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04/22/2013

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Kate LeMasters

Are Tourists Willing to Pay Additional Fees to Protect Corals in Mexico

This article is very similar to those we read in Econ 255 and clearly states the background research, survey methods, and responses needed for the reader to understand the methods by which non-market valuation has been conducted. The article starts by describing the need for coral reefs for biodiversity, the economy, fisheries, and tourism and then states the multiple human-impact threats that are currently increasing stress on the environment.
The article uses a contingent valuation method to determine tourist’s willingness to pay for a program to protect the coral reef ecosystem and assisted ecological services. The survey included information on the current benefit of coral reef ecosystems, their current physical state, and current efforts to combat degradation, and the survey also collected demographic information of tourists. The model used demographics, survey variables, and environmental preferences to predict WTP for further protection.
They found that WTP and time of travel were the most statistically significant variables and that a collection of funds dedicated to coral protection would benefit the environment and provide a base for economic development along the Mexican Caribbean.
What I found most interesting was the discussion on protest bids, as it describes why some were not willing to pay to support coral protection. I would be interested to see comparative studies in other countries on the reef to see if the prejudice against government control changes based on the country or if it is simply a prejudice against federal control. I also wonder if education on the local area would change the opinion of those who believe local businesses should pay the cost. Subsistence farmers and fishermen in the area cannot necessarily pay the cost, and the benefits are much more widespread than the local area. Many benefits from tropical ecosystems are global, thus forcing local businesses to pay for costs is morally unsound and infeasible. Education of this sort may eliminate some negative responses. Finally, because many tourists favored an airport tax method, I wonder if they would have a higher WTP if the fee was in this specific form in the survey.
This paper does provide promising information that protecting corals is feasible. Continuing to explore the reasons that people responded negatively will hopefully provide the necessary information to increase conservation more so. Additionally, it will be important when increasing conservation fees, to keep a close watch on coastal development, as it could easily counteract conservation efforts in the reef if not directly linked to these conservation efforts.

Bailey Ewing

To add to the insight given by Kate, I also found the protest bids intriguing and believe that we could conduct an even more extensive survey, one that might see real results if conclusions turned into policy, in Belize based on the negative responses of tourists in Mexico. It seems as though those that were unwilling to pay a conservation fee were very uneasy about what impact their money would have. Essentially, it seems like they questions whether their sacrifice would reap equivalent benefits for the oceanic environment. It might fare well to incorporate a brief explanation to each tourist surveyed of where exactly the money would go, who would handle it and how it would be utilized. This however, would take much research and a partnership with local conservationists.

Additionally, we have the opportunity to take this study and its limitations and improve it so that we might come away with more substantial data than those before us. As mentioned in the article, these researchers felt as though marital status and number of children could have been useful in this analysis. It is important delve into as many similar studies that have been performed as possible in order to construct the most successful and accurate study possible.

Holley Beasley

Like Bailey and Kate, I was also most interested in the protest bids. We read a few papers like this in Econ 255 but none of those addressed protest bids, and so it never really occurred to me that some people would simply have no willingness to pay. It seems that most of the problem lies in the interviewees doubt and lack of trust in the government. Unfortunately, it is like the issue of the hypothetical bias in that even if we tell people to have a certain mindset or to assume a certain thing, we can never fully fix it. Even when we warn people of the hypothetical bias and tell them to treat it like they are actually going to have to pay, it will still be a hypothetical situation and most interviewees are probably not capable of completely ignoring that fact. Similarly, we can tell people where the money will be going and how it will be used, but some people might have that doubt and lack of trust ingrained in them and that is also something that can be very hard to ignore.

Holley Beasley

A Practitioner's primer on the contingent valuation method

I found this article to be pretty overwhelming. Though Whitehead clearly and thoroughly lays out the steps to creating your own survey using the contingent valuation method, he reveals the enormous magnitude of factors that must be taken into account and responded to in order to create an accurate and effective survey. If I were going about making my own CV survey, I would stick to using other similar surveys as a model for my own and then using Whitehead's article to go through and revise and improve mine. Whitehead offers many different choices, such as mail vs telephone, open-ended vs close-ended, and dichotomous choice vs double-bound approach. It's hard to know which one of all these different choices would be most effective for your specific purpose, and so using other similar surveys as models would help tremendously alongside this article in creating an accurate and effective survey.

