Journal of Environmental Protection, 2011, 2, 1046-1054
doi:10.4236/jep.2011.28120 Published Online October 2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Seasonal Differences in Visitor Perceptions: A
Comparative Study of Three Mountainous
National Parks in Central Europe
Tomas Gorner1,2, Martin Cihar1
1Institute for Environmental Studies, Charles University in Prague, Prague, Czech Republic; 2Agency for Nature Conservation and
Landscape Protection of the Czech Republic, Prague, Czech Republic.
Received August 2nd, 2011; revised September 4th, 2011; accepted October 5th, 2011.
This paper compares the views and attitudes of visitors to three key mountain national parks and Biosphere Reserves:
Sumava National Park (Sumava NP, Czech Republic), Krkonose National Park (KRNAP, Czech Republic) and Karko-
noski Park Narodowy (KPN, Poland). A large numbers of people visit these destinatio ns bo th in the summer (e.g. hikers
and cyclists) and in the winter (e.g. hikers and skiers), which threatens sustainability and creates problems regarding
the management of these areas. A comprehensive understanding of visitor use, including visitors attitudes and percep-
tions, is fundamental for effective park management. Most research in these national parks is carried out during the
summer season, therefore different results in the win ter season are expected . Using a standardised socio -environ mental
survey we attempt to find seasonal differences between visitors and their opinions. A total of 2252 questionnaires were
gathered. There were 13 common questions for these three national parks, three of them yielded significantly different
results between the two seasons (visitors nationality, type of accommodation and financial costs). Other differences
were detected in one or two national parks.
Keywords: Sustainable tour ism, National parks, Mountain region s, Seasonal differences, Monitoring
1. Introduction
The substantial growth of tourism clearly makes the in-
dustry one of the most remarkable economic and social
phenomena of the past century. One of the fastest grow-
ing subsectors of tourism is nature-based tourism. Much
of this growth concerns increasing numbers of people
visiting protected areas [1]. Thus, the tourist trade de-
rives benefits from the existence of protected areas. The
relationships between tourism development and nature
conservation are particularly important when tourism is
partly or totally based on values derived from nature and
nature resources. Tourism and nature conservation can
be in conflict or in symbiosis. Symbiosis is the case
when tourism and nature conservation are organised in
such a way that both these disciplines derive benefits
from the relationship [2]. There are many definitions of
sustainable tourism development. One of these states that
sustainable tourism is a positive approach intended to
reduce the tensions and frictions created by the complex
interactions between the tourism industry, visitors, the
environment and the communities which are host to
holidaymakers. This approach involves working for the
longer viability and quality of both natural and human
resources [3].
Tourists are central stakeholders of national parks and
other protected areas [4]. The quality of visitors’ on-site
experience is an important factor influencing and under-
lying much sustainable tourism. Tourists, who are satis-
fied and appreciative of visited settings and support ser-
vices, help sustain the business in the region both as ex-
isting and repeat visitors and through referrals [5].
Most of what is known about visitors and their inter-
actions with each other and with the park environment
has come from verbal surveys. Verbal surveys are still an
essential tool for protected area visitor research. Many
important questions can be addressed most efficiently
and effectively by putting questions to visitors and ob-
taining their answers. Some significant questions can
only be addressed this way. Moreover, in some cases (e.g.
politics and public relations), what people say can be
more important than what they do [6].
Seasonal Differences in Visitor Perceptions: A Comparative Study of Three Mountainous National Parks 1047
in Central Europe
With regards tourism in the mountainous areas of Cen-
tral Europe (i.e. the Alps, the Carpathians, the Giant
Mountains, Sumava) there are two main tourist seasons:
summer and winter. The main activities of winter visitors
are downhill and cross-country skiing, while summer
tourists prefer hiking and cycling. There is a long history
of both summer and winter recreation in these regions,
and many have been established as protected areas. The
monitoring of tourism in the Czech Republic’s moun-
tainous protected areas is located mostly in the national
parks and Biosphere Reserves [7-9]. However, these
studies are not pursued annually. The only systematic
research is carried out by the Institute for Environmental
Studies, Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague.
