‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ National Park is a protected area with a great variety of environments. Its mountainous character and the existence of different altitudes from the lower parts of ‘La Pedriza’ to ‘Peñalara’ summit, woodlands, rivers, rocky surfaces, etc. comprise a diverse scenario for more than two million visitors that we receive every year (almost 2.4 millions in 2019). Two million people with disparate objectives and expectations as well as various ways of enjoying, perceiving and sensing this natural protected area.
For every Park it is vital to understand its reality, and know, not only, the number of visitors, but also learn about how they are, what they are looking for and what they expect. Aiming at trying to understand public characteristics when visiting the National Park, for many years now, some of the main features of the people who reach Visitor Centres are being registered, by conducting field surveys in order to obtain an outline of the typical visitor and of others, less abundant, who are looking for the chance to develop their physical activity or enjoy their leisure time.
This knowledge should have direct repercussions on management, as several objectives could be accomplished from the results’ analysis:
- Learning the visits’ schedule and enquiries at the visitor centres.
- Observing the aspects more frequently asked by visitors and detecting improvement’s possibilities or deficiencies.
- Distinguishing the characteristics of the different visitors: their origin, if they are tourists or regular users, time spent doing the activity, interests, etc.
- Discovering the visitor’s perception about nature conservation or the services offered, equipment and facilities’ maintenance, etc. These aspects will be taken into consideration when studying visitors’ admittance capacity in the park.
- Working as a communication tool between visitors and the National Park Authority.
Moreover, these data support the management’s decision-making process as well as specific actions such as the establishment of an Official Itineraries’ Network that will be launched together with the Public & Social Use Program.
The methodology to conduct these studies is based on two tools: field surveys and databases where some of the visitors’ characteristics are registered at the Visitor Centres. Both of them deliver crucial information for the National Park’s management.
Databases at the visitor centres gather information from a small percentage of the visitors (barely 5% of the total); however, that knowledge is very interesting as it reflects the number of visitors who do not know the park or who are especially interested in certain aspects, being those, the ones mainly approaching the visitor centres. Besides, field surveys (preferably those conducted in recreational and parking areas) enable us to connect with the visitor in a slower and more deliberate way, conversing and learning about the basics as well as receiving opinions and personal assessments which are a reflection of society.
At the visitor centres certain information is gathered related to the origin, number and type of visitor (families, people from an educational institution or from a working environment, etc), the activity carried out during the visit (hiking, recreation and leisure, mountaineering, educational, etc.), and above all, the reason for enquiring at the visitor centre, related to the kind of activity they want to engage in, the Park’s regulations and management or general information. The joint analysis of these data allows us to detect the differences among the visitors in each sector of the Park, specific aspects that reveal ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ National Park’s variety on both visitors and habitats.
The surveys, as it has been mentioned before, enable us to be better acquainted with the visitors, their origin, if they live in the socioeconomically influenced buffer area, where their lodgings are (home, second residence, public establishment, etc), the visits’ frequency, how long they usually spend outdoors, their main activity, etc. Furthermore, in 2019 other evaluation aspects were introduced such as their motives coming to the park (apart from the activity they do), how they got to learn about this protected area, if they know the services offered by the Park staff and -if affirmative- which ones they would stand out or improve, etc., as well as specific assessments related to nature conservation, equipment and facilities’ maintenance, tranquility, cleanliness, assistance received, etc.
The analysis of that information enables us to put into numbers ‘our intuition’, as, even though we have an idea of what’s going on, reality sometimes surprise us. Admitting that the purpose of this article is not giving numbers or percentages, there might be some data that should be underlined without further evaluation. As an example, there are some results:
- Taking into account the number of visitors living in the villages surrounding the park (6,5% of the total, 156,000 people) and the visits’ frequency, it seems that 17% of the visitors (more than 400,000) usually come here, at least, once a month; the so called ‘users’.
- At least 225,000 visitors spend the night at public establishments (hotels, hostels, bed & breakfast, rent apartments, etc), which increases the socioeconomic impact on the area.
- Although the majority of visitors spend just a day in the park, almost 10% spend between 2 and 6 days in the surroundings.
- More than 50% of the visitors stay in the park for more than four hours hiking or mountaineering. However, almost 8% (more than 188,000 people) stay here for less than 2 hours, mainly enjoying easy walks.
- The majority of visitors and users (almost 75%) spend their time inside the park hiking.
- Surprisingly, there is a high percentage of people visiting on their own, reaching up to 8.2%, almost 200,000 people.
- The majority of visitors are, obviously, from Spain or currently living here, although, the number of foreigners is increasing. There are 88% visitors from Madrid followed by people from Castilla y León.
- Talking about preferences, landscape, proximity and tranquility are the main reasons why people visit the Park, being necessary to point out that almost 21% of the visitors polled, have come thanks to other people’s recommendations about the Park or even media. Even so, up to 70% of visitors already knew about ‘Sierra de Guadarrama’ despite not knowing that it is a protected area.
- More than 90% of the visitors polled, assess the natural environment between ‘good’ and ‘very good’.
- Most frequent complaints or deficiencies expressed by visitors are related to the services offered, although the categories from ‘very bad’ to ‘very good’ appear to be evenly distributed.
To sum up, and without further due, it can be established that the level of general satisfaction is the highest for 65% of the visitors polled, for almost 80% their expectations have been met “very well” and up to 97% of the visitors polled would recommend the visit.
Translated by Aurora de la Rosa