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Promoting Connectedness to Nature
World Responsible Tourism Day Case Study:
Encouraging pro-environmental concern using ‘entertaining' and ‘educational' ecotourism interpretation.
Christopher Warren, Jane Gripper and Lara Claringbould
World Responsible Tourism Day (WRTD) is an annual event which demonstrates sustainable tourism action around the world by independent and transnational tourism providers. This summary report reviews a WRTD project undertaken at Crystal Creek Meadows in Kangaroo Valley, Australia in 2012. Our aim was to measure the effects of educational ecotourism interpretation, which featured Aboriginal Cultural Belief Systems (ACBS) as a method to encourage nature connection and environmental concern with children.
Our findings concur with previous research undertaken with adults. An individual's level of connection with nature is influenced by their perception of how far ‘self' is part of the natural world as opposed to distinctively separate from nature.
The children demonstrated different levels of connection and this influenced their environmental awareness and concern. We found that ACBS, which have traditionally fostered deep connection with the natural world, were highly motivating. They helped establish a stronger connection to nature. The daylong structured activities did increase many of the children's level of environmental concern. The importance of reflection time and personal evaluation and interpretation of the educational ecotourism experiences was demonstrated through the creative eco-art ( sustainable art made from natural materials that is short-lived because of its natural elements), drawings and writing which the children produced. There are two good examples of eco-art, John Davies in Australia and Andy Goldworthy in the UK.
The project shows that Aboriginal culture ecotourism experiences can positively make a contribution to future environmental sustainability. However, further research is required to measure long-term impacts from on-going structured activities.
The WRTD results have:
• assisted Crystal Creek Meadows' product development
• been shared with all the other local tourism stakeholders who participated in the project and the local community tourist association
• been made available to the Kangaroo Valley Public School
Importantly the children's ephemeral art, drawings and written reflections have been exhibited at Jing Jo Restaurant for patrons to freely view and vote on. This has enabled the project's impact to extend to visitors.
The extreme weather events caused by Climate Change (as explained by the CSIRO) and the loss of biodiversity represent important challenges for tourism. This is because firstly the attractiveness of the natural world is a major tourism asset. Secondly the results of droughts, storms and fires, and the loss of species impact on a destination's appeal with subsequent economic repercussions, as demonstrated by the Black Saturday Fires in Victoria and the cyclones in Queensland.
The protection and conservation of the environment, brought about through reduced pollution and waste i.e. changes in human behaviour and consumption, should thus form a key goal for rural tourism providers and destination mangers. To be effective the execution of these goals must involve the visitor. This means for long-term influence visitor involvement should go beyond key tags and minimising carbon footprints whilst on holiday because the nature of worldwide consumption impacts on the global environment through everyday life (Tragedy of the Commons). The sustainable development of tourism therefore requires individuals to change social practice and behaviours in order to positively modify the current trajectory of Greenhouse Gas pollution and use of non-renewable resources.
Education of all stakeholders has been identified as a principle of sustainable development and environmentally responsible tourism by Bruntland and the Cape Town Declaration, World Commission on Environment and Development (1998) and ICRT (2012). Tourism has a special role to play in encouraging education and change. It is when individuals are outside their everyday lives, relaxed and at leisure that new ideas and awareness can break though ‘normal' behaviour. This can be demonstrated by the gleaning of new fashions, dance, music and diets from holidays abroad and have led to greater international understanding.
There has been considerable research studying the potential for adult environmental behaviour change in wealthy developed nations. While adults form a major focus for tourism marketing, children are also an important component of the family holiday market, an important domestic Australian tourism sector. Children also represent the consumers of the future and their sensitivity to the environment is essential if we are to cure consumption and reduce pollution. Yet research has identified a decline in children playing in natural environments. If children are to have the capacity to face the challenges of the future we believe it is essential that they increase their connection to nature.
Educating children through tourism experiences represents one way to assist the transition to a more sustainable world. There have been studies on children's connection to the environment, but there are few examples about how best to create educational and entertaining tourism experiences for children which helps to foster greater connection to nature and concern for the environment. Successful children's nature educational tourism experiences thus represent an important opportunity for tourism.
We sought to conduct a research project during WRTD and share the findings as a contribution to improving tourism interpretation. We also felt it was important to measure the effectiveness of our WRTD project to highlight the value of an official calendar date and demonstrate its impact.
Location: Crystal Creek Meadows in Kangaroo Valley NSW, Australia.
Sample: 58 primary school children from Kangaroo Valley Public School years 3,4,5 and 6.
a) Aboriginal Cultural Belief Systems expressed as Dreamtime Stories by a professional Aboriginal story teller
b) Food Miles activity where the children learnt about the importance of sourcing food locally
c) Conservation through practically planting a tree seedlings and learnign about the adaptability of trees planted in the right place
d) Reflection time and creative expression through either eco-art (creating a habitat), drawings and writing a story
Research Method: four research instruments were used: Nature Relatedness survey, Environmental Concern pre - post test, action research study of reflection period and finally interviews after the day. The research was conducted by a qualified teacher.
