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Visitor Attitudes Towards Daintree Rainforest Dev.

Australian Tropical Research Foundation
Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station.
The Bat House” Wet Tropics Environment Centre
e-mail –

Press release
2nd September 04 – for immediate release

Survey of 650 visitors to the Daintree reveals that tourists don’t want development.

Currently an issue of major controversy, further development in the Daintree is seen as a big No-No by visiting tourists.

A random survey of 650 tourists to Cape Tribulation beach undertaken by Kara Youngentob and a group of US students (ISV) studying at the Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station, on behalf of the Australian Tropical Research Foundation, has established that:

- 96% of tourists don’t want more housing and development in the area.
- 78% feel that further development would hurt the tourism industry in the Daintree.
- 88% feel that human development takes away from the value of the Daintree as an environmental attraction.
- 90 % prefer the beaches of the area to be native, with no or few coconuts.
- 80% were aware that the Daintree is of international significance.

Dr Hugh Spencer, Director of the Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station, said that these results really underscore the international and iconic importance of the region, which is currently embattled, ironically, through actions of the Douglas Shire Council in their attempts to protect it. Almost exactly 50% of the respondents to the survey were Australian.

Since the Daintree lowlands is responsible for earnings of $ 400 million (gross) per annum from nature based tourism; largely dependent on an intact natural environment, these findings should indicate that the vast majority of visitors want to visit an “untouched” destination.

Further development, should the current town plan be discarded, will kill the “goose that lays the golden (nature-based tourism) egg”. At the moment, that egg is worth 20 times the return from the Mossman sugar district, a considerable economic engine.

The future of the area now rests squarely with the Federal and State Governments finding the money for voluntary buy-back of the 600 or so freehold lots, estimated at 30 million dollars.


Visitor Attitudes Towards Development in the Daintree Lowlands Rainforest

Results of a survey of 650 visitors to Cape Tribulation
June-July 2004

Dr Hugh J Spencer and Kara N Youngentob

Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station

Australian Tropical Research Foundation
Cape Tribulation, 4873.
Visitor Attitudes Towards Development in the Daintree Lowlands Rainforest

Tourism in the Douglas Shire Council and the encompassing World Heritage Daintree Lowland Rainforest contributes almost 400 million dollars gross to the regional economy annually (Kleinhardt-FGI 2001).
Continued land development in the Daintree has the potential to impact on both individual land holders and the local economy as well as on regional and international conservation interests in the Daintree and on the environment.

The aim of this study is to gauge tourists’ attitudes towards present and further development in the Daintree lowlands.

In so doing, the study addresses the potential impact that present and further development may have on the local tourist industry.

It is hoped that the results of this research will help Government agencies and other decision makers to have a clearer understanding of the potential impacts of development on tourism so that they can make more informed decisions about the land management of the Daintree.

Between mid June and mid July 2004, 652 visitors to Cape Tribulation in the Daintree Lowland, Australia, were surveyed by 18 university student volunteers from the USA (International Student Volunteers).

The survey consisted of 12 questions (Appendix A) that were read to each respondent and his/her answers were then recorded by the surveyor. Potential respondents were selected at random from visitors to Cape Tribulation Beach (Kulki). Kulki is “the final destination” of most day visitors to the region, as it permits access to the iconic Cape Tribulation itself. This location also provides a diverse visitor population since it is not adjacent to any one hotel, hostel or camping area. The weather was mostly fair and sunny during our survey period, so the visitor numbers to Cape Tribulation Beach (Kulki) were substantial– both tour groups and ‘free and independent’ travellers.

The selection process consisted of approaching the first person on the beach to walk past the interviewer, followed by the next closest person (or group) beyond hearing range of the previous interview. When there was more than one person, the surveyor requested that only one person in the group give the responses. Every prospective respondent approached by the surveyor was given identical instructions (see Appendix B). If agreeable, the potential respondent was read a privacy statement (Appendix B) and then asked the survey questions. Participation was very high, with less than one out of every twenty potential respondents approached declining to participate.

The surveyor read each question to the respondent, exactly as written. Responses to the open ended questions (1-5) and the additional comment request, were recorded on the interview sheet exactly as given by the respondent. For the “Likert-scale” questions (6-10), the surveyor read each question and then, depending on the response, asked the respondent to clarify “much more” or “a little more” or “much less” or “a little less” etc, where appropriate. The surveyor then circled each of the participant’s responses on the answer sheet.

