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Unpublished Paper
The role of interpretation in sustainable tourism: a qualitative approach to understanding passenger experiences on expedition cruises
PhD thesis, James Cook University
  • Kaye Walker, Southern Cross University
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The challenge of any research in sustainable tourism is not only how to measure or assess the achievement of sustainability, but also how to implement such. A current trend in both practice and research is to consider the conduct of ecotourism as a means to achieve the concepts of sustainable tourism and the principles of sustainability. This thesis proposes that one of the avenues that ecotourism may contribute to the principles of sustainability is through the interpretation delivered as an integral component of this type of tourism. An inductive qualitative methodological approach is presented and a model of effective interpretation has been developed. This model is called The Value Model of Effective Interpretation 1. The model identifies interpretive activity features, outcomes and the pathways that will most likely lead to value based responses. A new theoretical interpretive approach has been developed in conjunction with the model and is referred to as the “Personal Insight Interpretive Approach”. The premise of the model and the approach is that specific interpretive features and outcomes are facilitated via a ladder of abstraction and means-end analysis techniques. These techniques facilitate and identify the participants’ cognitive placement of thematic messages and experience with personally significant values which link to environmentally or culturally responsible “Intentional Behaviours”. The model has been placed into a Research and Applied Framework in order to incorporate community orientated values and goals into the sustainable tourism process. This is achieved via a multidimensional ecotourism operation with a multicentric interpretive approach, known as Expedition Cruising. The thesis was guided by the hypothesis that it is only when newly acquired or enhanced knowledge and experience takes on personal psychological significance in the form of values or beliefs that interpretation can be considered to be effective. (Walker, 2006) Chapter 1 presents the overall Research Aims and the findings of a literature review that established the relationships between the research components of sustainability, sustainable tourism, ecotourism, interpretation and community and identified the contexts in which interpretation could contribute to achieving the principles of sustainable tourism. In doing so, a number of gaps in the research became evident which included the identification of comparative evaluative components of effective interpretation, methods of assessment and evaluation with respect to achieving the principles of sustainability, and a framework incorporating and connecting the tourist and the community through interpretation. Chapter 2 draws together the key findings of the literature review with the development of a framework to guide the proposed research and justifies the methodological approach used to conduct the research. This is an inductive qualitative approach utilising the Means-end Analysis technique for Expedition Cruise passenger responses to their interpretive experience. Three case studies were conducted, consisting initially of multiple expedition cruises and then progressively more specific locations during certain cruises. The data collection methods include open-ended written questionnaires, in-depth interviews and participant observation. The broad research aims presented in Chapter 1 are translated into three Parts with associated Key Research Questions, and the use of Expedition Cruising as the platform for this investigation is described. Chapter 3 presents Study 1 which investigates the Environmental Values and Interpretation components of the Research Framework, and addresses the Key Research Questions of Part 1, Environmental Sustainability. It is based upon research conducted during four Expedition Cruises in Alaska and the data is compared to the interpretive objectives of the environmental management agency for that region. The findings resulted in the development of The Value Model of Interpretation which was the initial model used for comparison and re-evaluation of findings throughout the research. This model depicted the interpretive attributes and benefits which passengers perceived to be most important, with the most significant representation of “Environmental awareness”. Chapter 4 presents Study 2 which initialises investigation of the Community Values component of the Research Framework and is based upon a cultural Expedition Cruise experience on Stanley Is, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Traditional Owner guides conducted the interpretation and the community’s interpretive aims were compared to the passengers’ value based responses. There were correlations as well as interesting findings regarding a “sense of place” interpretive approach linking to the facilitation of a “care of place” represented by the participants’ major identification of the personal value of “Cultural/environmental concern”. Chapter 5 presents Study 3 which finalises the investigation of the Community Values and Model development components of the Research Framework, and addresses the Key Research Questions for Parts 2 and 3, Community Sustainability and The Value Model of Interpretation. This study was conducted during and after an Expedition Cruise visit to Easter Island, Chile. The findings identified a substantial representation of the beneficial outcome of “Cultural tourism awareness” and the greatest representation in the research of the value “Self appreciation” which refers to the identification of personal insights. An overall analysis of the data suggested the development of personal insights created linkages to post-experience intentional behaviours. The Value Model of Effective Interpretation 1 was developed as well as an interpretive theory called the “Personal Insight Approach” which allies strongly with the “Mindfulness” approach. Chapter 6 concludes the thesis by addressing the original Research Aims, suggesting future research and commenting on its contribution to theory and application in the fields of study. Major contributions included the development of: a new model of effective interpretation; an operation framework for incorporating this model and community orientated values into the sustainable tourism process; an evaluative and investigative research methodology; effective interpretation and sustainability indicators; a new theory in interpretive research.
Citation Information

Walker, K 2007, 'The role of interpretation in sustainable tourism: a qualitative approach to understanding passenger experiences on expedition cruises ', PhD thesis, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld.

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