I found it interesting that Whitehead seemed to favor the mail survey, because thinking of my own family I would think that the mail survey is the mode they would be least likely to take the time to respond to. I used to watch my dad come home from work every night and go through his mail and make a pile of all "junk mail" that he would then go and recycle. I'm pretty sure if he received an envelope from someone he was not familiar of that appeared to be a survey, that envelope would join the pile of junk mail. People are busy and they are rarely able to understand the benefits they would reap by taking the time to fill out the survey.

Kate LeMasters

A Practitioner’s Primer on the contingent valuation method

This article walked me through the process of contingent valuation method in a much more thorough manner than I had previously approached, but I agree that it was pretty overwhelming. It first set out the different types of non-market valuation and then went through categories of CV, such as mail, phone, and in-person. I had been taught that mail surveys were the least desirable because of non-response bias and lack of follow-up, as Holly mentioned, but this article shed light on the fact that they are often the most feasible. The importance of conciseness and mutually exclusive response categories was emphasized more than I thought it would be, revealing the importance of keeping the audience engaged. The valuation scenario was the most interesting, as it forces the researcher to tangibly write out the current scenario they are testing, a task that does not seem intuitive. The different suggestions for how to phrase WTP questions, such as by behavior and follow-ups was also interesting, as it highlighted strategic ways to avoid biases and how to handle them when they occur.
The section associated with convenience samples seemed most applicable, as this is what we will be doing in Belize, I assume. We will have to weight our responses based on demographic questions and strategically decide how to best conduct follow-ups. We must remember to report our research methods before analyzing to enhance the quality of data. This article was helpful in that it depicted hypothetical situations that we may run into with our experiment such as selection bias or non-response bias. Now that we have a tangible survey topic and guideline, this guide will be very applicable in useful in the upcoming weeks.

Kate LeMasters

Economics of Marine Ecosystem Goods and Services

These sections of Schuhmann’s paper were a well-rounded introduction to the course and economic valuation. It is most important to emphasize that valuation includes measurements of both human well-being and economic value. Ecosystems provide supportive, regulation, provision, and cultural services, all of which must be considered in valuing marine ecosystems.
Value is also defined by its worth to people, not the actual cost or money value. The Total Economic Value is then different than simple value because it considers social values, which often differ from individual values. This was material we covered in 255, and it is very important to keep in mind that social costs and benefits must be considered in valuations and policy decisions, as individual valuation is not conclusive. We must also look at environmental impacts on a large scale, as we did in 255. Deforestation leads to runoff in subterranean rivers, which goes to freshwater, mangroves, sea grass, reefs, and then the open ocean. When looking at the big picture, we can better see how the four categories of services are within marine ecosystems. With this large scale, we can better conduct and understand the valuation methods that Schuhmann mentions.

Bailey Ewing

A Practitioner’s Primer on the contingent valuation method

I found this article very helpful considering I have never attempted to conduct a contingent valuation experiment. It is necessary to have this basic knowledge in order to make the most of our time and purpose in Belize. I found it critical to focus on the construction of questions and how to manipulate these questions to effectively draw out accurate and unbiased answers from a randomly selected group of tourists. I see that the order, type and syntax of the questions in our survey can be very effective in suppressing the chance of a bias.

I found it interesting, and slightly odd, how much time Whitehead spent on mail surveys. Like Holley, I believe that this method might be the least successful and the most likely to contain multiple biases. However, it was helpful to examine this model and to extrapolate ways in which we can make our model the best that it can be. I am excited about the opportunity to talk with the tourists that we survey, having the ability to explain to them our purpose, judge their emotional attachment to their response, and be available to clear any ambiguity.