This Institute has collected data about tourists (both
qualitative and quantitative) annually since 1997 in the
Czech Republic’s two largest national parks (Sumava NP,
Krkonose NP) [10-11]. In the remaining two national
parks in the Czech Republic (Podyji NP and Ceske Svy-
carsko NP) visitors were monitored in 2000 and in 2010.
Moreover, questionnaires with local people and mayors
of villages in national parks have also been pursued. The
first monitoring of residents took place in 1997 and this
has been repeated every fifth year. Nowadays, over 14
years of monitoring, including 11,850 completed ques-
tionnaires with visitors and 1265 completed question-
naires with local people have been collected and ana-
lysed making it possible to observe several trends during
this period.
National parks in this study also have two main tourist
seasons (winter and summer). However, the above men-
tioned tourism monitoring takes place only in the sum-
mer season. In practice annual data cannot always meet
the requirements of decision and policy makers in tour-
ism because the characteristics, attitudes and preferences
of winter visitors can differ from summer visitors. There-
fore it is necessary to take seasonality into account. This
can be defined as a cyclical pattern that more or less re-
peats itself each year. It usually refers to a temporal im-
balance in demand, and may be expressed in terms of the
number of tourists, their expenditure, and bed nights [12].
A good understanding of seasonality in tourism is essen-
tial for the efficient management of tourism infrastruc-
ture [13]. This seasonality could be caused by two ele-
ments. The first is connected with regular variations in
natural phenomena (temperature, snow, sunlight) during
the year. People have different preferences on these con-
ditions. The second element depends on social and insti-
tutional factors and includes holidays, school schedules
etc. [14-15]. Most of the studies describe seasonal varia-
tions in tourism intensity that result in a number of nega-
tive effects on the destination and in the economy of the
region [16-17]. However, while the majority of seasona-
lity studies focuses on quantitative aspects, the qualita-
tive part could also be important and the timing of the
survey may affect the results [18]. Regarding local peo-
ple, changes in attitudes, depending on the season, has
also been documented [18-19]. In these studies, the sur-
vey was delivered in the quiet season (when residents are
starting to run low on income) and in the peak season
(when residents are sick of tourism).
This study was prepared to find possible differences
between the two main tourist seasons in these areas. In
our hypothesis, we expected another accommodation
preferences, attitudes to environmental problems, diffe-
rent perception of tourism intensity and also higher fi-
nancial costs in winter season. The research is financed
by the Czech Ministry of the Environment with signifi-
cant cooperation from the Administrations of National
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Study areas (Figure 1)
Sumava National Park is located in the south of the
Czech Republic along the border with Germany and
Austria. It includes the most valuable parts of the Su-
mava Mountains. Covering an area of 68,064 hectares,
Sumava NP is the largest national park in the Czech Re-
public, and was established in 1991. The highest peak,
Plechy, reaches to 1378 m. Sumava NP with the neigh-
bouring Bavarian Forest National Park (24,250ha) covers
approximately one-third of the whole of the forested area
of the Sumava Mountains and the Bavarian Forest, form-
ing together the largest forest complex in Central Europe.
Secondary spruce forests are the dominating cover, but
remnants of virgin spruce forests are still present at alti-
tudes above 1200 m. Due to its location within densely
populated Central Europe, and to its relatively high wild-
life conservation, and to rich water resources, Sumava
NP is often referred to as the “Green Roof of Europe”,
the international significance of which is ever-increasing.
This area was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNE-
SCO in 1990.
The area of Sumava NP has been evacuated and re-
inhabited several times in the past because of the Second
World War and for political reasons. From the end of the
1940s to 1989 a special border zone between capitalism
and socialism (“Iron Curtain”) and military areas was
established at Sumava. In this area, the existing settle-
ment structure was practically liquidated. After the Iron
Curtain fell in 1990, there was a possibility to reach areas
which had previously been inaccessible for a long time.
However, pressure on the recreational use of the land is
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Seasonal Differences in Visitor Perceptions: A Comparative Study of Three Mountainous National Parks
in Central Europe
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Figure 1. Map of the survey localization.
still increasing, as are summer and winter activities. Ap-
proximately 600,000 tourists visit Sumava NP every year
and more than two million now visit the whole Sumava
Krkonose National Park (KRNAP) is situated in
north-eastern Bohemia along the border with Poland. It
was founded in 1963 and became the first national park
in the Czech Republic, and now covers 54,969 hectares.
