Whale shark tourism can provide an incentive to protect whale sharks and their habitats by making them worth more alive than dead. However, the sustainability of these tourism activities is critical to the long-term success of this approach. Whale shark tourism in Oslob is one of only two places in the world where tour operators feed whale sharks to facilitate tourist interactions. To date, no comprehensive studies have assessed tourists' attitudes towards whale shark provisioning. This study assesses tourists' support for whale shark provisioning, as well as their satisfaction with the tour experience in Oslob. TripAdvisor comments of the Oslob whale shark watching experience (n=216) were thematically coded and analysed in NViVO 10. Tourist surveys were collected during the 2014 whale shark watching season in Oslob (n=761) in order to measure attitudes towards interactions with whale sharks. Survey results were coded and analysed in SPSS Version 21. TripAdvisor analysis identified four main issues with the experience in Oslob: crowding, provisioning, impacts on sharks, and pricing. Survey results suggest that foreign tourists were significantly more likely to feel crowded compared to national tourists, both in terms of number of other snorkelers (37% vs. 19%; χ2(1, N=629)=23.475, p=0.000, Cramer's = 0.193) and number of boats (50% vs. 28%; χ2(1, N=623)=30.919, p=0.000, Cramer's = 0.223), despite the fact that both groups reported encountering the same number of people. Both the survey and TripAdvisor analyses found no significant difference in overall satisfaction with the tour between foreign and national tourists. However, the TripAdvisor analysis did identify a foreign tourist segment termed ‘guilty pleasure’, which exhibited negative feelings towards the ethics of whale shark feeding and an unwillingness to return to Oslob, but still recommended the tour to others. These findings were reflected in the survey results. Foreign tourists were significantly less likely to be willing to participate in whale shark tourism in Oslob again (62%) compared to national tourists (90%; χ2(1, N=632)=67.686, p=0.000, Cramer's V = 0.327), but the vast majority of both foreign (93%) and national (99%) tourists would still recommend the tour (χ2(1, N=632)=18.153, p=0.000, Cramer's = 0.169). Foreign tourists were also significantly less likely to support the feeding of whale sharks than national tourists (35% vs. 65%; χ2(2, N=635)=55.209, p=0.000, Cramer's = 0.295), with a further 35% and 22% neutral on the topic, respectively. Although the majority of both groups felt the price of the tour was appropriate, foreign tourists were willing to pay significantly more for the whale shark experience than national tourists (US$63 vs. US$33; t=–6.020, p=0.000, r=0.245). Foreign tourists were willing to pay the most for an experience where sharks were not fed, but there was 100% chance of seeing a shark (US$64), followed by sharks fed with 100% chance of seeing sharks (US$43). National tourists on the other hand were willing to pay US$17 for an experience where there was 100% chance of seeing a shark regardless of whether the sharks were fed. Few participants perceived the feeding of whale sharks as a negative activity, although foreign tourists were less supportive than national tourists. Most foreign tourists would recommend the tour to others despite their stated intention to not return and misgivings regarding the ethics of provisioning or potential impacts on whale shark health. More in-depth interpretation is necessary to inform tourists of the conservation status and threats facing whale sharks, as well as the potential impacts of tourism activities, both positive and negative. Furthermore, the number of boats and swimmers should be controlled in the whale shark viewing area to address crowding issues.


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