Analysis - June 2, 2015



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June 2015


Print Sustainable tourism,

Willingness to pay versus actual behavior

Willingness to pay versus actual behavior – are we actually supporting sustainable tourism businesses?

Need for sustainability in tourism?

There is no question that the travel and tourism industry needs to be more sustainable. Between 2012 and 2030, international tourist arrivals are expected to increase by an average of 43 million a year to reach 1.8 billion (United Nations World Tourism Organization, 2014). With this growth comes many negative impacts. For example, examining only one sector of the tourism industry, cruises, evidence shows multiple negative impacts. According to the Lighthouse Foundation (2014), a Caribbean cruise ship creates around 50 tons solid waste, 800,000 litres sewage and 130,000 litres grey water in one week.

Sustainability Demand

Numerous studies over the past few years by multiple travel providers have shown that travelers are willing to spend more money on sustainable travel. A 2012 report by The Travel Foundation and Forum for the Future found that 75% of consumers want a more responsible holiday. A TripAdvisor study also in 2012, stated that 71% of those surveyed said they would make environmentally friendly choices this year. In 2011, a study done by CondeNast Traveler said 58% of their travellers hotel choice is influenced by the support the hotel gives to the local community. Another study in 2011 Kuoni found that 22% of respondents said that sustainability is among the top three influencing factors when booking vacations ( . Although consumers say they want more sustainability options, does this actually translate into practice and who are these consumers?

Actual Sustainability behaviour

In order to determine whether tourists had paid for sustainable tourism, research by Ryerson University (Kwan, Liu & Mak, 2014) was undertaken to determine tourist’s past spending. Results showed that 73% understood the meaning of sustainable travel and could outline specific practices that they believed would be more sustainable (e.g. donate to sustaianbility causes, stay at a green hotel, etc.). Thirty five percent had stayed in a green hotel in the last 12 months however over half of respondents were unsure which clearly exemplifies that green or sustainable branding may be a large issue for consumer decision making.

Other sustainability behaviours outlined that 39% often or always purchase local food when travelling. A much smaller percentage (10%) had purchased carbon offsets and 2% donated to a local sustainabilty project when on vacation.

When answering the research question, overall the findings showed that 37% of travellers actually paid more for sustainable tourism options. When asked how much more, however, although only 6% paid 10% or higher costs.

Demographically, it is the younger age groups who are more concerned. 18-24 (22%) and 25-34 (26%) year olds were more likely to pay more than older demographics. Additionally, females seem to be more concerned about the environment than men.


The research clearly states that travelers behaviour is shifting although it is still not commonplace. What is clear from this research is that sustainble tourism options must not priced higher than comparative options as the consumer that is willing to pay significantly more is a niche market.

Another conclusion is that although the consumer is aware of what sustainable tourism is, they may not necessarily be able to clearly identify sustainable tourism travel options or products when making their purchasing decisions. People may be aware of sustainability but they may still choose the easiest and most affordable options. If the industry wishes to see consumers purchase more earth friendly options then they must promote them more clearly to the customer.

This research also shows that if the industry is really going to protect the very resources that promote tourism, sustainability options for tourists needs to become the norm rather than the exception.


Rachel Dodds

Associate Professor, Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Ryerson University

Rachel Dodds is recognized around the world as an expert on sustainable tourism. She is professor at the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University and Direct[...]Lire plusor of Sustaining Tourism consulting firm. She is the author of the books "Power and Politics" and "Sustainable Tourism in Islands". Her fields of expertise focus on sustainable tourism, climate changes and social responsibility firms. She holds a Ph.d. from the University of Surrey in England and a master's degree in tourism management at Griffith University in Australia. She is a founding member of the Canada's Icarus Foundation, participated in the Sustainability Council for the Tourism Industry Association and is former member of the Travel and Tourism Research Association of Canada. She has lived and worked on four continents and traveled in more than 75 countries.

Institution's website :


- Kwan, H.; Liu,H.; & Mak, H. (2014) Willingness to pay for sustainable tourism. Ryerson University, Toronto.

- Lighthouse Foundation. (2014). Sustainable Tourism and Cruises

- (2014) 

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