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Exposing the Tourist Value Proposition of Zoos and Aquaria

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The world's urban population has few opportunities for contact with real wild nature and little chance to develop a connection with nature in everyday life. To redress this problem in Western culture, major urban zoos are attempting to bridge the deficit in nature experience by constructing more simulated nature experiences as part of the animal viewing opportunity. The tourist value proposition in urban zoos, however, may not be in the simulated experience of artificial nature, but in the very real and authentic encounter with live "wild" animals and the contemplation of how our human society relates to the biological world. This article explores how zoo visitors describe their engagement with wildlife, how zoos provoke consideration of personal ethical relationships to nature, and how zoos connect an urban public to the natural world. This article builds on the biophilia hypothesis by considering the sociological attributes of zoo visiting and how the novel experience of encountering captive wild animals helps to develop environmental awareness. The article explores how a poetry installation at one urban zoo served to evidence this awareness in visitor comments, about conservation, personal connections to nature, and one aspect of the restorative role zoos offer. It is suggested that the uniqueness of live animals in the zoo is a forum for individuals to question the continuity between self and the natural world.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2007

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  • Tourism Review International is a peer-reviewed journal that advances excellence in all fields of tourism research, promotes high-level tourism knowledge, and nourishes cultural awareness in all sectors of the tourism industry by integrating industry and academic perspectives. Its international and interdisciplinary nature ensures that the needs of those interested in tourism are served by documenting industry practices, discussing tourism management and planning issues, providing a forum for primary research and critical examinations of previous research, and by chronicling changing tourism patterns and trends at the local, regional and global scale.
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