Promoting Wilderness Tourism

Literature Review


Behavioural research on the study on wilderness destination is a relatively new development in the ecotourism industry. Promoting place marketing has become increasingly important within the tourist industry (Kang-Li 2008). There has been limited work done on promoting wilderness as a place of tourism. This research project aims to identify whether experiential marketing would have a greater impact than traditional marketing and branding approaches in promoting wilderness in tourism.

The literature review will explore the concepts of Tourism, Wilderness, Place Marketing and Experiential Marketing, looking at past and present literature from various scholars and academics who have conducted extensive research on these subject areas. Arguments identifying gaps that exist within the literature will be presented, exploring the extent to which experiential marketing would be different and/or more effective than traditional marketing approaches.

The Evolution of Tourism and it’s relationship to Wilderness

In the early 19th century, the term “tourism” was used to describe the movement of people for pleasure (Smith, 1989). It is also written that a more convincing origin to present day tourism is centred on the medieval pilgrimages. There is a distinct difference between pilgrimage and tourism. One is a religious activity and the other is a secular (Theilmann 1987). However, as years have passed, there have been further attempts to define the term “tourism”. The United Nations Statistical Commission has accepted the following definition recommended by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), stating that tourism comprises: activities where people may travel to different places and stay away from their normal surroundings for not more than a year for leisure, business or any other purpose. (World Tourism Organisation, 1993).

In a similar context in the UK the definition most often used was proposed by the Tourism Society in the early 1980’s: Tourism is defined as destinations where people would travel for temporary or short-term stay away from their natural environment to live, work or engage in activities as day visits or excursions (Tourism Society, 1982) Similarly, Jafari, 1977 argues that tourism is about the study of man away from his natural habitat, where the industry responds to his needs, and there an impact is created by him and the industry on the host social-cultural, economic and physical environment. In a simplistic form the term tourism could be understood as movement of people for pleasure or work.

From the evidence presented above would it can be concluded from the above definitions that tourism would seem to be:

  • People who are away from their normal place of residence and will return back to their homes at some point in the future.
  • Visits that are only temporary or short term, but are not longer than 12 months in duration.
  • Inclusive of a day visit (excursion).
  • Inclusive of absence from home on business rather than pleasure.

The 1990’s increasingly saw the development of tourism in new areas. While the more traditional sightseeing tourism remains at the core of tourism around the world, there has been a significant diversification occurring, particularly within adventure tourism (Cloke and Perkins, 1998), nature-based tourism (Pearce and Wilson, 1995; Higham 1998) and events (Nicholson and Pearce, 2000).

Literature shows that one particularly distinctive area of growth has been in natural area tourism (Burton 1998). This form of tourism is nature-based and primarily motivated by an interest in the environment (Burton 1998). Burton further argues that people seek refuge in nature-based tourism to escape from their day to day pressured life style. But, he writes that with the level of growth in nature-based tourism literature, has given way for individuals to misuse and overuse the terms ecotourism and natural based tourism.

Creamer, 1995 adopts a framework to present a clear distinction between nature based tourism and ecotourism as seen in figure 1. This framework has been interpreted by arguing that nature-based tourism consists of all forms of tourism which occur in a natural environment and that ecotourism is one form of this type of tourism.

Although they are similar there is a distinct difference (Goodwin, 1996). The experience of ecotourism goes beyond just being in a natural environment. Griffith, 1993 argues that ecotourists have distinctive perceptions and beliefs relating to their experiences. This is a far cry from the Sunday picnic or the occasional bush walker. It has been argued that ecotourism has the ability to influence the direction of a tourist’s life. This distinction is seen when they return from an ecotourism experience gaining a new outlook.(Hunter 1994) In a similar vein Ziffer, 1989: 5–8; Ceballos-Lascurain, 1996: 22 and Boo, 1990: 10, have also echoed the same principles underpinning ecotourism.

Nature-based tourism has been distinguished into three main categories (Valentine, 1992: 110). Activities dependent on nature (i.e. bird-watching); activities enhanced by nature (i.e.camping); and activities where the natural setting is incidental (i.e. swimming). Adding to this framework, Duffus and Dearden (1990) defined these activities in terms of human and wildlife interaction. Similarly Goodwin, 1996: 287–288, argues that nature tourism includes the marketing of the natural elements to the tourists while enjoying the nature around them.

