NATURE INTERPRETATION AND VISITOR MANAGEMENT OBJECTIVES IN MASAI MARA NATIONAL RESERVE
Nature interpretation has been advocated as a soft and non-obtrusive on-site visitor management strategy to enhance visitor knowledge and understanding of the resource, mitigate visitor impacts, encourage the conservation and improvement of attraction areas, and assist visitors in enjoying their visit. However, the way in which nature interpretation programs are implemented, and the subsequent attitudes created amongst visitors can pose a challenge to the effectiveness of nature interpretation as a visitor management strategy. The situation becomes more complicated with limited resources to implement, monitor, and evaluate nature interpretation in expansive wilderness areas like Masai Mara National Reserve (MMNR). The question therefore is, does nature interpretation in MMNR create favourable attitudes amongst wildlife tourists, consequently leading to enhanced visitor experiences and satisfaction of the support for conservations, or not? This research, therefore, sought to establish the extent to which the attitudes created by nature interpretation affect visitor satisfaction or the enhanced visitor experience and support for conservation, broadly termed as visitor management objectives in MMNR Kenya. Thus, Ho1 postulated that attitudes created by nature interpretation do not influence visitors’ support for conservation in MMNR, and Ho2, that attitudes created by nature interpretation do not enhance visitor experience and satisfaction in MMNR. This study used a structured questionnaire for the survey to collect data from a sample of 351 respondents as a proportion of visitors into MMNR. Research findings revealed that a moderate relationship between attitudes created by nature interpretation and support to conservation with rs = 0.426 and p = 0.000, thus null hypothesis H01 was rejected. Secondly, results showed that attitudes created by nature interpretation moderately affected visitor satisfaction rs = 0.478 and p = 0.000, while similarly, null hypothesis H02 was rejected. The research concluded that various forms of NI result in the formation of attitudes that moderately affect support for conservation and visitor satisfaction. The study concluded that enhanced nature interpretation training and awareness creation, along with continual improvement initiatives, could unlock its full potential as a visitor management strategy. This consistent, well-coordinated, and diligent implementation of nature interpretation initiatives by all stakeholders in MMNR would sustain a cumulative, long-term impact.
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The research adopted a descriptive research design using a survey and semi-structured questionnaires to collect mainly quantitative data from visitors to the MMNR as respondents. The study used visitors into MMNR as a transient population with a monthly average of 11376 guests which gave a total of 22752 visitors as the study population. Data collection was from late January to mid-March 2020. These months were considered, given the relaxed atmosphere for the adequate provision and access to various nature interpretation techniques, unlike the crowded frenzy associated with high tourism seasons in the MMNR. The sample size of 351 respondents was considered the necessary minimum and thus representative of infinite populations at a 95% confidence level and a 5% confidence interval to enable the generalisation of findings. The study used a semi-structured questionnaire consisting of mainly closed-ended items rooted on Likert scale items. This choice was informed by the fact that, although attitudes are reasons for individuals behaviour, they are latent constructs that cannot be observed directly but are inferred from overt responses using Likert scale items rather than being measured directly [66,67,68,69,70,71,72,73,74,75,76,78]. Secondly, time and cost constraints compelled the use of questionnaires to establish the perceptions and attitudes that nature interpretation had created amongst tourists to support conservation and enhanced experience and satisfaction within a short time frame compared to the observation method. Questionnaires for the study were distributed to visitors through their tour driver guides at the Sekenani main entry gate for filling at their convenient time. Receptionists at tourist lodges were enlisted to recruit their guests as respondents for the study during check-in or check-out. The research considered this procedure as the most practical and courteous approach for data collection, given that tourists accessed this remote destination after a long and tiring journey on safari jeeps. The filled questionnaires were dropped at the designated reception areas of the wilderness lodges, and at the exit gates by the tourist vehicle drivers. Quantitative data collected was collated and analysed using SPSS 25 software for descriptive and inferential statistics to answer research objectives. The study variables were subjected to the Pearsons’s goodness-of-fit chi-square test to evaluate how well a proposed model fits or predicts research data set. This test is said to give valid results under four assumptions that is, the variables are categorical; the observations are independent; the categorical variables must be mutually exclusive, and lastly that the sample is large enough but generates less than five counts per category of grouped data.