Estimating the Economic Impact of Nature Tourists: A Study of Participants in the Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival

Results



Almost 41 percent of Festival participants were from outside North Dakota, while 24 percent were from the Jamestown area and 35 percent were from elsewhere in North Dakota. Out-of-state visitors came from locations as distant as Oregon, Tennessee, and Utah, while in-state visitors primarily lived in North Dakota’s largest cities (e.g., Fargo, Bismarck, and Grand Forks). The numbers of male and female participants were essentially equal. Average age was 55 years with 74 percent of respondents between 40 and 69 years old (Table 1). The participants were highly educated: 73 percent had a college degree and 50 percent reported some post-graduate study. More than three-fourths of respondents (76.6 percent) reported household incomes of $50,000 or more.


Table 1. Demographic Characteristics of Birding Festival Attendees, by Residence, Potholes and Prairies Birding Festival, 2004.

 

 

Residence

 


Item

Jamestown Area

Elsewhere in North Dakota

Out of

 State


Total

Gender:

------------------------------------percent------------------------------------

  Male

33.3

50.0

57.7

50.0

  Female

66.7

50.0

42.3

50.0

(n)

(53)

 

 

 

 

 

Education:

 

 

 

 

  High school or less

25.0

11.1

13.6

15.4

  Some college or voc-tech

8.3

16.7

9.1

11.5

  College degree

41.7

16.7

18.2

23.1

  Graduate school

25.0

55.6

59.1

50.0

(n)

(52)

 

 

 

 

 

Household Income:

 

 

 

 

  Less than $50,000

45.5

11.8

21.1

23.4

  $50,000 to 74,999

36.4

41.2

26.3

34.0

  $75,000 to 99,999

18.2

11.8

15.8

14.9

  Over $100,000

0.0

35.3

36.8

27.7

(n)

(47)

 

 

 

 

 

Age:

 

 

 

 

  Mean

53.5

56.7

55.6

55.0

(n)

(12)

(19)

(22)

(54)


Although the survey instrument did not specify criteria, one-third of respondents described themselves as ‘moderate’ birding enthusiasts, while 30 percent indicated they were ‘enthusiasts,’ 29 percent were ‘avid enthusiasts,’ and only 10 percent were ‘casual’ birders. Respondents reported attending an average of 3.2 birding events per year, with two-thirds of participants attending 1 or 2 events per year, 33 percent attending 3 or more events per year, and 12 percent that attended 5 or more events per year. All Jamestown area residents fell into the 1 or 2 events per year category (Table 2).


The relationship between respondent’s level of interest in birding and the number of birding festivals attended in the last year was evident. Among those who described themselves as having a moderate level of interest in birding , 65 percent attended two or more events. Of those who describe themselves as avid enthusiasts, 91 percent attended two or more events, of which 45 percent attended four or more (data not shown). The decision to attend the Festival was generally made a month or more before the event: 77 percent of respondents indicated their decision was made 5 weeks or more in advance (Table 2).

 

Table 2. Level of Interest in Birding, Number of Events Attended Annually, and Timing of Attendance Decision, by Residence, Potholes and Prairies Birding Festival, 2004.

 

 

Residence

 

Item

Area Resident

Visitors

Total

 

--------------------------percent--------------------------

Level of Interest in Birding:

 

 

 

  Average Score1

2.9

3.9

3.7

(n)

(12)

(41)

(53)

 

 

 

 

Number of Events Attended per Year:

 

 

 

  1

60.0

22.2

30.3

  2

40.0

3.7

36.4

  3 or 4

0.0

25.9

21.2

  5 or more

0.0

14.8

12.1

 

 

 

 

  Average Number Attended

1.4

3.6

3.2

(n)

(5)

(27)

(33)

 

 

 

 

Number of Weeks Prior to Event Decision to Attend was Made:

 

 

 

  4 weeks or less

36.4

19.0

22.6

  5 to 12 weeks (1 to 3 months)

