Maintaining or increasing participants’ commitment to their recreation pursuit is an important goal for the recreation sector. Declining participation has been attributed to larger socio-demographic trends, coupled with alternative leisure opportunities, and is of concern to outdoor recreation providers in New Zealand (SPARC 2009). While little research has addressed commitment to outdoor recreation activities (especially in New Zealand), it is suggested that research on commitment related aspects is important for a range of recreation facility/opportunity providers, not least because of the greater efficiencies of retention compared to recruitment.
The goal of this research was to assess the levels of commitment and ‘enduring involvement’ in a number of outdoor recreational activities, and to consider the importance of a range of personal, social and environmental influences upon commitment and enduring involvement. It is one of the first comprehensive studies of ongoing commitment/involvement in outdoor recreation in New Zealand. It also is the first study to apply the Sport Commitment Model, (which was developed to understand participants’ ongoing commitment to their activity) in New Zealand, and outside of the competitive, and youth, sporting arena and in a nature-based recreational setting.
Four outdoor recreation activities were examined: hunting, fishing, mountaineering and tramping. Conducted in two phases, the study applied a mixed-method approach: a quantitative questionnaire (n = 1,024) was administered across two urban and two regional locations in New Zealand, including Christchurch, Wellington, Wanganui/Taranaki, and Blenheim/Nelson; data was collected on participation (type, frequency, seasonality, the recreation party), motivations, constraints and activity-related expenditure. Sport Commitment items addressed the psycho-social aspects of participation. In-depth face-to-face interviews were conducted with 47 active and lapsed recreation participants in Wellington, Blenheim/Nelson and Dunedin.1 The interviews focused on the core drivers for participation, the causes of lapsing, and substituting behaviours.
Findings from the survey indicate variations demographically among participants of the four activities. There were also significant differences in participation frequency: hunters and anglers tend to engage more frequently in their activities than do mountaineers and trampers. Findings from the motivation and constraint scales further suggest that for hunters and anglers the quality of the nature-based experience (e.g. scenic beauty, solitude) tends to be more important than for the other participants. Mountaineers and trampers are not only motivated by the nature-based experience but their involvement tends to be also influenced by social motivations. The quality of the recreation resource (e.g. water quality in rivers) and access were more important for hunters and anglers.
Sport Commitment Model Findings:
The Sport Commitment Model proved to be a useful and reliable model to examine the psycho-social elements of commitment. Three of the four constructs analysed – psychological commitment, enjoyment and involvement – were found to be correlated with behavioural commitment to recreation – in terms of frequency of participation as well as recreation-related expenditure. The fourth construct, social support, was only weakly related to behavioural commitment, however this did vary between activities, with social support being more relevant for trampers. The psychological commitment-behavioural commitment relationship was strongest for hunters/mountaineers, while the psychological commitment-purchase relationship was strongest for trampers.