5 Conclusions and research needs for the future

This review paper has presented a wide range of issues that are of concern to policy makers, planners and researchers at the present time. Given the fast changing social, economic and demographic conditions as well as the increasing pressures on the environment and the uncertainties around climate change, the subject of outdoor recreation and nature tourism is one that needs to be kept continually under review. It is clear that a societies develop, economies mature and people around the world become more affluent, live longer and have more spare time recreation and tourism become increasingly important activities. The statistics for the growth of outdoor recreation and nature tourism reinforce this importance. The review also demonstrates that many of the drivers of changing levels and types of demand are not completely predictable and that considerable uncertainties exist in terms of which drivers will continue to have an effect and which may weaken over time. The nature of the impact of new technology is also uncertain but it is likely to be large in scale.

In the light of the analysis of trends identified above, what are the research needs for the future? Each section of the paper has examined different facets of outdoor recreation and nature tourism and as a result is able to generate a number of research needs:

5.1 The drivers of recreation

As a result of the discussion of the drivers of recreation there are needs for research to strengthen the base assumptions and to validate the trends as they emerge over the next years. For this a series of baseline studies from a range of countries followed up by longitudinal surveys conducted every 5–10 years would help policy makers and planners in the development of their policies and plans. The discussion on demand monitoring, which is an essential aspect of this kind of study also throws up several important lines of research:

  • Systematic monitoring of the recreation behaviour of the population – national level recreation surveys – sampling individuals or households.
  • Systematic recreation monitoring on-site, site specific visitor assessment and visitor surveys.
  • Harmonization of key variables for international comparisons.
  • Harmonization of methods for national statistics over time, trend construction, forecast modelling to allow international comparison, especially at the pan-European level.
  • Development of methodology to suit the changing society: the use of internet survey, GPS-tracking etc.
  • Pressure on natural resources and conflict management because of new activities and technologies such as motorised recreation in Europe.
  • Recreation opportunities and environmental changes such as climate change, rural landscapes disturbed by afforestation or uncontrolled housing development, poor quality of water resources.
  • The increasing number of people enjoying nature tourism trips shows no signs of abating and, if predictions are to be believed, numbers will only continue to rise. As a result, policy makers, planners and managers are going to have to deal with increasing demand so that instruments to evaluate and plan for this are needed.

5.2 Health and well-being

This short review of the potential effects of nature on health and well-being shows that the evidence base is increasing but is not strong enough to have a major impact on policy. Gaps in research were identified in a research mapping study carried out for the U.K. department of Communities and Local Government (Bell et al., 2006) which showed that this area has as yet a patchy research record throughout the developed world. Some priorities for research were suggested, in relation to a number of themes such as:

Economic values:

  • Funding mechanisms for green space
  • The value of economic regeneration
  • Quantification in monetary terms of health benefits (of exercise etc.) e.g. savings to the health budget
  • Costs of crime and vandalism
  • The value of local employment provided by green space


  • Benefits in relation to key target groups, especially children, older people and disabled people.
  • Longitudinal studies to test and validate health benefits over time
  • Barriers to the use of green space for health and well-being
  • The effects of risk aversion on levels of use of green space for health and well-being

Social and community:

  • The availability of nearby green space for children’s play
  • Intergenerational studies into play and the use of green space, as affected by, constrained or encouraged by parents or grandparents
  • The effects of fear and feeling unsafe as barriers to using spaces of different types by different social groups.
  • The difference between actual and perceived levels of crime in different spaces
  • The social setting of crime
  • Planting for safety
  • The use of lighting to increase levels of use and to reduce fear.

Physical aspects

  • Accessibilty to green spaces “from the front door” in order to reduce the need to use transport

Management and maintenance

  • Maintenance of informal green spaces used a lot for play
  • What skills are needed by staff to prepare for current and future demands of management and maintenance
  • Methods of communication and information provision to the wide range of user groups in different spaces as a means of helping to raise awareness, build confidence and manage risk and fear.

5.3 Conflicts between recreation and nature tourism on sustainable use of resources and environments

In the area of conflicts between visitors and the environment the following needs have been identified:

  • To ensure that visitors have as minimal impact as possible it will be necessary to continue gathering information on the intensity of recreational use that is made on areas and also to assess the way they behave during their visits. By having a greater understanding of the benefits gained by individuals of access to natural areas, it will allow planners and managers to focus their activities and operations more effectively.
  • Climate change is perhaps the biggest threat to nature tourism. However, it is an issue that is beyond the control of recreation and nature tourism planners. Those involved will need to conduct research into the impacts climate change could have on the environment and businesses in a range of habitats and regions. It is also important to understand how to adapt to the changing conditions. Ideally, recreation and nature tourism operators should also implement mitigation plans so that impact is reduced initially.
  • Nature tourism’s continued expansion offers opportunities to generate increased income and employment, both nationally and in remote rural areas, and to provide increased incentives for biodiversity conservation in state protected areas and on private lands (Wells, 1997*). However, these must be balanced with the risks of continued environmental degradation and greater pressure on protected areas, many of which lack the resources for effective management and are unprepared for significant growth in visitor numbers (Wells, 1997).
  • The development and application of visitor management systems to different regions and for different circumstances will help to provide planners and managers with more sophisticated and sensitive tools than they have at present.
  • Techniques need to be further developed to enable existing areas to deal with increased pressures. This may include setting limits on visitor numbers or activities to ensure the environment remains undamaged.
  • Research into the use of technological advancements, so that the development of additional tourism areas will have less of an impact on the environment and to ensure the sustainability of the venture in the long-term.
  • For some of the conflicts identified, general research is required. However, for certain issues, research and information needs to be more specific to the region, area or people. For example, reducing conflicts between local people and nature tourists will be region and resource specific. It is possible to identify common themes, such as participation, but as each community is unique, applying general guidelines will also be problematic.

The research in the field described here is increasing all the time and new findings about all the subjects discussed here constantly emerge. It is the intention to keep this review itself under review and to revisit it when significant new material affects the conclusions and predictions.

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