Other arguments present ecotourism as a concept that definitions of integrated tourism giving emphasis particularly to nature conservation (Goodwin, 1996; Ceballos-Lascurain, 1996; Dowling, 1995a, b). Moreover the natural settings characterized in the definition of ecotourism were proclaimed to be similar to that of the concept of Wilderness Recreation in North America, (Boyd & Butler, 1993: 11) or in other words, new name to an old activity (Wall, 1994: 4; Nelson, 1994: 248).

Academic literature of wilderness exist within the discipline of tourism literature detailing about wilderness and the experiences that people have experienced during their visits. However, wilderness and the relating “sense of place” it evokes has not been investigated in-depth within the empirical research studies (Dawson, 2006). Managers of wilderness areas need to further understand and measure the relationships that tourists are developing or have already developed with the land area that they are managing. “Place” is defined as a physical location and a visitor’s subjective experience or relationship with the particular place. The concept of place has been subdivided into a variety of factors, such as place meanings, attachment, identity and dependence (Cheng et al. 2003).

The term wilderness has been perceived differently by various scholars and academics. Some academics argue that wilderness is a conserved area where there is a limited presence of humans (Dawson, 2006). While others argue that it is place where people go to the wilderness for short or long hikes that last a day long, while another set of people who camp for several days using primitive means of travel and living (Chad, 2006).

At one time, the earth was just a place of wild. The natural environment of wind, fire and rain was operating without the interference by any human influence. The earth was a global wilderness. Today, questions have risen on what is wilderness, how much of it needs to be preserved and should it be managed. Wilderness has achieved a reputation of being a highly valuable resource to many countries.(Stankey 1989)

Wilderness has commonly been used in the context of the Bible (Nash 1974). Nash reports that the term wilderness appears in the bible nearly 300 times both in the Old and New Testaments. He continues to report that the term was used as a synonym for “desert” and “waste” with the same Hebrew or Greek root. Wilderness has been described as having had three physical characteristics. (1) virtually inhabited. (2) deserted and dry and (3) they were large areas. Human survival in the wilderness was difficult (Stankey 1989).

Nash further reports that the wilderness was used to describe in the bible as a place where God’s blessings were absent; paradise and wilderness was a contract to each other. The story of the Garden of Eden stated in the Bible captures this theme explicitly. Nash writes, “The story of the Garden and it’s loss, imbedded into Western thought the idea that wilderness and paradise were both physical and spiritual opposites” The book of Genesis in the Bible reveals the early Christina idea of the relationship that transpired between man and nature. White (1967), argues that based on the qualities that were developed from the relationship between man and nature, Christianity was the most “anthropocentric” religion.

Furthermore,White argues, “in great measure, God’s transcendence of nature. . . . Christianity, in absolute contrast to ancient paganism and Asia’s religions . . . not only established a dualism of man and nature, but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends.” This type of perspective created negative and exploitative thoughts about nature and wilderness among humans. However, it is argued that Christianity also fostered counter perspectives, which have led to our modem views from where wilderness would be have been originated (Stankey 1989).

The experience of the Promised Land mentioned in the Biblical context has helped develop a tradition of going to the wilderness. Reasons for going to the wilderness have been determined to get freedom and a purification of spiritual-values. This may have possibly led to the present-day legislative definition for wilderness. Tuan (1974), writes “For the ascetics the desert was in effect at once the haunt of demons and the realm of bliss in harmony with the creaturely world.’ However, the Judeo-Christian defined wilderness as a cursed land, evil places and a place where water was not present (Dilworth 2006). Dilworth further argues in this context, the paradox of wilderness was evil, it was a necessary evil, also where you could be closer to God, a refuge and testing ground. On the other hand, the Puritan tradition wilderness was understood as a threat to survival, and the ability to survive in the wilderness would make you in favour of God. However, the Utilitarian view of nature was cultivation and civilization instead of using the term wilderness. This was necessary as it would be a land useful in a practical sense as well as to be in favour of God (Nash 2001).

