The Effectiveness of Social Media Communications for Visitor Behaviour Management in Ontario's Parks and Protected Areas
AuthorFoster, John S.
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AbstractParks and protected areas in Ontario have long been bastions of conservation while also providing critical outdoor recreation opportunities for the health and well-being of the people. This was particularly evident during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, where parks and protected areas agencies around the world experienced drastic increases in visitation as people sought opportunities to spend time in the natural world. However, the balance of environmental conservation and the provision of outdoor recreation opportunities are often seen as competing interests given the potential degradation that is associated with human use of these natural spaces. As a result, it is crucial for park managers and protected areas agencies to mitigate negative visitor behaviour issues as much as possible. Communications in their various formats (signage, in-person, etc.) have long been utilized by park agencies to share safety, regulatory, and interpretive information with park visitors. While the study of these communications is an underserved field of research, even less attention has been paid specifically to the utility of social media communications at delivering park agency messaging to visitors, especially in the context of addressing visitor behaviour issues using social media communications. This study will contribute to this identified research gap by exploring the experiences of both park visitors and park managers with respect to the effectiveness of social media communications for park visitor behaviour management. To do so, this study applied interpretive description methodology (Thorne, 2016) to support semi-structured interviews with park visitors and individuals who work for park agencies in Ontario in park management roles. 17 participants participated in the research project throughout the course of the data collection process. Conversations with participants revealed that the utility of social media communications for visitor behaviour management varies widely depending on the sophistication of the park agency’s social media strategy. Park visitors often expressed a desire for more specific, authentic, and discussion-oriented communications, while park managers frequently expressed a need to improve and increase the resources and logistics dedicated to social media communications to meet park visitor expectations.
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