Question 11 (and 12) were asked at the end of the survey, to avoid any possible bias that providing this information prior to asking the other questions might introduce. (Question 12 was important to understand whether knowing or not knowing this information could have had an impact on the participant’s responses).
In addition to the 12 questions, the surveyor was asked to note the participant’s gender and estimate the participants age (without asking) and include this information at the bottom of the survey sheet for demographic purposes.

Measures were taken to insure that the surveyor and the survey instrument were as neutral as possible. It was important that prospective respondents not be aware of the personal views of the surveyor before or during the interview process. All surveyors went through survey training that included completing several practice interviews before actually interviewing a tourist on the beach. Surveyors were instructed to never prompt particular responses or unevenly stress any part of the questions they were reading to the respondents.

The results were entered into a Microsoft Excel database directly from the answer sheets. The responses were entered into the database exactly as they appeared in writing. Sometimes, participants gave more than one response to the open-ended questions. For the purposes of this analysis, we used the first response given. Responses to the open ended questions (1-5) were grouped into categories based on the most frequently recorded answers. Responses that were rarely recorded were assigned the category of “other”.

The results are represented using bar graphs. Due to the nature of the responses obtained, no statistical analysis of the data is presented here, as it was not considered necessary. We feel that this simple presentation most clearly illustrates the attitudes of the respondents for the purposes of this report. All of the data from this survey can be made available upon request.


Question 1: How did you first hear about the Daintree?

Friends, travel agents, brochures and guidebooks (the Lonely Planet was frequently mentioned) as well as local knowledge (including association with other Australian travellers) constituted the major sources of information for visitors. Many of those interviewed were part of tour groups (although this information was not specifically sought in the interview). Interestingly, the Internet was not a major source of information about the area.

Question 2: Where are you from?

We found that there were almost equal numbers of Australians to overseas visitors, with most Australian visitors coming from the 3 eastern mainland states. Europe, Great Britain (including Ireland) and the USA constituted the predominant sources of overseas visitors.

Question 3: What is your primary reason for visiting the Daintree?

Respondents reported that they were visiting the Daintree primarily for holiday purposes as the most common response (37%). The desire to see nature also ranked high on proffered reasons for visiting the Daintree (35% of responses). Taking part in a tour was reported as the primary reason in (12%) of the total responses.

Question 4: What do you plan to do during your time here?

The vast majority of respondents planned to be involved in a nature-based activity (beach, reef, river, rainforest, bushwalk, explore). Additionally, 11% of respondents reported that they planned to take part in an organised tour (unspecified) as their first response to this question.

Question 5: Are there specific features, attractions, or wildlife that you were hoping to see?

Of the attractions specifically mentioned, seeing Cassowaries (25%) or Crocodiles (21%) were the most frequently reported by visitors, followed by Rainforest (6.5%) and Reef (5.1%). Altogether however, nature-based interests (rainforest, reefs, animals, cassowary, snakes, fish, beaches and Cape Tribulation /Daintree area) comprised more than 80% of the responses.

Question 6: Is the amount of human development north of the Daintree River more or less than you expected to see?

44% of respondents expected that the area would be less developed than it already was and 29% felt that the level of development was as they might have expected. 27% percent of respondents reported that there was less development than they expected to see.

Question 7: Would you prefer to see more, or less, development infrastructure here (such as buildings, shops, housing, signs, etc…)?

Only 3.1% of respondents desired more development infrastructure. Of the remainder, 33% felt that the existing infrastructure was sufficient, and 63% felt that it should be less, or much less.

Question 8: Do you think that further development north of the Daintree River, resulting in more areas of the forest being cleared for private housing, would help or hurt the tourism industry here?

78% of respondents felt that further development would hurt the tourism industry, with 60% reporting that it would hurt tourism a lot. Only 11% felt like additional development could help the tourist industry.
Question 9: Do you feel that human development adds to or takes away from the value of the Daintree Rainforest as an environmental attraction?

88% of respondents felt that human development takes away from the Daintree’s value as an environmental attraction.

Question 10: Would you prefer to see Australia’s natural tropical beach vegetation (e.g. as seen at Cape Tribulation beach) or would you prefer Pacific Island vegetation (e.g. mostly Coconut palms)?

90% preferred all, or mostly, native vegetation and only 0.11% preferred to have an “All island” type experience.

Question 11: Are you aware that the Daintree Rainforest is recognised internationally as the oldest and one of the last areas of tropical rainforest in Australia and the world?

Over 80% of visitors were aware of the international importance of the Daintree, which attests to its ‘iconic’ value as a tourist destination in North Queensland.


