National Park Service Visitor Satisfaction: A Comparative Analysis
Keywords:comparative analysis, indicators, National park Service, Potential for Conflict Index, satisfaction, standards
Virtually all recent planning frameworks recommend recreation managers to identify and establish quantitative impact indicators and standards (Manning, 2011a; 2011b). Indicators are the biophysical, social, managerial, or other conditions that managers and visitors value for a given experience. Standards restate management objectives in quantitative terms and specify the appropriate levels or acceptable limits for the impact indicators (i.e., how much impact is too much for a given indicator). Visitor satisfaction is often a major management objective and has been one of the most commonly used indicators of recreation quality (Vaske, Whittaker, Shelby, & Manfredo, 2002). Standards for this indicator, for example, might suggest that at least "X%" of visitors should be satisfied with their experience. This article examined 17 years of National Park Service (NPS) visitor satisfaction data. Research questions examined: (a) visitors' mean satisfaction scores in relation to study year, park designation, and park region and (b) the amount of visitor consensus regarding satisfaction, in order to evaluate satisfaction as an indicator for use within the NPS. Data were obtained from the online NPS Visitor Services Project (VSP) database (177 projects, n = 81,899). The dependent variable was visitor satisfaction, which was measured using a core VSP question: â€œOverall, how would you rate the quality of the visitor services provided to you and your group?â€ Independent variables included study year (i.e., 1995 to 2000, 2001 to 2005, 2006 to 2011), park designation (i.e., historical sites, national parks and preserves, water-based sites, national monuments, other), and park region (i.e., Alaska, Intermountain, Midwest, National Capital, Northeast, Pacific West, Southeast). Analysis of cariance (ANOVA) indicated that visitor satisfaction varied statistically by study year, park designation, and park region. Such differences were likely due to the large sample size, however, as the effect sizes were all minimal. In general, regardless of context, visitors were satisfied with the services they recieved. The Potential for Conflict Index (PCI2) indicated that there was considerable consensus among the satisfaction ratings for each independent variable. Because the satisfaction scores remained high and substantively the same across all contects examined, these findings once again call into question the utility of satisfaction as an indicator of quality services/ experiences. The discussion focuses on criteria for choosing appropriate indicators and standards. We present five criteria for selecting indicators (i.e., specificity, sensitivity, measurability, integration with management objectives, impact importance) and discuss four characteristics of good standards (i.e., quantifiable, time bounded, attainable, output oriented) (Manning, 2011b; Vaske et al., 2002).
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