Nature-based tourism and climate change risk: Visitors’ perceptions in mount desert island, Maine
Climate change poses many risks for nature-based recreation and tourism, especially in protected areas and parks. This paper discusses visitor risk perceptions of climate change and its impacts, and their potential consequences for nature-based tourism destinations such as national parks. An online survey was used to assess visitor risk perception on the likelihood of climate change impacts to affect Mount Desert Island (MDI)-Acadia National Park in the next 10 years, and potential risks those impacts could pose to visitors. Environmental impacts such as extreme weather and sea level rise were perceived by respondents as the most likely effects of climate change to MDI in the next 10 years. Conversely, respondents’ risk perceptions of climate change impacts as threats to visitors showed an increased importance of other environmental impacts such as increased presence of mosquitoes and ticks; with extreme events as the key risk to visitors. However, perceptions that pose potential personal risk to visitors gained in significance when considering their influence on travel behavior, including impacts such as disease outbreak and water scarcity. Factor analyses with varimax rotation identified four climate change impact factors associated with perceived vulnerability, perceptions of risk, and influence on future travel to MDI; the four factors generated were: weather patterns, impacts on wildlife, access and health, and physiological and safety needs. Results from cluster analysis yielded three segments: Skeptics, Believers, and Cautious. Segments were significantly different in how they perceived the vulnerability of the area to the effects of climate change, perceived risks, and changes that may influence travel behavior.