Powe, N. and Willis, K. (1996) 'Benefits received by visitors to heritage sites: a case study of Warkworth Castle', in Leisure Studies 15: 259 - 275.
The value of benefits received from heritage visits does not always equate with the price charged by the sites. Net revenue often has to be supplemented with subsidy for conservation, implying that the value of heritage sites may actually exceed net revenue. For example some people will see a value in the building contributing to the landscape, or from the knowledge that heritage sites are being preserved for future generations. Sometimes these benefits can be gained without actually paying to visit . The magnitude of these benefits can be estimated, and their relative weight assessed. The case study involves a castle in Northumbria.
Heritage sites in the UK attract millions of visitors, and have 'an important recreational and educational role' (260). They attract tourists and have an important effect on local economies. Visitors may be 'pure', 'transit', or 'meanderers' (quoting a study by the Cheshire and Stabler, 261). The latter two often comprise a large proportion of visitors. Heritage benefits can be divided 'into use and non-use benefits' (261), the first referring to general recreation and education, while the second refers to more general benefits from the existence and preservation of the site. Transits and meanderers are likely to experience the more general benefits, but this means that heritage sites are sometimes in competition with other attractions. The non-use benefits are particularly likely to be not reflected in the price of entrance, as when visitors simply view the external facades. There are also benefits received by local residents in the form of increased amenity values. To add to the complexity, the benefits received from paying visitors can also be non-use benefits. In general, 'benefits are likely to be in excess of the revenue collected from the visitors' (263).
To estimate these benefits, a 'contingent valuation technique' was used. This is a more general tool used in economics, and involves asking the maximum amount of money that respondents are willing to pay (263). [This is expressed in a rather complicated equation on 263. The equation assumes that an individual will actually purchase goods and services to maintain a constant level of benefit]. The technique has been used in earlier studies to estimate the benefits of heritage sites -- see 264.
Visitors to Warkworth were surveyed 'on a random "next to pass" basis' (264). The survey was taken as visitors left the castle. The questionnaire got background demographic information, details about experience in visiting historic sites, and also asked what they would pay. Further questions inquired about possible donations towards preservation activities. Visitors were also asked if they expected their entrance fee to cover total costs of preservation -- 'A "no" response here is indicative that the entrance charge is for recreational and educational purposes only' (265). Willingness to pay an entrance fee that did meet the cost of preservation provided some estimates of the value of preservation for the visitor. Further estimates were obtained of possible demand at particular levels of payment [by constructing a demand curve]. It is recognised that these values were obtained by visitors who had paid already, and further data would be useful for those who were still deciding whether to pay and enter.
Results were obtained from 201 visitors. Only nine refused to answer questions. 58 per cent said that visiting Warkworth was not the main purpose of the day out (that is that they were meanderers or transits). However, 51 per cent were interested enough in heritage to be members of relevant organisations, and 61 per cent had visited another historic site in Northumbria in the last year.
A table on 266 shows data on willingness to pay. Visitors actually paid different amounts, according to whether they had concession tickets or free-entry as a member of English Heritage. '[O]n average, the respondents were willing to pay in excess of the entrance fee' (266), suggesting that they do receive a consumer surplus. [The median surplus for all visitors was about 100 per cent more than the entrance fee]. The surplus was further divided into estimates for use and non-use benefits as above. Most visitors were strongly in favour of preservation, and 'the average respondent' would expect to pay less to visit if none of the entrance money was devoted to preservation (266), although they still reported that they would visit in practice. Non-use benefits were estimated as a lower proportion of the entrance fee. 45 per cent of respondents were willing to pay a small excess on their entrance fee for preservation.
An alternative method of estimating benefits would be to note the annual membership fee for English Heritage, and divide it by the average number of visits. English Heritage visitors were also willing to pay an excess. However, membership of English Heritage is likely to be determined by a number of factors, not just calculations of benefits in visiting specific sites.
The study attempted to construct a hypothetical market in a concrete case, with concrete questions asked about additional payments. Some questions, like those about how much of the fee was spent on preservation, especially for English Heritage members in general, were more hypothetical. There was 'no evidence to suggest any misunderstanding on the part of the respondents' (268). Estimates of non-use (preservation) benefits were similarly concrete and specific, by asking visitors about making additional donations.
The study's results were also evaluated (in terms of construct validity), by comparing actual results to theoretical ones as predicted by an econometric model [outlined on p. 269. Basically, statistical analysis was used to test the predictions in an equation explaining willingness to pay in terms of income, preferences or tastes, and relevant socio-economic characteristics]. Each variable was significant, and the 'explanatory power and statistical robustness of the model is comparable with many contingent valuation studies' (269). [details of further statistical tests are supplied 269 - 70].
As expected, visitors with higher incomes would be willing to pay more to enter, especially if the main purpose of the day was to visit Warkworth. The effects of membership of English Heritage are less clear. Number of children in the party also has an effect, with larger numbers leading to less willingness to pay more. Another factor that emerged from the study was 'heritage fatigue', where frequent visitors to other heritage sites were less willing to pay additional amounts (270). The representativeness of the sample could not be estimated, however, although attempts were made to match the sample with local and national populations, in terms of age and gross household income. A further modification involved estimating the effects over a whole year from the one sample taken in the summer -- the technique seems to involve breaking the sample into significant groups with known frequencies of visiting at different times of the year, gathered from annual data recorded at Warkworth itself (271).
Overall, Warkworth received £60,000 from entrance fees in 1994, while the total annual estimate of benefit was £152,301. This can be divided into use benefits (£82,121), and non-use preservation benefits (£70,180) (272). These estimates do not include school visits, which would add another £11,000 to the benefit total. People who visit the site but do not actually enter at that level of entry fee were further investigated, and their benefits entered [details 272]. Benefits are estimated as in the same range as the data above [that is offering more than 100 per cent surplus at each suggested price].
Overall, total benefits were estimated 'be more than two-and-a-half times the financial revenue derived from entrance charges' (273). Use benefits were estimated to be larger than non-use benefits. These estimates have been shown to be robust and realistic. One implication is that financial revenue alone would not provide sufficient preservation activity for the public, defined in terms of actual benefit. [Further privatisation with increased entrance fees seems to be ruled out on the grounds that it might not be practical to privatise a view. I must say I was expecting a recommendation for higher entry fees from the analysis. The shape of the demand curve is also important, of course -- maybe higher fees would lead to lower revenue overall?]. Other sites might be different from Warkworth, although the method might be used for future research. Given large use benefits, it is important to make 'heritage available to the general public... as it increases visitor well being' (274). Of course there may be a cost in terms of visitor damage, requiring a balance. However, preservation benefits need not actually require a visit anyway, as with the popularity of world heritage sites which have not actually been visited. It might even be worth increasing preservation values and general public interest by permitting free entry on specific occasions.
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