A recent study conducted in the Wet Tropics World Heritage listed area and surrounds, in Queensland, has revealed some valuable insights into visitor attitudes towards ECO certification programs. It found differences in perceptions depending on visitor characteristics and the types of tourism products on offer, with some interesting results.
Overall, visitors under the age of 50 were found to place higher importance on the environment and conservation efforts by operators than older visitor groups, while overall, females placed higher importance on environmental responsibility than males.
Visitors judged the performance of ECO certified operators to be higher than non-ECO certified operators and customer satisfaction was found to be higher at ECO certified accommodations.
Research found that the attributes of ECO certification, including; nature, interpretation, environmental sustainability, conservation and community, were deemed more important at accommodations than at attractions and on tours. This suggests that in accommodations, the alignment between the attributes of the ECO scheme and the visitor perception of these attributes is at a positive level. The fact that these attributes were not considered as important at attractions and on tours within a World Heritage listed focus area is quite surprising. The lower importance scores at attractions and on tours indicate there is a potential need for increased effort in raising public awareness on the importance of the attributes of ECO certification.
When it comes to nature, aesthetic appeal was rated more highly than ecological processes. While guests were generally concerned about the state of the environment, they showed more concern for aesthetic appeal than for the ecological processes associated with achieving and maintaining it. The study also found that visitors yearn for a deeper sense of connection with nature and community. Interestingly, interpretation was deemed more important by visitors than conservation, environment and community. These findings indicate that while visitors like to feel a ‘sense of place’, achieved through interpretation, they might be missing any underlying messages on conservation, environment and community.
Guests also valued green practices more highly when they were guest-related as opposed to focusing on reducing negative ecological impact, which oftentimes is a behind-the-scenes focus. They were more likely to make choices based on environmental aspects if they were able to see or feel them directly. This suggests that visitors respond better to ECO attributes if they feel that they are making a positive contribution themselves and are able to witness the benefits firsthand.
These research findings give us valuable insights into the effectiveness of ECO certification programs, and indicate areas that could do with improvement, providing the opportunity for forward movement. The overall positive findings on the high performance levels of ECO certified operators in comparison to non-ECO certified operators comes as great news for those operators already certified, and provides incentive for others to consider joining the ECO scheme.
For more information on the study, click here.
For information on ECO certification, visit Ecotourism Australia’s website here.