On the prescriptive utility of visitor survey research: A rejoinder to Manning

William P. Stewart, David N. Cole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Manning's commentary frames our position as questioning the value of both visitor survey research and policies that restrict use. This is a profound misstatement of our position. Our disagreement with Manning revolves around a narrow issue-the utility of empirical data from visitor surveys as a foundation for making prescriptive decisions about what ought to be, about standards and appropriate park management strategies, such as use limitation. By championing user-based "normative" data as a scientific foundation for carrying capacity decisions, Manning confuses descriptive data with prescriptive policies. Visitor surveys describe visitors, what motivates them, the experiences they seek, and ways in which different visitor groups are likely to be affected by alternative management actions. However, such descriptive data provide little basis for prescriptive decisions about how a park ought to be managed. The fundamental basis for any prescriptive decision (e.g., whether or not to limit use and what that limit ought to be) lies in decisions about park purposes and the kind of experiences, setting attributes, and visitor groups to which management is directed. Such decisions must be based on information from many sources, most notably from legal mandates, agency policy, stakeholder dialogue processes, and analyses of regional supply and demand. The primary contribution of visitor survey data to management planning lies in working-out the technical details to best meet specific management objectives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-127
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Leisure Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2003


  • Backcountry encounters
  • Crowding
  • Park visitor management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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