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Passenger preferences for whale watching tour attributes and payment for grey whale habitat protection: a case study in Tofino, B.C.

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Whale watching has become an important coastal tourism activity in many regions across the globe. Worldwide, more people are participating in whale watching than ever before, highlighting the need to understand passenger interests and preferences for different tour characteristics. Furthermore, the growth of the industry has raised concern over the long-term welfare of the focal species since many are already considered at risk and in need of protection in multiple regions throughout their range. This raises the question of whether a significant opportunity for whale conservation lies with whale watchers. In this case study, whale watchers in Tofino, British Columbia, were surveyed using a Discrete Choice Experiment to assess preferences for tour attributes and willingness to pay to protect grey whale breeding habitat in Baja California, Mexico. The results of the study suggest that passengers were fairly homogeneous, differing only in their preferences for the type of onboard education received and their sensitivity to crowding by other tour boats in the surrounding waters. Additionally, whale watchers were supportive of paying an additional fee of up to $15 (on top of their tour costs) to protect habitat in a distant region most had never visited before. A Decision Support System (DSS) was built to compliment the study’s results and further illustrate how participants evaluate different whale watching tours, thereby providing valuable information for further management and marketing strategies of operators. The DSS demonstrated how sensitive whale watchers are to the quality of the overall tour experience and price with market shares substantially lower when the overall quality declined and prices increased.
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