Governments should recognize that interest in the sustainability of tourism is growing amongst many private sector enterprises and within visitor markets. They should take account of this when seeking to persuade the tourism industry to take sustainability more seriously, pointing out the advantages for attracting new business and the overall profitability of a more sustainable approach.
Understanding tourists’ attitudes—more than a niche market response Governments need to understand what is important to tourists if they are to influence their behaviour effectively. It has been suggested that tourists are not generally interested in the sustainability of the trips they take, and that this is a major constraint on the pursuit of more sustainable tourism. However, the interpretation of tourist response depends on the nature of the questions asked.
For example, although studies of the ecotourism market (e.g. those carried out by the WTO8 ) have concluded that this is indeed a small (albeit growing) niche market, such surveys attempted specifically to identify tourists and tour operators that were looking for, or selling, special interest holidays involving nature observation and concern for conservation as a primary motivation for the trip. Wider surveys that have attempted to assess the degree to which general consumers are interested in the interrelationship between their activities as tourists and the environment and host communities (rather than their response to the concept of sustainability as a whole) suggest a far wider relevance in the market place. They point to:
• Very high levels of concern for environment and society in destinations, where the issue is likely to directly affect the tourist’s own wellbeing (e.g. cleanness of the water and levels of safety).
• High and growing levels of interest by tourists in visiting natural and cultural sites during their holidays, and the authenticity and educational value of such experiences. This applies to general holidaymakers as well as to those with a specialist interest.
• Large numbers of tourists expressing concern about the impact of their travelling, both through their own actions and in their choice of tour operator or service provider.
• Considerable willingness to pay more to support local environments and communities.
Some statistical evidence backing up these conclusions is presented in Box 1.2.
Despite this positive feedback, it is important to be realistic about the balance of influences on holiday choice. Visitor surveys and practical experience suggest that overall perceived attractiveness of a destination, climate, convenience, quality of facilities, and price still far outweigh concerns for the impact of travel. However, the latter concerns do make a difference to holiday choices if the former factors are considered equal. It also appears that tourists are more likely to be concerned about impacts on the local environment and the quality of life of their hosts than about global issues. Finally, there is less evidence that tourists have actually taken actions to change their travel and consumption patterns, despite their expressed concern and interest.
The challenge therefore remains to provide more leadership, incentives and information to ensure a genuine response. In line with the broad approach advocated in this Guide, the strategy should be to encourage all tourists to be more aware of the impacts of their travelling and be more interested and concerned about host populations, rather than to try to seek out the ‘sustainable tourist’.