Gold Coast residents are characterised by an overall attitude of tolerance toward Schoolies Week, new Griffith University research reveals.

An online survey of 880 adults living on the Gold Coast shows a diverse range of attitudes towards the annual celebration which brings an estimated 40,000 high school leavers to the Queensland city each year.

The research project was led by Professor David Weaver and Associate Professor Laura Lawton at Griffith’s Department of Tourism, Sport and Hotel Management.

Data analysis separated participants into four categories, supporters of Schoolies Week (15%), conditional supporters (33%), conditional opponents (33.6%) and opponents (18.4%).

About one-quarter of residents in each of the two supportive groups reported a personal Schoolie experience in their past, compared with one-seventh in the two opposing groups.

“Supporters are more likely to rely on their own and their children’s Schoolie experience,” Professor Weaver said.

“Opponents are more likely to be influenced by mass media, social circles and negative personal exposure. They tend to be ‘knowledge reinforcers’ who lack empathy with Schoolies Week and rely heavily on anti-Schoolies Week social representations.

“More balanced media coverage, featuring first-hand experiences of supporters, may be one way to foster more positive attitudes among a population that lacks such exposure.

“Foreign-born residents are less supportive of Schoolies Week and even supporters acknowledge a rogue element of Schoolies and predators that appears to account for most of the negative impacts.

“There was no indication that residents of Surfers Paradise have less positive attitudes than other Gold Coast residents.”

Participants in the conditional clusters were more likely to take a balanced cost-benefit view of Schoolies Week, particularly at a community level, the survey showed.

“The assumption that an event has an essentially positive impact on a destination is tenuous if the event is contentiously themed, characterised by widespread anti-social behaviour, and only partially controlled.

“Schoolies is an economically important event on the Gold Coast calendar but it is also a rite of passage where peer pressure, fringe elements and a more broadly alcohol-tolerant culture conspire to encourage deviant over-indulgence and high risk behaviour.

“Complex resident attitudes are to be expected.”

A research paper by Professor Weaver and Associate Professor Lawton was published in the journal Tourism Management.