9.1

47.6

39.6

  13 weeks or more (3 months +)

  54.5

33.3

37.7

  Average Number of Weeks

22.0

15.0

17.0

(n)

(11)

(42)

(42)

1 Based on a 5-point scale where ‘avid enthusiast’ = 5 and ‘casual birder’ = 1.

 

While Festival participants learned of the event from a variety of sources, birding magazines (e.g., Bird Watchers' Digest) were cited most frequently (40 percent) as the source of information regarding the Festival, followed by 'local media' (36 percent), and 'Birding Drives Dakota brochure' (21 percent) (Table 3). Local residents most frequently cited 'local media' as the source of information regarding the festival (83 percent), while visitors from out of state most often cited ‘birding magazines’. (Birding Drives Dakota [BDD] advertised in Bird Watchers’ Digest, and the magazine also ran a feature story about the 2003 Festival.) Visitors from elsewhere in North Dakota reported using a variety of sources of information, including ‘BDD brochure’ (42 percent), ‘local media’ (42 percent), ‘birding magazines’ (21 percent), and ‘websites’ (21 percent). None of the participants cited 'state vacation guide' or 'local hotel, restaurant, or store employee' as their source of information for the Festival (Table 3).

 

Table 3. How Attendee Learned of Festival, by Residence, Potholes and Prairies Birding Festival, 2004.

 

 

Residence

 

 

Jamestown Area

Elsewhere in North Dakota

Out of

State

Total

 

-------------------------------------------percent------------------------------------

Birding magazines

16.7

21.1

68.2

39.6

Websites

16.7

21.1

13.6

17.0

BDD brochure

16.7

42.1

4.6

20.8

State vacation guide

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

Local media

83.3

42.1

4.6

35.9

Local service Employee

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

Friend or relative

25.0

15.8

9.1

15.1

(n)

(12)

(19)

(22)

(53)


Participant Expenditures

Festival participants spent an average of $235 during the course of the four-day event (Table 4). The largest expenditures were made for ‘lodging’, ‘transportation to and from the area’, ‘food and beverage’, ‘local transportation’, and ‘personal shopping’. Because ‘transportation to/from the area’ consisted primarily of outlays for air fare and car rental, it appeared that this expenditure category would not contribute to the Jamestown area economy and was accordingly excluded from the estimate of local economic impacts. Expenditures in the local impact area were estimated by subtracting transportation expenses to and from the area from the total expenditures reported by the respondents. Respondents’ local expenditures averaged $162 per person, ranging from $127.50 for local residents to $315 for out-of-state visitors (Table 4), not including participants’ Festival registration fees. Participants’ outlays appear closely related to the number of nights they spent in the Jamestown area, which ranged from 2.5 for visitors from North Dakota to 3.7 for visitors from outside the state.


Table 4. Total Expenditures per Attendee, by Residence, Potholes and Prairies Birding Festival, 2004.

 

 

Residence

 


Item

Jamestown Area

Elsewhere in North Dakota

Out

of State


Total

 

--------------------------------dollars---------------------------------------

Total Expenditures1

138.33

205.33

522.23

235.22

  Food & beverage

  30.00

34.72

69.55

34.13

  Lodging

  76.67

97.11

154.09

84.08

  Retail, personal items

   8.33

30.61

26.82

17.26

  Local transportation

   8.33

13.39

58.95

23.01

  Transportation to area

 10.83

23.94

207.59

73.30

  Other

  4.17

5.56

5.23

3.49

Total Local Expenditures2

127.50

181.39

314.64

161.91

(n)

(6)

(18)

(22)

(46)

 

 

 

 

 

Number of nights stayed

----

2.5

3.7

3.1

(n)

 

  (13)

(18)

(31)

1 Expenditures do not include Festival registration fees.

2 Local expenditures exclude transportation to area.



Direct and Total Economic Impacts

As previously outlined, direct economic impacts were estimated by examining participants’ reasons for visiting the area. Ninety-eight percent of visitors indicated that the Festival was their primary reason for visiting the Jamestown area, while 29 percent of area residents indicated they would have engaged in some alternative activity outside the area if the Festival had not been held. Accordingly, 98 percent of visitor expenditures and 29 percent of area resident expenditures were considered to represent direct economic impacts (Table 5). Direct impacts from participant spending was estimated at $13,045, of which spending by visitors accounted for $11,677 or 90 percent.


