The tourism industry has historically been developed for people seeking a hedonistic experience, an escape from the normality of everyday life, and tourists often leave their values at home, including those related to environmental sustainability. As tourism becomes more accessible and affordable to most socio-economic levels, the number of people travelling across the globe continues to grow and, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, was expected to reach 1.8 billion by 2030 [1
]. Whilst this continuously growing industry has proven beneficial in creating jobs and increasing the wealth of many localities, the adverse environmental impacts of tourism are also steadily increasing. Among these impacts, an estimate conducted on 160 countries showed that the tourism industry contributes approximately 4.5 gigatons of greenhouse gases per annum [2
]. That figure is significantly higher than previous estimates, as it combines the ancillary sectors of the industry, and it is predicted to climb to 6.5 gigatons of greenhouse gases by 2025 [2
]. Further, tourist experiences consume a notable amount of energy and thus create additional and significant carbon dioxide emissions [3
]. Many of these emissions are related to electricity usage and, more prevalently, air and road transport [4
]. Interestingly, tourist activities were recorded as more energy intensive in comparison to tourist attractions, and a combined countries’ focus on tourist activities would lead to greater demand for energy use [3
A further contribution that increases the adverse environmental impact of tourism is the phenomenon of overtourism [5
]. Overtourism is typically considered antithetical to the ideal of responsible tourism [6
]. Overtourism is defined by a situation where the number of tourists impairs the quality of life for communities and quality of experience for other tourists. An example could be seen in Boracay Island, Philippines, where the large number of tourists have strained the natural environment and inadequate facilities such as water management and sewerage [7
]. Whilst the impacts of overtourism are not exclusive to the natural environment (as seen, for example, through the damage caused to the ecology, economics, infrastructure, and culture in Venice, Italy), that is where their impacts will have the most enduring effects [8
It is important to note that tourism has contributed to an increase in economic sustainability in local communities, and social sustainability has improved through awareness of local cultures and a platform for small business owners to make a living. However, on the other hand, these positive changes cannot be dismissed in favour of environmental preservation. A commonly discussed theme is how the changing climate is impacting tourism in turn by altering seasons, destination popularity, and thus revenues [9
]. Extreme and unpredictable weather is reducing tourist traffic; for example, hurricanes severely affect the Caribbean islands during increasingly severe hurricane seasons, and in turn, the islands have experienced a significant decrease in tourism traffic [10
]. Moreover, changes in temperature are shifting tourist seasons altogether (October in Botswana is no longer a popular travel period due to significant increases in temperature and erratic precipitation [11
]), and some rain seasons prevent river inundations, pausing all river activities [12
]. Unpredictability of climate and weather will also come at a cost as insurance and travel companies consider claims and guarantees on tourist experiences, many of which are weather-dependent [10
There is often debate about what sustainability means and in which context it should be understood. Through the lens of this paper, sustainability can be viewed in two ways. The primary focus of sustainability here in tourism, and specifically for tourist sites, is that for the industry to be considered sustainable, it should leave sites in equal or improved condition to when they were found or established (similarly to the definition that [13
] applied in the context of bioeconomy). The second lens to view sustainable tourism through is the idea of balancing environmental, economic, and social sustainability [14
The literature suggests that, as of the 1990s, the idea of sustainable development had already received widespread recognition [15
]. This challenges whether the idea of sustainability has gained traction due to a genuine societal understanding or as a popular trend, suggesting that action is more tokenistic than driven by change [15
]. Similarly, the literature associates the idea of ecotourism as a concept that values principles of sustainability, respect for and appreciation of the environment, and respect and understanding of a region or environment’s indigenous context and background [16
]. However, in the tourism sector, environmental, economic, and social sustainability have not yet been harmonized. Problematically, revenue often takes precedence over conservation at tourist sites, and using the Galapagos, Ecuador, as an example, there is a concern that a focus on conservation will be to the detriment of economic growth [17
]. More than half of World Heritage sites lack environmental sustainability management integrated into their business plans, leaving a gap in ensuring the longevity of sites for future generations to enjoy and to sustain reliant businesses [18
]. Interestingly, at the same time, awareness is increasing between managers in the tourism industry regarding the notion that their sustained success is dependent upon the environment that they operate in. Conservation efforts are in the interest of the business itself: if the site is endangered, the revenue ceases [19
Although many studies have proposed management plans for specific tourism sites (e.g., South Sulawesi Province in Indonesia [20
], Porto Santo in Madeira, Portugal [21
], Polish National Parks [22
]), research that incorporates tourists’ behavior and opinions is scarce, especially in the context of sustainability and overtourism [21
]. To address this knowledge gap, the main objective of this paper is to propose several strategies, which managers could apply to their tourist sites to decrease the environmental pressure of tourists, without compromising the sites income.
