The sustainable management of national parks in Aotearoa New Zealand needs to balance tourism and conservation imperatives. To assist with the update of the current Regional Coastal plan for Milford Sound Piopiotahi [MSP], this project aimed to analyse to what extent an increase of vessel and aircraft commercial activities in MSP could affect visitors’ perception of its conservation values. A mixed-methods approach was used to assess visitor experience: three stakeholder interviews and 206 visitor surveys were conducted at the Milford Visitor Terminal during 2021. The results highlight the lack of a clear carrying capacity assessment for both MSP and its coastal waters, which could negatively affect the visitor experience and increase the perception of crowdedness. For most visitors (70%), the main reasons for visiting MSP were the park’s scenery and its uniqueness, in line with the conservation values identified in the 2013 Regional Coastal Plan. Yet, most visitors (80%) also felt that MSP was not crowded, contrasting with previous literature and perceptions of some stakeholders. This research was conducted during the border closure due to COVID-19, which may account for this difference, but more studies on the matter are needed to explore visitor perceptions and guide management planning for MSP.
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