2.1. Tourism and Sustainability
Although there is no universally accepted scale for measuring sustainability in different tourism scenarios, previous authors have made significant progress towards providing effective alternatives. Asmelash and Kumar [10
], for instance, developed and validated a list of sustainability indicators for tourism destinations based on the perceptions of residents, tourists, and local stakeholders. Their indicators are grouped in four dimensions, Economic Sustainability, Socio-cultural Sustainability, Environmental Sustainability, and Institutional Sustainability, with each dimension correlated with the other three. Such a model effectively expands the triple bottom line principle of sustainability (environmental, sociocultural, and economic) in tourism destinations. While the sustainability of destinations must take into account these four dimensions, Li, Kim, and Lee [11
] argue that tourism development should be planned and operated with the goal of securing long-term benefits for all actors involved, with special consideration of how the local community is involved in the overall development process.
The local community has received significant attention from scholars addressing tourism sustainability. In a systematic review of sustainable tourism indicators carried out by Rasoolimanesh et al. [12
], of the 97 papers addressed only a few mentioned tourists as stakeholders. The local community, on the other hand, was mentioned in 46% of the studies analysed. The authors suggest that future studies must consider both tourists’ experience in destinations as well as their relationship with the Sustainable Tourism Indicators based on, amongst other criteria, their relevance to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Despite the holistic view on tourism sustainability demonstrated by some authors, it should be noted that most studies on this subject focus on environmental sustainability. In this context, common themes include environmental sustainability in nature-based tourism [13
], the potential contribution of environmental sustainability to tourism growth [14
], and the possibility of co-existence between luxury and environmental sustainability [15
]. Economic sustainability, in turn, is pursued by any business or development plan regardless of whether they adopt an overt sustainability orientation. Studies focused on this dimension often aim to verify whether a certain local tourism industry [16
], product [17
], or business model [18
] is indeed economically sustainable. As it has only been added to the tourism sustainability dimensions by the aforementioned study of Asmelash and Kumar [10
], institutional sustainability is not addressed specifically in previous studies. However, it is arguably pursued by any business, especially destinations, as the literature on tourism planning and development (e.g., [19
]) point to political will and the collaboration of all actors involved as essential for making tourism development and sustainability viable.
As concerns socio-cultural sustainability, due to its complexity authors tend to focus on specific concepts such as identity preservation [20
], tangible and intangible heritage, cultural heritage [21
], cultural vitality, cultural diversity, economic viability, locality, eco-cultural resilience, eco-cultural civilization [22
], and social capital [23
]. Regarding the specific aspects that contribute to sociocultural sustainability in tourism destinations, Getzner’s [24
] findings highlight socio-economic variables and the availability of cultural infrastructure as well as municipal cultural spending. These contributions are important for understanding how tourism authorities pursue sustainability goals in tourism development.
Despite the importance of these principles, as observed by Font and McCabe [25
] in order to be truly sustainable destinations and services need the support of consumers, who must be convinced to choose responsible products rather than their non-responsible counterparts. Consequently, no analysis of destinations’ sustainability would be complete without taking into account the demand side, i.e., the predisposition of tourists to choose sustainable tourism destinations and to engage in sustainable behaviour at the destination. Corroborating the relevance of considering both triple bottom line principles and consumer likeliness to choose sustainable products and destinations, an integrative review carried out by Nadalipour and Khoshkhoo [26
] shows that many authors agree that one cannot address destinations’ sustainability and competitiveness without considering the economic, sociocultural, and ecological dimensions as well as all the stakeholders involved in the tourist activity, which naturally includes consumers. In this context, studies on tourism sustainability often adopt one of two distinct approaches, a supply-side approach or a demand-side approach [27
]. Amongst those, demand-side studies are of particular relevance to the research problem addressed by the present study, and are therefore addressed in greater detail here.
Many studies on tourism sustainability have analysed the demand for tourism services. Generally, these show that tourists who value sustainable practices are more inclined to choose services, especially hotels, that employ such practices over those that do not [28
]. Accordingly, Lee, Hsu, Han, and Kim [33
] show that the overall image of green hotels is positively related to the behavioural intentions of consumers. Several demand-side studies on the sustainability of tourism services have explored the extent to which tourists are willing to make sacrifices to have ensure a more sustainable travel experience. Chia-Jung and Pei-Chun [34
], for instance, conclude that although hotel customers generally prefer luxury rooms and value the provision of toiletries, many are willing to sacrifice service quality for the sake of sustainability performance. Accordingly, Brau [35
] showed that tourists in Sardinia, Italy are willing to sacrifice closeness to the beach in order to decrease their impact on the natural environment.
