Title

Stakeholder perceptions of geopark establishment: An exploratory study of Rottnest Island, Western Australia as a potential geopark site

Author Identifiers

Kerran Olson

https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4650-4397

Date of Award

2021

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Business (Research)

School

School of Business and Law

First Advisor

Gregory Willson

Second Advisor

Edmund Goh

Third Advisor

Ross Dowling

Abstract

Geotourism is a growing form of tourism popular amongst tourists for its holistic and sustainable nature. Geotourism supports a focus on an area’s geological features with environmental protection and educational aspects, whilst generating community benefits and economic return. Geoparks are considered a major vehicle for geotourism, with the UNESCO Global Geoparks (2019) program recognising sites of international value, and allowing for the conservation, education, and appreciation of these sites appreciated for their historic, cultural and natural heritage.

With no current UNESCO recognised geoparks in Australia, Western Australia’s State Government has acknowledged the potential for geotourism to be developed as a valuable tourism opportunity, with Rottnest Island the only site named as a potential geopark location in WA’s State Planning Strategy 2050. A destination of significant local value and international interest, Rottnest Island boasts unique natural features including geological formations, flora, and fauna, as well as a history of Indigenous significance.

This research explores stakeholder perceptions of geotourism through geopark development at the Western Australia site of Rottnest Island. Using a qualitative approach, it investigates the concept of geotourism and the perceived barriers and challenges associated with its major development vehicle of UNESCO Geoparks, through consideration of the views of a variety of opinion leaders representative of key stakeholder groups including tourism industry representatives, governing bodies, and community groups. This study contributes to the growing body of literature relating to geotourism research and geopark development and considers the potential for geotourism development within Western Australia through the establishment of Rottnest Island as an Aspiring Geopark.

Studies emphasise the importance of considering stakeholder values and expectations in tourism planning and development, a concept particularly important when tourism aims to be sustainable (Byrd, 2007). Motivational theory within tourism—specifically the theory of planned behaviour (TPB)—is used as a lens through which motivational factors and behavioural intent of stakeholders are considered in relation to geotourism.

Analysis of interview data from twenty-one participants found that most Rottnest Island stakeholders are supportive of geopark development at the site and consider geotourism to be well suited to the island. The major perceived benefits identified by stakeholders include geotourism’s educative nature, environmental focus, and the recognition associated with UNESCO branding, as well as the potential ease of integration of geotourism products into existing tourism at the site.

Although geotourism as a concept was generally perceived as well-suited to the site, there was concern amongst stakeholders regarding site capacity which must be addressed prior to any further tourism development occurring. Concerns relating to infrastructure and high visitor numbers were key perceived challenges. In addition, several stakeholders questioned the necessity of establishing a geopark at a site already recognised as an established tourism destination. Overall, the intention amongst stakeholders was to support geopark establishment on Rottnest Island.

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