Walking – tourists and locals compared

A group of researchers compared the walking experience of tourists and locals in two New Zealand cities. The research was in the context of accessibility and active travel. They chose to compare Christchurch and Wellington because of their differing topography and architecture. There are no surprising results from the study, but they confirm the need for good footpaths and wayfinding for everyone.

Overall, both tourists and locals were generally “satisfied” with their walking experience in both cities. However, the age of participants was skewed to younger age groups.

Image of Christchurch Post Office.

Christchurch post office a tourist destination.

Participants were asked to rate the presence of a good and wide walkway condition, absence of closed roads (culs de sac), signage, flat terrain, and accessibility for wheelchairs and prams. Overall, both locals and tourists appreciated well designed level walkways with good signage for wayfinding. However, walkers would like to be alerted to construction works so they can take alternative routes in the same way as motorists.

In Wellington, tourists indicated that they expected more accessible routes so that people with differing abilities could walk or wheel. This was the most significant finding in the survey because it was the only score to fall below the statistical neutral line.

Image of Wellington.

View of Wellington harbourside showing the hilly terrain in the  background and yachts moored in the foreground.

Christchurch has less steep terrain which means it could satisfy the accessibility criteria better than Wellington. Tourists liked the grid pattern of the city which removed the culs de sac that existed before the earthquake. However, poor or narrow footpaths were a concern for both tourists and locals in the central area. Lack of signage at intersections was not regarded well by tourists either.

In Wellington footpaths and signage were also a major concern for locals and tourists alike. While the footpaths were wide, they were poorly maintained.

More signage for tourists

It’s not only signs that people need – landmarks work as well. Wellington has a good natural landmark in the form of the harbour. The Avon River in Christchurch also helps with navigation. However, tourists would like more signage, especially at intersections.

The title of the paper is, The walking tourist: How do the perceptions of tourists and locals compare?

From the abstract

This research addresses the question of how visitors perceive and evaluate the city they are visiting when they walk. Comparisons are made with the experience of local residents. The paper examines the relatively overlooked domain of tourist walkability and investigates the extent to which accessibility and topography may influence walking experiences.

Data were gathered from a Walk Diary in which respondents evaluated the environment along a single walk. Responses were received through convenience sampling from 132 people in Christchurch and Wellington. The Walk Diary provided an effective way of capturing differences between locals and tourists when they walk. Insights from this study will be particularly useful to those tasked with enhancing people’s urban walking experience.

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