The Concept of Visitor Management

Visitor management is an action of the destination managers (strategies and measures) to maintain the authentic nature of heritage resources and visitor experiences through modifying visitors attitudes, decision making and modify behavior to minimize negative impacts on the resources and maximize benefits (Kou, 2003; Mason, 2005; A. N. Candrea & A. Ispas, 2009 & Schandau, 2017).

Tourism resources and visitors are interrelated. Visitors travel to the destination to experience the tourism resources (Kuo, 2003) and they will have negative impacts on the resources due to inappropriate behavior.

Thus, the idea of sustainable tourism and visitor management were emerged in the late 1990s and 2000s due to the negative effects of mass tourism on the environment arising from rise in visitors number and inappropriate behavior (Marion & Reid, 2009). Moreover, Visitor Management in Tourism destinations provides knowledge in concepts like visitor experience, service quality, the uses interpretation and information, implementation and monitoring of destruction of resources (N. Albrecht, 2016).

Visitor management techniques can vary in their use, amount and application but their ultimate goal is achieving sustainable tourism development and education.

As a result, Visitor management tools for any destination follow two main objectives; minimizing negative effects on destination resources and offering the best recreational opportunities for different types of visitors (Association of Ecotourism in Romania, 2009). Historically visitor management in protected areas has been concerned largely with visitor impacts and emphasis has been placed on managing negative impacts too (Mason, 2005).

Even though, the heritages of Africa are mostly threatened by Environmental pressure, warfare, illicit trafficking and looting, lacks of political will, lack of awareness for the value of heritages, the issue of visitor management should not be ignored in the present time (Ndoro, et al.

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, 2009).

Visitor Management at World Heritage Sites

Among the conventions held by UNESCO concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritages was the convention of 1972 (UNESCO, 1972). The general goal of the World Heritage Convention was the protection of cultural and natural properties of Outstanding Universal Value and measurable in both cultural and economic terms (Agnew & Demas, 2013).

Ethiopia has also ratified the convention of the World Cultural and Natural Heritages in 1977, convention for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage in 2006 and the convention of protection and promotion of diversity of cultural expression in 2008 (Solomon et al., 2016).

According to Agnew & Demas (2013), the development of cultural tourism at World Heritage sites has led to increase in visitation numbers at sites which creates a problem of conservation and need management of the issues because many of the resources are irreplaceable, difficult to restore and highly sensitive. For example, the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids in Egypt, Stonehenge in England, cannot be replaced and may be extremely difficult to restore if they are subjected to inappropriate use (Kou, 2003).

From the perspective of visitor management in world heritage sites, the sites need basic facilities like litter bins, visitor centers, interpretative signage, guides, an associated exhibition or museum, perhaps listening posts, portable tape players, audiovisual displays and ample written material to aid the visitor in discovering its history (Shackley, 1998).

World heritages sites as their outstanding universal value, both direct and indirect management of the destination (heritages) is implemented to confront problems of human behavior (Pedersen, 2002). Actions should have a high probability of achieving the desired outcome and awareness of the visitor profile helps to ensure success.

Visitor Management Practices and Challenges in Ethiopia

A successful visitor management requires knowledge of visitor numbers and activities undertaken in the destination as well as accurate information on visitors needs and wants (Baltic Protected Area and Tourism, 2007). Visitor management tools are practiced in some destinations in Ethiopia and some researchers studied on that regard (Shackley, 1998; Geberekiros, 2013, 2016; Asfaw & Gebreslassie, 2016). For example, the hard visitor management tools were reasonably practiced in Zegie peninsula even though low statuses were observed in implementing the soft visitor management tools (i.e. interpretation tools) (Yihalem, 2018).

On the other hand, the studies showed that due to improper visitor management practices, the heritages suffered from unmanaged practices of visitors. According to World Bank (2006) report, much of the heritages of Ethiopia are being eroded by rapid development and urban growth apart from unmanaged visitor practices. Hence, there are many challenges for the improper practices of visitor management in Ethiopia.

