Professor Chris Choi: Tourist behaviour greatest driving force behind sustainable tourism
Every year, billions of people from around the globe engage in tourism. Whether they travel domestically or internationally, the tourism industry has a large economic impact on places ranging from small rural communities to large urban centres.
Since the ‘70s, more attention has been paid to the environmental and social impacts of tourism and how it can become a more sustainable industry. It’s an issue that, according to School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management professor Chris Choi, has often been at odds with economic gain.
Earlier this week, the topic of sustainability and the broad impact of the tourism industry on the international community were recognized through World Tourism Day, an annual celebration started by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). While people may be increasingly conscious of the positive effects sustainable practices can have on our physical environment, Choi reminds us that the adoption of these practices is sometimes seen as inconvenient and what is deemed “sustainable” is subjective. Their success is largely driven by tourist attitudes and behaviour, which is a key focus of his research.
“When people choose to act in a sustainable way, whether through recycling or buying fair trade products, there is no tangible benefit to that person,” said Choi. “People feel satisfied in the fact that they are making the best decisions possible for the environment future generations will inherit.”
The outcomes of these attitudes are particularly evident in rural and soft adventure tourism, where tourists participate in more activities off the mass tourism grid such as winery tours, hiking, fishing and snorkeling. According to Choi, tourist preferences are shifting away from major attractions and towards more local experiences.
“Tourists are starting to pay less attention to big attractions; they want a more organic experience when they visit a destination,” Choi said. “We are seeing farmers work with this trend by expanding their products and catering to local tourists. For example, an apiary might start to sell honey directly to consumers, and then open their operation to visitors to learn about bees and offer cooking classes featuring recipes with honey. This type of business is important to sustainability.”
Choi added that while these activities are growing in popularity, they still represent a tiny portion of the industry, especially when compared to mass tourism. More government attention is also paid to mass tourism because of its economic benefits. Choi emphasized that it’s really public attitudes and behaviour that drive the acceptance and adoption of sustainable practices, something he hopes to create a better understanding of in his future research.