Date of Award

Spring 5-2017

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Forest Resources

Advisor

Sandra De Urioste-Stone

Second Committee Member

John Daigle

Third Committee Member

Caroline Noblet

Abstract

Nature-based tourism is one of Maine’s most economically important industries. Projected climate change impacts are likely to affect nature-based tourism in Maine. Especially vulnerable are areas reliant on winter nature-based tourism. Risk perceptions influence perceived vulnerability and can determine behavior, such as management decisions. Previous research has shown that risk perceptions are shaped by socio-demographic factors, cognitive factors, experiential processing, social structures, and trust in climate change communicators. Few studies have tried to understand how tourism stakeholders perceive their risk to climate change, especially using qualitative methodologies. Assessing stakeholder climate change risk perceptions is crucial for understanding motivations or barriers to engage in climate change mitigation and adaptation behaviors. Therefore, the goal of this study is to understand climate change risk perceptions and likely behavioral responses amongst nature-based tourism stakeholders in Western Maine using a qualitative approach. The Maine Lakes and Mountains Region has been selected as a study site because of its high dependence on winter outdoor recreation and the importance tourism has in supporting community resilience. We used a qualitative phenomenological approach by conducting in-depth interviews with nature-based tourism stakeholders in the region and interpretive phenomenological analysis to analyze the data. A key theme that emerged throughout the study was that of uncertainty of the causes of climate change, impacts to the region, which climate change communication sources to trust, and whether or not experienced environmental changes were related to climate change. Uncertainty hindered participants’ abilities to implement adaptation and mitigation behaviors. The research also incorporated a pile sort activity into interviews with nature-based tourism stakeholders. Few studies have used pile sorting to understand how people think about climate change, and how this view might inform adaptation and mitigation strategies. During these interviews, participants were given 34 cards listing environmental and social conditions and asked to sort them using their own criteria for organization of piles. Multidimensional scaling analysis was used in SPSS to analyze the pile sorts. Multidimensional scaling of data from unconstrained, structured pile sorts identified two dimensions: perceived behavioral control and impacts. Providing climate change information specific to the study region communicated by scientists or through the local newspaper could help empower participants to adopt more mitigation and adaptation strategies, thus bolstering the resilience of the tourism destination. Future research on tourism stakeholder demographics, visitor risk perceptions, and longitudinal changes to both is needed to maintain long-term sustainability of the region. Understanding how nature-based tourism stakeholders in the study region understand climate change could help inform interpretation of risk perceptions and behavioral responses to climate change. This knowledge will help tailor climate change communications to be more effective in building awareness, empowering stakeholders to mitigate and adapt in the face of climate change. This will ultimately lead to a more resilient socio-ecological tourism system.

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