Whale shark tourism the focus of summer scholarship

17 February 2021

CQUniversity Master of Sustainable Tourism Management student Annabelle Hender has been awarded a Summer Scholarship to research responsible marketing of whale shark tourism.

The research will explore the relationship between tourism marketing and consumer expectations to identify implications on the sustainable management of whale shark tourism.

'Tourism has produced conservation benefits for whale sharks who used to be hunted for their fins in places like Mexico. Swim with whale shark experiences provided an alternative source of revenue for the fisherman in Mexico' which is a great success story. The challenge with whale sharks is there is so much that we don't know about their behaviour and these up-close encounters can be very disruptive which is a huge concern considering the declining population. This kind of research is essential to facilitate appropriate management of tourist expectations and interactions' to ensure we can continue to appreciate whale sharks in the future'' Miss Hender explained.

Miss Hender said the eight-week Summer Scholarship research project would conduct a comparative analysis of two whale tourism destinations: Australia and Mexico' through analysis of blogs written by people who had whale shark experiences at the two locations.

'A thorough desktop analysis will identify what types of whale shark tourism activities are offered and the marketing strategies used to promote them. Thematic analysis will be conducted of traveller blogs to identify themes relating to customer expectations and satisfaction of the experience'' she explained.

Currently in Tasmania' Miss Hender said the research would be conducted using publicly available secondary data meaning no requirement for travel.

'When I started my degree I was living in the Solomon Islands' then I moved to Brisbane and now I am travelling Australia in a campervan.

'I chose CQU because they were one of two Australian universities offering sustainable tourism' and the only Uni offering it via distance study.'

Miss Hender said once the research was completed by the end of March' she hoped the results would provide insight that could aid in responsible marketing practice as a tool to facilitate sustainable whale shark tourism experiences.

'I have worked within the tourism industry for 20 years in a variety of sales' marketing and development roles and have a passion for sustainability which is what led me to undertake a Masters in Sustainable Tourism Management'' she said.

'After 18 months working as Tourism Development Mentor in the Solomon Islands' I am particularly interested in assisting less-developed countries to develop and manage sustainable tourism in a way that can produce positive outcomes.'

Lecturer in Tourism and Miss Hender's Research Supervisor' Dr Anja Pabel said she was pleased to see Miss Hender participate in the Summer Scholarship.

'As a very dedicated student to her Master of Sustainable Tourism Management studies' Annabelle was a perfect candidate for the scholarship'' Dr Pabel said.

'This is her first research experience collecting and analysing primary data investigating a topic that she is passionate about. As part of her first research journey' I asked Annabelle to keep a reflective journal' which we use as a basis for our fortnightly discussions. Conducting research is never a smooth and straight-forward process and many decisions need to be made along the way. My role in all this is to provide Annabelle with advice and support about the process of 'doing research' and to ensure that her first research project is an enjoyable experience.'

Dr Pabel said the final output would be a written report to the Research Higher Degrees Committee (RHDC)' describing the key findings of Miss Hender's research.

'If everything goes according to plan' we also anticipate publishing the findings in an academic journal.'