Crowding, Race, and Ethnicity 

A Case Study at Onondaga Cave State Park 

KangJae Jerry Lee, Ph.D. 
Assistant Professor 
Department of Parks, Recreation, & Tourism Management 
North Carolina State University 

Mark Morgan, Ph.D. 
Associate Professor 
School of Natural Resources 
University of Missouri

Hyojeong Shim
Graduate Student 
School of Natural Resources
University of Missouri

This study investigated crowding perceptions of adult visitors who took guided tours at Onondaga Cave State Park in Leasburg, Missouri. An on-site survey was conducted on weekends, alternating between Saturdays and Sundays from May until October 2015. Crowding perceptions of White and Asian visitors were compared using an independent t-test, while a regression model examined the effects of different factors associated with perceived crowding. Results showed that Asian visitors felt more crowded on cave tours than Whites. Being Asian or White, along with tour satisfaction, were negatively associated with crowding perception. Implications for outdoor recreation management, both in theory and practice, were discussed. 

crowding, race, ethnicity, Asian, cave, state park management 

Crowding is one of the most important and frequently investigated issues in park management (Manning, 2011; Vaske & Shelby, 2008). Since it is closely related to visitor satisfaction and motivation, understanding this construct is of keen interest to many researchers and practitioners (Heberlein & Shelby, 1977, Kainzinger, Burns, & Arnberger, 2015; Manning, Valliere, Minteer, Wang, & Jacobi, 2000). To date, three broad categories of crowding antecedents have been identified in the literature: socio-demographic characteristics, characteristics of others, and situational factors (Manning, 2011; Neuts & Nijkamp, 2012). Other psychological and behavioral determinants of crowding include: expectation for, or preference in use level (Kalisch, 2012; Needham, Szuster, Lesar, Mora, & Knecht, 2018); specialization and experience level (Arnberger & Brandenburg, 2007; Bentz, Rodrigues, Dearden, Calado, & Lopes, 2015; Eder & Arnberger, 2012); attitude toward wilderness (Schreyer & Roggenbuck, 1978); and place identity/attachment (Kyle, Graefe, Manning, & Bacon, 2004; Sharp, Sharp, & Miller, 2015). 

Researchers have also examined the effect of culture or nationality on crowding (Arnberger, Aikoh, Eder, Shoji, & Mieno, 2010; Vaske, Donnelly, & Petruzzi, 1996; Yagi & Pearce, 2007), but these studies are few in number despite the fact that race and ethnicity play critical roles in outdoor recreation behavior (Floyd & Stodolska, 2013; Manning, 2011; Stodolska & Walker, 2007; Washburne, 1978). Existing studies have documented that crowding perceptions differed across cultural backgrounds and nationalities. For example, Leujak and Ormond (2007) studied international visitors at four beaches and found that Germans and Italians were more sensitive to crowding than Egyptians. Sayan, Krymkowski, Manning, Valliere, and Rovelstad (2013) studied national park visitors in Turkey and found that American and British tourists were more intolerant of seeing others than Turkish visitors. Sayan and Karaguzel (2010) also examined the effect of age, gender, education level, income level, and nationality on crowding perceptions of national park visitors in Turkey. Although visitors did not think the park was overcrowded, they differed significantly in preference for seeing other people. For example, 37.5% of Dutch and 35.7% of French visitors did not want to encounter other groups, whereas the corresponding figure for Turkish visitors was 2.4%. Vaske and Shelby (2008) examined crowding perceptions of visitors from different countries. Using secondary data from 181 studies conducted in Canada, New Zealand, and the U.S., they found that individuals in New Zealand had the highest crowding score (M = 3.6), while those in Canada had the lowest one (M = 2.7) as measured on a nine-point crowding scale. At an urban historic site in Taiwan, Sun and Budruk (2017) found that Taiwanese visitors felt more crowded than mainland Chinese or other foreign tourists. Sun and Budruk also found that nationality had a moderating effect on the relationship between independent variables and crowding perception.

Some studies have compared crowding perceptions of individuals from Eastern and Western countries. An underlying assumption of this research is that Easterners are more crowd tolerant than Westerners due to high population densities in their respective countries, less preferences toward privacy and solitude, and more emphasis on personal contact (Sun & Budruk, 2017). Yet, these studies have produced mixed results. Vaske et al. (1996) investigated the relationship between crowding and country of origin at two sites in Jasper National Park, Canada. Although Canadian, Anglo Americans, Japanese, German, and British visitors had varying crowding perceptions at one location, but not at the other one. Jin and Pearce (2011) explored crowding perceptions at tourist destinations in Xi’an, China. Chinese were neither more tolerant of higher numbers of visitors, nor preferred more tourists at the sites, as compared to other international visitors. 