Its goal is to preserve the natural values of the Krkonose
Mountains (Giant Mountains), the highest mountain
range in the Czech Republic (the highest peak Snezka is
1602 m). During its geological evolution, the northern
and alpine ecosystems mixed here and the surprisingly
rich biodiversity is reflected in the occurrence of a num-
ber of endemic and glacial relicts. More than 80% of the
park and its transitional zone is covered by forest eco-
systems that are closely connected with the ecosystems
of alpine grasses, sub-alpine peat bogs, glacial corries,
and flower-rich mountain meadows. Since 1992 KRNAP,
together with the neighbouring Karkonosze NP, has been
included in the Bilateral Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO),
a total area of 60,500 hectares.
KRNAP is one of the most frequently visited areas of
the Czech Republic and the most visited national park in
the country with 5.4 million annual visitors. A study by
Banas [20] deals with the amount of visitors per hectare
of protected area and according to this study, KRNAP is
the most exploited national park in Europe (98 people/
Karkonosze National Park (Karkonoski Park Naro-
dowy) (KPN) covers the highest part of the Giant Moun-
tains on the Polish side and was established in 1959.
Nowadays the park covers 5,575 hectares, mostly in the
zones of upper sub-alpine forest and sub-alpine shrub
and is generally confined within the main Krkonose
Mountains range. Strict protection applies to the areas
above the upper forest boundary (a total of 1717 ha).
Furthermore 40 hectares of peat bogs are designated a
Ramsar international wetland site. There are 30 animal,
18 vascular plant, 14 moss and 27 lichen species in-
cluded in the Polish Red Book. Despite the extensive
human exploitation of the Karkonosze wildlife and for-
ests since the 15th century, many ecosystems, especially
the mountainous ones, have retained their natural char-
acter. However, the easily accessible lower parts of the
mountains have significantly changed. As in the Czech
part of the Giant Mountains, the main anthropogenic
threats for Karkonosze wildlife are air pollution (mainly
SO2) and tourism. The closest tourist centres are Karpacz
and Szklarska Poreba. Both are located on the park’s
border, and both are very popular as summer and winter
vacation spots. [21]. The south-west of Poland is densely
populated and the park is a popular tourist destination.
Over 2.5 million people visit every year, mainly from
Poland and Germany. They can use 112 km of marked
hiking routes (some of them can also be used for moun-
Seasonal Differences in Visitor Perceptions: A Comparative Study of Three Mountainous National Parks 1049
in Central Europe
tain biking), 10 ski lifts and 12 guest houses.
2.2. Qualitative Research
The questionnaire was split into six sections with 25
questions in total. The opening section involves informa-
tion about how many times the visitors had been to the
park and which season they preferred to visit. The se-
cond section refers to transport and accommodation.
There are questions about means of transport to and in
the park and about place and type of accommodation
including cost of living. One question is designed to de-
termine visitor satisfaction with the cost of living. We
used a five-point Likert scale [22] ranging from very
dissatisfied to very satisfied. The following part used a
five-point Likert-type scale too and asked respondents to
rate the importance of their motivation for visiting the
park. We also find here the activities visitors want to take
part in. The section about environmental awareness com-
prises visitor knowledge of ecological problems in the
park and an evaluation of the state of the environment.
Further parts elicited information about tourist evaluation
of conservation and tourism management in the park.
The last question provided a check on visitors’ percep-
tion of tourism intensity on hiking tracks and in centres
and their vicinity. The final part seeks sociodemographic
data about the visitors (age, gender, place of residence,
occupation and education). The structure of the ques-
tionnaire was very similar in all selected national parks.
Direct interviews were used in this study with visitors
interviewed in the field at selected crossings of hiking
trails where monitoring of hikes was available. There
were four crossings in KPN (Kopa, Śląski Dom, Schro-
nisko pod Łabskim Szczytem and Szrenica), five in
KRNAP (the viewpoint at Kozi hrbety, Lucni bouda,
Ruzohorky, crossroad U ctyr panu and crossroad under
Snezka) and five in Sumava NP (Antygl, Breznik, Hor-
ska Kvilda, Kvilda and Modrava). The observed period
was nine days (five weekdays and two weekends) in the
middle of August from 9 am to 6 pm. In winter (in the
middle of February in KPN and KRNAP and during five
weekends in January and February in Sumava NP) tour-
ists were interviewed from 9 am to 4 pm. As to the me-
thod of selecting people for the poll, this was carried out
on a random basis and the questionnaires were strictly
anonymous [23]. The respondents also had to be over the
age of 15.