To inform the proposed strategies, both quantitative studies into the tourism consumer and qualitative studies with tourism industry experts have been conducted. Therefore, a combined methodology was employed in this paper. It constitutes a survey methodology to gather tourists’ behaviours towards environmental sustainability, and an interview methodology applied to tourism site managers to explore, through a top-down approach, managers’ drivers and barriers towards the adoption of sustainable operations.
Results show aligning perspectives on how the industry may shift towards a greater sustainability balance. More specifically, the survey conducted on 165 tourists found an overarching willingness for individuals to alter their behaviours and decision making if provided with more information about sustainability. There is, however, a variance between individuals translating their intentions and attitudes pre/post vacation to actual behaviours whilst visiting. As part of this research, interviewed experts collectively produced a narrative whereby they agreed that human behaviours were at the crux of sustainability issues at tourist sites, but that industry bodies and businesses could do more to include the tourist in the sustainability discussion and make it easier for tourists to make responsible decisions.
As sustainability becomes a more socialised and marketable concept, there is a reflective willingness on the consumers behalf to become more responsible in their behaviours and decision making. To ensure this goodwill translates to actual behaviours at tourist sites, partnerships between industry and tourists are paramount. Updated strategies will likely need to be employed by the tourism industry to alter timeless and systemic behaviours. Managers could operate towards changing the costs of experiences to more closely align to sites’ values, a framework could be developed that guides businesses in operating sustainably, and including sustainability values into the experience and establishing partnerships with local custodians could assist in shifting how people engage with the tourism industry and the tourist experience.
This paper unfolds in five chapters. Section 2
explains the details of the survey and interview methods adopted to carry out the research. Section 3
proposes the answers that had been collected from both surveys and interviews. Section 4
shows the managerial strategies that had been distilled from the surveys and interviews. Section 5
summarises the main contributions and limitations of this study.
Early discussions of sustainable tourism posited the theory as a “normative orientation” to redirect societal behaviours and systems towards sustained development [23
]. Concepts of “overtourism”, “last chance tourism”, and “ecotourism” have only added congestion to the conversation, often making sustainability efforts misdirected or seem futile.
] describes sustainable tourism as one of two things—the continued, sustained growth or intensification of tourism, or the pursuit of alternate tourism habits and a halt to mass tourism. Noting that the understanding of the principle changes according to the consensus surrounding it, this means it often has very little practicality [24
]. In simple terms, sustainable tourism is considered to be about maximising the positive benefits of tourism and reducing those that would be considered detrimental [25
“Overtourism” is defined by when the number of tourists impairs the quality of life for communities and quality of tourist experience and is typically antithetical to sustainable tourism [6
]. This idea of a “growth paradox”, where increasing tourist numbers overcrowds sites, stresses the infrastructure, and damages the local community [25
], is particularly evident in the South Pacific, where the increase in tourism has exacerbated societal inequalities within communities, placed a disproportionate demand on the regions infrastructure, and forced Pacific nations to rely on foreign capital [26
Debate around the purpose of sustainability within the scope of tourism has created a misunderstanding on behalf of the consumer and manager on how to approach sustainability, and thus efforts toward protection and conservation have been fragmented or misdirected. Critical to popular thought is the idea of integrating the need for mass awareness, socialisation, and education of sustainability concepts within the public to maximise the influence of travellers (Kummerer, 2018). Multiple authors [14
] conclude that if a sustainable tourism model is to be successful, institutional support including divisional policy and strategic management are critical.
One particular theoretical observation was the shift in framing of the issue towards changing social behaviours and the choices of individual actors as a crucial element of sustainability efforts. Quantitative data collected by National Geographic indicate that whilst there is growing support for the idea of sustainable tourism, few of those supporters actually understood the concept or what a commitment to sustainable tourism looked like [5
]. Collecting data from consumers is crucial to understanding the mass attitudes to sustainability, and thus this informs the study [28
Assessed theories suggest the sustainable tourism field of study is maturing and becoming more multidisciplinary. Commentary is, however, often paid to how the existing structures and frameworks are failing, with few sustainability or policy initiatives recommended to offset these failings. Prominently, the literature shows that methods including interviews with experts and other observational methods offer valuable insights into how to manage the future sustainability of the industry [29
]. Further sustainability themes often indicate the integration of human behavior in management is critical [30
]. This observation has informed the methodology and focus of this paper.