Some studies suggest that Asians are more tolerant of crowding than other nationalities. For example, Doorne (2000) compared the crowding perceptions of visitors of Waitomo Glowworm Cave in New Zealand and found that New Zealanders had the highest crowding perceptions, while Japanese and Korean visitors had the lowest sensitivity. Fleishman, Feitelson, and Salomon (2004) conducted a similar study at two nature reserves in Israel. Young and well-educated European and American visitors were found to be less tolerant of crowding than older people, and also those of Asian and African descent. Moreover, they found that similarity in educational and ethnic backgrounds of visitors lessened crowding sensitivity. Neuts and Nijkamp (2012) explored crowding perceptions of tourists in Bruges, Belgium. Consistent with Doorne (2000) and Fleishman et al. (2004), these authors found that Asian tourists were less susceptible to crowding than Western tourists. 

Given the locations of previous research, it is noteworthy that most of the studies did not examine crowding perceptions of different racial and ethnic groups at tourist destinations in the U.S. One notable exception is Chavez’s (1993) study at two national forests in southern California, which found no significant difference in perceived crowding between Anglos and Hispanics. One possible explanation for the paucity of research on people of color in the U.S. is their underrepresentation at parks and recreation sites (Lee & Scott, 2016; Scott & Lee, 2018; Solop, Hagen, & Ostergren, 2003; Taylor, Grandjean, & Gramann, 2011). For example, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracts about nine million annual visitors, but racial and ethnic minorities accounted for only 2% of the total visitation (Papadogiannaki, Braak, Holmes, Eury, & Hollenhorst, 2009). The lack of racial and ethnic diversity of visitors at state and national parks creates a challenge for sampling and data analysis. 

Research on crowding at tourism destinations is important since the U.S. is becoming more culturally diverse. Racial and ethnic minorities constituted 37.8% of the U.S. population in 2014, and this figure is expected to grow by 56.4% in 2060 (Colby & Ortman, 2014). Among those minorities, the Asian population grew faster than any other racial or ethnic group from 2000 to 2010 (Hoeffel, Rastogi, Kim, & Shahid, 2012). In anticipation of this demographic shift, many park agencies are working diligently to meet the recreational needs of people of color (Schneider & Kivel, 2016; Schultz, Bocarro, Fearn, & Floyd, 2017). In fact, political and financial support of state and national parks might be in jeopardy if agencies do not attract more diverse audiences (Wilkinson, 2000). It is a question of relevancy. 

Our study focused on perceived crowding between Asian and White visitors at Onondaga Cave State Park (OCSP) in Leasburg, Missouri. To the best of our knowledge, this study is among the first attempts to examine crowding perceptions of visitors on a guided cave tour. This location was selected due to the relatively large number of Asians who visited the site since it was one of several destinations used by the Asian Affairs Center at the University of Missouri for scholars and participants of cultural exchange programs to enhance their experience in the U.S. 


Study Site
Onondaga Cave State Park is located about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis, Missouri, near Interstate 44. It became a Missouri State Park and National Natural Landmark in 1982. This site has 1.5 miles of passages and is the most popular of four caves within the state park system. Guided cave tours are available from April through October, but closed during the winter months when bats use the cave for hibernation. The park contains 1,317 acres and lies adjacent to the Meramec River, making it attractive for visitors to enjoy a variety of land- and water-based activities. 

Sampling and Data Collection
The sample consisted of adult visitors (at least 19 years old) who took a guided cave tour at OCSP on alternating Saturdays and Sundays from May 23 until October 4, 2015. After purchasing an admission ticket, participants watched a 10-minute video on the cultural and natural history of the cave, and then took a guided tour that lasted about one hour. After finishing the tour, visitors were asked to complete a short survey by park interpreters. 

The questionnaire consisted of 29 items on park visitation patterns, crowding perception, satisfaction level with the cave tour, and demographic information. Some of the typical crowding predictors were not used because the state park manager wanted to focus on quality and performance of the tour guides, effectively shortening the questionnaire. Crowding was measured using the standard nine-point scale developed by Heberlein and Vaske (1977). Respondents had six options to identify their ethnic and racial backgrounds: American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, White/Caucasian, and Other. Since many Chinese and Koreans visited the park on behalf of the Asian Affairs Center, the survey was translated into both languages and cross-checked by two language experts. The overall response rate was 44.1% (1,187 tickets were purchased and 524 surveys were completed). Of those, 521 questionnaires were used for analysis. 