Nash further argues from a Romantic and Transcendentalist era. He writes, wilderness was looked in a more positive sense. The Romantic era brought man “an enthusiasm for the strange, remote, solitary and mysterious” (Nash, 2001, p. 47). On the other hand the Transcendentalist eras, gave emphasis to the spiritual quality of the wilderness experience. This experience brought humans closer to God and the importance of material things.

From the above arguments it seems evident that the definition of wilderness is very much fluid in the sense that there does not seem to be one single definition which can clearly explain the term wilderness. Sigurd Olson, in the early 20th century further expanded on the definition of wilderness – is escaping from a mans everyday difficult life and gaining freedom from “tyranny of wires, bells, schedules, and pressing responsibilities” (Olson and Backes 2001). This definition was further refined by the Wilderness Act of 1964.

They defined wilderness as an undeveloped Federal land maintaining its character of the early years and the influence, without any lasting improvements or human habitation while it being a place that has generally been affects by the forces of nature. It also has an “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation”. On the other hand culturally, it has been defined as any natural areas, to the “Urban” wilderness (Dilworth 2006).

Evidently, it seems that Wilderness means different things to different people. Dilworth 2006, recently conducted a study on the meaning of wilderness based on images of the wilderness. His sample was students. The study revealed that based on the images the students viewed they defined wilderness as primarily with natural landscapes lacking human sign, particularly mountains, lakes, and forests. The questions would then arise as to what do you mean by the terms; mountains, lakes and forests? The debate would seem to be endless !!

Increasingly, popular adventure recreation activities such as rock climbing, mountain-eering and remote-area trekking most often take place in the wilderness. Most often commercial packing of this type of recreation in the wilderness is coloured with fundamental irony (Eric, Linda et al. 1998). Wilderness business range from skill-building schools to eco and ethno tourism adventures (Eric, Linda et al. 1998). For example in Thailand back-pack trotting adventures (Cohen, 1989). This type of adventurous excursions and activities are positive, enjoyable experiences for participants (Arnould and Price 1993).

The commercial offering of Wilderness as a tourist attraction means converting wilderness into a commodity to be marketed as a tourist attraction. Wilderness tourism requires human intervention. This would mean ensuring the wilderness is evaluated, managed, regulated and controlled (Eric, Linda et al. 1998). Therefore, the comodification of wilderness would require the intervention of a communication medium which would attract visitors of the wilderness for tourism. Creating a memorable lasting experience would be the challenge for wilderness managers and marketers.

Place and city marketing has been one of the most interesting research topics which have grown in the last 20 – 30 years (Metaxas 2005). Much of the marketing literature over the years have sited on the impact that marketing has had on the global Tourism industry (Palmer and Bejou 1995; Mark and Robert 2002; Theobald 2005; Alistair 2006). Within the marketing literature, “Place Marketing” has grown rapidly among cities globally and especially in Europe who use different promotional policies to support images of their cities to gain competitive advantage (Metaxas 2005). Promoting the wilderness experience within the place marketing literature has been limited although marketing of island tourism, alpine tourism and adventure tours have developed (Tuohino). As mentioned above, comodification of wilderness is a challenge for marketers. A greater challenge would be the comodification of wilderness as a “sense of place”.

The next section of the literature will seek to explore the idea of place and place marketing and it’s relevance to wilderness tourism.

Place Marketing as an opportunity for Wilderness Tourism

The concept of place is often related to the adjective “safe”. But there could be negative feelings also attached to that place (Tuohino). Tuan (1974) defines “topophilia” as a place which one belongs to and has a sense of belongingness. On the other hand “topofobia” (Tuan 1974) is defined as negative feelings – aversion or fear. Tuan, further argues that feelings such as fear being connected to a place will remain in the human mind as well as in the environment. Similarly, “placelessness” is defined as where the environment does not recognise place. Furthermore it does not take into consideration the meaning of places (Tuan 1974; Relph 1976).

A “Sense of Place” has been one of the important concepts of human geography (Tuohino). Tuan in the 1970’s introduced this concept within the geography literature. The concept of “Sense of Place” has been determined as a social concept and as an individual value or phenomenon (Tuohino). This concept has been sited in many of the tourism literature in the recent years. To quote Tuan (1974), ‘people demonstrate their sense of place when they apply their moral and aesthetic discernment to sites and locations”. In other words “Sense of Place” is the connection that man would have with a place. Hence, it could be argued that is an important development for tourist and developers of tourism.

