Monitoring recreation across European nature areas: A geo-database of visitor counts, a review of literature and a call for a visitor counting reporting standard

Jan Philipp Schägner*, Joachim Maes, Luke Brander, Maria Luisa Paracchini, Volkmar Hartje, Gregoire Dubois

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Nature recreation and tourism is a substantial ecosystem service of Europe's countryside that has a substantial economic value and contributes considerably to income and employment of local communities. Highlighting the recreational value and economic contribution of nature areas can be used as a strong argument for the funding of protected and recreational areas. The total number of recreational visits of a nature area has been recognised as a major determinant of its economic recreational value and its contribution to local economies. This paper presents an international geo-database on recreational visitor numbers to non-urban ecosystems, containing 1267 observations at 518 separate case study areas throughout Europe. The monitored sites are described by their centroid coordinates and shape files displaying the exact extension of the sites. Therefore, the database illustrates the spatial distribution of visitor counting throughout Europe and can be used for secondary research, such as for validation of spatially explicit recreational ecosystem service models and for identifying relevant drivers of recreational ecosystem services. To develop the database, we review visitor monitoring literature throughout Europe and give an overview of such activities with special attention to visitor counting. We identify one major shortcoming in the available literature, which relates to the presentation, study area definition and methodological reporting of conducted visitor counting studies. Insufficient reporting hampers the identification of the study area, the comparability of different studies and the evaluation of the studies' quality. Based on our findings, we propose a standardised reporting template for visitor counting studies and advanced data sharing for recreational visitor data. Researchers and institutions are invited to report on their visitor counting studies via our web interface at and thereby contribute to a global visitor database that will be shared via the ESP Visualisation tool. Management implications The total annual visitor number is the most important variable for defining the relative importance and the economic recreational value of different recreational areas. Due to the importance of visitor counting and its increased attention in the scientific literature we: • present a geo-database on recreational visitor statistics for nature areas, which allows identifying sites for which visitor statistics exist and which can be used for secondary research• review current practice in recreational visitor counting across nature areas in Europe and give guidance for future applications,• identify shortcomings in the methodological reporting of recent visitor monitoring and counting studies and• present and recommend reporting standard for all future visitor counting studies in order to improve their comparability and to allow assessing their quality.• The reporting standard is translated into a web interface for visitor data collection, which allows for data sharing via a global map-browser.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-55
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism
Early online date17 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017


  • Nature recreation
  • Reporting standard
  • Visitor counting review
  • Visitor data sharing
  • Visitor monitoring
  • Visitor statistics


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