Summary of Findings
- As a group, the children held a stronger connection to animals & plants and altruistic values than personal egoistic values. Those children with the weakest egoistic values held the strongest connection to nature. These findings concur with studies of adults.
- The older children, years 5 and 6 held lower egoistic values than the younger children from years 3 and 4.
- Following the day's structured activities over 40% of the children showed an increase in environmental concern.
- The reflection period demonstrated the importance for individuals to have time to assimilate information. This concurs with previous research.
- During the daylong activities the children were observed to enthusiastically participate 'all the time' with only a couple participating 'most of the time' and were able to confidently link ideas.
- 54 our of 58 children completed their creative work which could either be writing, drawing or creating a habitat. 19 children choose to create the eco-art habitat while only 4 wrote a story. The habitat work appeared to follow a similar creative process as ephemeral artists like Andy Goldworthy who aim to make sense of nature through transitory constructions in nature.
- The children were attentive and motivated throughout the day despite 34C weather and a 5 hour activity programme outside. Most were disappointed to have to conclude the activities and wanted to spend more time on their creative projects.
- The children were keen to participate in the ACBS
- The Aboriginal story telling was considered by the children as the most enjoyable structured activity compared with modern scientific educational interpretation.
- The overall result of the event was positive for the children. Two days after the visit the children were interviewed. The students reported learning about caring for the environment during their visit. Specifically they learned "animals care for their environment", "the environment is important for moodgee"(ACBS), "don't use too much if you don't need to" and "I understand how important the environment is for the animals". When the students were asked "how did you feel when you learned this? Students overwhelmingly reported feeling "excited".
Aboriginal tourism experiences tend to be commercialised for international visitors to Australia. However, ACBS hold valuable structures and management methods which enabled this sophisticated civilisation to be sustainable for over 60,000 years and could be shared to stimulate nature connectedness and encourage pro-environmental behaviour with domestic tourists.
The ACBS could also be integrated into educational ecotourism experiences and provide important economic development opportunities for Aboriginal communities.
Responsible Tourism providers should consider encouraging nature connectedness through personalised interpretation and including reflection time. Where possible the inclusion of Indigenous culture should be encouraged to conserve bio-cultural diversity and economic opportunities.
To stimulate children's long-term consecution to nature will require on-going participation in structured activities. This suggests commercial opportunities for Responsible Tourism businesses using loyalty communication methods. For example children who plant a tree can be kept up to date with its growth and the insects, birds and animals which visit it. This is only one limited example. We must also remember that children need from a very early age also need an opportunity to 'play' and 'explore' for themselves in an unstructured, natural environment, as noted by Phenice & Griffore. So not only structured activities but giving children places to be at one with nature, enjoying it and exploring it for themselves. This represents further opportunities for toursm to provide services/facilities for the very young and early school age who can 'step' up to more strcutured activities as they grow up. This would provide new discoveries on return visits.
Our natural heritage assets are a central core to the appeal of tourism. Tourism therefore must develop long-term strategies beyond mitigation to protect the environment. Educational environmental tourism experiences, and 'play' and 'explore' opportunities, harnessed with appropriate cultural heritage could contribute to this long-term strategy, provide local economic development for marginalised communities and deliver memorable experiences.
Responsible Tourism providers should consider:
1. Local indigenous belief systems with in their environmental integration
2. Include reflection time within the overall experience
3. Utilise eco art activities as a way for visitors to ‘realise' and make sense of their feelings of connection
4. Integrate environmental educational activity experiences into loyalty marketing strategies
How these findings are being used
The authors have shared this project's report with:
• all the other local tourism stakeholders who participated in the project
• all Kangaroo Valley tourism providers through the local community tourist association
• the Kangaroo Valley Public School
• patrons at Jing Jo Restaurant where the children's creative work has been exhibited
• the organisers of WTM/WRTD
These findings are being utilised by Crystal Creek Meadows to develop new guest experiences.
A copy of the findings will be given to the Tourism Industry Council of NWS and EcoToruism Australia.
A video was made of the day's activities and will be placed on Crystal Creek Meadows' You Tube Channel soon.
A full academic report with references will be published shortly. If you would like more information please contact Christopher Warren from this website
This study used a small sample base of 58 children who live in a rural area. It is likely they would be more aware from the outset of this project of nature than children from an urban environment. However, the impact of the programme could in fact then be more positively influencing for a group who are likely to start with a lower level of connection to nature.
The authors would like to thank:
Kangaroo Valley Public School staff and pupils who participated on World Responsible Tourism Day 2012.
Crystal Creek Meadows who provided the venue
Galamban for Aboriginal storytelling
Jing Jo for exhibiting the children's creative work for a month
Kangaroo Valley Safaris who provided the children's incentive prizes
Becky Pinniger, formerly of the UK charity Thrive, for advice on activities with children in nature
Authors' Declaration of Conflicting Interests
Christopher Warren is a partner in Crystal Creek Meadows and Lara Claringbould at the time of writing was a work experience student from the University of Surrey, UK. Jane Gripper was previously a teacher at Kangaroo Valley Public School.