The Ultimate Dichotomy Conservation & Tourism

Rebecca Cray & Pete Griffiths 

What is landscape architecture?

New directions: what key factors enable symbiotic relationships between conservation practice and tourism?

Landscape Architecture is an incredibly diverse discipline concerned with the integration and design of outdoor space. The field deals with urban, rural, economic and ecological issues, yet within these broader themes a number of specialist areas exist.  The focus of this paper is an investigation into the complex relationship that exists between conservation and tourism territories from a landscape-based perspective.

Of particular interest is the perceived dichotomy that exists between conservation and tourism. Tourism does not conserve, by bringing tourists to a sensitive area there is the potential to endanger the landscape through the act of tourist activity.  This became the concept behind the research question; how might a landscape architectural approach provide the means whereby the territories of conservation and tourism exist within a singular landscape in a symbiotic way? In this context, symbiosis is used to describe a close prolonged association between the territories of conservation and tourism and the potential for these to respond and change together according to their own fluctuations. Outcomes produced do not necessarily benefit conservation and tourism simultaneously, but examine the interplay this causes between the two dynamic territories and the boundaries that exist within the landscape.

To test these dynamics, trials were performed on the Muriwai Gannet Colony, Otakamiro Headland, West Auckland.  The results from these were used to hypothesize on the broader field of conservation and tourism within the landscape architecture discipline (see image pages 1- 4).

The Muriwai gannet colony presents a number of interesting challenges with regard to conservation and tourism. Currently upwards of 1.2million tourists per year visit the gannet colony, which has an established gannet population of approximately 1,200 breeding pairs.  The problem lies in the increasing gannet population, which has risen steadily since the early 1970s. Today this has resulted in a crossover between gannet nesting territory and tourist tracks, which is creating challenges associated with both conservation and tourism.

The research draws on the work of Robert Riddell’s eco-tourism and sustainable tourism models, builds on the theories of Anna Ryan’s work concerned with representation and spatial experience and uses existing ornithological case studies carried out by Brenda Greene.

In order to investigate the perceived dichotomy a comparison of current mass tourism, eco tourism and sustainable tourism models was undertaken. It was found that the principles of eco tourism as defined by Rob Riddell were closely related to a symbiosis between tourists and conservation areas, however there was a tendency towards paying ‘lip-service’ to some of the landscapes associated with this. 

To investigate the tourist and conservation dimensions of the site two sets of key factors were developed, which came directly from an initial analysis of the Muriwai Gannet Colony.

The first set of key factors were based on the concept of familiarity, which was formed from the results of a comparative study of local and tourist use of the site. The aim of the familiarity series was to investigate and test ways of improving the tourist relationship with the contextual landscape. Through the use of Anna Ryan’s Where Land Meets Sea: Coastal Explorations of Landscape, Representation and Spatial Experience design investigations for entrances, surfaces, opening subtleties and journeys within the case study site were undertaken. These were implemented to see if a) tourist behaviour and perception could be changed and b) if these changes could influence the way we perceive and respond to conservation measures within the same landscape. It was anticipated that by tapping into what these landscape areas do, opportunities to evoke self – awareness, freedom, understanding and a sense of exploration would be created.

Reflection of the issues and techniques explored in relation to the field of tourism and conservation produced the following findings relating to questions concerning entrances, journeys, opening subtleties and surfaces.

The main entrance to the Muriwai site is understated, unkempt and not easily identified as the only vehicle entrance to the Otakamiro Headland. Methods of design were then trialled to determine what key elements were required to create entrances that distinctly promote the landscape character and offer tourists the basis for landscape interpretation through low impact design. It was established through drawings, site visits and view shaft analysis that the key aspects important to this objective were the choice of vegetation, use of scale, view shafts, materials and the incorporation of a ‘formation over time’ aspect into the entrance’s design.

Throughout Anna Ryan’s literature the landscape’s ability to open subtleties and the notion of a ‘journey’ were what enabled ‘an awareness and communication of the spatial complexity of everyday experience.’[1] Drawing on these ideas, this investigation endeavoured to uncover what landscape components could be brought together to create a journey where currently ‘gaps’ between destinations exist (see image page 6). A major part of this was determining whether it was possible to engender an awareness of the landscape as a whole, rather than foster the destination-orientated experiences that currently exist on site. This involved considering the impact of societal conditions and trends in order to shape new behaviours and reactions to design.

