Posted by Eloise Touchot on 31 August 2018 | Comments


As an ecotourism operator, you have a strategic role to play in converting more tourists to make eco-friendly choices. Attracting visitors who are not particularly environmentally conscious and changing their behaviours is hard work. Moreover, it can be frustrating to see them not following the eco-friendly recommendations you’ve put in place.

But the efforts you make to change attitudes and educate your guests about ecotourism will result in significant positive impacts for the future of the entire tourism industry. So why is it unlikely that your guests will naturally change their behaviour in the long term? And what can you do to change their perception and attitudes?

Why even people who care about the environment don’t necessarily make eco-friendly choices on their holidays

Although ecotourism is a growing market, some myths must be busted to attract a broader target than just environmentally conscious travellers and nature lovers.

Also, in a recent study, The University of Queensland (UQ) interviewed tourists who were active members of environmental organisations and found six main reasons why they would not necessarily make environmentally-friendly choices during their holidays:

  1. Some denied the negative impacts of their trip
  2. Some concluded their behaviour wasn’t so bad compared to what other tourists were doing
  3. Some said they didn’t have enough information, enough time or enough money to make changes
  4. Some felt they outweighed their adverse environmental impacts by supporting local economies and communities
  5. Some believed it was the responsibility of the government or the industry to change the situation and not their responsibility
  6. Some didn’t want to think about their environmental responsibilities during their holidays

These reasons show the importance of raising tourists’ awareness about the negative impacts of tourism and in contrast, also showing them what best practice ecotourism looks like, and how they can be a part of the solution.

It’s essential to engage and educate visitors, so that instead of comparing themselves to the worst, they start to compare themselves to the best.

Here, it is vital that as an ecotourism operator, you communicate your sustainability efforts and the meaning of your ECO certification to your guests, so that these know how they can make the right choices and keep you in mind for their next booking.

All eco-certified operators are in this together!

Understand Down Under Facbeook

Photo from Understand Down Under website (Advanced Ecotourism Certified)

It’s about changing people’s perceptions

The recent ban on single-use plastic bags in major supermarkets showed how customers struggle with change despite the obvious environmental benefits. Opponents to the single-use plastic bag ban made noise about the financial cost and the loss of convenience for consumers. Some rejected the change with the argument that supermarkets were not switching for the environment but to make more profit.

What can tourism operators learn from this?

From the single-use plastic bag example, it seems that even if travellers know that choosing eco-friendly products and operators has a positive environmental impact, they aren’t willing to pay more or to put in extra effort - and they may think that it’s all about increasing profits.

How can tourism operators counter this perception and attract the mainstream traveller to support them in their eco-friendly efforts?

It’s a sad fact, but some travellers just don’t care about the environment – at least not as much as you do.

Two easy actions in becoming more eco-friendly are to ‘reduce’ and ‘reuse.’ During an ecotourism experience, guests are educated about how they can reduce their consumption, whether it’s food waste on a tour or use of air-con in a hotel. But what’s in it for them? In these situations, they may perceive they are the ones making all the effort while you, the operator, is just saving costs.

So, if you aren’t making any profit from this effort, this should be clearly communicated. And if there are cost-savings, a solution could be to be transparent on how these savings are used (the projects they support, for example) or to share part of the savings with your customers.

In another UQ study, guests of a four-star hotel were given free drinks if they opted out of daily room cleaning and received explanations on how the cost-savings were equitably shared between guests and the hotel. This resulted in a 42% reduction in the usual number of rooms cleaned, and importantly, guest satisfaction did not drop.

Groovy Grape Getaways Campwild Adventures

Photo from Groovy Grape Getaways & Campwild Adventures' website (Advanced Ecotourism certified)

Ecotourism operators are ideally positioned to give the mainstream traveller a reason to care.

Ecotourism businesses can be the connection that the general public needs to start caring about sustainability.

It’s easy to forget about the impact of climate change or threatened wildlife when you live in the city. However, in front of the wonders of nature, people are often more receptive to messages on the need to preserve this beautiful environment and what they can do.

As an ecotourism operator, you can seize this opportunity to change behaviours. During the visit, focus on emotional responses. Bringing a sense of awe and excitement to your guests’ nature experience will help them to realise what’s at stake.

“The role of the tourism operator is to encourage visitors to reflect on what they’re seeing and what it means in their life.” - Professor Roy Ballantyne, Professor of Visitor Research at UQ Business School

Organising a debriefing session is an excellent way to allow the guests to reflect on their experience. Talking about what they felt will strengthen their sense of connection with nature and ensure it leaves a lasting impression.

The importance of staying in touch when the visitor goes home

As an ecotourism operator, your relationship with your guests shouldn’t stop after their visit. Tourists are often willing to change their behaviours after visiting a natural area. However, these good intentions don’t last for long. According to UQ, only 7% to 11% of travellers would have acted on their intentions three months after finishing their holidays.

That’s why you, as a tourism operator, should remind them about their experience and the difference they can make. Perhaps you could send your guests some resources to help them act step by step on the good intentions they built during their visit. Stories about the place they visited can keep them motivated. Newsletters and social networks like Facebook and Instagram are useful tools to keep former customers engaged.

 What are your experiences? Do you have any great tips on how to motivate your guests and customers to change their behaviour? We’d love to hear about them!

Whitehaven Express 3

Photo from Whitehaven Xpress Facebook page (Ecotourism certified)


This article was inspired by the topic 2.3 Demand Side Challenge of the Tourism and Travel Management course by the University of Queensland, available online on edX.

 [Cover photo: Pixabay]

comments powered by Disqus