Transnational visitor survey highlights the importance of protected nature to Wadden Sea guests

In 2020-2021, a visitor survey covering the entire destination of the Wadden Sea World Heritage in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands was conducted. Its output shows that over 90 percent of guests know that the Wadden Sea is designated as World Heritage site. Additionally, nature protection and information about nature experience are important aspects to the visitors for their stay. The survey is the first visitor study conducted in the three Wadden Sea states simultaneously, led by the National Park Authority Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea/Agency for Coastal Defence, National Park and Marine Conservation, and organised and analysed by the NIT (Institute for Tourism and Spa Research) in cooperation with ETFI (The European Tourism Futures Institute) in the framework of Interreg project “PROWAD Link”.

“We have conducted two joint surveys in the Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea regions in the past, but never simultaneously in the entire Wadden Sea region,” says Christiane Gätje, project manager at the National Park Authority. “This is a novelty and allows us to some extent to compare the results between the different regions. The analysis provides tourism stakeholders with important information on the preferences, activities and attitudes of holiday guests.”

In the Danish, Dutch and German parts of the Wadden Sea, more than 90 percent of guests knew that the area is inscribed as World Heritage site, proving a high awareness for this status. The status did play a role for the travel decision for more than half of the Danish interviewees and about for 40% of the interviewees in Germany and the Netherlands. The environmental aspects for the holiday seem to be of high importance: More than 80 percent of the visitors want the nature at the destination to be protected and prefer to experience an intact nature away from large tourist crowds. For more than 70 percent it is moreover important to learn something about the region as well as the nature at their destination. Nature experience trails and Wadden Sea exhibition centers are at the top 3 of nature tourism offers in all three countries. While trips to seal colonies and guided trips to the islands made the list in Denmark and the Netherlands, respectively, almost half of all the guests in the German Wadden Sea destination have a tidal flat tour on their summer bucket list.

The anonymous survey asked guests where they received their information from about the holiday location and the Wadden Sea, and the motives for their travel decision. The answers provide information on what kind of tourist and nature experiences are popular and how they are rated, as well as visitors’ perception of Wadden Sea World Heritage, nature protection, and responsible travel.

The results can be viewed per country in the following chart reports: Denmark | Germany | Netherlands. A brochure on the results is in works and will be published in the near future.

On 18 May, Catharina Greve of the National Park Authority held a webinar on the results. Below is a recording of her presentation:

The Interreg VB North Sea Region Programme project PROWAD LINK aims to unlock the potential of natural areas as a driver for jobs and sustainable development. Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are approached to develop nature as a brand to create benefits for both, SMEs and the environment. 15 project partners in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom, led by the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat, working with interested SMEs will use the “nature-business-benefit-cycle” concept to develop new, sustainable products and offers in the pilot regions of the Wadden Sea (DK, D, NL), Geiranger Fjord (NO), Wash & North Norfolk Coast (UK). The 3-year project is co-funded by and carried out in the framework of the Interreg North Sea Region Programme under the Programme Priority 1 “Thinking Growth”. The programme is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) of the European Union.