The impact of today’s fast paced society and its continual influence on tourist behaviour even when visiting coastal areas such as Muriwai became an important consideration. When examined, this affect is further amplified by Muriwai’s accessibility being virtually only by vehicle, not unlike thousands of tourist destinations worldwide. The experience of being driven directly into the site is inversely proportional to how much ‘reading’ of the landscape could be achieved, and then in turn process.  It is for these reasons that a meandering pedestrian route was trialled as part of the investigation into journey. This solution also contributed to a study of what components of a landscape affect our ability to perceive and interpret its subtleties.

The findings included the notion of time, freedom of movement, explorative elements, contrast, and an understanding of self and surroundings. These were the most important influences on a journeys’ success. The journey should enable sensory stimulation and freedom of movement. Increasing the time taken to traverse a part of the landscape so that subtleties and other landscape elements are noticed and added to the collective experience is essential in creating a journey. By ‘meandering’ the tourist reaches a destination point, not feeling that this was the sole experience gained from their visit (see image pages 9 & 10). By encouraging tourists to spend more time on the journey a shift in focus is enabled – from singularly looking to reach the gannet lookouts to recognising the importance of the entire landscape and how this contributes to reaching and relating to the colonies.

Similarly the concept of opening subtleties is concerned with people and place, and how people become aware of their connection to a landscape and the potentials it has to offer (see image pages 12 & 13). It was found that the key ways of maintaining perception of these subtleties were through an integration of space, the concept of the journey, societal conditions and trends, scale, provisions for personalisation, materials, and level of visitor engagement.

Opening subtleties primarily requires good design, so that the engagement of the visitor can be captured. Visitors need to feel simultaneously empowered and disempowered, but also surprised, reflective and involved in the landscape to really connect with its subtleties.  The findings of this trial point to conventional tourist based design as being inadequately equipped to deal with such issues, meaning the challenge becomes how to re-invent and tailor designs for tourists in order to offer mass – personalisation of landscape. A site consists of space divisions, relationships and different territories.  It is the harmonious interplay of these elements of space that can enable the basis for deeper visitor understanding (see image page 14).

This design exercise has highlighted the importance of direction, distance and levels when bringing visitors into a site, and the importance of design elements such as lookouts, which have large repercussions for the use and perception of empowering landscapes.  The importance of the visitor recognising their juxtaposition against the scale of the landscape in order to increase visitor awareness and foster an appreciation of the vastness of the site was also reinforced.  There is a focus on design elements which challenge visitors to see the landscape in relation to themselves, as part of the landscape, and also interwoven with the site in space and time.

The notion of a journey and its connection with a landscape’s subtleties were then examined by considering what surface materials evoke a sense of place relevant to the character of the Muriwai landscape. It was concluded that the use of materials within a site are directly related to the design’s effectiveness in communicating its landscape’s subtleties. As Ryan had also concluded, ‘navigation is by texture. Singularity is not to be feared.’[1] Using man – made materials for surfaces reduces physical and visual contact with elements of the landscape.  To open subtleties, materials used needed to epitomise the surrounding landscape character, in order to provide an interpretive basis for tourist understanding and landscape connection.  These studies further reinforced the importance of texture, colour and contextual relevance when choosing surfaces.

The findings from the first set of key factors point to addressing the destination- orientated way tourists traverse the site as a key way to establish the connection and understanding of landscape and hence shape new relationships with conservation territory. The concept of adopting the flowing, less boundary- based behaviour that locals exhibit, in order to see if this improved tourists self- awareness, connection and understanding to the landscape has produced an array of elements worth considering in the wider application of landscape architecture to conservation and tourism landscapes.

