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Going Global: Rethinking the Cross-Cultural Transfer of Minimal Impact Education Programs in Protected Areas

Christopher Serenari, Yu-Fai Leung


As protected areas continue to be subjected to visitor impacts it is common to find that academics and land managers routinely turn to minimal impact education programs of Western origin, like Leave No Trace, to lessen impacts. However, Western conceptions of nature and conservation are not shared in all corners of the globe. Our research in Garhwal, Uttarakhand, India was inspired by the notion that unique societal conditions may be instrumental in spurring an individual’s actions toward the environment and there may be drawbacks to reliance on minimal impact programs that were not developed in the locale where impacts are occurring. This paper is a reflection of meaning from our recently published research on implementing minimal impact programs in non-Western contexts. With caution, we differentiate between Western and non-Western to emphasize five lessons learned from our research analyzing the bridges between knowledge and action--guides. These lessons provide the keys to a better understanding of how minimal impact education efforts may be ineffective or improved in non-Western protected area contexts. We examined the degree to which the antecedents of the theory of planned behavior mediated cognitive relationships between adventure guides and pro-environmental behavior. This inquiry gave us the ability to compare the reality of guides operating in a non-Western context with assumptions made about nature guides in general. We also explored the cross-cultural efficacy of American minimal impact programs when introduced to populations with different environmental ethics and conceptions about nature and conservation. Triangulating the survey results, field observations, extensive literature search, and dialog with one of the research members who has spent many summer seasons (equating to years) in India, we are able to extract five lessons to better understand the implications for cross-cultural transfer of minimal impact knowledge. We found that although adventure guides appear to hold a type of Western conception of nature, there are a number of unexplored factors stemming from their residence within a unique non-Western society and cultures that may dictate how guides actually behave while guiding, such as societal norms, internal beliefs, and external influences. The lessons learned and shared in this paper will hopefully foster an evaluation of minimal impact programs as they are currently globally exported. We posit that since the application and scope of minimal impact programs is now global the conversation with respect to objectives, techniques, and curriculum should be expanded based on a sound understanding of non-Western populations being served to decipher how these programs help and hinder protected area management efforts in non-Western contexts.


Cross-cultural transfer; tourism; recreation; impact; guides; India; protected areas

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