Sustainable tourists may spend more on vacations

Many people in the tourism industry balk at adopting sustainable practices because they worry that such changes could cut profits. But researchers have found that travelers who value sustainability tend to spend more on their trips, suggesting that attracting these environmentally-minded visitors could pay off.

The researchers focused on “geotravelers”, tourists with green behavior who want to preserve their destination’s natural scenery, historical and cultural sites, and local community. To investigate geotravelers’ spending habits, surveyors approached tourists at airports, gas stations, and rest stops in Montana in 2009 and 2011. The travelers answered questions about how long they were staying and how much they had spent on products and services such as fuel, accommodations, restaurants, camp sites, and guides.

After they got home, the tourists filled out a questionnaire that assessed where they fell on the geotraveler scale. For instance, the visitors were asked how likely they were to seek out beautiful scenery, historical sites, and locally produced food or crafts during their vacations. The tourists also answered questions about how likely they were to recycle, buy green products, and use water and energy efficiently.

The study authors collected data from 686 tourists and sorted the respondents into strong, moderate and minimal geotravelers. The team didn’t find a statistically significant difference between the groups in the lengths of their stays or daily spending. But when the researchers calculated total spending over the entire vacation, a more striking difference emerged. Strong geotravelers doled out an average of $1,164 per trip, while moderate geotravelers spent $866 and minimal geotravelers spent only $668.

Montana’s tourism office has targeted geotravelers, and the results suggest that this marketing strategy can bring in revenue “while also ensuring protection for the very resources that attract them,” the authors write. Since geotravelers prefer experiences that feel genuine, the team adds, “destination managers can focus less on changing the destination in a way that would attract new visitors, but rather promote what is already there”. Roberta Kwok | 10 December 2015

Source: Nickerson, N.P., J. Jorgenson, and B.B. Boley. 2015. Are sustainable tourists a higher spending market? Tourism Management doi: 10.1016/j.tourman.2015.11.009.

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