Nature on Bonaire and social media behavior Assessing the spatial distribution of tourism and recreation on Bonaire through social media

Tourism is a very important source of income on Bonaire and forms the most important economic pillar of the island. The tourism numbers are expected to grow in the coming years. Insights into the number of visitors to specific areas on Bonaire and their impact on the different important ecosystems in terms of pollution, trampling, noise, coastal development, and disturbance in general, are, however, lacking. Without insight in the amount of tourists that visit natural areas, the impact of tourism on ecosystems on Bonaire remains unclear. This means that nature managers do not have the necessary information to steer tourism and effectively manage these ecosystems. This situation carries the risk that visitation rates will exceed the carrying capacity of ecosystems on Bonaire. Schep et al. (2013) find that the main reason to visit Bonaire is the natural environment for most tourists. This implies that if the threshold of nature’s carrying capacity is breached, the island’s tourism industry is likely to collapse as well. The marine and coastal ecosystems are still relatively resilient compared to other Caribbean islands, but if the ecological threshold is breached, there is a high probability that the ecosystems such as coral reefs and sea grass beds will be permanently damaged.

In this study we analyze the usage of social media data to provide insights into the behavior and characteristics of tourists on Bonaire based on data from Instagram, Panoramio and Flickr. We carried out this pilot study in Bonaire to gain an understanding of the spatial movement of tourists and the number of tourists that visit different parts of Bonaire. Analyses of social media have an enormous potential to reveal the spatial behavior of tourists and also the magnitude of the tourism activity in specific areas. For example, several studies show a striking correlation between social media activity and actual visitor numbers of national parks (Casalegno et al., 2013; Dunkel, 2015; Ruths and Pfeffer, 2014; Wood et al., 2013).

Most studies into tourists’ preferences for certain ecosystems make use of stated preference methodology, such as choice experiments and questionnaires (Van Zanten et al., 2014). However, these methodologies are not based on actual behavior. Social media, on the other hand, do reveal actual preferences of a broad sample of the population. In this study we used social media data to answer the following two research questions:

1. Which ecosystems are most popular with locals and tourists?
2. WhichaspectsofthenaturalenvironmentofBonaireareofinteresttotourists?

On the basis of the answers to these questions, the local government can get insights into the relative importance of locations for nature-based tourism on Bonaire and incorporate this knowledge in their nature policy, their economic policy related to tourism and their Spatial Development Plan. The Tourism Corporation Bonaire can use this information to more effectively target potential tourists and thus improve the design of strategic instruments, such as their Strategic Tourism Plan, which aims at developing a sustainable strong tourism industry on Bonaire. Moreover, this analysis provides insights into the main activities tourists perform, and therefore, into the potential pressures and impacts these can have on the different ecosystems of Bonaire. This, in its turn, is relevant information for STINAPA, who manages the protected areas. Such information can be used by the local government together with Tourism Corporation Bonaire and STINAPA to develop a strategic plan to sustainably develop their strongest economic pillar: tourism. 

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