Raising tourists’ awareness of at risk destination can increase demand, making matters worse

polar-bear-1509103_1280Tourists are likely to react negatively when we raise their awareness of the negative consequences of their intended or actual behaviour, according to new research. This reactance (the emotional reaction to pressure or persuasion that results in the strengthening or adoption of a contrary belief) is likely to manifest itself in four stages:

First tourists are likely to deny the threat, such as climate change, by stating that they did not know or they weren’t sure of how bad their behaviour was.

When this is no longer possible, they reduce tensions arising from travel, for example through denial of consequences, downward comparison (when people compare themselves to those who are less proficient than they are), denial of responsibility, denial of control, exception handling (this doesn’t apply to me) and compensation through benefits. All of these aim to divert attention from themselves and show that others are the cause of the problem, and that their actions are of no consequence.

This leads to heightened demand, particularly for the most visibly threatened destinations. Which explains why travel to see polar bears has increased exponentially in recent years, together with travel to Cuba before the regime changes, and similar examples worldwide.

“Raising awareness of such threats may therefore inadvertently have a negative effect, by prompting tourists to consume a disappearing tourism product before it is too late”

When the tourist attraction is exhausted, tourists reach a stage of helplessness, which means that rather than lamenting the loss, they dismiss the value of such attractions once they can no longer be enjoyed. It is a case of saying “Venice used to be great before it was spoiled by too many tourists, now we shall go somewhere else”.

The research suggests that raising awareness of such threats may therefore inadvertently have a negative effect, by prompting tourists to consume a disappearing tourism product before it is too late. It questions the validity of awareness-raising campaigns as behavioural change vehicles, provides alternative explanations of why the most self-proclaimed, environmentally aware individuals travel frequently, and helps identify nuanced, socially acceptable forms of sustainability marketing, capable of reducing resistance to change.

READ THE ORIGINAL RESEARCH

Font, X., & Hindley, A. (2016). Understanding tourists’ reactance to the threat of a loss of freedom to travel due to climate change: a new alternative approach to encouraging nuanced behavioural change. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09669582.2016.1165235

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