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Visitor payback: panacea or pandora's box for conservation in the UK?



This paper assesses the efficacy and relevance of visitor payback as a tool for recreation management in the UK. Visitor payback is essentially a voluntary payment made by visitors towards conservation, differing significantly from the compulsory tourist or bed tax practised in other countries. Attention has recently focused on this technique as a means to supplement the limited funds available for conservation work. However, whilst there are several schemes operating in the UK, there is a dearth of published research that has critically reviewed the concept and operationalization of visitor payback. The research reported here utilizes primary and secondary data to include case studies, semi-structured interviews and focus groups. The findings reveal that visitor payback is a complex concept to evaluate, both in theory and practice, involving a range of benefits and disbenefits. Financial benefits appear less prevalent than the more esoteric 'feel good' factor, increased awareness about conservation and partnerships that are evident in payback schemes. Support for visitor payback varies considerably with visitors strongly receptive, whilst the tourism business interests are more cautious. It is concluded that visitor payback needs to be re-conceptualized in more positive terms as a 'visitor investment scheme' where conservation takes precedence over financial considerations. Further research is required to try and demystify the tourism business resistance to visitor payback as its potential seems somewhat constrained in the present climate.

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