This paper investigates the role of protected areas (PA) for destination choice in the European Alps. It is based on the analysis of the most relevant types of PA (national park, nature park, biosphere reserve), constituting part of the supply of tourism development, and a representative survey of the German population interested in holidays in the alpine area, representing the demand. Our analysis of the legal framework showed that all three types of PA facilitate tourism development, albeit in different ways. The survey included a generic choice experiment of alpine destinations with 17 attributes. Its location in or close to a PA was included as one variable. This destination demand study in an area of origin provided a different perspective on the preference for PA compared to other studies, and revealed significant differences between respondents with and without previous experiences in the Alps. The alpine experienced tourist is more likely to distinguish between the various types of PA such as national park and nature park. For the inexperienced alpine tourist, representing latent demand, the branding effect of PA is rather limited. For nearly all tourists, experienced and inexperienced, and across all segments, offers that include a nature experience are important. Nature experience, which is offered by all types of PA, is of high relevance within the destination choice and should therefore be used more intensely in destination marketing based on PA. Overall, this study shows that the role of PA for destination choice is not as strong as is reported by most of the published literature, as most of these studies are based on surveys in the destination and use single item scaling questions, which overvalue the role of PA.
© 2015 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston