- Tourism is an ever-growing economic force across the world, the United States, Oregon, and on the Oregon Coast. In Oregon alone, the tourism industry had an economic impact in the state of $7.9 billion in 2006, up from $6.9 billion in 2004 (OTC, 2007). Though economically beneficial, tourism can be controversial, with concerns about overuse of resources and harm to the environment (Miller, 1993). Thus, ecotourism, a subset of tourism in which the goal is sustainability, and of which education is a vital component, has grown in popularity (Orams, 1999). Whale watching, which is sometimes considered to be an ecotourism activity (and which definitely can be, under the right circumstances), is at least a $1 billion industry worldwide and grew at an average of 12% per year from 1991 to 1998 (Hoyt, 2001). Boat-based whale watching makes up 72% of all whale watching related tourism activity (Hoyt, 2001), creating a prime opportunity for the marriage of boat-based marine educational endeavors & nature-based ecotourism.
Marine Discovery Tours (MDT), a boat-based excursion company in Newport, Oregon, has been working since 1993 to develop its own ecotourism product incorporating whales and other sea life. As a corporation, profitability is a primary goal, and sustainability has been infused within the product as a means of meeting that goal, as well as the goals of conservation minded owners and staff to foster stewardship of coastal resources by educating and entertaining its customers (Mathews, 2007; personal communication).
But how does one measure the success of those goals? And, in general within a free choice learning environment, what strategies need to be in place to market and deliver the product successfully in order to bring in new customers and maintain a strong customer repeat base? How important is the education aspect of the product versus the entertainment aspect to meeting those goals? This study does not necessarily address all of these issues. It looks briefly at customer expectations and satisfaction, with a few findings related to marketing the product, but the overall focus is the aspect of educating the customer.