The Phenomenology of Shark Diving Tourism Experiences
Tourism is continuously changing and growing on a larger scale, creating the need for different and unique types of tourism products. Wildlife Ecotourism, such as shark diving, is becoming an increasingly popular industry due to its ability to contribute to local economies, as well as the growing demand for tourists to observe endangered or rare species in the wild. Tourism industries are slowly recognizing the value that wild animals possess in connection with visitor’s demand, increasing the necessity to try and conserve these species to be able to profit from them. Environmental interpretation programs can be used in wildlife Ecotourism to provide free choice-learning settings for visitors, making the experience enjoyable as well as educational. By educating and raising awareness amongst tourists about environmental issues, Environmental interpretation programs are believed to hold the potential to contribute to conservation efforts globally. Using a qualitative phenomenological research design, this research examined the environmental interpretation programs of shark diving Ecotourism operators in Sint Maarten, Antilles, from the perspective of tourists. Findings indicated that while tourists did not initially choose to participate in shark diving tours to learn more about the species, many participants became slightly more informed about the species of sharks that they encountered and the surrounding environment after their experience. It was also found that most participants experienced nervousness or fear before entering the water with the sharks, but felt an emotional connection and appreciation for the animal after the dive, causing a shift towards pro-conservation attitudes.
Keywords: tourism, Ecotourism, wildlife tourism, shark diving, conservation, environmental interpretation, qualitative research, phenomenology.