Research Article: Managing congestion at visitor hotspots using park-level use level data: Case study of a Chinese World Heritage Site

Date Published: July 26, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Jin-Hui Guo, Tian Guo, Kai-Miao Lin, Dan-Dan Lin, Yu-Fai Leung, Qiu-Hua Chen, Peter F. Biehl.


Tourist congestion at hot spots has been a major management concern for UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other iconic protected areas. A growing number of heritage sites employ technologies, such as cameras and electronic ticket-checking systems, to monitor user levels, but data collected by these monitoring technologies are often under-utilized. In this study, we illustrated how to integrate data from hot spots by camera-captured monitoring and entrance counts to manage use levels at a World Heritage Site in Southeastern China. 6,930 photos of a congestion hotspot (scenic outlook on a trail) were collected within the park at a 10-minute interval over 105 days from January to November 2017. The entrance counts were used to predict daily average and maximum use level at the hotspots. Results showed that the average use level at the congestion hotspot did not exceed the use limit mandated by the park administration agency. However, from 9:20 am to 12:00 pm, the use level at hotspots exceeded visitor preferred use level. Visitor use level was significantly higher at the hotspot during a major Chinese “Golden Week”. The daily entrance counts significantly predicted the average and maximum use level at the hotspot. Based on our findings, park managers can achieve the management goals by permitting the corresponding number of visitors passing the entrances. The gap manifested the complexities in visitor capacity management at high-use World Heritage Sites and other protected areas and calls for innovative monitoring and management strategies.

Partial Text

UNESCO World Heritage Sites and similar iconic protected areas attract millions of visitors each year. While with visitation generates economic and social benefits, the popularity invites issues such as overcrowding, congestion, and resources degradation. Particularly, when an excessive number of visitors congregate at “hotspots”, it is to result into intensified environmental impacts, safety hazards, and dissatisfied users [1–3]. Since significant resources, such as magnificent views or iconic geological features, are typically near these hotspots, their overuse and potential spillover effects on the adjacent resource areas are causes of concern. In China, there are 53 World Heritage Sites and more than 5,000 other types of parks and visitor attractions which attract billions of visitors annually, resulting into severe concerns of congestion and safety hazards related to tramping and falling [4–7]. Indeed, avoiding excessive visitors over-staying at these locations simultaneously, here has been a common management challenging many World Heritage Sites, especially in China with such a large population.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other iconic protected areas face the constant tension between visitor use and protecting environment and visitor experiences. Monitoring use level is a core management strategy for visitor carrying capacity. We found camera-captured data are useful to monitor use level at a congestion hotspot within a high-visited World Heritage Site in southeast China. The average and maximum use level at the hotspot could be predicted by entrance counts, suggesting direct relationships between park-scale use level and site-scale use level. Our results suggested park managers should not rely on a single number to manage congestion at hotspots. Instead, park managers need to build a broader decision-making process including multi-scale visitor monitoring. We need more researches to advance our understanding of visitor capacity at different cultural and management contexts and to help World Heritage Sites to address the congestion problem.




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