Somehow tourism and conservation almost need to offer mass- personalization – that is personal and therefore unique experiences of landscape, but for a large amount of people at one time. This would require some subtleties to be seen by fewer people, rather than all ‘subtleties’ being seen by everyone. For a subtlety to be preserved it has to resist commonality as this lowers its uniqueness and perceived value. It is a dichotomy within itself, and to overcome it requires an acknowledgement of the subjectivity of space and its direct repercussions for personal landscape interpretation. It critically relies on a uniqueness of experience through design.

The second set of key factors were based on the theme of territory and used Brenda Greene’s ornithological studies and trials carried out on the Muriwai Gannet Colony over many years. The aim of this series was to consider the conservational qualities of the landscape and how they might inform new territorial relationships within the site. These considerations were linked back to the familiarity series in the anticipation that this connection could provide new ways for tourists to relate to both the site and more specifically, conservation territory.

Gannet increase and decrease, along with seasonal occupation and gannet population spread over time were studied.  These studies looked particularly at how the landscape relationships currently existing at the Muriwai gannet colony might shift or change in the future.

The projected outcomes for this series were a greater understanding of gannet nesting patterns and how tourist and gannet territories work together to inform interactions, movement and use of a landscape.

In order to consider the conservation demands of the site and the territorial relationships present, the investigation was expanded to consider what methods of design could provide new ways of accommodating for territorial fluency between conservation and tourism.  The findings point towards fluidity, change, integration and shift being the key ways in which the dichotomy of tourism and conservation could to be explored.  The interplay between tourist and gannet territory is more complex than first thought, there exists a huge gap between what conservation and tourism need and what design solutions are currently in use.

Through the investigation into these key factors, territory repossession and shift over time have emerged as critical issues in the way landscapes operate with regard to conservation and tourism. In order to maximise the gain for each, design solutions need to offer flexibility of territory and avoid permanence in the landscape that would inhibit the redefinition of spaces, and the ability of spaces to be used by another territory stakeholder.

To summarise findings so far, the tourist experience could be altered to provide positive behavioural affects in the enhancement of tourist perception and understanding of conservation landscapes.

-        Entrances require vegetation choices that connect to the local character. They need to use scale, view shafts, materials and the incorporation of a ‘formation over time’ aspect into the entrance’s design in order to foster a connection between tourists and the landscape.

-        The journey and a landscape’s subtleties are ways in which tourist perception and understanding can be fostered. The findings included the notion of time, freedom of movement, explorative elements, contrast, and an understanding of self and surroundings. They also require an integration of space, use of scale, provisions for personalisation, and a level of visitor engagement to be incorporated into the design.

-        Surfaces needed to epitomise landscape character and reinforce the importance of texture, colour and contextual relevance.

The dichotomy that exists specifically between tourist and conservation territories can be addressed through examining their complex interplay.

-        Territorial fluency and shift over time and their combined impacts on the relationship between conservation and tourism.

In the context of this research, what is landscape architecture? Can it even be so easily defined?  The scope of projects, the ability to tackle any combination of things, is what landscape architecture is all about. In the context of the Muriwai case study, landscape architecture offers the ability to assess and affect positive change.  It is a discipline capable of grappling with the complexity of social, environmental, economic and historical issues.  To work with the local community, both its people and its wildlife, allowing discoveries that are concerned with new ways of interacting and prescribing movement and behaviour.  Perhaps the critical influence landscape architecture has on the world is its ability to set up situations that allow us to perceive.  Design is nothing if it does not evoke a response; a gesture of some sort or an inward reflection.  Therefore landscape architecture is critical in the way it gets people to connect to place.


Greene, B. (2003). Fence removal benefits gannets (Morus serrator) at Muriwai, northwest Auckland, New Zealand. Notornis: The Ornithological Society of New Zealand. , 50.

Greene, B. (1999). Increase of gannets (Morus serrator) at Muriwai, Auckland. Notornis: Journal of the Ornithological Society of New Zealand , 46, 11.

Ryan, A. (2012). Where Land Meets Sea: Coastal Explorations of Landscape, Representation and Spatial Experience. England: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Riddell, R. (2004). Sustainable Urban Planning. United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing Limited.


{C}[1] Ryan, A. (2012). Where Land Meets Sea: Coastal Explorations of Landscape, Representation and Spatial Experience. England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, p 4.