2. Materials and Methods
Managerial strategies can be applied in tourism sites to limit the adverse environmental impact of phenomena such as last-minute tourism [32
] and overtourism [33
]. Problematically, such strategies must not only make sure that the site is managed in a way that decreases the pressure of tourists on the environment, but also without harming the economic sustainability of such sites. These strategies need to also provide an adequate level of customer satisfaction upon their visit to the site, lest they reduce the intended purpose of the site altogether. To keep these aspects in consideration, this paper explores managers’ and tourists’ opinions on environmental, economic, and social sustainability. Therefore, the theoretical framework applied in this research combines both bottom-up and top-down theories (Figure 1
). The bottom-up theory is based on the idea that individuals live in a social context that combines with their general perception of phenomena, such as sustainable tourism, and therefore shapes their ideas about the world around them [34
]. By gathering their collective ideas through extended surveys, it is possible to distill a common thought in a specific context, which is paramount for fostering innovation in the management sector [35
]. Further, interviewing managers and field experts in tourism can be seen as a top-down approach of qualitative research, which in the case of this research was adopted to explore managers’ perspective in depth [36
]. Therefore, interviews can foster an understanding of primary management strategies by interviewing managers and field experts [37
The combination of bottom-up and top-down approaches is useful in research, as from the bottom-up approach it is possible to understand the community knowledge that is necessary to support managerial strategies, whilst a top-down approach is fundamental to balance the customer perspective with experts’ opinions [38
Therefore, this paper has explored, through a top-down and bottom-up approach, the behaviours and decision making of participants in the tourism industry, including consumers of tourism (tourists) and the businesses that supply the service. Human behaviour is believed to be responsible for great impact on the tourism industry and tourist sites of significance in particular. More specifically, the volume of visitors at singular times strains the site (e.g., Milford Sound where concentrated tourist numbers significantly impact dolphin residency patterns in the fiord and create travel congestion on the roads [39
]). This issue is exacerbated by visitors not understanding their role in the environment through a lack of attachment to the place [40
]. Whilst human tourist behaviours have not changed over the course of tourism history, the volume of tourists has widely increased [41
To assist in understanding the industry, interviews with experts and representatives of the field were organised. By comparing the attitudes and behaviours of individuals at tourist sites with the observations and understandings of the industry, it was possible to study how to influence tourists towards more responsible behaviours. Therefore, the study employed a combination of a survey (quantitative) method to gather data on the way tourists behave and an interview (qualitative) method to explore the approach that tourist sites managers have towards sites’ environmental and economic sustainability. Combining research methods provided a range of quantitative and qualitative data that allowed for assessments against the attitudes and behaviours of tourists to be made. The idea of mixed methods is increasingly developing in social science methodologies, as it allows for theory building to be analysed and measured through the quantitative metrics [36
]. By integrating approaches and findings from both qualitative and quantitative fields, an inclusive account of the discovered findings can be developed in a way that proposes future pragmatic action [43
The survey format gathered quantitative data in the form of eight closed questions (Table 1
) to target specific responses and force the participant to choose. By posing yes or no questions, the surveys provided an insight into the consumers’ motivations and decision-making process and also allowed for easier measurement and analysis of the results against qualitative data [44
]. Surveys are useful in understanding social and psychological patterns, and thus it was designed to assess whether human behaviours and choices were currently informed, and what the outcome would be if the respondents were provided with more information concerning the tourist site they visited [45
]. Therefore, the survey was constructed to target a wide range of tourists and asked the questions in an order that isolated the human thought process (i.e., behaviours to decision making). The survey was run through Qualtrics.com, an online survey platform, and was advertised through social media websites. The survey was completed by 165 participants. Participants in the survey were from all demographics and locations with the only clause being that they must have travelled during the year before the survey, i.e., in 2019. Although initially most respondents were born after 1980, additional age groups were targeted through social media networks to ensure a scope of demographics was achieved.
