Gazing upon Nanuk, the polar bear: the social and visual dimensions of the wildlife gaze in Churchill, Manitoba
The importance of photography to the 'wildlife gaze' should come as no surprise since photography is an integral component in the observation of wildlife tourism. Also essential to the experience, yet often overlooked, is the social dynamics of tourism. Fourteen interviews were conducted with eighteen polar bear viewers visiting two protected areas near Churchill Manitoba, Canada. Three main themes emerged from these interviews relating to the characteristics of the experience, perceptions of self and others, and photography. The need for exclusivity, the experiential nature of the trip, and the spiritual nature of the experience were all characteristics of the tourism experience described by participants. Some interviewees viewed themselves as part of a larger group of tourists visiting Churchill, yet still distinctly different from 'mass' tourists, while other participants because of their desire to learn or acquire spiritual experiences, viewed themselves as different from all tourists. Finally, photographs were viewed as trophies, as a way to stimulate memories, and as detraction from the experience. These findings illustrate the importance of understanding tourists' experience from their perspective and how this understanding can assist in the management of polar tourism destinations.
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