Beaches and coastal foreshores are a fundamental natural and ecological resource for Australia's economy. Annually, Australian beaches attract many tens of millions of visitors from domestic and international origins. A majority of Australians live in close proximity to the coast and for many the beach offers itself as the lifeblood of their coastal communities, providing economic, social and ecological benefits both expressed through the value of goods and services traded in markets and through values that the market does not capture. It is the latter of these values that this thesis attempts to address. In particular, the thesis focuses on the provision of safe bathing facilities on beaches. The thesis considers the economic optimality or otherwise of these services and whether they can be improved, drawing on survey work conducted in Australia and the United States. This research also attempts to ascertain the value of a recreational beach visit for comparison with outdoor recreation sites such as national parks. This is done to raise attention to the possible need for a reconsideration of society's view and management of beaches and coastal foreshores in Queensland and Australia.
Never before, to the best of the author's knowledge, has a treatise of the economics of surf lifesaving been undertaken. The literature has identified the need for a better understanding of the role that site specific facilities make in beach recreation demand and site selection. This research is necessary because it may help save lives. The number of drownings on Australian beaches is the core problem that the national safe bathing organizations for beaches. Surf Life Saving Australia and the Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguard Association, attempt to address and ameliorate each day of service.
As this thesis outlines, the existence, evolution, and current operation of surf lifesaving can be explained to a large degree by economic analysis. The thesis draws on the economic theory of clubs and quasi-public goods to explain the nature of safe bathing facilities. By understanding the economic characteristics of lifesaving and lifeguard services, possible ways of better providing these services may be postulated and tested.
Using on-site, in-person, non-market valuation surveys of beach users in Australia and the United States, marginal values for an extra volunteer lifesaver or paid lifeguard and associated state of the art equipment were obtained. These values were regressed on a number of variables to help explain beach users' demand for extra services. In particular, the shared good nature of a lifeguard or lifesaver to beach users was found to be non-significant. Other factors were hypothesised as driving people's demand for extra safe bathing services such as bandwagon effects. Income, number of visits by the individual, the number of lifeguards and lifesavers, the number of towers per area, and a dummy variable to account for visitors to Kawana beach were all found to be related to willingness to pay for extra services.
United States beach users were willing to pay $2.61 AUD per person per visit for an extra lifeguard whereas Australians were willing to pay $1.56 per person per visit for the same service. For a lifesaver, Australians were willing to pay $1.35 per person per visit. There was no statistical difference found between the values for lifesavers and lifeguards in Australia. For the entire sample of Australian beach users, the mean willingness to pay for an extra lifesaver on weekends and lifeguard during the working week was found to be $1.43. This estimate was then aggregated over the user population for Mooloolaba beach of over half a million visits per annum to provide an annual measure of the marginal benefits from the combined service of approximately $735,000. An estimate of the total marginal costs of providing the dual service amounted to approximately $135,000. Thus at the margin, benefits exceed the costs, the number of lifesavers and lifeguards were found to be is less than optimal. Subsequent to the release of these results to the media, the number of lifeguards at Mooloolaba beach were increased.
The surveys also helped to collect data for an individual travel cost study of beach recreation which included time in the cost of travel. Using a truncated negative binomial model to account for the truncated and discrete nature of visits to a beach site and to account for sample selection bias that results from on-site surveys, a measure of consumer surplus per person per visit was estimated. The truncated negative binomial model is preferred in cases of overdispersion. An analysis of the results established that the demand for resident beach visitors was quite different to that of tourists as explained through the nature of their travel costs and incomes. A number of variables were regressed on visits to establish if there were any significant relationships. Visits to other sites were found to be complements for tourists and substitutes for residents. Income was significant in the linear model for visitors, which did not include time costs, and in the truncated negative binomial model for the entire sample, which included time costs. Travel costs including travel time costs were found to explain beach visits for both tourists and residents while party size and whether respondents were employed or not helped explain tourist visits. Again, despite being non-significant, the results tend to indicate that residents view on-site costs as an investment.
