Bridging the gap between knowledge and action

It is now becoming clear that the power of the consumer can be a major force for progress towards greater sustainability by the tourism industry, acting as a rationale for change, which is often missing from more traditional planning, management or regulatory techniques (Miller, 2003). From the environmental perspective, the journey to the destinations is the most critical aspect of traveling (Böhler et al., 2005), since the consequences of flying or using a car are an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and further environmental damage. Therefore, if the consumer behavior in this area could be changed towards a more sustainable one, it would be crucial for protecting and enhancing opportunities for the future travelers, the main goal of the sustainable tourism according to the WTO (1998).

Having read Miller’s et al. article on public understanding of sustainable tourism and leisure (2010), I became intrigued by the fact that the “deficit model” of behavior change (i.e. information creates awareness of the problem, which leads to the individual changing their behavior appropriately) does not always work when it comes to tourists’ changing their travelling patterns in order to maintain sustainability. In fact, the research showed that travelers were resistant to change their behavior unless other people and developing countries changed, often expressing a sense of entitlement to enjoy their holidays as they chose, unencumbered by the need to think about the impacts it was having (Miller et al., 2010).

This led me to search for other publications on this problem, since I wanted to study various points of view on the issue. Thus, a study conducted by Böhler et al. (2005) revealed that although most travelers they had interviewed had strong environmental values, these values had no influence on travel behavior. The researches explained it by the fact that connection between environmental impact and holiday behavior was not made by the individuals. Reasons for this could include lack of information as well as non-consideration of alternative options due to the high importance individuals attribute to holidays (Böhler et al., 2005). Tourists only rarely make the connection between causes (e.g. emissions from air travel) and effects (climate change) (Kasemir et al., 2000).

S. Becken (2004) in her article How Tourists and Tourism Experts Perceive Climate Change and Carbon-offsetting Schemes opines that holidays are undertaken to achieve personal benefits and it could therefore be concluded that the environmental risks associated with holidays are underestimated, and accordingly changes in travel behavior (e.g. trip suppression or shift to low-emission transport modes) are less likely to happen compared with situations in everyday life. The phenomenon of people acting for their personal benefit but against the good of society is commonly referred to as the ‘tragedy-of-the-commons’. Becken (2004) also stresses that while information and environmental education are important to induce behavioral change, they are not sufficient, because both environmental attitudes and behavior are heavily influenced by affect and not only by cognition.

Surprisingly to me, S. Gössling and P. Peeters (2007) in their work entitled It Does Not Harm the Environment! came to the conclusion that only few “alternative messages” provided by environmental organizations or scientific bodies seem to enter public awareness. Information factually entering the public debate, for example through newspaper articles, seems to have little influence on policies or the behavior of tourists. The authors explained that by the fact that many people seem to believe there is no scientific consensus about climate change and that individual behavioral change is irrelevant in the face of uncertainty. In researchers’opinion, such a “psychology of denial” seems particularly strong in the context of air travel, the fastest growing transport sector.

Having studied the above-mentioned sources, I came to conclusion that I would be interested in finding out why is there such a gap between tourists’ awareness of the environmental problems resulting from travelling and their desire to make changes to their travel patterns. So, the research question goes as follows: Why the “deficit model” of behavior change does not always work when it comes to tourists’ changing their travelling patterns to more sustainable ones?

Miller, G.(2003) ‘Consumerism in sustainable tourism: a survey of UK consumers’, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 11: 1, 17-39

Böhler S. et al. (2006) ‘Encouraging environmentally sustainable holiday travel’, Transportation Research Part A 40 652-670

Miller G. et al. (2010) ‘Public understanding of sustainable tourism’, Annals of Tourism Research 37 627-645

Kasemir, B., Dahinden, U., Swartling, A.G., Schuele, R., Tabara, D. and Jaeger, C.C. (2000) ‘Citizens perspectives on climate change and energy use’, Global Environmental ChangelO (3), 169-84

Becken S. (2004) ‘How tourists and tourism experts perceive climate change and carbon-offsetting schemes’, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 12: 4

Gössling S., Peeters P. (2007) ‘It does not harm the environment! An analysis of industry discourses on tourism, air travel and the environment’, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 15: 4

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