Lack of stakeholder collaboration: Conventionally, stakeholders have several roles to play on the general ground of visitor management. On the contrary, ineffective stakeholder participation (collaboration) is a big challenge for sustainable tourism (Waligo, Clarke & Hawkins, 2012). Due to this reason, many of the cultural heritages of Aksum are found in poor condition of sustainability and vulnerable to threats due to lack of visitor management and poor collaboration of stakeholders (Geberekiros, 2016)

Lack of visitor management tools: Improper directions, interpretation, lack of explanatory materials, absence of organized and resourceful tourist information center influence the visitor experience (Asfaw & Gebreslassie, 2016). Likewise, visitor management practices in Gondar world heritage sites are filled with many problems and challenges. Lack of walkways, signage and interpretation panels, absence of restriction to the fragile parts of the heritage and absence of facility for people with special attention are among others (Solomon et al, 2016).

Absence of accurate registration mechanism: For example, due to the absence of accurate registration mechanism to know the actual number, the specific nature of the tourist activity, and the fragility of the environment relating to the number of visitors are some of the challenges of visitor management in the rock hewn churches of Lalibella (Shackley, 1998). Consequently, the heritage faces huge level of deterioration and degradation.

Lack of enough knowledge: Absence of standardization on the information provided to the visitors especially oral tradition, and history leads to confusion in Gondar (Abebe, n.d). On the other hand, lack of awareness or misunderstanding of heritage conservation by local people and visitors can cause many problems in the destination (Baltic Protected Area and Tourism, 2007).

Limited staff and budget: Shortage of funding from the government for equipment and furnishing in Lalibella including visitor information in the form of brochures, maps, fully trained guides was challenges (Shackley, 1998).

Lack of control, easy understanding of restrictions and question of responsibility and communication style are the other challenges for improper practice of visitor management (Baltic Protected Area and Tourism, 2007).

The Relationship Between Visitor Management and Visitor Experience

Visitor experience can be defined in different ways. From tourism and leisure management perspective, experience is a memory that visitors take away from the destination visited that mostly intangible. From marketing point of view it can be an attraction or activity itself the visitor will practice in the destination (Packer & Ballantyne, 2016).

Visitor experience can be influenced by many reasons. Among that visitor management is the one, for example, interpretation influences visitors behavior and their experiences to make more respect for the environment, support for conservation and generally environmental appropriate behavior (Loggerenberg, Saayman & Kruger, 2015). To this end, the interpretation can influence visitors experience negatively or positively. Furthermore, Wearing, Edinborough, Hodgson & Frew (2008) also revealed that there are clear relationships between the interpretative programs and learning with tourists experience and satisfaction. If visitor management plan is well formulated and implemented, it can influence the process of memorable visitor experiences (Boyne, 2002). However, the use of interpretative tools including education to influence visitor management and sustainability outcomes has not yet developed (Tan & Law, 2015).

Visitor experience has many components or dimensions. But according to Chang and Horng (2010), visitor experiences are emotional dimensions which are related to visitor management and generated from:

  • Interactions with the physical surroundings(atmosphere, concentration, imagination, surprise)
  • Interactions with service providers (thoughtful, friendly, respectful)
  • Interactions with other customers (crowding, interruptions, disorder)
  • Interactions with companions (sharing with friends and family, having a good time with companions)
  • Customers themselves(cognitive learning/obtaining knowledge, having fun/enjoyment)

Visitor Management Techniques

Strategies and techniques to minimize the negative impacts of visitors in the destination can be varied based on the type of attractions. According to Eagles et al. (2002) and A. N. Candrea & A. Ispas (2009), there are four strategic approaches which can be used to reduce the negative impacts of visitors on protected areas; managing the supply of tourism or visitor opportunities, managing the demand for visitation, managing the resource capabilities to handle use, and managing the impact of use.

