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Freiburger Geographische Hefte, Vol. 76

Anna Chatel-Messer (2015): Heritage Interpretation als Element eines nachhaltigen Tourismus im Pilotprojekt Interpretationsraum Kandel, Südschwarzwald - eine Evaluation mittels GPS-Tracking


The research project 'Heritage Interpretation as an element of sustainable tourism in the pilot project "Interpretive Space, Southern Black Forest" - an evaluation using GPS tracking' aimed to scientifically support the pilot project and to subsequently evaluate its effectiveness by means of a questionnaire survey and the new method of GPS tracking. GPS tracking was used for the first time to evaluate interpretive provisions. The study shows the potentials and limits of the method, providing recommendations for the continued development of the pilot project as well as general recommendations for action in interpretive spaces. Theoretically, the pilot project is embedded in the concept of 'Heritage Interpretation' which was developed in a US National Parks context and aims at the professional and sustainable interpretation of natural and cultural heritage.

Implementation of Kandel Interpretive Space

The study demonstrates that local acceptance of interpretive provisions is increased by taking a participative approach which involves the local population in the conceptual development and establishment of the interpretive space from the very beginning. Such an approach is also well suited for filtering out characteristic regional topics. Taking the topics obtained in the participatory approach as a basis, interpretive content was developed using a triangulation of methods including site visits, expert interviews and literature research. Expert interviews emerged as the most important component in this. The implementation phase demonstrated that the entire project team consisting of project management, decision makers, stakeholders, but also graphic designers and translators, needs to be familiar with the concept of heritage interpretation in order to implement the quality criteria in a targeted way.

Evaluation of Kandel Interpretive Space

Evaluation by means of a standardised questionnaire shows that visitors consider information about nature and culture to be ’important’: Nearly two thirds stated that interpretation had enhanced the quality of their visit and that they had learned much or very much that was new to them. Visitors thus accept the interpretive provisions, and the available information is read by over 50 % of the visitors. The most common reason for not reading the panel was that visitors preferred to walk on rather than to stop. The interpretation panels are 2.8 m high, 35 cm wide and triangular in shape. As a medium they were rated positively with respect to format, design and text. The trilingual presentation was rated highest, although foreign visitors only make up 7% of the visiting public at present. Nevertheless the majority of visitors see added value in this. More than 80% consider the interpretation panels to integrate well or very well into the landscape. The new concept of an interpretive space (rather than interpretive trail) as a discovery space was welcomed by more than half of the visitors, although nearly a quarter stated they preferred circular trails.

Effectiveness of Kandel Interpretive Space

Kandel Interpretive Space aims to communicate topics related to nature and open up a new perspective on the landscape. These aims were achieved in 70% of the cases, with results growing more pronounced the more panels were read. These changes can be a building block in generating greater depth of perception and promoting education for sustainable development. Visitors were asked about their attachment to Kandel mountain both on arrival and after their visit. Nearly half of the visitors already felt strongly or very strongly attached to Kandel mountain before their visit; this percentage increased to two thirds after completion of the visit. Reasons for feeling greater attachment after the visit included experiences of nature and nice places, but also memories and the interpretation panels. Interpretive provisions thus seem to directly influence attachment. At the same time they also act indirectly by encouraging visits to natural spaces and interesting places. It is noteworthy that the percentage of visitors rating Kandel mountain as highly worthy of protection rose from 50% to 71% after the visit. Spending time in nature seems to increase people's awareness of conservation needs. After the visit the majority of those surveyed were in favour of designating the summit as a nature reserve. All persons stated they would recommend Kandel mountain as a holiday destination and would return. Kandel Interpretive Space therefore also contributes to sustainable tourism on Kandel mountain.

GPS tracking as a tool for interpretive spaces

GPS tracking was able to precisely reproduce the routes chosen by the visitors, and differentiated visualization was possible for different visitor groups. No changes were noted in visitor behaviour with respect to the reading intensity of interpretation panels on account of the GPS device. Serious data loss only rarely occurred, and a good GPS signal was obtained even in wooded areas with a maximum geographical deviation of 10 metres. Residence time at various measuring stations could be measured successfully. Residence time at viewpoints, junctions, interpretation panels, benches and the car park was much higher than on the walking trails themselves. For the study, residence time at individual interpretation panels was of .particular interest. Excluding viewpoints and panels with benches, the mean residence time at interpretation panels reached over 1 minute. Residence time could also be evaluated separately for different visitor groups, for example tourists versus local residents, but this did not reveal any significant differences. Using residence time as an indicator it is possible to estimate how many visitors simply walk past the panel and how many stop. For nearly all panels, results indicate that more than half of the visitors stopped which suggests they also read the panel. This is underlined by the fact that the residence times of those persons whose questionnaire results indicated they read a panel correspond to the residence times of those persons spending longer at a panel. Compared to earlier methods reliant on ‘time space budget’ diaries and ‘mental maps’, a key advantage of GPS tracking is the much more precise database which yields unambiguous positions and residence times. Visitor counts and hidden observation would have been highly labour intensive in this large area containing many interpretive panels and would have meant a huge time budget in order to obtain comparable representative results. Another advantage is that visitor numbers on different trails can also be shown in absolute figures, which makes it possible to estimate specific visitor loads for individual areas. This is highly important for visitor monitoring in protected areas. GPS tracking offers a conclusive and effective method for this purpose too.