Understanding visitor perspectives on volcano tourism at Mount Pinatubo, Philippines: a mixed methods study
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Despite the risks involved, travel to undertake leisure activities on active volcanoes is a growing form of special interest tourism. Some argue that this is due to the increased accessibility of these landforms and the popularisation of global volcanic activities through traditional and social media. In addition to the attraction of tourists to volcano tourism, tourism researchers have also increasingly focused their attention on this phenomenon. However, there is a lack of research on understanding volcano tourists including their motivations, experience expectations, and actual experiences. By researching visitors to Mount Pinatubo, an active volcano in the northern Philippines, the primary aim of this study is to gain insight into these issues. A multiphase mixed methods research design with concurrent/parallel phases was adopted for this study. The first phase (QUAN/qual) was a pre-tour survey of visitor motivations and expectations of volcano tourism experiences. A survey with 26 five-point Likert-type scale items based on a push-pull motivation framework, embedded with open-ended qualitative questions was developed. This was administered to a quota sample of visitors on-site at Mount Pinatubo, prior to them undertaking a volcano tour. Statistical analysis of 204 valid survey responses reveals four push motives, namely, escape and relaxation, novelty-seeking, socialisation, and volcano knowledge-seeking; and two pull motives, namely, dark and activities-induced, and volcanic and natural attribute-driven motives. Novelty-seeking is found as the core motivation factor for visiting the volcanic site. Statistical testing also reveals differences in terms of gender, prior experience of volcanic sites, and visitor types. Females were discovered to have higher motives to learn about volcanoes. Visitors who have visited other volcanoes prior to their Mount Pinatubo tour report higher attraction to the volcanic and natural features compared to first-time volcano tourists. Domestic visitors are more likely to escape and relax compared to international visitors, while international visitors are more likely to seek unique experiences compared to their domestic counterparts. A qualitative content analysis of the reported experience expectations reveals that visitors anticipate fun and hedonic experiences prior to the tour. The second phase (QUAL) entails post-tour semi-structured qualitative interviews to explore the actual volcano tourism experiences of the visitors. Those who had a recent experience of the tour were purposely selected to participate in the interviews. A thematic analysis of the 12 interviews show varied perceptions, emotions, and views on the experience. A conceptual framework was developed based on interactional theory, which suggests these experiences are found to be influenced by Mount Pinatubo’s natural, recreational, and socio-cultural dimensions. Thereafter, findings from the two phases of the study were analysed together to draw inferences based on convergence and divergence of findings. Convergences across findings were found except in the educational aspect of the tour which is absent on the post-tour narratives of the interviewees. Likewise, findings reveal that the pre-tour hedonic expectations are more likely to be exceeded by the spiritual and transformative outcomes of the experience. The implications of this study may aid tourism administrators in marketing and managing the volcanic site. Finally, practical recommendations for management and suggestions for future research are provided.