Past research into tourism in the Daintree

A 2002 report prepared by the Cooperative Research Centre for Tropical Rainforest Ecology (CRC-TREM) Ecology and Management (School of Business) at James Cook University, Cairns, found that: visitors rated “opportunities to experience the beauty of nature,” the “likely presence of wildlife,” and “opportunities to experience something new and different” highest among important features for choosing to visit the Daintree. The majority of respondents in that survey also felt that it was important for the location to be “a natural place with few built facilities”. The minority of visitors interviewed during that study, less than 15%, felt that the “range of activities that are available” was very important or that “a place have sealed road access.”

The findings of this study are fully in accord with the CRC survey.

A survey population of 650 people is an appropriately large number for the purposes of this research according to the widely accepted Dillman survey method (Dillman 2000). Given our random selection of participants and the location that we choose to administer our surveys, we feel that this study provides a representative sample of tourists to the Daintree area.

Most visitors appeared to have learned about the Daintree (Q1) from publications, books, brochures etc. (22%), as well as “local gossip” in travels within Australia (16%). 12% were on tours. The Internet, to our surprise, contributed a small amount (3.6%) to visitors’ awareness of the area.

Forty-nine percent of visitors interviewed were Australians (Q2). Of the international visitors, the UK, Europe and USA/Canada were the most common locations of origin.

Thirty-seven percent came for a “holiday” (further aims unspecified), while 36% specifically reported that they came for nature-based activities (Q3). Eleven percent listed tours as top on their list of things to do.

When respondents were asked to be more detailed about what they planned to do during their time in the Daintree (Q4), the vast majority reported that they would be involved in some nature related activity such as hiking, bush-walking or sightseeing in the rainforest.

Visitors cited cassowaries and crocodiles (Q5) as the top features or attractions that they were hoping to see (46%). Many of the respondents, however, were “of an open mind” and not looking for anything specific (any/everything/nothing in particular = 26%).

Visitors’ responses to Question 6 (Is the amount of human development more or less than expected to see?) suggests that visitors come to the Daintree with the expectation that the area will have very little development.

The response to Question 7 (Would you like to see more or less development?) was indicative of the nature of the responses that we obtained through the remainder of the survey. The strength of the “too much development” response surprised us (63%). 33% reported that they were satisfied with the existing level. Combined, 96% of respondents did not want to see more development in the Daintree.

In response to Question 8 (Do you think that further development would help or hurt the tourism industry here?), 78% of all respondents felt that development would hurt the industry, with 47% of the respondents stating that further development would hurt the tourism industry a lot.

Responses to Question 9 (Do you feel that human development adds to or takes away from the value of the Daintree….), 88% reported that development ‘takes away’ from the value of the Daintree and 61% stated that it ‘takes away a lot.’ This is a very strong response, especially given the neutral nature of the survey instrument. Several respondents were reported to have asked the survey administrator whether or not they supported development at the conclusion of the survey interview. This boded well for the neutrality of our question designs and interview techniques.

The strength of the “all and mostly natural” responses to question Q10 (90%) were much larger than anticipated, given the intensity and frequency of advertising images that equate white sands and coconut palms with tropical Australia. This response also reinforces the stated level of desire on the part of visitors to visit a truly natural and undeveloped landscape. Since Cape Tribulation Beach provides a largely undisturbed, native beachscape, with Calophyllum and Hibiscus trees overhanging the beach, and very few coconut trees, we chose it as the reference for Question 10 (Would you prefer to see native Australian beach vegetation or “island-type,” such as coconut palms?).

Question 11 (Are you aware that the Daintree is recognized internationally...?) was asked at the end of the survey, so as not to bias the responses (by suggesting that the Daintree is of international importance, if that was not already known). The fact that 80% of visitors did know this information already though, indicates that the importance of the region as an “unspoiled” destination is very high in visitors’ minds. The preliminary analysis of question Q-12 suggests that when visitors who did not know that that the Daintree was of international significance were informed of this, they more strongly felt that it should be protected from development. Question 12 has not been analysed further due to time constraints in reference to this report’s submission deadlines to Douglas Shire Council.

Most importantly, the obvious overall conclusion from the responses to this survey is that visitors want to visit an area (Daintree-Cape Tribulation) that is largely (if not totally) undeveloped. The current level of development in the Daintree is already more than what most tourists want to see. Tourists themselves report that further development of the Daintree will have a negative impact on the tourism industry as human development is seen to take away from the value of the Daintree as an environmental interest.