Place marketing has become an important policy goal for most governments (Kang-Li 2008). Kotler (2002), claimed that the concept of place marketing of a city is considered as a market-oriented product. Ashworth and Voogd (1993) argue that place marketing is where the local activities of a particular location will work together to meet the customers needs. On the other hand Gold and Ward (1994) claim that place marketing is all about creating a positive and attractive image of the place.

On the other hand it is argued that Place Marketing is about locality-based strategy to reimage and restructure local economies (Demaziere and Wilson 1996). Furthermore it is argued that Place Marketing is about “the strategic manipulation of image and culture clearly provides a strong basis for coalition building”(Hall and Hubbard 1996). From the arguments presented, place marketing seems somewhat similar to running a business but ensuring the required facilities, services and visions for further developments are presented.

Tourism as an industry, especially cultural tourism has been fully integrated into place marketing (Stabler, 1990). Holden (2000), argues that negative impacts of tourism development can harm the local communities of a place by: misuse of resources, negative behaviour and pollution of the environment. Therefore it is important that place marketing ensures it develops cultural tourism strategies keeping in mind the external factors that can harm and hinder, while satisfying the customers (Kang-Li 2008).

Wilderness managers strive to provide a quality experience to all visitors (Dvorak and Borrie 2007). This has lead to the need to incorporate a relationship aspect in the planning and management framework. These experiences are not one off transactions. These are relationships which develop over a period of time between the visitor and the setting (Borrie and Roggenbuck 2001). There is also other aspects that have an effect on the relationship / experience a visitor would have with the wilderness setting. These factors are cultural and social forces, social institutions and the lives of visitors.

These factors do change and this has an effect on the wilderness experience (Dvorak and Borrie 2007). Psychology and marketing research have provided some insight in support of this wilderness relationship (Berry 1995). One key aspect to this relationship is that the visitor tends to accumulate an experience with a particular place that associates to a certain identity. Over a period of time the visitor develops a certain loyalty towards this particular area / place (Dvorak and Borrie 2007). It is argued that this relationship built over a period of time becomes something of an individuals culture, expressions and defining who he was and hopes to be.

It is this relationship / experiences that managers/marketer of wilderness tourism would find as a challenge in promoting and sustaining. What means are available to marketers in promoting and sustaining this experience? The next section of this paper will argue how place marketing could be integrated into a wilderness marketing experience through the idea of experiential marketing.

Marketing Wilderness Experiences

The evolution of the philosophy of marketing management has moved from production concept, product concept, selling concept, marketing concept, societal marketing concept to relationship marketing concept. Traditionally marketing has viewed customers as being rational decision markers who care mainly about the features and benefits of the product and service they purchase (Schmitt 1999). An integral part of the marketing mix is the element of promotions better known as marketing communications.

Marketing communications is a mode by which marketers / firms attempt to inform, persuade, incite and remind customers about their product or service they sell (Poul Houman 2001). This is one area in marketing which has evolved and changed dramatically over the last 20 – 30 years (Kevin Lane 2001). This has resulted in firms faced with the challenge of designing, implementing and evaluating their communication campaigns which are unique and competitive. In other words campaigns which create a unique customer experience (Mark and Robert 2002).

Today the concept of selling experiences is spreading beyond theatres and theme parks. Pine and Gilmore, (1998) claim that experience is not an amorphous construct, but is as real an offering like any other service, product or commodity. Stage experiences occur when a company goes beyond the offering of a good and service by engaging with the customer to create a memorable event. Experiences have always been at the heart of tourism and entertainment (Tsaur, Chiu et al. 2007).

For example Walt Disney and his company took the industry by storm with creative interactions with customers. At theme restaurants such as Hard Rock Café, Planet Hollywood the food is just a prop for what is known as “eatertainment”. But experiences are not just about the pure experience that a customer may encounter (Pine and Gilmore 1998). Company’s stages an experience were they could engage with customers to present it in a memorable way.

Experience is everywhere. Companies have moved from the traditional “features and benefits” marketing towards customers encountering an experience (Schmitt 1999). To get a grasp of the concept of experiential marketing, Schmitt (1999) presented an argument comparing principles that underpin the traditional marketing approach and the experiential marketing approach.