The completed questionnaires were processed in the
form of database files using Microsoft Access and Mi-
crosoft Excel. Statistical Programme Statgraphics Plus,
version 5.1 was used for statistical evaluation of these
data. We used the χ2 test for evaluating cases where re-
sults differed between summer and winter seasons.
3. Results and Discussion
In the course of our research for this study 2252 com-
pleted questionnaires were gathered, computer processed
and analysed (KPN 476, KRNAP 695, Sumava NP 1081).
The refusal rate was low (9.4%) and the most common
reason for refusal was “no time” (45%), while “no inter-
est” accounted for 38%. There were 13 common ques-
tions for these three national parks. Three issues yielded
significantly different results (P < 0.05) between the two
seasons in all monitored national parks: the visitor’s na-
tionality, type of accommodation and financial costs. All
detected statistically significant differences are summa-
rised in Table 1.
In the case of visitors’ nationality, domestic tourists
prevailed in all three national parks (Table 2). Foreign
visitors preferred the summer season in Sumava NP in
contrast to the winter season. Most were German (more
than 50% from all foreigners) and Slovakian (almost
20%). The same situation occurred in KRNAP. In sum-
mer, approximately one-third of all respondents were
foreigners (predominantly German and Polish). In winter,
only every fifth visitor to this national park was a for-
eigner. Apart from this, foreigners visited KPN more
frequently in winter in comparison with the summer
season. In the case of neighbouring KRNAP and KPN,
German tourists preferred the Polish side of the Giant
Mountains in winter months and they visited the opposite
side of the border (KRNAP) in the summer season more
With regard to visitors’ type of accommodation, it is
also possible to observe statistically different preferences
between the summer and winter seasons (Figure 2). Re-
search in both Czech national parks pointed to similar
results and differed from the Polish national parks. In
KRNAP and Sumava NP there was a substantial increase
in the “Other” category in the summer season (most
common types of accommodation in this category was
staying with relatives, friends and outdoors) and a de-
crease in the “Company property” category. Visitors in
Sumava NP also gave priority to hotels in the winter
season. KPN visitors preferred the “Other” and “Bed and
breakfast (pension)” categories in winter in comparison
with the summer months. Of course, the summer season
provides a new and indispensable type of accommoda-
tion—camping. This type of accommodation is mostly
typical for Czech tourists; 10% of Sumava NP visitors
spent time in camps during their summer holidays. For
example, only 1.5% of visitors in the neighbouring Bay-
erischer Wald National Park spent their time in this type
of accommodation [24]. This number is also decreasing,
our annual research pointed to a regular decline from
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Seasonal Differences in Visitor Perceptions: A Comparative Study of Three Mountainous National Parks
in Central Europe
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Table 1. Comparison of winter and summer visitors in Karkonoski Park Narodowy (KPN), Krkonossky NP (KRNAP) and
Sumava NP (NPS) (X - statistical difference between summer and winter survey, P < 0.05).
Age group - - -
Nationality - - -
Gender - - -
Education - - -
Occupation - - -
Nationality X X X
Size of the town X - X
Type of accommodation X X X
Length of stay X - -
Means of transport - X -
Financial costs (FC) X X X
Satisfactory with FC X - -
Perception of tourism intensity on hiking tracks X - X
Perception of tourism intensity in the centres - X X
Table 2. Visitors’ nationality in % (W-winter, S-summer).
Czech Republic 3.6 4.7 80.2 65.7 97.5 94.4
Germany 29.0 6.2 15.4 23.3 1.0 3.9
Poland 67.4 85.5 1.2 7.9 0.0 0.0
Others 0.0 3.6 3.1 3.2 1.5 1.7
Figure 2. Type of accommodation of visitors.
