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An investigation into the major factors impacting the long-term sustainability of recreational scuba diving tourism in the Cairns section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

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posted on 15.02.2022, 05:25 by Terrence CumminsTerrence Cummins
This thesis presents the findings from an investigation into the major factors impacting the long-term sustainability (LTS) of recreational scuba diving tourism (RSDT) in the Cairns section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP). Cairns, located in Far North Queensland, Australia, is host to one of the world’s largest concentrations of RSDT. The agglomeration of associated businesses exhibits strong links and co-dependence on the tourism industry and supports, either directly or indirectly, commercial and employment opportunities locally and external to the region through various international and domestic demand and supply chains. The LTS of Cairns-based RSDT not only has far reaching implications for a wide range of stakeholders, but its presence impacts the GBRMP and its international reputation for fostering sustainable tourism. A review of the literature indicates there is a lack of industry data and gaps and weaknesses in the literature in relation to investigations into the LTS of iconic, globally renowned and economically important RSDT destinations. The literature also revealed that few studies have attempted to integrate multiple stakeholders’ and dive tourists’ (DTs) perspectives regarding the major factors impacting the LTS of RSDT in a holistic or systematic way by using clearly defined linkages. Additionally, few studies identify the specific barriers, drivers and opportunities impacting the LTS of RSDT. Based on these gaps in the academic and contemporary information contained in the grey literature, five research objectives were developed to investigate the major factors impacting the LTS of RSDT in the Cairns section of the GBRMP as a single case study: 1. Develop sociocultural and demographic profiles of dive tourists who visit the Cairns section of the GBRMP. 2. Identify stakeholders’ and dive tourists’ perceptions of the major factors which impact the LTS of RSDT in the Cairns section of the GBRMP. 3. Identify the barriers facing the LTS of RSDT in the Cairns section of the GBRMP. 4. Identify the drivers and potential opportunities that enhance the LTS of RSDT in the Cairns section of the GBRMP. 5. Develop models that can be used to explain the major factors of LTS impacting RSDT in the Cairns section of the GBRMP. To address these research questions a pragmatism paradigm, mixed method methodology, location-based and triangulation design approach was utilised. A four-step approach to data collection was employed using content analysis of public documents, semi-structured interviews with RSDT stakeholders, a questionnaire administered to DTs and a RSDT stakeholder focus group. Field observations and the use of autoethnography (the researcher’s dive industry history and experience) were also used as additional qualitative research instruments to address the research objectives. This research can be justified and rationalised since it provides several significant and original contributions to knowledge and theory. Firstly, this is achieved by confirming prior research that there are four major factors that impact on the LTS of a tourism destination (sociocultural and demographic, environmental, economic and governance). Secondly, by proposing two additional major factors that impact the LTS of a tourism and RSDT destination: the impact of innovation and new technology, and the impact of multiple stakeholders with individual needs and influences. The research revealed few supply-side RSDT stakeholders had formal business and/or marketing plans and displayed high degrees of change hesitancy, locked-in and path dependence concerning their business activities. One of the most significant findings is that RSDT stakeholders, dependent on the quality of coral, have not placed enough emphasis on the future impacts from anthropogenic stresses and climate change on the GBRMP. This research makes a significant and original contribution to knowledge by uncovering six new RSDT cohorts not previously identified in the literature. These cohorts not only have the potential to impact the LTS of Cairns-based RSDT, but RSDT globally. The adaption, expansion of existing, and the development of new, theoretical, conceptional and process models presented in this research can also be applied and tested by researchers at other tourism and RSDT destinations. Several game changers have already been identified as originating from the release of this research’s initial findings to some stakeholders. These game changers are considered by the researcher as some of the most significant and original practical contributions of this research in that they have successfully challenged some aspects of governance, and several business and marketing strategies employed by RSDT stakeholders. Other practical contributions of this research indicate that RSDT stakeholders, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), Cairns Regional Council, Cairns Chamber of Commerce and tourism NGOs could benefit from the establishment of new networks of collaboration, the exchange of knowledge associated with management and business practices and the development of holistic future-proofing strategies.



Central Queensland University

Additional Rights


Open Access


Author Research Institute

Centre for Tourism and Regional Opportunities

Era Eligible



Professor Bruce Prideau ; Dr Anja Pabel

Thesis Type

Doctoral Thesis

Thesis Format


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