The Role of Tour Operators in Visitor Management Planning: The Case Study of Algonquin Provincial Park
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The first State of Ontario’s Protected Areas Report (2011) identified visitor impacts as one of the known threats to the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity in Ontario’s provincial parks. Algonquin Provincial Park (APP) sustains the impacts of nearly million visitors per year (Ministry of Natural Resources, 2010), more than any other provincial park in Ontario. To mitigate these visitor impacts, APP has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with The Friends of Algonquin Park and the Algonquin Backcountry Recreationalists to be the first provincial park in Ontario to officially adopt and deliver the Leave No Trace (LNT) program in Spring 2011. Due to limited funding, staff, and time, tour operators operating in APP may also be potentially important delivery-agents of the LNT program. Research shows that interpretation, through personal contact, is an effective visitor management tactic that can be used to encourage visitors to adopt an enhanced conservation ethic and modify their behaviour, such as LNT principles, in order to reduce their ecological impacts on the protected area. This case study used three methods to examine the type of interpretation currently delivered by a tour operator offering guided canoe trips in APP: (1) literature and documentation review; (2) focused interviews to determine the general manager’s, guides, and clients knowledge and use of LNT principles; and (3) participant observation to identify the actual LNT messages delivered and behaviour modelled by guides. The findings of this study reveal that guides are somewhat familiar with the LNT program and are practicing at least one of the seven LNT principles while canoe trip guiding. While litter and campfire-related impacts are identified as the most commonly observed visitor-related impacts by the guides, guides are more apt to properly dispose of waste, but still rely solely on campfires to cook all the meals at the campsite as well as having a nightly pleasure fire, despite having to collect appropriate firewood along portage trails or around the perimeter of the lake, due to barren campsites. These findings show that tour operators can play a much greater role in delivering the LNT program; however, guides require additional LNT training, in order to strengthen their role as delivery-agents of the LNT program in APP. Enhancing tour operators role in delivering LNT program will require greater involvement in VMP through collaborative planning, the establishment of a tour operators association to represent the collective interests of tour operators, and the use of a business licence scheme to ensure tour operators are incorporating the LNT program into guided canoe trips.