Images of First-time Visitors to Queen Charlotte Islands and Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve


  • Kelly J. MacKay
  • Dave McVetty


destination image, national parks, heritage sites, tourism information


Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site are located in British Columbia on the Queen Charlotte Islands archipelago, also known as Haida Gwaii. The Archipelago Management Board, which manages Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve/Haida Heritage Site commissioned a comprehensive strategic tourism marketing effort to help ensure that tourism optimally contributes to the local heritage and the local quality of life. The study described in this paper was part of a larger research project developed to provide input to the tourism effort. The 1998 Queen Charlotte Islands/Haida Gwaii Visitor Survey and focus groups were developed in concert to obtain information useful to park management in understanding the region’s tourism system, and to forecast the outcomes of various scenarios for future management. Integral to a sound plan is a clear understanding of visitors’ images of the Queen Charlotte Islands/Haida Gwaii. Thus, this paper draws on the larger study to explore expectations and impressions of first-time visitors to Gwaii Haanas/Queen Charlotte Islands, a culturally and ecologically distinctive place. The goal of this paper is to enhance understanding of destination image shifts and the roles of visitation and information on place image. Results from 594 questionnaires and four focus groups shed light on the expected image and the resulting impressions held by first-time visitors to the Queen Charlotte Islands. Expectations were primarily related to attributes/features of the place (e.g., wildlife, Haida culture), while impressions were more evaluative of visitors’ experiences at the destination (e.g., excellent, peaceful, etc.). Composition of individuals’ images shifted from the destination environment (nature and culture) to their feelings about that environment (friendly, excellent, relaxing). This was evident in both survey and focus group results. The shift demonstrates a change from cognitive to affective image domains, providing further insight into components of image that are representative of first-time visitors. Information sources that played a role in creating visitors’ images generally were not under direct control of the destination; for example, coffee table books and newspaper articles. Theoretical contributions of these findings are discussed and practical implications for destination image and strategic tourism efforts on Queen Charlotte Islands are offered.