More than 60% of people believe climate change is a global emergency, and they say they’re willing to take action to be more environmentally friendly. On the tourism front, 71% of UK travelers say sustainability is important to them.
Words are easy, though. It’s actually taking action that’s difficult.
People understand they need to make changes. They may even know how to make them. The problem is a yawning divide between what people know or say they’ll do and actually changing their behavior and/or taking action. Those sustainability-minded travelers? It turns out that, when given the option to offset carbon from their flights, less than 5% of people actually take action, according to one report.
This is known as the knowledge-action gap (or value-action or intention-behavior gap). It is a widely studied behavioral psychology phenomenon that means that showing interest in or stating an intention to do something does not automatically result in action or behavior change.
This is highly relevant in the tourism industry, where a drastic shift from a traveler-centric, quantity-driven model to one grounded in climate-positive, community-focused, regenerative practices is needed. In order for this shift to happen, travelers’ actions and behavior need to change. They need to choose less carbon-intensive transportation options, refuse single-use plastic bottles, and book locally owned accommodations, among other things.
So, how do we get to that desired state of tourism, knowing what we do about the knowledge-action gap?
Push for Systemic Changes
From the way tourism supports local communities to the way experiences are marketed to potential travelers, radical disruption is needed across the entire tourism industry. An industry-wide transition of this sort, however, requires systemic changes, meaning all parts of the ecosystem must change, thereby affecting the general behavior and delivery of the entire system.
Systemic changes are needed so that, when individuals make travel-related decisions, the preferred choices are obvious, accessible, easy, and even incentivized. That gap between knowledge/intention and action is significantly reduced.
As an individual, your voice matters. A chorus of voices backed by intentional action (such as voting, using purchasing power, or boycotting) can greatly influence policy change.
If you own a travel-related company, recognize that you are part of this system and you have a responsibility to make institutional changes as well. Use your financial, technological, and person-powered resources to make deep operational changes that make it easy for travelers to engage in environmentally and socio-culturally positive changes. Tools like the B Impact Assessment help uncover opportunities for improvement.
Create the Path of Least Resistance
True disruption in tourism would create a tourism model that is sustainable and regenerative by default. We’re seeing tentative steps moving in this direction, such as with Google Search making it possible to directly shop for train options in a few countries. Presumably this requires people actually searching for train options instead of flight options, and this requires knowledge and intention. The path of least resistance would pull up both train and flight options when someone searches for any kind of transportation options — or, going further, prioritizing train options even with a flight search and incentivizing trains while disincentivizing planes. Does that sound a bit bonkers? Well, that’s what radical disruption is.
Every travel company can do this to some extent.
This is an excerpt from an article by JoAnna Haugen earlier published by rooted.