Joe Moravec

The introductory sections of Shuhmann's paper outline the key concepts we have spent the semester studying in ENV 295 Coastal Policy with Professor Kahn. The linkages between the ecosystem services listed in 1.1 and their values cannot be understated. Like many of the previous comments, I do agree that some explanation of at least the Support/Regulation services should incorporated into the questionnaire when in the field, as most do not understand the full extent of the services provided. It is possible then that most would be giving us a WTP value based on simply their happiness as a result of experiential recreation rather than a full valuation of the ecosystem services we are trying to protect. Is there a better way to correct for this? Do we then assume that, had our tourist participants known the full value of the ecosystem services AS WELL AS their personal recreational value, they would give a higher WTP? This may be one of the variables corrected for in Casey et al. Education would seem to have been a key factor in willingness to pay, at least theoretically, as the more we understand the tangible benefits of healthy ecosystems, the higher welfare we realize we have derived from them (and will continue to do so), and thus the more we would be willing to pay.

I am more curious when reading the results from Mexico if there is a need to correct for perceived notions of government corruption in administering any hypothetical conservation agency. Obviously, if we believe that our money will be poorly managed, we are less willing to pay. As Kate and Bailey both pointed out, there needs to be some explanation to the participant of how the fee would be procured and exactly how it would be spent. I believe this explanation, or some econometric correction for feelings of perceived corruption, would remove at least a great number of the protest bids. As far as it relates to our survey in Belize, it seems that although corruption still exists in Belize, it is far less so than in other neighboring countries.

Finally, on Whitehead’s methodology for conducting surveys, I am wondering how we will be correcting for a few of the errors he says we should look out for. First, he notes that although the valuation process is hypothetical, it must still be presented in a realistic manner. If we don’t have an explanation written into the survey of how the policy might look in practice, we should at least have some prepared explanation for when we are asked. I know if I were taking such a survey, I would ask about how realistic the policy might look and how important my “truthful” answers really are. If I knew that the responses mattered a great deal, I would have a greater incentive to be honest. I believe this is why Whitehead notes the in-person survey is the best (while not favored, as it is usually too expensive), simply because in person we can answer participant questions rather than needing to later correct for item non-response or ambiguity of answers.

Also, how do we correct for selection bias during an in-person interview? If people simply walk away from us, there is no way to “send a follow-up” or ask them even initial demographic questions.

Bess Ruff

As mentioned above, the topic of protest bids provides an intriguing discussion as to how these surveys are conducted. While it seems that the apprehensions of the tourists could be alleviated with a short explanation by the surveyor, where is the line drawn between dictating too much information to the surveyee and letting him/her come to his/her own conclusion? I feel that too much explaining removes a bit of the reality from the results and doesn't accurately convey the typical tourist's sentiments towards a conservation fee. Obviously, there are some elements of the survey that need to be explained in order to minimize hypothetical bias and the "warm glow" feeling, but I think enough needs to be left unsaid in order to preserve a genuine response from the surveyee.

Other than the protest bids, I was intrigued by the statement from the Kahneman and Knetsch (1992) paper labeling contingent valuation experiments as a means of measuring the WTP for moral satisfaction instead of a tool in assigning monetary value. I might have misinterpreted it, but it seems that this characteristic of CV is portrayed as a negative. However, in the context of Jeff Greenwald's "This Is Your Brain on the Ocean", this quality seems rather important, and potentially more valuable than monetary valuation. The article presents the concept that the ocean has neurological impact on the human brain. With this in mind, it would seem to me that even if the CV experiments are only a measure of WTP for moral satisfaction, that those numbers could potentially be higher than the monetary value of a natural resource.

Corinne Hemmersbach

Are Tourists Willing to Pay Additional Fees to protect Corals in Mexico?

Two different areas in this article jumped out at me. First was the issue of hypothetical bias. Several others have touched on the fact that even when we warn people of the bias, it is a hypothetical situation and therefore will always be a factor. However, given this fact, I believe it is still a very effective method. Today in class when we were warned of the hypothetical bias during the survey, I truly contemplated the idea and adjusted my answer. While the bias will always be there, getting people to think about it is definitely a step in the right direction.
The second area that intrigued me was a point that Bailey mentioned earlier. She wrote, “We have the opportunity to take this study and its limitations and improve it so that we might come away with more substantial data than those before us.” On page 565 of the journal, it is stated that nearly 25% of the interviews were conducted in couples. I would like to further research this and see if interviewing in pairs affects the responses given. I am intrigued to find out if interviewing pairs rather than individuals introduce any unnecessary biases.

