Th e Eff ect of Context on Reports of Fair Price for Wildlife Viewing Opportunities


  • Raynald Harvey Lemelin
  • Ron McCarville
  • Bryan Smale


fair price, user-fees, contextual messages, polar bears, experiment.


Managers of a protected wilderness area were considering instituting access fees and local private operators feared such fees would discourage future visitation. We considered various ways in which the impact of these fees might be ameliorated. We did this by returning to an approach that had fi rst been explored decades ago, that of explaining to visitors how such fees might be used. We off ered visitors to a wildlife management area a range of possible future price levels. We then provided them with contextual messages describing the eventual purposes for which the funds were intended. Specifi cally, a total of 262 polar bear observers were provided with hypothetical information (i.e., that conservation fees were being considered for the site they were currently visiting) then a range of possible fee increases was given. Treatment groups were provided with additional messages outlining benefi ts to visitors (access to pristine and unique natural areas) and/or wildlife (revenues would be used to monitor, protect, and study bear populations). We then asked them to report a fee level they considered as “fair”. We found that the visitors were quite receptive to the price levels being considered by the public agency. Clearly, the thought of new fees did not always generate hostility. In descriptive terms, we off ered a range of possible new fee levels and almost all of respondents’ estimates of a fair price fell within that range. Th is insight is particularly useful in the context of fi rst time fees. Analyses suggested that some personal factors (e.g., prior experience, environmental attitude) contributed to variations in price reactions reported by the visitors. However, the diff erent messages outlining a variety of benefi ts to be enjoyed through fee payment were largely ineff ective in altering fair price levels. Perhaps the proposed fee levels were so low, when compared to total costs incurred to visit the area that minor contextual variations were rendered irrelevant. The study fi ndings suggest that contextual messages used to justify or explain fee increases may be ineff ective or unnecessary when small price increases are being discussed.





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