As discussed above (Schmitt 1999) argues that the traditional marketing is all about customers being rational decision makers who care about the feature and benefits. However, experiential marketing is viewing consumers as rational and emotional human beings concerned about experiencing a holistic consumption experience. Further (Schmitt 1999) claims that this shift has occurred due to omnipresence of information technology, the supremacy of brand and the ubiquity of communications and entertainment. This argument was echoed by (Pine and Gilmore 1998) when they claimed that leading-edge companies whether they sell to companies or consumers will be facing the competitive battlefield of “staging experiences” as presented above. Along with this trend, some companies adopted this concept of experiential marketing to gain competitive advantage such as Apple(Randall 2003), DaimlerChrysler (Tanya and Karl 2003), P&G (Jack 2004) and IMG(Barry 2005).

Sky, Nike and Strongbow are companies who have in recent years adopted the concept of experiential marketing. But some firms still remain sceptical (Mark 2007). Andy Bellass, of Splendid communication agency argues that experiential marketing has “come of age”. Bellass explains that it is becoming increasingly difficult to build relationships with customers when you are standing outside. Advertising is not dead, yet, until the circle of experience marketing is complete – getting people to experience the brand, agencies are standing outside (Mark 2007). The biggest problem being that the definition of experiential marketing has flaws and it lies at the roots.

Marketing Director of Sledge understands experiential marketing as a “medium that is focused on creating one-to-one experiences that engage consumers in deeper and more memorable ways”. Others understand it as integrating brands to people’s life styles and adding value to create an experience with the brand rather than having any interruptions. Going further some feel that the definition is becoming broader by the day. However, in saying all this, it seems apparent that traditional communication agencies are nervous how company budgets are being reallocated in favour of experiential marketing techniques (Mark 2007).

For instance, research showed that 68% of companies were spending more on experiential marketing in 2005 than they did in 2004 (Mark 2007). Based on the evidence presented, it would seem although there is scepticism, budgets being allocated to experiential marketing techniques means that there is some form of success in this concept in practice.

It has been acknowledged that customers are driven emotionally and rationally (Schmitt 1999). People want products and services that render a certain experience. Tourism has been a pioneer example of the experience economy (Quan and Wang 2004). The nature of the travel and tourism product is intangible. What does a consumer expect or get when they visit a tourist location? These experiences are actual. How would companies promote these locations/places?

Place marketing has seen it’s relationships to experiential marketing. Echoing on what has already being discussed, experience comes from direct interaction/observation in an event. The core of experiential marketing is about creating an experience for the customer. Accordingly, the experience marketing trends of “experiences, cultural marketing and ecological landscape” seems to have become the core for this concept (Kang-Li 2008). Based on this, Kang claims that these factors can evoke a consumers motivation and feelings of certain meaningful attachments, while these features and styles need to be preserved and enhanced.

So far the review has demonstrated the relationship that experience marketing has had / have with tourism and place marketing. However, there seems to be a gap in the tourism literature on how this concept could be used to promote wilderness in tourism? Ability to creating that “Sense of Place” and relationship with the wilderness, seems to be limited. Empirical studies have been done on what are the key drivers that motivate people to visit major wilderness areas. However, further research needs to be done on promotional strategies for creating that wilderness tourism marketing experience (Mabunda)

Over the years, psychologists and market researchers have attempted to develop techniques and methodologies to explore customer experience (2006). Understanding consumer attitudes and behaviour have not always been easy for marketing researchers (Athinodoros and Ronald 2002). Psychologists view attitudes as a two step process : an antecedent stimulus followed by an evaluative reaction.(Adel 2003)

In their paper (Pine and Gilmore 1998), argue the importance of economic progress. They convey their thoughts by way of the following figure. Their thinking on this topic of Experience Economy argues that whether companies are selling to individual customers or organisations, they will find that the next competitive challenge is “Stage Experiences”.

How does “stage experiences” influence the promotion of wilderness in tourism? Does it create a greater impact on marketing of wilderness in tourism?


The aim of the research project is to evaluate if experiential marketing would have a great impact than tradition marketing and branding approaches in promoting wilderness as a tourist destination. The literature review provided a rationale for this main aim, whereby the outcome included in the review illustrated the need for further research in the area of wilderness in tourism marketing.

