Skip to main content

Yu-Fai Leung

Director of Graduate Program, Professor

Jordan Hall 5107

View CV 

Area(s) of Expertise

Sustainable visitor use in parks and protected areas


View all publications 


Date: 01/01/23 - 12/31/28
Amount: $48,637.00
Funding Agencies: The Dutch Research Council (NWO)

Tour operators often market a visit to the Antarctic as an experience that creates ambassadors of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean. The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) emphasises that visitors returning from the region often make changes in their lives by the mere experience of awe and respect when encountering surreal Antarctic landscapes, flora, and fauna in combination with the educational program offered to the tourists. From a conceptual perspective, IAATO’s narrative appears to summarise behavioural shifts in visitors towards more pro-environmental values, attitudes and behaviours. Addressing the overarching question of how pro-environmental behaviours of Antarctic visitors can be facilitated, and negative environmental impacts can be reduced, GUIDE-BEST will result in a better understanding of the drivers of expectations and changes in visitors’ and guides’ attitudes and behaviours through their Antarctic experiences during and after visits, while contextualising these experiences against the modi operandi and development of the Antarctic tourism sector. Tourist guides play a key but understudied role in protecting Antarctic and Southern Ocean ecosystems through visitor education, the communication strategies they adopt, how they relate to the tourists and the environment, and their own pro-environmental behaviour. GUIDE-BEST aims to understand the complex interactions between spatial expansion, trip characteristics, intensification and diversification of tourism operations as well as how these affect visitor experience and, ultimately, tourist behaviour. Such an in-depth exploration of tourist behaviour will then lend itself to improving our understanding of the role and nuanced meaning of Antarctic ambassadorship. Finally, our research explicitly entails the development of recommendations and tools for Antarctic tourism management and regulation. The knowledge gained from the project will be used to develop and test strategies to reduce negative environmental impacts in situ and strengthen positive behavioural change in the Antarctic and beyond.

Date: 06/13/23 - 2/28/28
Amount: $232,857.00
Funding Agencies: The Dutch Research Council (NWO)

In the past thirty years, the number of tourists visiting Antarctica increased from almost 6,500 in the 1991–1992 season to almost 75,000 for the 2019–20 season. It is expected that numbers will rise strongly again in the postCOVID-19 period. For several reasons this growth of Antarctic tourism constitutes concerns for Antarctic biodiversity and wilderness values: cumulative impacts are not systematically assessed, there is no systematic monitoring in Antarctica, and there are only few regulatory restrictions in place regarding total visitor numbers and the spatial distribution of tourism. In light of these concerns, this program aims to generate new knowledge for policy makers and the tourist sector to minimise cumulative impacts on Antarctic biodiversity and wilderness values. More specifically, this program will develop: i. a forecast of Antarctic tourism development, focused on growth and spatial distribution; ii. knowledge and maps of the geographical distribution of Antarctica’s biodiversity and wilderness values, differentiating between the current state and expectations with changing climate and human activity; iii. an inventory of (risks of) cumulative impacts of tourism visitation by comparing the tourism forecast (ad i) and the spatial distribution of biodiversity and wilderness values (ad ii); iv. a monitoring framework for measuring changes in biodiversity and wilderness values, and v. an identification of strategies and regulatory tools to prevent or minimise future cumulative impacts on Antarctica’s biodiversity and wilderness values. This knowledge will be produced through intensive cooperation between experts in polar ecology, climate change, geographical mapping, tourism management and law, and with close involvement of key consortium partners and stakeholders. Different forms of cooperation aim at improving Antarctic governance in general and the regulation and management of Antarctic tourism in particular, to ensure positive contributions toward minimising cumulative impacts on, and thereby providing more effective protection to, Antarctic biodiversity and wilderness values.

Date: 04/01/20 - 9/30/22
Amount: $9,824.00
Funding Agencies: Academic Consortium 21

A workshop will be convened to establish a collaborative research network led by three AC21 member institutions, and to develop a research agenda that will engage other researchers, forming a research community for addressing high-priority knowledge gaps in the sustainable management of Antarctic tourism.

Date: 01/01/17 - 6/01/22
Amount: $371,697.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Interior (DOI)

We will: 1. Assess Game Land use in NC by estimating user days for key groups including: a. White-tailed deer hunters b. Black bear hunters c. Turkey hunters d. Small game hunters e. Hikers/walkers f. Birders g. Other recreationists (e.g., boaters, bicyclists) 2. Determine the economic contribution of Game Lands to the counties where they are located and to North Carolina, by: a. Assessing the economic impact of recreational activity that can be attributed to Game Lands b. Assessing the economic impact of recreational activity attributed to specific amenities on Game Lands including shooting ranges and field trials areas 3. Determine the non-market value of Game Lands in NC for beneficiaries in the counties where they are located by estimating: a. Willingness to pay by users and by local residents (as reflected in property values) b. The fiscal impact of Game Lands on local governments, by examining trade-offs between the amount and value of taxable land

Date: 07/01/12 - 8/31/19
Amount: $79,939.00
Funding Agencies: International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

The goal of this project is to revise the 2002 Sustainable Tourism Best Practice Guidelines (ST-BPG) document so that it is more relevant to protected area stakeholders globally in the 2010s and beyond. The Third Edition (ST-BPG3) incorporates new research, update the theoretical frameworks presented, use current case studies, and develop guidelines and recommendations relevant to the next 10-15 years. This project engages members of Tourism Specialist Group of the IUCN World Commission of Protected Areas, as well as managers, academics and other stakeholders of protected area tourism in enhancing the contents and utility of the document. The primary output of this project is the ST-BPG3 book (in English, French, German and Spanish) which contains 11 chapters, covering all essential topics of tourism and visitor management and protected areas. The project also produces an accompanying online resource directory that facilitates global sharing of relevant references and new best practices.