Corinne Hemmersbach

A Practitioner’s Primer On the Contingent Valuation Method

While it may have been overwhelming, I actually enjoyed this article. It was fun for me to be able to use the knowledge I learned in my Statistics course last semester and apply it to this reading.

While Whitehead mentioned non-response bias, I feel like it is a very important topic that could have been overlooked by readers. Responses heavily depend on the type of person taking the survey. As Holley stated, individuals and families are busy with their day-to-day lives and are not always willing to take time to complete a survey. Those who are interested in the specific topic or have more time in their day are more likely to complete and send in the survey. I believe it is extremely important to recognize this bias and take it into account. However, I am unaware of and am intrigued to learn how to avoid this bias. While we are out in the field in Belize, I imagine that this could be a huge obstacle for us. I am interested to see how as a group we will be able to overcome this obstacle.

Bailey Ewing

The Valuation of Marine Ecosystem Goods and Services in the Caribbean

Although brief, the two assigned sections this article expanded my view on how to categorize and asses aspects within the economic valuation of oceanic seascapes. One must consider the use value and non-use value of what types of services are geared towards their area of study. Within these sub-categories it is important to value the importance of, for example, improving the endangerment status of whale sharks, based on more than just what a tourist is willing to pay. It is most accurate to go beyond their willingness to pay for conservation methods and to explore how beneficial the existence of whale sharks truly is to each individual tourist and to see if the monetary means need to improve this species survival rate is worth the benefits.

Corinne Hemmersbach

Economics of Marine Ecosystem Goods and Services

As Kate mentioned, I believe these sections of Schuhmann’s paper were a good introduction to economic valuation. Growing up by the ocean, I always have thought of it simply as a place of recreation and happy memories. I now have learned that these are only the cultural services provided by marine ecosystems. All of these articles are very intriguing to me and a sort of wake up call to recognize all the goods and services marine ecosystems provide directly and indirectly to human well-being. It is easy to understand that economists define the value of a particular good or service as what it is worth to people. But my head is having a harder time wrapping around how the economic value of “nonmarket” goods and services can be measured. This topic is new to me, and I am very excited to learn more about it.


Bess Ruff

Practitioner's Primer

First of all: WOOF. I don't think I fully realized the extent of the variables that make up a survey until reading this. As a creative writing minor, I've learned that altering just one word can completely alter the meaning of a sentence or the creation of an image, so I understand Whitehead's caution and intense detailing on how to properly structure a survey question. Still, it seems that there is still a vast amount of grey area when surveying that even the most refined and tested questions cannot completely eliminate. In terms of this class, I think it'll be quite interesting once we get to Belize to see how people react to the phrasing and structuring of our survey. Something as minor as the tone of our voice when we present the surveys could impact the way people respond. There are so many variables involved in survey work from how the questions are phrased to how they are administered that there's no way to develop a fool-proof questionnaire. As Corinne mentioned, I think bias will play a role in our administration of the surveys, and I'm interested to see if there other ways (other than control variables) to minimize any biases we may encounter.

Ecosystem Goods and Services

As Joe stated, the concepts covered in the first two sections of Schuhmann's paper echo the material we covered in Kahn's Coastal Policy class last semester. I would like to challenge Joe's statement that we need to correct for the possibility that the surveys are a reflection of overall happiness and not a proper valuation of resources. As I mentioned above, there might not be a need to correct for this if there is a neurological association with oceans. According to Wallace J. Nicholls we can potentially begin to hardwire our brains to make conservation of coral reef systems an intrinsic value. Understandably, this development would take a bit of time, a generation or more. However, in the mean time, I think that people are taking the economic value of a place, whether consciously or not, into consideration when they state their WTP. The moral and monetary values of a place would probably be conflated to some extent.

Shannon Marwitz

Are tourists willing to pay additional fees to protect corals in Mexico?

Like Corinne, one area of this paper that really stuck out to me was that about a quarter of the interviews were conducted with couples. I would think that this could be a serious source of bias if the individuals are able to see how their partners are responding to the questions. The paper also mentioned warm glow bias, where "the respondent has a good feeling about the issue without truly caring for it," but did not propose any methods to combat this. I would be interested to learn if there are ways to take this issue into account. I was also intrigued by the finding that the longer a survey took, the lower a person's willingness to pay. It was suggested that this could be a result of survey fatigue. I would have thought that the amount of time it would take to complete the survey would be relatively similar since everyone is taking the same one. It made me wonder if survey length might have been a result of people’s feelings towards the reefs and it was those attitudes that influenced willingness to pay.