Seasonal Differences in Visitor Perceptions: A Comparative Study of Three Mountainous National Parks 1051
in Central Europe
20% in 1997. The fall in camp visitors could be traced
not only in Sumava NP but also in other Czech national
parks (KRNAP 3.9% in 1997 versus 2.3% in 2010;
Ceske Svycarsko National Park 21.3% in 2000 versus
14.2% in 2010). The Czech Statistical Office also notes
the annual decline of accommodation in campsites in the
whole Czech Republic, in its Statistical Yearbooks of the
Czech Republic (accessible from Young
people are especially keen on sleeping outdoors. They
have a high regard for the temporary overnight campsites
that were recently established for tourists who travel
through Sumava on the red marked trail, leading along-
side the national border from Nova Pec all the way to
Zelezna Ruda.
The question concerning financial costs was connected
to this issue. Winter visitors spent more money in com-
parison with summer tourists as we expected in the hy-
pothesis. The most significant differences were observ-
able in Sumava NP. More than one-third of visitors spent
their time in hotels in the winter. In the summer, staying
in camps, with relatives and friends and sleeping out-
doors is very popular and 38.7% of summer visitors es-
timated their expenses on board and lodging per person
per day as less than 300Kc (€12.5). Only 29.7% of win-
ter tourists paid the same price. On the other hand, 24.3%
of winter visitors spent more than 800Kc (€33) (apart
from 11.5% of summer tourists). A very similar situation
was found in the other two national parks. With the ex-
ception of accommodation, other activities are also more
expensive in winter in these areas. It is necessary to
mention ski-lift fares (almost one-third of respondents
stated they used ski-lifts at least once during their stay in
a national park) and more frequent indoor activities
(swimming pools, bowling, etc.).
Focusing on the sociodemographic characteristics of
visitors, this study revealed no seasonal differences in
age groups, gender, education and occupation of tourists.
Another situation arose with regards the size of the
town where visitors live. It detected statistically signifi-
cant differences between summer and winter visitors in
KPN and Sumava NP (Figure 3). In Polish national
parks visitors from the bigger towns prevailed (100,000 -
1 million) in the winter season. This is due to the geo-
graphical position of this area—it is located approxi-
mately 120 km from Wroclaw, the main city of south-
western Poland (population 633,000). Tourists from cit-
ies with a population of more than one million (the near-
est being Prague, Berlin and Warsaw) were also rela-
tively frequent (16.3%). Apart from this, more people
from smaller towns visited KPN (10,000 - 100,000) in
the summer season. A similar situation was observed in
KRNAP. One-third of winter visitors came from cities
with a population of more than one million people (pre-
dominantly Prague), compared to 22% of summer tour-
ists. Sumava NP showed an inverse trend—only 17% of
winter visitors were from Prague. Sumava does not offer
such winter facilities (i.e. ski lifts) as the Giant Moun-
tains. Moreover, many people go to closely located ski
resorts in the Alps. The winter season rather attracted
people from neighbouring districts (from towns with a
population of 2000 - 10,000).
Seasonal variations were also reported in the expected
length of stay (Figure 4). The most frequent period of
stay for all three parks was one week. Visitors to the Gi-
ant Mountains (KPN, KRNAP) preferred one-day visits
in summer more than in winter. In winter one week stays
Figure 3. Size of the town where visitors live.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Seasonal Differences in Visitor Perceptions: A Comparative Study of Three Mountainous National Parks
in Central Europe
Figure 4. Expected length of stay of visitors.
prevailed. The Giant Mountains offer the best skiing op-
portunities in the surrounding areas. Visitors travel to
this area from more distant places, and a one day visit is
also not economically advantageous. Operators of ac-
commodation facilities are also unwilling to put visitors
up for less than three days, especially in winter. The
situation in Sumava NP was quite the opposite. Accom-
modation within the park is limited and many tourists
come from the nearest surroundings (see previous para-
Concerning means of transport to the national parks,
the car was the most popular in both seasons (Figure 5).
The highest car dependency was detected in Sumava NP,
especially in winter. Apart from this, KPN and KRNAP
visitors used cars mostly in the summer. In these areas
other means of transport played a more important role.
There is a better railway connection on the Polish side of
the Giant Mountains (to Szklarska Poreba), therefore
almost 30% of winter visitors to KPN used the train as a
means of transport to this destination. The study detected
significant seasonal difference in this topic in KRNAP.
