With considerable focus on ecotourism's potential to contribute to conservation, it is increasingly important to understand the implications of ecological information in triggering sustainability-relevant attitudes and actions. This study assesses whether people who have ecological information regarding the negative impact of their recreational behavior on penguins’ stress will choose to remain farther away from the penguins to avoid that impact although this option will reduce the personal benefits of their tourism experience.
To answer this question, we use a choice experiment with three attributes related to “Humboldt penguin watching”: (1) price of the experience, (2) distance at which penguins could be observed, and (3) penguin density. In addition, we used two treatments: with and without ecological information. We used a pooled data (with and without information) mixed logit model to identify the effect of providing or not providing information. Using a chi-square test, we first tested whether people in the sample with information chose different alternatives than those individuals without information. Furthermore, we evaluate whether the coefficient associated with the attributes of the mixed logit model, and therefore people’s behavioral preferences, differs among samples. Results show that, irrespective of socio-demographic differences, visitors with information were more prone to select alternatives that reduce penguin stress, despite more educated, wealthier, and older people tend to increase their welfare when they choose being closer to the penguins. People without information never choose the alternative which results in a reduction of penguin stress. Ecological information is shown to reverse this trend, in fact, tourists perceived (on average) a welfare loss of CL$1099 (US$1.9) if he/she is too close to the penguins once information has been granted. These results are encouraging because they support the claim that well-defined educational and informational campaigns can have important effects on the way in which people behave in areas of interest for conservation. Granting ecological information can become an important tool to encourage conservation behavior, particularly in areas where support for enforcement is weak.
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