Further, even if this information is available, it’s effectiveness is uncertain. As a University of Berkeley study found, ‘More or better information on sustainability issues will likely have limited impact on changing mainstream consumer behaviour’ – that is, unless it is designed to connect into a person’s existing decision‐making processes.
One solution is to incentivise sustainable travel. On June 14th this year, experts from several diverse fields met at Harvard Business School to discuss ways to drive sustainable goals and lifestyles forward in business. Shawn Cole, a professor in the Finance Unit at HBS, extolled the idea of incentives over altruism, pointing out that by incentivising good behaviour for both businesses and consumers, there would be more gains in sustainability goals than by merely relying on the goodwill of people.
Yet it remains that neither education nor guilt are proving persuasive tactics to influence travellers to be more sustainable. However, what we're beginning to understand is that we need strong, meaningful metrics that local governments can use to sustain levels of tourism that are both positive for the area, but also support local people and the natural environment.
John Ehrenfeld, a retired MIT professor and author of Flourishing: A Frank Conversation about Sustainability, suggests we need to be, ‘inventing a new unit [of measurement] with a socially transparent effect,’ to improve how consumers perceive their own impacts. By enabling tourists to actually see the problem and the impact they have, they will put their values into action, and can play a more direct role in tourism sustainability. However, the creation of such transparent and graphic metrics will only be possible with more research to help destinations reveal the burdens tourism brings to their doorstep.
Kathleen Ahamed-Broadhurst is a senior research consultant and writer at EplerWood International.