Shannon Marwitz

Economics of Marine Ecosystem Goods and Services

I thought that these sections did a really good job of outlining and explaining the different types of services and values. To me, the distinction between ecosystem services and ecosystem benefits was particularly interesting. It makes sense that you would only look at benefits when determining value, but it was not something that had crossed my mind before. Similarly, I had never thought about the fact that the total value of something is not necessarily the sum of the individual component values. One thing that I did bother me about with this piece was the fact willingness to pay would likely depend on an individual's awareness of benefits being derived, as others have mentioned, and I think that providing some background information in the survey is a good way to ameliorate this.

Shannon Marwitz

A Practitioner’s Primer on the contingent valuation method

I was blown away by just how much goes into designing a survey. It made me think back on all the surveys that I have taken in my life and been completely unaware of all that went into them. I was also shocked by the costs associated with the conducting a survey. One aspect of surveys that I had not considered was the possibility of people skipping sections of the survey if they were too long, and I found the suggest to break up the text by inserting questions, even if you don't intend to use them, to ensure that the respondent remains engaged. Finally, I was surprised by how different data analysis can be when a closed-ended question is selected as opposed to open-ended question.

Emily Shu

Are tourists willing to pay additional fees to protect corals in Mexico?

Like many in the class, I found the discussion on protest bids most interesting in the context of the article. The study shows that the 84.7% of respondents that said they would be willing to pay an entrance fee into Mexico would only do so if “they could be guaranteed it would go toward coral protection.” Given the conditional response and the common concern of those that were unwilling to pay, it is clear that the ambiguity of who, where, and how of the fund is a major source of trepidation in tourists. Though I agree with Bess that there is a question of how much information is too much information, given the significance of the topic, I feel that the situation may warrant further research to see if there are currently similar and successful programs in other protected areas that the Mexican government can emulate and the survey could realistically introduce to respondents. Given our discussion in class on the perceived cultural differences between areas like Mexico and Belize, I also wonder if the distrust in government would vary with country.

Another aspect of the article that stood out to me was the statistic that less than 21% of respondents participated in environmental education activities during their stay. I was interested in this because it made me think about whether the WTP would have a positive or negative correlation with education. Along the same lines, would there be more of a response if the destruction of the reef was quantified in the survey?

The economics of marine ecosystem goods and services

I thought the introductory sections of this reading were extremely helpful in separating the goods and services available from an ecosystem and distinguishing those from benefits and costs. Though value is a function of what the good or service is worth to the people, like Corinne, I struggle with the idea of trying to quantify the wide spectrum of values as a result of varying opinion, especially as it relates to non-use values. I liked the connection between the knowledge of benefits and value that other members of the class discussed as it was not something that had crossed my mind before – I think this reveals a lot about the importance of environmental education in protected areas. I’d like to learn more about a quantifiable difference in value, if any, between use and non-use values.

A Practitioner’s primer on the contingent valuation method

Whitehead does a very thorough job of outlining the contingent valuation method and the many facets that are involved in perfecting the process. Like Holley, I found his support of mailing surveys confusing as I personally perceive it to be a poor choice in terms of reply probability especially given the extra effort on the respondents’ parts to mail back the survey. On the other hand, I would be interested in seeing if emailing a survey might garner greater response. If I am not mistaken, I believe that in Belize, we will be implementing convenience intercept sampling like the study we also read – it will be interesting to learn more about this process and the potential benefits and limitations of this method.

One thing that especially interested and worried me is that with CV, there is only one chance to extract an unbiased willingness to pay value. Though I understand the logic behind it and the natural tendency to link any future question to the answer to the first, it signifies the importance of the one valuation scenario and question. I thought that having a concrete scenario was a good idea, as it offered the most information to the respondent; however, we will have to be careful in our own survey to not incorporate too much information, as Whitehead points out respondents’ tendency to skip text or less accurately answer questions when presented with more text on the page.

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