An exploratory investigation using the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test showed that the crowding scores of Asians, D (105) = .156, p < .001, and Whites, D (379) = .280, p < .001 deviated significantly from normal, thus violating the parametric assumption of normality. Hence, a bootstrapping procedure was used (Mooney & Duval, 1993). Two statistical analyses were conducted using 95% percentile bias-corrected and accelerated confidence intervals (CIs) and 1,000 bootstrap samples. First, an independent t-test was conducted to compare the crowding perceptions of Asians and Whites. Second, a regression model was tested to examine the effect of several independent variables on crowding. These included: age, gender (1 = male), education levels (1 = less than high school, 2 = high school graduate, 3 = two years college graduate or some college education, 4 = bachelor’s degree, and 5 = professional degree), White (1 = White), Asian (1 = Asian), group size of the tour, and the respondents’ satisfaction level with the guided cave tour or rating on its overall value (1 = very poor, 2 = poor, 3 = average, 4 = good, and 5 = very good). Group size of each tour was obtained from ticket sales information. Previous studies indicated that these independent variables were significantly associated with crowding (e.g., Fleishman et al., 2004; Gramann & Burdge, 1984; Kalisch & Klaphake, 2007; Ross, Erickson, & Schopler, 1973; Sayan & Karaguzel, 2010; Yagi & Pearce, 2007). We also included interaction terms between the two race and ethnicity variables, Asian and White, and the rest of independent variables in the regression model. The interactions were added because Sayan et al. (2013) and Sun and Budruk (2017) suggested that cultural background or nationality had a moderating effect on crowding. 

Descriptive statistics of the selected variables are presented in Table 1. Respondents ranged from 19 to 82 years old (M = 40.2, SD = 14.6) and most (86.6%) had a college degree or some higher education. Approximately 73% (n = 379) of the visitors were White, 20% (n = 105) were Asian, and 7% (n = 37) were other racial and ethnic groups. At least 49 Koreans and 27 Chinese visitors were identified in the sample using information provided by the Asian Affairs Center and the number of completed surveys in Korean and Chinese. The remaining 29 Asians visited the park and took the tour independently. While racial and ethnic minorities comprised less than 2% of the visitors at six different Missouri state parks (Witter, 2007), our study was able to collect data from a comparatively large number of Asian visitors at one location. Since the present study focused on comparing Asian and White visitors, descriptive statistics of the two groups are summarized in Table 2. 

Results of the independent t-test showed that, on average, crowding perceptions of Asians on the cave tours (M = 3.55, SD = 2.1) exceeded those of Whites (M = 2.59, SD = 2.03). The difference was statistically significant (95% CI: .51 ~ 1.39, SE = .23, p < .001). Hedges’ g showed that the ethnic and racial identity had a medium effect on crowding perception (g = .47). The statistical power calculated from the harmonic mean of the two samples was greater than .97, showing a negligible probability of a Type II error (Clark-Carter, 2010). 

Table 3 summarizes the results of the bootstrap regression analysis. Being Asian (B = -5.99, 95% CI: -13.12 ~ 1.15, p < .05) or White (B = -6.54, 95% CI: -12.96 ~ -.26, p < .05) significantly contributed to crowding perception. Respondents’ satisfaction level was also significantly associated with crowding (B = -1.44, 95% CI: -2.08 ~ -.82, p < .05). Other independent variables and interaction terms were not statistically significant. The direction of the regression coefficients suggested that Asian and White visitors, as well as those who were satisfied with the tour, were less likely to feel crowded. Moreover, both standardized and unstandardized beta coefficients suggested that Asians were more likely to feel crowded on the tours as compared to Whites. 

This study is among the first attempts to examine crowding perceptions of different racial and ethnic groups at a tourism destination in the U.S. While the lack of racial and ethnic diversity at state parks in the U.S. makes sampling and data analysis a daunting task, we were able to overcome this issue at OCSP, despite some limitations. Several findings are worth noting. The most surprising result was that Asians felt more crowded than Whites. This finding contradicts previous studies that Asians were more crowd tolerant than other nationalities (e.g., Doorne, 2000; Fleishman et al., 2004; Neuts & Nijkamp, 2012; Sun & Budruk, 2017) and there were no significant differences between Easterners and Westerners (e.g., Jin & Pearce, 2011; Vaske et al., 1996). The gaps between our results and those from previous studies suggest a careful interpretation of the results. As such, two possible explanations are presented below. 

First, the relative intolerance of Asian visitors to crowding might not be a function of their ethnic and racial identity, but other factors such as travel format. Seventy-six Asians (72.4%) in the sample visited OCSP through tours organized by the Asian Affairs Center. They were visiting scholars and participants of cultural exchange programs who had lived in the U.S. for up to 1.5 years. They spent two hours together while riding in the van, and another hour on the cave tour. These travel parties tended to be larger than Whites who visited the park in social or family groups. Whereas previous findings on the relationship between travel format and crowding are mixed (Jin & Pearce, 2011; Sun & Budruk, 2017; Truong & Foster, 2006), sharing the same space with other Asians for a long period of time before and during the tour may have heightened their sensitivity toward crowding. Researchers have reported that the behavior of other visitors can impact crowding perceptions (Fleishman et al., 2004; Jin & Pearce, 2011; Sun & Budruk, 2017). For example, Jin and Pearce (2011) documented that Chinese tourists were more sensitive to others as compared to European and American visitors. Therefore, it is possible that the tour format may have boosted the crowding perception of Asian tourists, inadvertently. Regrettably, the present study could not fully examine these possibilities because this type of information was not included on the survey. 