The median consumer surplus values per person per visit to the beach were found to be $17.41 for a resident and $107.75 for tourists. These per person per visit consumer surplus measures were then aggregated across the population of beach visits at Mooloolaba beach and interval estimates of between $117m and $188m were attained for residents and between $153m and $256m for tourists. Perpetuity recreation values were found to be $ 10.8b, $1.9b and $2.6b for all beach users, residents and visitors respectively. These values were within the bounds of those attained through the literature and were found to be of the same or higher magnitude compared to those of national park and forest recreation. Beaches were found to be more popular destinations for Australian day and overnight visitors than national parks. International tourists were found to visit more often and spend more in aggregate than those who undertook their recreation at national parks in Australia. These findings point to the possibility that beaches are as valuable if not more valuable in terms of passive-use than national parks. Such an analysis ignores non-use values of both national parks and beaches. Little is known about the biota of beaches and beach non-use values may also be relatively high. Further attention and resources to the management of Australia's beaches and coastal foreshores may be warranted given the magnitude of these recreation and potential non-use benefits.
The thesis makes a number of contributions to knowledge, practice and methodology. Firstly the willingness to pay measures attained for extra lifesaving and lifeguard services are new and original. Never before to the best of the author's knowledge have beach users themselves been able to convey through surveys their willingness to pay for extra lifesaving and lifeguard services. This provides new knowledge to the economic profession and to coastal foreshore and beach managers and decision-makers. Also the travel cost method has not been applied previously at beaches on the Sunshine Coast to ascertain the value users gain from beach recreation. This again is an addition to knowledge. A method of rapid estimation for the annual number of visits to Mooloolaba beach is also outlined in the thesis. This is a new method and was found to provide an estimate of annual visitation very close to that estimated by the Lifeguard Service. This rapid method could be used to estimate annual visit numbers at other beaches where data are not present or where data needs to be checked. In this way an accurate estimate of the total number of beach visits within regions, states or across the nation could be calculated.
Another methodological contribution of the thesis was that in the United States contingent valuation survey the majority of respondents who had provided a positive bid for an extra lifeguard were willing to forgo from their budget a market good for this service. Though the mean value of the market goods in the sample was higher than the mean value of sample bids, no difference was found between the two measures in the population. These results suggest that respondents do not necessarily revise their bids down when they are asked to give-up a market good in order to receive an extra unit of lifeguard services. The sample results may also indicate that private goods are not necessarily perfectly divisible.
The thesis also collects together from the literature and explicitly states the derivation of the rapid method for calculating consumer surplus from the linear and non-linear individual travel cost method.
The surveys also helped to identify user preferences for a number of policy issues about the provision of safe bathing services. Respondents were found to favour a new mixed service where lifeguards supplement the volunteer service of lifesavers and are paid for by the commercial operations of surf clubs. However, where clubs or local authorities could not afford such a service the next most preferred alternative by respondents was the traditional mixed system where volunteer lifesavers operated on weekends and lifeguards operated during the working week. This mixed system was preferred to a fully professional lifeguard service with no volunteer involvement. Respondents were found to value the volunteer movement and the broader societal benefits that lifesaving provides.
It was found that the majority of Australian respondents would bathe on unpatrolled beaches having assessed the dangers and concluded bathing was safe or where risks were involved adjusted their behaviour accordingly e.g. stayed close to shore. Surfing was also found to be a major reason why people ventured into the water on an unpatrolled beach. A lower ranking reason was that their swim was outside patrol hours or there was no patrol provided.
The majority of beach users were found to prefer the introduction of gaming machines to surf lifesaving clubs in states other than Queensland where access to gaming licenses presently did not exist. Commonly, people perceived that if hotels had access to gaming licenses then so should community service organizations such as surf life saving clubs.
The thesis also identifies a number of areas where future research may be directed including an increased research effort into the non-use values of beaches and the development of non-use databases in Queensland, an extension and generalisation of results for other beaches in Australia, an extension of the club theory and empirical testing of the voluntary labour supply model developed for lifesaving, further analysis of the substitutability between market and non-market goods, further investigation into the bandwagon effects of additional services, an extension of the travel cost analysis to include the United States sample, and studies of risk and uncertainty in willingness to pay bids, insurance and benefit transfer applications.