The authors wish to acknowledge the assistance of the International Student Volunteer participants
at the Cape Tribulation Research Station from mid June to mid July 2004, for the efforts and enthusiasm they put into the survey. We also wish to acknowledge Kathleen Guy, for her editorial assistance.


Amy Hildebrandt (2002). Understanding Visitors to the Daintree, CRC TREM.
Kleinhardt-FGI (2002). Tourism & Recreation Values of the Daintree and Fraser Island,
(Austrop Foundation 2002 ISBN 0-9580755-0-6).
Appendix A

Daintree Visitor Attitude Survey

1 How did you first hear about the Daintree?

2 Where are you from?

3 What is your primary reason for visiting the Daintree?

4 What do you plan to do during your time here?

5 Are there specific features, attractions, or wildlife that you were hoping to see?

6 Is the amount of human development north of the Daintree river more or less than you expected to see?

Much More…..A Little More…..The Same…..A Little Less…..Much Less

7 Would you prefer to see more or less development infrastructure here (such as buildings, shops, housing, signs, etc…)?

Much More…..A Little More…..The Same……A Little Less…..Much Less

If More or Much More, then what kind? ________________________________

8 Do you think that further development north of the Daintree River, resulting in more areas of the forest being cleared for private housing, would help or hurt the tourism industry here?

Help a Lot…..Help a Little…..No Impact…..Hurt a Little…..Hurt a Lot

9 Do you feel that human development adds to or takes away from the value of the Daintree Rainforest as an environmental attraction?

Adds a Lot…Adds a Little...No Impact…Takes Away a Little...Takes Away a Lot

10 Would you prefer Australia’s natural tropical beach vegetation (e.g. as seen at Cape Tribulation beach) or would you prefer Pacific Island vegetation (eg. mostly Coconut palms)?

All Natural…..Mostly Natural…..Unsure…..Some Island-type…..All Island-type

Additional comments?:

11 Are you aware that the Daintree rainforest is recognized internationally as the oldest and one of the last areas of tropical rainforest in Australia and the world?


12 If no or unsure? Does knowing this change your responses to any of the previous questions?

Yes (How?) _______________________________________________________

(You can revisit the previous questions if necessary….)

Interviewer to fill in the following after the interview is complete:

Survey Number…..

Gender of respondent ____________________

Approximate age of respondent ____________

Location of interview _____________________________________________________

Date ______________________ Time ______________________

Appendix B

Introduction to Wet Tropics Survey

Instructions for survey recorder:

Select a potential respondent. Attempt to do this as randomly as possible. The selected respondent should not have been within hearing range of any previous respondents.

Important note: If after providing the introduction, the potential respondent asks you for any more information about the survey or, if while reading the questions the respondent asks you for further clarification of the question, explain politely that you are not allowed to be more detailed or change the question wording because it might bias the results of the survey. Then offer to reread the question if necessary (or restate your introduction, which ever applies). If there is a language problem (e.g. a foreign respondent) then you can substitute words with identical meanings to help get across the intended meaning if they do not understand the words that are used. Make sure that you make a note of any word changes that you make on that survey questionnaire.

Approach the potential respondent and wait for them to acknowledge that you are near. Introduce yourself with the following introduction:

“Hello, my name is ____________ and I am a student studying tourism in the Daintree Rainforest. I am interested in learning about why visitors come to the Daintree and what is important to them. Would you be willing to let me talk to you for a few minutes about your visit here?”

“Okay, thank you.”

If they said yes, then explain:

“I have a few questions for you that should only take about 5-7 minutes to answer. I will not ask you for any private information and this is not a commercial study. You do not have to answer any questions that you do not want to answer, and all of your responses will be completely anonymous.”……

“All right, I am going to read you the questions now and then I will write down your responses as you tell them to me. Okay?”

Read the first 5 questions as they are written and record the responses exactly as they answer.

For scale questions, first tell the respondent the following: “You will be given a choice of answers for the next few questions. I will read you both the question and the possible answers and then you will tell me your response. Okay?”

For the additional comments, ask; “Do you have any additional comments?”

Then explain, “Thank you for your responses. I only have one more quick question for you and then we will be finished…” Then proceed to 11 and 12 as they are written.

After you finish question 12, thank the respondent for their time and offer them the info sheet that explains more about this study. Be sure to tell them that if they would like free information and maps about the Daintree area, they should visit the Bat House across the road.

Fill out the demographic questions after the interview is over and the respondent has left.

Identify your next potential interview and repeat …


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