In the Mexican Caribbean, tourism around the whale shark has become one of the most important sources of income for the local communities. It was estimated that during 2014 more than 100,000 tourists went on whale shark watching and swimming tours. In addition, the proximity of the tourist corridor of the Riviera Maya could further increase whale shark tourism. The vulnerability of the specie and the increased volume of tourism could become an ecological and economic problem for sustainable management of the whale shark in this region. In 2014 and 2015, from June to August, a survey formed by 20 closed, reflective questions, and a Likert scale section, was applied to obtain information about perception and satisfaction of tourists during the whale shark watching and swimming activity. Questionnaires were applied to tourists who took the whale shark tour in Holbox-Chiquilá and Isla Mujeres-Cancun, in Mexico. The application method was direct, pollsters asked participants at the arrival docks about their experience during the whale shark tour. A total of 486 surveys were applied, and the presence of tourists from 31 different nations was recorded. The mean age was 35 years old, with a mode 27 years old (range: 9–71). From the total of tourists surveyed, 61.5% mentioned that they visited the localities solely for swimming with whale sharks. 37.7% of respondents mentioned that they had received information about the whale shark tour by person to person or word of mouth, while 30.9% did so by media, mainly Internet. It should be mentioned that 30.7% of users said they had not received information about the rules for the development of the activity, and of those who received it, 43.9% did so after boarding the boat. In our results, 70% of people qualified the experience as excellent, however, some factors that could influence public satisfaction were identified. First, 68.5% of tourists reported having seen many whale sharks, indicating values between 20 and 50 individuals. The care provided aboard the boat was another important factor for the tourist, and 72% of respondents qualified it from good to excellent, compared with the treatment received at the point of sale, where only 57% considered it as good. On the other hand, 46.7% of the tourists said that there were many boats when they participated in the swimming and watching activity, observing between 30 and 59 boats. Finally, 45.2% of respondents felt that there were only a few people who swam at the same time with a single whale shark, while 24.6% said it was many or too many people, noting up to 30 swimmers at the same time. This activity has an “” guarantee: seeing an animal of this size in the wild, however, there are several factors that could affect the user experience. The presence of a large number of vessels and/or swimmers may decrease the quality of service, resulting in some level of discomfort and dissatisfaction, and consequently cause the participant to be less likely to recommend or repeat the activity. Management strategies must be designed to promote successful experiences for the visitors without altering the natural conditions around which they are developed.


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