Living the outdoors: does the presence of animals influence our experience?

Whale Watching_By photographer Daniele Zanoni

Some of the outdoor activities that many of us enjoy during our holidays and free time include animals. Does the presence of animals influence the way we live the outdoors and the way we view the nature? If so, how?

Looking at the online reviews written by tourists engaged in animal-based activities can give us some indications about a possible answer. I collected more than 200 reviews about dog sledding, whale watching and fishing in northern Norway.

The analysis focused on the way the tourists describe the natural setting where the activities take place, the animals that they met and the feelings and reflections about the overall experience.

The findings suggest that the presence of the animals does influence the way we experience the nature and such influence depends on several factors. The type of animals and the possibility that we have to interact with them are very influential factors.

Another factor is the presence of a guide who can inform and educate the tourists about the animals and their habitat. A good guide can also inspire the tourists to view the nature and the animals in a respectful way.

The analyzed reviews show that the tourists joining whale-watching trips tend to describe the nature as untouched and wild and use similar descriptions for the majestic whales. Most of the tourists tend to feel as temporary “guests” in an extraordinary place.

The presence of a knowledgeable and respectful guide reinforces such view and, potentially, can encourage the tourists be more sensible to animal and environment relevant issues.

In the case of fishing, many reviews show that fish are viewed as commodities and the interaction that the tourists have with them is of the predator – prey type. It could then be proposed that the nature is here perceived as a place we can use, taking what we want for food as well as for entertainment.

On the other hand, some reviews suggest that the case is more complex. In the cases when the fishing tourists experience occasional encounters with other animals (for example eagles), another view of the nature seems to emerge. The nature is not only a place where we can intrude and take what we want, it is also a wild place for experiencing something extraordinary that provokes sense of freedom and wonder.

In dog sledding, the animals are domesticated and the interaction with the tourists can be very close. Several reviews suggest that the tourists feel admiration and affection for the dogs.

The natural settings seems to inspire wonder and sense of adventure. Here, the nature is a wild but accessible place that can be discovered by the tourists joining a team composed by the tourists themselves, the mushers and the dogs.

Thus, the answer to the question about the influence of the animals on our way to view and live the nature is quite complex, depending on the animals and how we view them, the possible ways we can interact with them and the information that we are provided with.

The understanding of this complex issue is important as it could facilitate the design of recreational and tourism experiences in a way that promotes environment and animal protection.

Citation: Bertella, G. (2016) .Experiencing nature in animal-based tourism. Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism 14: 22-26.
Figure legend: This image is credited to photographer Daniele Zanoni.