difference between the elicited preferences coming from the two surveys modes.
The use of social networks on the Internet yielded a fast contact and established an appropriate interface with the study population. This promoted more interactive and personalized surveys that enhanced motivation and may have contributed to the high response rate obtained.
More importantly, the results conﬁrmed that the two survey modes used did not lead to significant differences in the elicited preferences.
The results obtained pinpointed the site attributes that were more valued by birdwatchers (e.g. water reservoirs are more valued than observatories). This is of great relevance for managers since it reinforces the idea that both human and ecological dimensions must be understood and balanced in the planning stages for site management.
Understanding speciﬁc birding communities and their communication networks, and the combination of on-site and off-site surveys using a similar enquiry method, proved to be essential to guarantee that the survey population was as close as possible to the target population and that it was possible to combine the different survey methods. Further, it provided a viable option to gather a sample of acceptable size in a short time and with a substantial reduction in costs.
The usefulness of the survey procedure used in this study is not only conﬁned to natural resource management and research, in that tourist operators can also use these tools to better design their marketing strategies for other special-purpose populations.
This article is based on the paper:
"Measuring bird watchers' preferences: a case for using online networks and mixed-mode surveys", (2015), Tourism Management, vol. 46, pp. 102-113, by Maria Helena Guimaraes, Luis Catela Nunes, Livia Madureira, Jose M.L. Santos, Tomasz Boski, and Tomaz Dentinho.