Studies on the market effectiveness of sustainable practices in tourism destinations, on the other hand, are much less abundant. Nevertheless, several studies do provide valuable contributions, empirically corroborating the link between the sustainability of tourist destinations and their competitiveness. This is the case for Khalifa [36
] and Cucculelli and Goffi [37
], who demonstrate using empirical data in two very distinct destinations (Egypt and a set of small destinations in Italy, respectively) that sustainability variables significantly impact destination competitiveness. Additionally, López-Sánchez and Pulido-Fernández [38
] conclude that market segmentation is useful for planning and managing demand-oriented policies. In sum, demand side studies on tourism sustainability provide useful insights into what tourists value the most when choosing a sustainable destination. Questions remain, however, regarding who those tourists are and how to effectively promote a destination to them, which is where the study of tourist behaviours and attitudes enters the picture.
2.2. Tourists’ Sustainable Behaviours and Attitudes
Social psychology theories explain that behaviour is influenced by attitudes, among other factors [39
]. These theories have been employed to facilitate the comprehension of consumer behaviour in various scenarios. In the context of sustainability, Kim, Hall, and Han [40
] address behavioural influences on support for crowdfunding initiatives related to SDGs, concluding that the strongest effects are exerted by agreeableness, openness, and conscientiousness. Addressing behavioural variables and SDGs in the context of travellers’ biosecurity behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kim, Bonn, and Hall [41
] show that prosocial behaviour and perception have significant impacts on intervention and influence resilience and tourists’ biosecurity behaviour. In the context of tourism sustainability, many studies corroborate the association between attitudes and behaviour [42
]. For instance, Mohaidin, Wei, and Murshid [44
] conclude that environmental attitudes are positively correlated with the intention to select sustainable tourist destinations, as well as with tourists’ intentions to engage in environmentally responsible behaviour.
Several studies suggest that tourists’ environmental attitudes are directly related to the type of destination they visit and the type of activities they carry out in those destinations. In this context, studies [42
] have shown that the degree of environmental commitment of tourists visiting a natural park is much higher than that of those visiting beaches. Other studies have shown that tourists who usually engage in outdoor activities (e.g., hiking or diving) have an increased tendency to emphasize the environmental aspects of traveling [47
]. Accordingly, authors such as Eagles and Higgins [50
] and Luo and Deng [51
] provide evidence that travellers who exhibit positive environmental attitudes tend to portray a stronger desire to experience actives in nature.
Not all tourists who engage in nature-based activities seek similar experiences or have similar attitudes, however. This is evidenced by Lee, Jan, Tseng, and Lin [52
], who segmented visitors to Taiwan’s Liuqiu Island into four different groups, multi-experience recreationists, aestheticists, hedonists, and knowledge seekers, based on their recreation experiences. Accordingly, tourists who engage in nature-based tourism activities are not equally environmentally committed. For instance, Weaver and Lawton [53
] concluded that “harder ecotourists” show higher levels of environmental commitment and affinity with wilderness-type experiences, while “softer ecotourists” are much less committed to either dimension. The same study shows that although “structured ecotourists” have a high level of commitment, their consumption patterns are analogous to those of mass tourists. Findings such as these evidence that (as observed by Budeanu [54
]) despite tourists’ general trend to state high levels of environmental commitment, only a few behave accordingly, that is, buy responsible tourism products, choose environmentally friendly transportation, and act responsibly towards local communities.
Despite these findings suggesting that tourists’ actions are not always accurately predicted by their attitudes, various studies show that some degree of relationships is indeed verified. Grilli et al. [55
], for instance, demonstrate that environmental beliefs influence individual tastes. Their study also highlights the importance of ecotourism attitudes and pro-environmental private behaviour. This is in line with previous findings by Dolnicar [4
], according to whom environmentally responsible behaviour at the destination is influenced by environmental attitudes, place attachment, level of commitment to the environment, means of transportation, environmental knowledge and education, and environmental behaviour at home. Considering these findings, we propose the following hypotheses.
Environmental beliefs positively affect sustainable consumption behaviour.
Ecotour attitudes positively affect sustainable consumption behaviour.