Festival operating expenditures also contributed to the economic impact of the event. The BDD organization had nearly $16,000 in operating expenses, largely paid for by revenues from registration fees. After adjusting for expenditures that obviously represented leakages from the local area (e.g., speakers fees, air fare), about 81 percent of the operating expenditures ($12,681) were estimated to represent direct impacts to the area economy (Table 5). Direct impacts from Festival operations were added to the direct impacts from participant expenditures for a total of $25,726 in direct economic impacts.


Table 5. Direct Economic Impacts, Potholes and Prairies Birding Festival, 2004

 

Local Spending

 

Direct Economic Impacts

 

 

 


Economic Sector

Visitors

Area Residents

 

Visitors

Area Residents

Total

Festival Operating Expenses

Total Direct Impact

 

-------------------------------dollars--------------------------------

Retail trade

5,816

1,750

 

5,678

500

6179

2,701

8,880

Business & personal services

6,145

3,031

 

5,999

867

6866

8,315

15,181

Households

0

0

 

0

0

0

1,300

1,300

Government

0

0

 

0

0

0

365

365

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

11,962

4,781

 

11,677

1,367

13,045

12,681

25,726


Festival participants’ expenditures and festival operating expenses were allocated to appropriate sectors of the input-output model (e.g., food and beverage purchases to the retail trade sector, lodging to the business and personal services sector), and the interdependence coefficients of the North Dakota Input-Output model were applied. Most of the direct impacts accrued to the business and personal services sector (60 percent) and the retail trade sector (32 percent). Total (direct plus secondary) economic impacts however, were more widely distributed with the retail trade sector accounting for the largest single amount ($19,145), followed by households (i.e., personal income), and business and personal services (Table 6). The total economic impact (direct and secondary) of the event was estimated to be $64,091.


Table 6. Direct and Total Economic Impacts, Potholes and Prairies Birding Festival, 2004.

 

Economic Sector

Direct Impacts

Total Impacts

 

----------------------dollars--------------------------

Communications & public utilities

0

2,283

Retail trade

8,880

19,145

Finance, insurance, & real estate

0

2,377

Business & personal services

15,180

16,205

Households

1,300

16,470

Government

365

2,030

Other sectors1

0

5,581

 

 

 

Total

25,726

64,091

1 Includes agriculture, mining, manufacturing, construction, and professional and social services


Potential for Future Growth

State and local decision makers have many questions about the State’s fledgling nature tourism industry. Often questions regarding the sector’s potential for future growth are foremost. While this study cannot provide a conclusive answer, the survey of Festival participants does provide some insights. Of special interest were the participants’ satisfaction with the event and with the facilities and services available in the Jamestown area. Also especially telling were participants’ interest in other types of activities, if available in conjunction with a future event. Finally, the survey may offer some key insights about how marketing efforts could be targeted to this clientele.


Respondent’s level of satisfaction with the Festival itself was nearly unanimous; 98 percent of respondents indicated they were ‘very satisfied’ or ‘somewhat satisfied’, an endorsement sure to please event planners. When asked if they would recommend the Festival to a friend, 54 percent of respondents indicated they would be ‘very likely’ and the remaining 46 percent would be ‘somewhat likely’ to do so. In addition, 65 percent of respondents indicated they would be ‘somewhat likely’ or ‘very likely’ to attend the Festival again within the next two years. These responses indicate the respondents had a strong positive impression of the Festival.