Second, although the existing literature emphasizes collectivistic norm and frequent personal interactions within Asian culture (Evans, Lepore, & Allen, 2000; Gillis, Richard, & Hagan, 1986; Hofstede, 2001; Kim, Lee, & Sirgy, 2016), this notion might be outdated. Lee and Stodolska (2016) pointed out that, due to rapid westernization and industrialization occurring in East Asian countries, many Asian immigrants to North America have been exposed to Western values, such as individualism and materialism prior to their arrival. Thus, the subjects in this study might have been more westernized than expected. 

Visitor satisfaction with the cave tour had a significant negative association with crowding perception. Needham et al. (2014) suggested that the relationship between overall satisfaction and crowding has produced mixed results, yet it was weak or insignificant in many studies. Since those studies were conducted elsewhere, our findings may be unique to a cave setting. Further investigation at other caves might be necessary to gain a robust estimate of the association between perceived crowding on visitor satisfaction.

Besides being Asian or White and the satisfaction level, other independent variables and their interactions did not exert a meaningful influence on crowding perception. Although Sayan and Karaguzel (2010) found that education level affected crowding perception as well as preference for the number of groups to encounter, our study did not support such results. We also found that group size was not significant, although several studies have documented the positive relationship between the number of visitors and crowding at tourism destinations (Neuts & Nijkamp, 2012; Sun & Budruk, 2017). Unlike Sayan et al. (2013) and Sun and Budruk (2017), we found that being Asian or White did not moderate the relationship between other independent variables and crowding. 

The discrepancies between our findings and previous investigations might be explained by the most distinctive characteristic of this study—a cave. In fact, environmental attributes are one of three major antecedents of crowding (Manning, 2011; Neuts & Nijkamp, 2012). Few crowding studies have been conducted in caves. Morgan and Walker (2011) suggested that crowding perceptions may differ between cave environments and other settings. Guided cave tours are unique since participants are not allowed to depart from the group. Visitors often experience coolness and limited visibility for periods of time. In fact, the presence of others could be a source of comfort for some cave visitors, a topic that warrants further investigation. 

This study contains at least four limitations: 1) researchers showed that crowding could be influenced by other factors that were not included in this study. Some of those factors include: the extent to which tourists share or differ in their personal characteristics (Fleishman et al., 2004), behavior of other tourists (Sun & Budruk, 2017), normative tolerance for seeing others (Needham, Vaske, Whittaker, & Donnelly, 2014), and knowledge and previous experience with the destination (Leujak & Ormond, 2007). Incorporating other factors might yield a better understanding of crowding perception from different ethnic and racial groups; 2) although tour guides encouraged visitors to participate in the study, our response rate of 44% is relatively low for an onsite survey. It might be subject to a non-response bias. We believe the low response rate is due to the location and timing of data collection. For example, visitors were asked to complete the survey in a separate room in the visitor center, adjacent to the cave exit. This arrangement made it easy for visitors to bypass it since some of them needed to get a drink of water or use the restroom. Others left quickly so they could see different areas in the park; 3) several Asian nationalities were combined into one group to enlarge the sample size. This strategy might have been too simplistic to account cultural heterogeneity across Asia. For example, some researchers have found that Chinese were more individualistic than Japanese and Koreans, suggesting that it might be problematic to generalize Asian values (Ueltschy, Laroche, Zhang, Cho, & Yingwei, 2009); and 4) the generalizability of our findings might be limited, given that guided tours at caves are context-specific. Thus, our findings might not lend themselves easily to other settings.

Despite the above limitations, this study sheds some new insights into crowding perceptions of park visitors in the U.S. Discrepancies between our findings and other studies call for more empirical research to draw stronger conclusions. Although crowding at interpretive programs may not be an issue at many parks, show caves present some unique challenges for visitor management. In an effort to enhance park revenue, some managers may want to include more people on the tours, not fewer. In doing so, some park visitors may feel uncomfortable or intolerant of sharing the same space with people from different racial or ethnic backgrounds (Dillette, Benjamin, & Carpenter, 2018; Gobster, 2002; Lee & Scott, 2017; Tinsley, Tinsley, & Croskeys, 2002). Perception of alikeness is a topic that has been studied in outdoor recreation management, but not within the context of interpretation. However, the diversity of tourists in the U.S. may change in the near future. Further investigation will enable researchers to better understand the relationships between crowding and racial and ethnic identities, thus helping practitioners more effectively manage caves and other outdoor recreation settings.

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