A person’s socio-economic status, cultural ties, and past experiences influence how people perceive environmental quality. In the case of tourism, people using protected areas can differ in many ways, including their personal characteristics and perception about the recreation environment. This research addresses the general problem of tourist perception in a marine protected area (MPA), focusing on tourists’ awareness of being in a MPA, tourists’ opinion on management activities, the importance of natural attractiveness components, tourists’ satisfaction with recreational experience and willingness to come back, and on tourists’ awareness of their environmental impacts. Data were collected by means of questionnaires, and statistical analyses were performed according to four main variables: awareness to be in a MPA, gender, education level, and place of residence. Answers, and consequently, perceptions were highly dependent on education level and the place of residence, and surprisingly the unaware tourists came from neighbouring municipalities, in particular from the province of Brindisi where the MPA is located. This research put in evidence that a different perception can be due to environmental and park related attitudes, but also to the profile of visitors who frequent protected areas. In this respect, we stress the importance of a better identification of visitors’ profile, for a better management of tourism development in a MPA.
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