While rural areas may offer unique natural resources and recreational opportunities, concerns regarding the adequacy of the local infrastructure to meet the expectations of an urban clientele are often raised. This issue was explored via a series of questions assessing the visitors’ satisfaction with the Jamestown area and its visitor accommodations and attractions. All but 4 percent of the respondents rated their visit to the Jamestown area as ‘somewhat pleasant’ or very pleasant’ with 66 percent rating it ‘very pleasant.’ When asked to comment on various aspects of the community, 70 percent or more gave a positive evaluation to each attribute, with lodging accommodations rated favorably by 90 percent and dining options rated positively by 73 percent. Accordingly, community infrastructure does not appear to be a constraint to further development of nature tourism in this area.


In addition to concerns regarding local infrastructure, questions regarding the absence of a range of activities available for visitors is often raised. To gauge Festival attendees’ interest in participating in other activities, participants were asked how likely they would be to participate in a variety of activities if made available in conjunction with a future Festival. The participants expressed moderate interest in ‘regional history events/attractions’, ‘hiking or biking’, ‘other local festivals (e.g., county fair)’, and ‘Native American heritage activities/events’, whereas they had very limited interest in ‘golf’ or ‘fishing/boating’. However, some did indicate interest in learning more about related nature tourism opportunities (e.g., wild flowers, butterflies) in the local area, as well as birding opportunities in other regions of the state. Thus, it does not appear that developing other types of associated activities is necessary to attract birders to the area.


Because of their very specialized interests, this group of nature tourists seems to offer an opportunity for targeted marketing through specialized birding magazines. Respondents were consistent in when they made the decision to attend the Festival and how they learned of the Festival. Local resident largely learned of the event through local media (83 percent), while other non-local North Dakota residents relied heavily on local media (42 percent) and BDD brochures (42 percent). Out-of-state participants relied heavily on birding magazines (68 percent). Such consistency in participant behavior should enable marketing efforts to be effectively targeted to this very specific audience.


In summary, the visiting birders were characterized by a moderate to high level of interest in and commitment to birding, were quite satisfied with Jamestown as a place to attend this type of event, but had relatively little interest in most other forms of possible visitor activities. Given the satisfaction of the participants, whose demographic characteristics were similar to those reported by national studies of birders (LaRouche 2003), the potential for growth of nature tourism in the area appears substantial.


The potential economic contribution of this form of nature tourism could also be substantial. This potential can be illustrated by an example of the direct and total economic impact of 1,000 visiting nature tourists (a number that could be associated with one large event, or with smaller numbers of visitors over a period of time). Assuming that expenditure patterns of these visitors were similar to those of the Festival participants, the visitors' direct expenditures would total $193,000 with most accruing in the retail trade sector (food and drink, gasoline, personal shopping) and the business and personal services sector (lodging). When the multiplier effect of these expenditures within the area economy is taken into account, the total impact of these visitors is estimated to be $456,000. That is, each dollar of direct visitor spending results in about $1.36 of additional gross business volume (gross receipts) in various sectors of the state economy, for a total impact of $2.36. These levels of additional sales and receipts would be expected to support about 6 jobs within the area economy and would also add to state and local tax revenues. By attracting additional participants, the Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival and other birding and wildlife viewing activities could, potentially in the near future, have a substantial economic impact on rural communities as well as the entire state.


Acknowledgements


1 The authors acknowledge financial support from the U. S. Department of Agriculture as part of the Regional Center for Rural Development in North Dakota and from the New Economy Initiative (NEI), a program of the North Dakota Freedom of Enterprise Foundation. The authors also appreciate the enthusiastic cooperation from Birding Drives Dakota personnel throughout the course of the project.


2 The authors are respectively Research Associate and Professor in the Department of Agribusiness & Applied Economics and Assistant Professor in the Department of Apparel, Design, Facility & Hospitality Management, North Dakota State University, Fargo.


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