Because the development of visitor management and interpretation is identified as a significant driver to enhance visitor understanding as well as appreciation of the site and, reduce the potential for the physical damage caused by over-use of the site (Sarm, 2013) Hence, interpretation is commonly used to refer to things such as guided walks, signs and displays in museums, art galleries and historic buildings (Y.Gee, 1997).

Kuo (2003) and Mason (2005) recognized hard and soft approaches of visitor management. As a result, using these approaches is quite important to minimize visitor impacts, improve service quality and maximize visitors experience as well as to educate them about the site and interpretation (Kuo, 2003 & Albrecht, 2016).

Hard Visitor Management Techniques

According to Orams (1995), traditionally there are three strategies in visitor management. The first strategy is physical management which focuses on an interaction between visitors and sensitive resources to minimize the impact in the form of barriers, paths, boardwalks. The second one is regulatory management (Kuo, 2003 also share the idea), which has direct controls in the form of rules, regulations, permits and charges often imposed and enforced in order to prohibit human behavior. Third, indirect mechanisms (soft) which seek to reduce inappropriate behavior on a voluntary basis through education and interpretation.

The following are basic hard visitor management techniques.

Carrying Capacity

Carrying capacity in tourism means the maximum number of tourists who may visit the destination without causing serious destruction in the physical resources, economic and socio cultural erosion as well as without damaging the tourist experience (Kuo, 2003; Weaver, 2006; Association of Ecotourism in Romania, 2009 & Agnew & Demas, 2013).

The concept of carrying capacity is important in both natural and cultural heritages. Heritage sites are particularly vulnerable to unfavorable practices of high number of visitors, constraints or limitations of the heritage site or broader community related social, economic and environmental concerns in destinations (Agnew & Demas, 2013 & Weaver, 2006). As a result, it is recognized the need to limit and control those inappropriate practices that may threaten the sustained use of limited resources.

The one goal of tourism carrying capacity is to ensure sustainable tourism development in the destination. Therefore, Pedersen (2002), Dumbraveanu (2007) and the Association of Ecotourism in Romania (2009) stated Carrying Capacity in physical, environmental and socio-economic components.

  • Physical (ecological) Carrying Capacity: It refers to the maximum number of people who can use a site without an unacceptable change in the physical environment and without an unacceptable decline in the quality of the experience of visitors.
  • Economic Carrying Capacity: The tourism activity without damaging economy of the local community through the interference of tourists, or reducing tourist demand in the area and decreasing tourism activity due to the perception of discomfort caused by the presence of too many tourists inside one destination.
  • Social Carrying Capacity: The availability of tourists and tourism activity without influencing and damaging the local social and cultural characteristics, and without disturbance in the life quality of the destination inhabitants.

On the other hand, Kuo (2003) (cited from Cooper et al, 1998), Theobald (2004) and Swarbrooke (1999) identified additional types of carrying capacity in management of destination in addition to the above stated carrying capacities.

  • Psychological carrying capacity: also called perceptual carrying capacity, such capacity is exceeded when a visitor’s experience is significantly spoiled. It is an individual feeling and difficult to influence by management and planning.
  • Biological carrying capacity: refers to the level of tolerance the ecosystem a destination possesses. It is happened when damage or disturbance on the resources becomes unacceptable. Such damage includes the changes of habits in wildlife and the alteration of flora and fauna habitat.
  • Infrastructure carrying capacity: the number of visitors that can be accommodated by the destination infrastructure.


The big challenge for nature management is to preserve areas with minimal human impact, in particular by leisure activities, while at the same time, zones must be found to satisfy recreational and educational needs (A. N. Candrea & A. Ispas, 2009).

Zoning means dividing the area into clearly designated zones listing the types of tourism activities and infrastructure that would be acceptable and should be developed (UNEP, 2005). Similarly, zoning is the principal method used to arrange visitors, and important in achieving the appropriate combination of concentration and dispersal. It is designed to allocate geographical areas for specific levels and intensities of human activities and of conservation (Eagles et al., 2002 & Association of Ecotourism in Romania, 2009).

For example, zoning can be conducted in the following ways in recreational sites as Masters D., and his colleague (2002) identified.

  • Zone 1: principle visitor services zone (site entrance, car park, visitor centre and environs)
  • Zone 2: intensive recreation zone (surfaced path to main viewpoints, picnic sites and play area)
  • Zone 3: low intensity recreation zone (woodland paths and cycle routes)
  • Zone 4: ‘wild country’ zone

Group Size Limit

People have a tendency to go to the same places and follow the same routes. However, large parties can cause overcrowding as well as visitor conflicts. In more popular areas, limits on party size and an educational campaign (Pedersen, 2002) may be needed to reduce impacts and to ensure more privacy for each group of visitors.

On the other hand, larger group sizes tend to have greater social and biophysical impacts. As a result, limiting the group size is important to minimize those impacts and over time, users become familiar with the limits and adapt their expectations of the site accordingly (Eagles et al., 2002 & Weaver, 2006). The size limit will include amount of use, duration, type of use and regulating number of the groups (Schandau 2017).

Site Hardening

Site hardening involves constructing facilities and locating trails and roads to reduce the impacts of visitors on sensitive soils and vegetation, fragile structure and help to meet the visitors needs for usable access (Association of Ecotourism in Romania, 2009).

Pedersen (2002) identified that hardening has both costs and benefits. because it changes the nature of the visitors experience. For example, the Milford track in New Zealand and the Overland track in Tasmania, both popular backpacking routes, saw an increase in use during the 1980s Management responded to the resulting impacts by rationing use and hardening the tracks surfaces. Consequently, some visitors considered the tracks too easy and stopped using them.

Waste Management System

According to Yihalem (2018) (cited from Shamshiry et al., 2011) visitors will cause environmental pollution in and around the heritage. Therefore, proper waste management system must be applied and the awareness of visitors should be enhanced by information and interpretation tools at a destination.

Price Descrimination

Price discrimination involves establishing two or more prices for the same recreation opportunity (domestic and foreign visitors, peak holidays, according to location). This can be one of the important visitor management tools to manage impacts on the site (A. N. Candrea & A. Ispas, 2009).

Generally Kuo (2003) grouped the hard visitor management into three main visitor management strategies as given below.

Soft Visitor Management Techniques

As Orams (1995) identified three traditional strategies of visitor management discussed above, the third one was the indirect mechanisms (soft) which seek to reduce inappropriate behavior on a voluntary basis through education and interpretation.

Visitors behavior can be changed through education programmes teaching low impact ways to visit a site, and interpretation programmes teaching respect for a sites resources and protection issues (Pedersen, 2002). Kuo (2003) also stressed that soft visitor management strategies are used to support hard management approaches and include educational forms that can improve visitor awareness about the sites. The same thing discussed by Mason (2005) as information and educational directions provided through interpretive facilities and help visitors to change their behavior to support sustainable development programmes.


Interpretation is a big concept and involves providing information other than presentation of raw data that helps visitors to understand the heritage and the environment so as to get appreciation of values (Eagles et al., 2002 & The Association of Ecotourism in Romania, 2009). Cave & Joliffe (2012); Kuo (2003) and Shackley (1998) also articulated that interpretation is informal education having first hand participatory learning about heritage and will enhance knowledge of authenticity to change the attitudes and behavior of the visitors and also a vital mechanism for developing tourist sites in a sustainable manner.

On the contrary, lack of good interpretation management lead to negative effects on heritage properties and people understanding about the heritage (Sarm, 2013) mostly happening due to tour guides that dont care about their lack of knowledge and language skill which impacts on their presentation. Interpretation is most commonly used to refer to things such as guided walks, signs and displays in museums, art galleries, zoos, historic buildings and national parks, and guide books or information sheets or leaflets, education and mobile learning (Sarm, 2013; Tan & Law, 2015).

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Visitor Management Is an Action. (2019, Dec 12). Retrieved from

Visitor Management Is an Action
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