Various studies [56
] have concluded that sociodemographic factors such as age, gender, and education level as well as personal values, attitudes, motivation, knowledge, ability, and opportunity to engage in sustainability practices play an important role in determining customers’ willingness to pay more for environmentally friendly tourism products. This last construct, willingness to pay for a more sustainable destination, is considered to play an important role in destinations’ quest to be competitive as a means of becoming more sustainable. After all, if sustainable destinations need to convince consumers to choose their sustainable products (which often implies paying a premium price) it is important to know whether consumers are willing to pay more to visit a destination where certain sustainable practices are carried out. Studies on the topic have mostly addressed tourists’ willingness to pay in the context of tourism services such as hotels or specific types of tourism products or experiences such as ecotourism or visits to protected areas. As Agag, Brown, Hassanein, and Shaalan [60
] demonstrate, no single factor is sufficient to decode travellers’ willingness to pay more for sustainability. Therefore, each study further contributes to achieving an understanding of the construct’s determinants in each specific context. In the context of green products and services offered by hotels, for instance, Galati et al. [5
] have shown that electronic word of mouth (e-WOM), physical image, consumer income, and green attributes related to transportation services all have a positive effect on customers’ willingness to pay. In the context of air travel, Seetarama, Songb, Ye, and Yec [6
] found that UK tourists are willing to pay a higher Air Passenger Duty for business class and long-haul trips.
In the context of visits to natural reserves, Surendran and Sekar [7
] showed that tourists’ level of education and the number of animal species sighted both positively affected willingness to pay. In the context of protected areas, Wang and Jia [61
] concluded that income level and the awareness of being in a protected area were the most significant predictors of tourists’ willingness to pay. Income level was a significant factor in the more specific context of marine parks [62
]. Addressing WTP in nature-based tourism, McCreary et al. [8
] found that climate change-related risk perceptions as well as place meanings and tourist age and income all had a positive effect. In the context of ecotourism, Meleddu and Pulina [58
] showed that visitors with a high awareness of ecotourism were more willing to support projects, and that subjective norms and environmental beliefs both had a positive effect on willingness to pay. In the specific scenario of willingness to pay an entrance fee to natural attractions, Reynisdottir, Song and Agrusa [9
] found that such a construct is influenced by visitors’ attitudes towards environmental protection as well as demographic and contextual variables such as their number of previous visits and history of paying entrance fees. Finally, in a study not restricted to any specific tourism product Hedlund [63
] found a positive effect of environmental concern on both willingness to accept economic sacrifices to protect the environment and intention to purchase ecologically sustainable tourism alternatives.
Considering these findings,
Environmental beliefs positively affect WTP.
Hultman, Kazeminia, and Ghasemi [57
] conclude that while environmental beliefs are positively related to willingness to pay, this effect is indirect as it is mediated by ecotourism attitudes, and even this path is externally mediated by motivation to travel. Therefore:
Environmental beliefs positively affect ecotour attitudes.
Ecotour attitudes positively affect WTP.
Finally, In the context of hotels, Chia-Jung and Pei-Chun [34
] have shown that customers with high levels of “green consumption” are more likely to choose hotels that adopt more sustainable practices. Accordingly, in the context of destinations, Araújo, Marques, Candeias, and Vieira [64
] found that young travellers present higher levels of general sustainable consumption behaviour and are more willing to pay for sustainable practices in tourist destinations. Considering these contributions along with those on behavioural theories and sustainable tourists’ choices:
Sustainable consumption behaviour positively affects WTP.
The research hypotheses proposed in the present study are graphically represented in Figure 1
, which illustrates the proposed model.
An important methodological contribution to the assessment of willingness to pay is provided by Aydın and Alvarez [65
], who proposed and validated a list of items related to destination sustainability and willingness to pay for a sustainable destination using a mixed method approach. The authors conclude that cultural tourists are more willing to pay for cultural and environmental protection practices, namely, preservation of historical and cultural resources, protection of green areas, fauna and flora, and protection of the overall architectural character of the location surrounding the cultural destination.
Although the topic of willingness to pay for a sustainable destination and tourists’ sustainability attitudes have been addressed previously, the relationship between them has only been examined in specific contexts such as ecotourism, nature-based tourism, and visits to natural areas. Considering the addressed contributions and knowledge gaps, the present study aims to contribute to the literature on tourism destination sustainability by modelling willingness to pay for a more sustainable destination and tourists’ sustainability attitudes within a causal model.