HOST COMMUNITY PERCEPTIONS OF FREEDOM CAMPING IMPACTS: A SOCIAL EXCHANGE THEORY PERSPECTIVE
Residents’ perceptions of tourism impacts in a destination have been widely examined throughout tourism literature. These studies, often underpinned by social exchange theory, show that residents who are dependent on the tourism industry, or perceive a greater level of economic gain from it, tend to have more positive perceptions of the impacts than others (Andereck et al., 2005; Ap, 1992; Tosun, 2002). According to Tosun (2002, p.233), ‘residents benefiting from tourism have a higher level of support for it and thus report more positive impacts’. It is suggested that destinations need to understand what the impacts of tourism are to manage them effectively (Haywood, 1988). Whilst much research has been done on tourism impacts, little work has focused on the activity of freedom camping and how it can impact a destination. Freedom camping is when an individual camps on public land that is not a recognised camping ground or holiday park. This exploratory study uses the research location of the Taupō District, New Zealand, to examine the impacts of freedom camping on the host community of the destination. The aim of this research is to understand what the host community’s perceived impacts of freedom camping are and how these perceptions may vary based on a host community member’s employment relationship with tourism. Additionally, it aims to examine the host community’s overall support of freedom camping. A sample of 182 Taupō District residents were surveyed using researcher administered self-complete questionnaires. Validated tourism impact items were adopted and combined with freedom camping impacts to measure the host community’s perceptions of freedom camping’s impact in the district. Residents were self-appointed into one of four employment groups; those directly employed in tourism, those indirectly employed in tourism, those whose employment has no relation to tourism, and those not in employment. Findings of this study show the differing perceptions within the host community towards freedom camping impacts, with the most negatively perceived impacts pertaining to the effects on the natural environment and public spaces. It was also found that there were no statistically significant differences in the perceptions between the employment groups evaluated in the study. Overall, there are varying levels of support for freedom camping in the Taupō District, with respondents highlighting the need for more facilities and regulations to manage the activity. This research produces important implications for academia by contributing to the knowledge base on freedom camping and recommending avenues of future research. Furthermore, this research has implications for the Taupō District Council and Government by identifying the key areas of concern of the host community about freedom camping, which need to be addressed and managed to reduce the negative impacts and ensure the activity’s success.
Key words: Freedom Camping, Tourism Impacts, Host Community, Social Exchange Theory, Taupō District