Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainable Tourism – Consumer motivations

Overall, the percentage of consumers who consciously look for sustainable travel packages or ecotourism has been estimated to be as high as 5% of the overall market for travel, although up to 30% feel that it would be ‘nice to have’ but without an accompanying willingness to pay (World Tourism Organisation-WTO). With increased awareness of general societal issues regarding sustainability, this number is expected to increase somewhat.
Sustainable tourism demand is difficult to assess as most figures are anecdotal evidence of market share. A number of surveys have been completed over recent years which have assessed demand for more sustainable forms of travel. A report by the WTO in 1997 presented information to indicate that ecotourism (not sustainable tourism) accounts for 20% of the world tourism market. The International Ecotourism Society Report, whose statistics were cited worldwide in other reports, indicated that ecotourism contributed US$154 billion in receipts for 2000 and was growing at a rate of 20% per year compared with 7% for tourism overall. This number has not been substantiated in any recent reports.
As one industry leader noted, “In several surveys done in the last years, a considerable number of people always affirm they would be ready to pay for sustainable tourism products. But unfortunately the reality shows that the customer’s decisions are often dominated by other criteria, and mostly by price. There is obviously a contradiction between intention and behaviour. It is what we call a cognitive dissonance. However, in many destinations, it is common practice that tourists on an excursion in wildlife reserves pay an extra fee for nature protection activities and this is well accepted”.
Sustainability issues are also not perceived to be a key factor in the tourist decision making process. A report in 2000 notes that surveys have been unable to conclude that environmental, social or sustainability criteria are a key concern in holiday decision-making by tourists -even so-called ecotourists are not often motivated to travel because of interest in being ‘responsible’ or ‘environmentally concerned. It is clear that marketers need to connect consumer motivations with actual purchasing. As one expert noted, “consumers are willing to make a greener choice if the product comes from a company or destination they already know and trust, it doesn’t require any behavioural changes to use, and it’s at least as good as what they’re already buying in terms of aesthetics, style, taste, etc.”.
Price, accommodation quality and personal security rank as the most important considerations of booking holidays. Consumers are susceptible to health and safety issues, however, with cleanliness and quality being major factors in their destination choice. From existing research and interviews with tour operators and other experts, it can be concluded that consumers would change their destination choice as a result of bad press about health (e.g. dirty beaches) or safety issues, but not for lack of environmental or social responsibility on the part of suppliers.
If evidence suggests that consumers are looking for more sustainable product in tourism yet are driven mainly by price or health issues, there is a need to rethink a strategy to shift product and packaging so that product offered to the consumer integrates wider issues of sustainability.