There was a substantial increase in tourists who travelled
to this area with travel agencies in the winter. The winter
season was also typical for package holidays (almost
one-quarter of respondents) whereas summer visitors
preferred individual transport.
Visitors’ perception of tourism intensity also showed
significant seasonal differences. Compared with the sum-
mer, fewer winter tourists evaluated tourism intensity as
high and disturbing in Sumava NP (39.1% versus 52.2%
in tourist centres; 21.6% versus 43.8% on hiking tracks).
Similar results were obtained from KPN. Approximately
13.2% of winter visitors evaluated tourism intensity on
hiking tracks as high and disturbing, whereas almost
25% of summer tourists replied in the same way.
In contrast, in KRNAP, the feeling that tourism in
tourist centres is too concentrated was more widely held
by tourists in the winter season (27.4%) than in the
summer (22.9%). This issue is closely connected with
the carrying capacity of these areas. Four categories of
carrying capacity have been identified: physical, eco-
logical, economic and perceptual. The latter is defined as
the level of use before a decline in the users’ recreational
experience [25]. Martin and Uysal [26] assigned these
types of carrying capacity to each stage of the tourism
life cycle. They also highlighted the most important fac-
tors for each stage. Physical carrying capacity is limiting
for the early stage. Ecological and perceptual aspects
(closely connected with economic ones) become in-
creasingly important in maintaining an attraction in its
mature phase and in preventing its decline.
These results point to different characteristics of sum-
mer and winter tourists. According to this study, the tim-
ing of the survey could affect the results of visitors’ qua-
litative research.
4. Conclusions
Tourists’ attitudes and preferences are important because
they predict tourist satisfaction and future behaviour.
Satisfied visitors are more likely to revisit an area. The
results of this study show significant differences in char-
acteristics and preferences of visitors in two main tourist
seasons in three mountainous national parks. According
to this study, the timing of the survey administration
opyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Seasonal Differences in Visitor Perceptions: A Comparative Study of Three Mountainous National Parks 1053
in Central Europe
Figure 5. Means of transport to the national park.
could affect the results of visitors’ qualitative research.
These results of qualitative surveys in winter and sum-
mer tourist seasons have been, and will be, very impor-
tant for several reasons. First, they reveal various dy-
namic user profiles and attitudes between two main tour-
ist seasons in the selected national parks. Whereas most
research is carried out during the summer season in these
areas, this study demonstrates that the results from the
relatively economically crucial winter season may be
different. The research found three significantly different
items depending on the timing of the survey: visitors’
nationality, type of accommodation and financial costs.
Domestic tourists prevailed in all three national parks.
More foreigners visited Sumava NP and KRNAP in
summer than in winter, while the situation in KPN was
strictly opposite. Both Czech national parks evinced
similar seasonal differences in accommodation (an in-
crease in the “Other” category in the summer season and
a decrease in the “Company property” category in this
period), visitors to Sumava NP also gave priority to ho-
tels in the winter season. KPN visitors preferred the
“Other” and “Bed and breakfast” (pension) categories in
winter in comparison with the summer months. Winter
visitors spent more money in comparison with summer
Concerning carrying capacity, in KRNAP, the feeling
that tourism is too concentrated was more widely held by
tourists in the winter season than in the summer season.
The carrying capacity of visitor numbers seems to have
nearly been reached. Some management options like
periodic traffic limitations, restrictions of new construc-
tion development (and supporting improvement of exist-
ing facilities) or park entrance fees could improve this
Tourists also had different perceptions of environ-
mental problems in the summer and winter seasons. Win-
ter tourists did not see tourism as a threat, in contrast to
summer research at the same site. Management of the
park should focus on consistency and the direct and in-
direct effects of summer and winter tourist seasons, as
well as tourist awareness of the negative impacts of tour-
ism on the sensitive mountain environment in winter (e.g.
by using information centres, brochures, tourist guides,
rangers, environmental information system of the park
Results from this study, together with data about local
residents in Czech national parks, provide appropriate
indicators of sustainable development in (not only)
Czech protected areas. The outcomes of the survey are
being used for design priorities for the management of
environmental protection at local, regional and national
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