Date: 08/15/15 - 6/30/18
Amount: $185,689.00
Funding Agencies: Conservation Legacy

Multiple studies exist on the impact of environmental corps programs on participants (e.g., Duerden, et al., 2013; Education Northwest, 2013). Each evaluation provided strong evidence for the impact of the corps experience on participants’ community engagement, environmental engagement, teamwork, leadership, communication skills and grit. Emerging research demonstrates the efficacy of conservation work to provide broader social, health, and economic benefits. The primary relevant conservation activities conducted by corps are improvements to public lands and trail stewardship. Research suggests links between land improvement activities like those conducted by corps and many long-term community and ecosystem impacts. Improving public parks and habitats is associated with increased ecosystem services, improved biodiversity, and environmental health (Benayas et al., 2009; Suding, 2011). Controlling invasive species has major financial implications for many economic sectors (Pimentel, et al., 2005) and can also positively impact outdoor recreational activities (Eiswerth, et al., 2005; Julia, et al., 2007). Conservation activities can ensure that publicly accessible ecosystems remain healthy in light of high human contact (Alessa et al., 2003). Numerous studies have also indicated how poorly constructed trails negatively influence the quality of recreation experiences and decrease visitation (Roggenbuck, et al., 1993; Vaske, et al., 1993). When trails are built and maintained properly, they have the potential to produce direct economic benefits through visitor expenditures on equipment, food, transportation, and lodging (Moore, et al., 1994). Relevant to the evaluation, there are two primary long-term impacts associated with corps activities. First, improving public parks and habitats promotes ecosystem health. Second, improving trail conditions increases the quality of trails, leading to higher accessibility and usage, enhanced visitor experiences, and increased health outcomes. While measuring the long-term impact of these activities lie outside the scope of a program evaluation, key antecedent mechanisms will be evaluated as program outputs and outcomes. Based on preliminary work with NC State University, conservation corps, the Corps Network, and land management partners; Two research questions were developed to guide the outcome evaluations: 1. Do projects focused on improving or constructing trails improve the visually assessed quality of trails? 2. Do projects focused on improving, protecting, and restoring public parks and habitats improve visually assessed ecosystem health?

Date: 06/15/17 - 3/30/18
Amount: $45,235.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Interior (DOI)

Shackleford Banks is the southernmost island in Cape Lookout National Seashore and home to a herd of feral horses. The horses, along with the lighthouse and beaches, are the main visitor draws to the park. While technically a non-native species, the park has actively maintained the horses since 1996. The park’s enabling legislation was amended in August 1998 and December 2005 to set specific population and management guidelines for the horses. The horses live, behave and are managed like wildlife within their ecosystem. Increasing visitation and lack of understanding by visitors of how to keep wildlife wild is threatening the herd. Visitors routinely get too close to the horses, trying to take photos, touch or even feed the horses. Horses become habituated to people close by them, losing their healthy fear of humans which increases the chances that people will be hurt when horses act instinctively. Waves of visitors disembark from passenger ferries and pass by the same groups of horses each day, multiplying the disturbance effect. This two-year program has two components. Part A: Visitor-horse interactions will be studied to create written guidelines for the park’s ongoing Wild Horse Public Educational Campaign. The Campaign takes the educational message to the public in ongoing fashion by varied means. Part B: Wild horse oriented educational curricula will be created for 4-7th grades. Local teachers will be asked to advise, Common Core Standards will be followed, and the information will be made easy for teachers to use in order to increase its attractiveness. The use of wild horses as examples in the curriculum will bring the educational messages to young people, fostering attitudes of conservation and stewardship. The examples, worksheets and activities will be entered in the NPS Education Portal for maximum access.

Date: 05/01/15 - 12/31/17
Amount: $19,000.00
Funding Agencies: Appalachian Trail Conservancy

This subcontract contributes to the larger Virginia Tech-led study, which is designed to assess visitation-related impacts to a representative sample of trail segments along the 2,175-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.). Assessment protocols will be developed and applied to assess resource conditions of the A.T. tread and associated informal trails, overnight shelters and campsites, and related recreation sites. A variety of inventory and impact indicators will be quantitatively assessed to assemble spatially-referenced baseline data, conduct relational analyses to model and document the contribution of influential factors, evaluate trail and site sustainability, and develop management recommendations for avoiding or minimizing use-related resource impacts. The subcontract enables technical assistance in assessment protocol development, field data collection and analysis, and results dissemination of the project.

Date: 06/01/14 - 6/30/15
Amount: $16,330.00
Funding Agencies: US National Park Service

The cooperator will provide a detailed analysis of geospatial data gathered as part of pack stock monitoring to explore the use, grazing patterns and temporal variations, as well as relationships between natural and disturbance features in subalpine meadows of Yosemite National Park.

Date: 11/01/09 - 1/30/14
Amount: $134,747.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service

The National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council identified public health impacts of urban forests as a research priority. Two of the ten leading public health challenges in the U.S. are physical inactivity and obesity. Studies of the built environment show that community design and urban form shape opportunities for physical activity. Few studies have examined the specific contributions that urban and community forests make to public health through physical activity. This study proposes to examine the potential for urban forests to promote physical activity and health. A multidisciplinary team of researchers will compile and integrate national epidemiologic and health surveillance data with data from urban forest inventory databases to examine relationships among urban forest characteristics and physical activity and health. One level of analyses will examine these relationships between cities, exploring national trends. A second level of analysis will employ higher resolution data to focus on three metropolitan areas to determine the relative influence of urban forest characteristics, community design, and population characteristics on physical activity and obesity. Results of the study will be of great interest to policy makers and professionals working in the natural resources and public health arenas.

View all grants