For the interview portion of the research, participants were asked seven open questions (Table 2
) that encouraged a discourse around the key issues within the tourism industry and how behaviours may be altered [46
]. Participants were selected based on their proximity to the tourism industry with field experts chosen from both Australia and New Zealand to draw a comparison between approaches. Each interview was conducted for approximately 30 min and recorded to accomplish verbatim referencing. Interview questions were designed to gauge the opinions of experts on what they personally thought were the biggest issues in the tourism industry including attitudes, approaches, and opportunities. Interview participants were asked to respond according to how the tourism industry appeared prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic (prior to March 2020) to effectively measure their responses.
Studies and conducted research empirically show that there is a willingness on the behalf of the visitor to be better informed on issues of sustainability as it pertains to tourist sites, and that this information may influence their behaviours and decision making. Quantitative survey results show that a majority of survey participants who travelled in 2019 were either already conscious of their impact on the local community (environment and economy) or were willing to build an increased awareness on the topic. Discussions with field experts also indicated that a major hurdle in addressing sustainability in tourism was aligning the interests of the site and environment to the individual visiting and building that awareness in the visitor that whilst their movements were transient, their impact was permanent. Results from the survey and interviews conducted in this research make significant practical contributions, outlined in more detail in the following sub-section.
Literature previously framed the changing of social behaviours and choices of individual actors as a critical element to achieving sustainability. Whilst this conversation was framed through the lens of marketing [57
], this study suggests that there needs to be more accountability on the industry and tourism bodies to influence these behaviours. The onus cannot completely be upon the individual to shift towards what is considered responsible decision making without it being made easy for them or without building the awareness of how their behaviours impact the longevity of a site.
Previous literature suggests one of the primary problems within tourism sustainability has been the fragmented and inconsistent response to conservation and site management. Whilst this research suggests that there are opportunities for greater focus on site management and integration of sustainability mechanisms in planning activities, achieving a consistency in site management is less of a priority than shifting the behaviours and attitudes of those that visit it. Management approaches should be site-specific and contextual to the environment, where behavioural shifts can be addressed more collectively across the industry.
The main contributions of this research are the proposition of four managerial strategies that can be adopted by governments, tourism bodies, and business managers to their individual circumstances, to manage tourism sites and businesses most effectively towards environmental, social, and economic sustainability. A cost strategy recommends pricing the visitor experience against the actual cost (both immediate and future expenses, including preservation) and by presenting this cost as a value proposition. Critical to the cost strategy is informing the visitor on the values they are paying for. A framework strategy recommends a government-led framework that provides tourism businesses with the supporting information and guidelines by which to operate sustainably and should consider the critical balance of site preservation to economic return. A marketing strategy recommends tourism businesses advertise the issues of sustainability and conservation in their materials and services to integrate the conversation and awareness from the beginning of the business–client relationship. Lastly, a partnership strategy recommends increased cooperation with local communities and custodians in the delivery of tourism services so that visitors can witness a connection with their experience and the values of the people that connect with the site.
Findings from this research suggest that residual goodwill and willingness on the behalf of the visitor to behave more sustainably is not being translated to actual behaviours at tourist sites. There is disconnect between human behaviours in their ordinary habitat (home) versus when they are visiting, and this is synonymous with the idea of the holiday, which presents an escape from ordinary behaviours and values [46
]. Future research will need to be done on assessing how the survey results would translate into the actual tourist environment. The results of this paper show the willingness on behalf of the visitor and the industry to improve on sustainable behaviour and responsible decision making; however, observing these intentions in practice was outside the research boundaries and further study on this will help understanding of where the pressure points in successfully changing behaviours lie.
The scope of this study was impacted by two main limitations. First, as the survey was conducted and advertised through social media, the target market of the respondent may have leaned towards certain demographics. This limitation was addressed by expanding the demographic and targeting additional age demographics and groups. Further, as part of the analysis of the survey relies on theories surrounding comparing human attitudes to behaviours, and that there is sometimes a deviance between these, it is pertinent to note that without a practical assessment of the same respondents, we cannot know if the opinions they expressed in the survey would translate to behaviours. There is also the factor that respondents will have completed the survey in their home environment surrounded by ongoing practices, which again may not translate in a tourist environment due to the hedonistic nature of ‘vacationing’.
Second, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic must also be accounted for in the limitations, as it has severely impacted the tourism industry and individuals’ capacity to travel. As the pandemic initially prevented international travel and then domestic, it became impossible to conduct surveys and case studies in person at tourist sites and that shifted the methodology. In addition, whilst survey participants were completing the survey regarding travels conducted in 2019, it must be assumed that they would be viewing some of the questions and answers through the lens of the current pandemic, which may have influenced their thinking.