Identity and tourism mobility: An exploration of the attitude-behaviour gap

Authors: Hibbert, J.F., Dickinson, J.E., Gössling, S. and Curtin, S.

Pages: 15-36

ISBN: 9780415839372

DOI: 10.4324/9780203771501-11


Tourists are becoming increasingly mobile. As physical tourism mobility is largely based on the use of fossil fuels, tourism has become a significant contributor to global climate change (UNWTO, UNEP and WMO, 2008). Options to reduce emissions from tourism through technology are promising, but unlikely to achieve absolute emission reductions in line with international efforts (Scott et al., 2010). It has consequently been argued that climatically sustainable tourism mobility demands behavioural change, which appears difficult to achieve (McKercher et al., 2010). Why do we continue to participate in environmentally harmful activities, even though consumers are aware of these interlinkages (Giddens, 2009)? From a sociological point of view, it is suggested that identity issues lie at the heart of our desire for greater tourism mobility (e.g. Desforges, 2000). It is well documented that travel is important in shaping the perception of self through experiences of other people and places (Bruner, 1991; Crompton, 1979; Desforges, 2000; Noy, 2004; Urry, 2000). However, very little has been written about how the perception of self influences travel choices and drives our desire for travel. This chapter helps fulfil that research gap. Currently, society views highly mobile lifestyles in a positive light: high mobility is associated with a high degree of “meetingness”, i.e. an individual’s standing in society is reflected in mobility patterns, ultimately necessitating air travel (Urry, 2011). This is also demonstrated by airlines’ frequent flyer programmes which “reward and thus increase interest in mobility” (Gössling and Nilsson, 2010, p. 242). It could be argued that such marketing strategies hold some responsibility for the status implied in highly mobile lifestyles through their inclusion of VIP lounges for some members and added status attached to long-haul travel and exotic international tourism, a positive identity marker for most people (Gössling and Nilsson, 2010). Through tourism choices people seek to reinforce or develop particular identity markers and, therefore, a desired identity appears to affect their decisions and behaviour (Markus and Nurius, 1986). Given that individuals can be persuaded to choose low carbon tourism products, it is vital to examine the underlying identity processes at work. There is a general assumption that individuals predisposed to environmental concern will modify their behaviour accordingly, however, this has not proved to be a potent force in other areas of life, such as car use (Dickinson and Dickinson, 2006; Schwanen and Lucas, 2011; Steg and Vlek, 2009). Steg and Vlek (2009) suggest that to change behaviour, it is necessary to understand the factors underlying the behaviour. Factors determining behaviour include (1) perceived costs and benefits, (2) moral and normative concerns, (3) affect, (4) contextual factors and (5) habits. For instance, with regard to costs and benefits, travel mode choice is dependent on variables such as money, effort and the perceived benefits of tourism (Hares et al., 2010).While higher moral and normative concern for the environment is associated with more proenvironmental behaviour, in tourism, climate change awareness appears to have little effect on tourism consumption (e.g. Anable et al., 2006; Dickinson et al., 2009; Eijgelaar et al., 2010; Hares et al., 2010; McKercher et al., 2010). Here contextual factors, such as lack of alternatives to air travel, and habitual travel choices, seem to steer people with environmental concern to unsustainable choices (Hares et al., 2010). This chapter focuses on the gap between environmental awareness and lack of behavioural change. In addition to the factors outlined above, it argues that identity plays a significant role in explaining the attitude-behaviour gap (Stets and Biga, 2003). It therefore questions the assumption that behaviour change can be effectively managed given individuals’ needs to manage a variety of identity interests. Thus, the chapter analyses the assumption that behaviour can change, based on an identity perspective.

Source: Scopus