A content analysis of ecotourism attributes of New Zealand whale and dolphin watching operators’ presence on the Internet
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Since the 1980s, ecotourism has experienced a dramatic growth worldwide. Ecotourism comes with a definitional promise to promote responsible travel to natural areas, make a positive contribution to environmental conservation, and enhance the well-being of local communities. Recent years have seen whale watching tourism gaining great popularity, which originally was considered an excellent form of tourism to protect the marine wildlife and a number of benefits to the environment and local communities have since been identified. However, marine experts expressed concerns with regard to the potential negative impacts on the cetaceans and the whole marine system. Whale watching tour operators are one of the most important stakeholders of the local environment and community, which have responsibilities to protect the marine animals and environment, and various principles and legal regulations that they have to comply with. In order to maximize the benefits for the environment, community and tourists’ experience, there is a significant need for research on whale watching operators. This study was designed to examine the operators in the New Zealand context. New Zealand is considered as one of the most popular whale watching countries in the world. In the years since New Zealand progressed from whaling to whale conservation, whale watching tourism has become one of the most important sectors in ecotourism. Websites are a common medium for business operators to introduce and promote themselves by presenting their contributions for environmental conservation and social development. Thus, in order to have a better understanding of the New Zealand whale watching operators’ performance in ecotourism, it is necessary to develop detailed insights into the efforts they are making for the local environment, community and the tourists through analysing their websites. Sixty-four New Zealand whale watching operators who have a website were identified, and a thorough content analysis was employed to study them. The research results revealed that many operators consider themselves as eco-operators. Almost half of the operators presented Qualmarks, which is the New Zealand tourism certification defined by strict environmentally and socially responsible criteria. It was found that various forms of contributions were made for many aspects of ecotourism, which are classified and discussed in different groups respectively. Whale watching is a significant sector in ecotourism, involving great efforts from all stakeholders. This study shows that although a variety of contributions made for ecotourism are presented by New Zealand operators on their websites, their participation in many of these contributions is relatively low.