The first section of the literature review focus on the evolution of tourism. The review demonstrated that there is a high level of evidence on defining the term tourism. However, it was evident that the term “tourism” in its simplest form was understood as people moving to different places for the purpose of pleasure or work.

It was noted that in the 1990’s tourism evolved to a high level of definition. Evidence was presented that tourism diversified into adventure tourism, nature based tourism and events. Through the years it was noted that nature based tourism has grown extensively within the tourism literature. Nature based tourism was understood as being primarily motivated by the interest in the environment (Burton, 1998) It was further argued that the Nature Based Tourisms and eco tourism although similar in nature had a distinctive difference.

Although it was argued that ecotourism was some form of nature based tourism. (Goodwin, 1996) Much of the literature demonstrated that visitors of natural environments(ecotourism) would gain a new perspective or experience. (Hunter 1994, Ziffer, 1989: 5–8; Ceballos-Lascurain, 1996: 22 and Boo, 1990: 10) Moreover the literature review provided evidence to show that ecotourism was proclaimed to similar to that of the concept of Wilderness Recreation in North America. (Boyd & Butler, 1993: 11) In stating these factors a gap in the literature demonstrated that little empirical studies were done on wilderness and the relating “sense of place”. Literature review then moved on to explore the concept of wilderness.

Literature revealed that the term Wilderness was originated initially in the context of the bible. (Nash 1974) The term wilderness evolved from the eras of Christianity, (Nash 1974), to Judeo-Christian (Dilworth 2006), to Puritan tradition, to Utilitarian view, to Romantic and Transcendentalist. (Nash 2001). It was evident that none of the definitions were complimentary to each other. The conclusion gained from the evidence presented was that there was no single definition for wilderness as it meant different things to different people. A recent study proved this thinking. A study on images of wilderness revealed that the sample of students understood wilderness as natural landscapes lacking human sign, particularly mountains, lakes, and forests. The question was then raised, what are mountains, lakes and forests? This debate seems to be endless!

Next the literature revealed that popular adventure activities often took place in the wilderness. Evidence proved that visitors on these adventurous excursions and activities always have a positive and enjoyable experience. (Arnould and Price 1993) It was noted that making these activities to commercial packages needed a carefully thought of marketing campaign as wilderness tourism has a human intervention. The greatest challenge all marketers of Wilderness would experience is the ability to comodify the idea of wilderness in tourism to ensure a memorable lasting experience. To explore the idea of comodification of wilderness experience, it was prudent to first understand the concept of marketing and its evolution. The next section of this literature review demonstrated this aspect of the subject area.

Place marketing needs to be included.

It was understood that traditionally marketing was viewed as customers being rational decision makers. They mainly cared about features and benefits of a product or service they purchased. It has been noted that the promotional element better known as marketing communications has played a major role in this conversion of features to benefit thinking. However it was presented that this element has had a rapid evolution over the years. (Kevin Lane 2001). The focus has been to develop marketing communication campaigns that would create a unique customer experience. (Mark and Robert 2002)

The idea of Experience Economy was introduced in the last decade by (Pine and Gilmore 1998). They argue that this experience economy will find out that the next challenge is Stage Experience – where the company goes beyond customer’s expectations by ensuring the customers engages with the product or the service to experience something of a memorable event. This type of experience was pioneered within the tourism and entertainment industry. An example was Disney World. (Tsaur, Chiu et al. 2007)

Furthermore the paper presented an argument comparing the principles underpinning traditional marketing and experiential marketing sited by Schmitt (1999). His argument was that traditional marketing is about customers caring about features and benefits where as experiential marketing was all about a holistic consumption experience. Although research showed that companies are spending more on experiential marketing techniques, the definition and understanding the concept was still fluid in the minds of most.

The paper then went on to discuss about place marketing and the role it has played in t he tourism industry. It was identified that tourism is all about place marketing as it is intangible and is an actual experience. Over years place marketing has played a prominenet role in promoting tourism of all sorts. However, empirical evidence was not present in how wilderness has been promoted to create a last memorable experience. It is this gap in literature that has led to the need to further research the possibility of using experiential marketing in promoting Wilderness in Tourism.


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