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Visitor Knowledge and Actions Related to Climate Change and Sustainability in Protected Area Destinations: The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, Australia
* 1 , 2 , 2 , 2
1  Texas A&M University
2  The Cairns Institute, James Cook University

Published: 26 October 2012 by MDPI in The 2nd World Sustainability Forum session Social Values for a Sustainable Economy
Abstract: This research addresses the role of tourists and tourism in protected area destinations under threat from climate change and other sustainability challenges. Specifically, the study looks at of the issue of a world heritage protected area of strong economic and cultural significant: the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (WHA). Enhancing the adaptive capacity of social systems in destinations vulnerable to climate change is an important social agenda, requiring concerted action by the multiple stakeholders of the destination. Visitors, including area and regionally based residents, plus domestic and international tourists are key stakeholders in the complex tourism system. Their knowledge, perceptions and expectations of these destination places and landscapes are vital to informing marketing, conservation and planning decisions. Yet, troubling gaps exist in studying visitor perceptions, interests and behaviors in the context of climate change and tourism (Gössling et al., 2011). Theoretical and methodological directions to tackle the complex eco-cultural and heritage landscapes that visitors perceive and experience are only just beginning to emerge in the context of climate change and tourism. The paper reports survey research results on visitor knowledge and action related to sustainability and climate change in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) WHA. Over the period 2007 to 2010, 4,672 self-completed surveys were collected from tourists in the departure lounge of the Cairns Domestic Airport, Cairns, Queensland. These addressed a range of issues including motivations and activities of visitors to the GBR WHA, recognition of GBR as a WHA, and willingness to contribute to carbon offsets during their travel. The current 2012 survey, also administered at the Cairns domestic airport, included questions on climate change and sustainability oriented choices made (e.g. choosing ecotourism certified reef operators). This paper discusses the results from the perspective of tourism and the social values of visitors, in the context of world heritage, climate change and sustainability at the Great Barrier Reef WHA.
Keywords: Tourism, climate change, visitor knowledge, Great Barrier Reef, World Heritage Area