A UN report launched to mark 2022’s World Tourism Day in September focused on the opportunity to rethink tourism in the wake of the pandemic, acknowledging the transformational power the sector has ‘to drive recovery and influence positive change for people everywhere.’ In a message to mark the day, the UN Secretary-General Antonia Guterres called for a major reassessment of the sector’s role in sustainable development, urging that “governments, businesses and consumers must align their tourism practices with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a 1.5 degree future”, and warning that “the very survival of this industry, and many tourist destinations, such as Small Island Developing States, depends on it.” The report revealed strong signs of recovery; globally international arrivals rebounded by 172% in the first 6 months of 2022, as travellers sought the escapism and experience they had been missing over two years of travel restrictions.
Yet while this recovery is a cause for optimism, there are huge challenges when it comes to reaching lofty SDGs. A recent panel of sustainable tourism experts revealed that despite the opportunities for change available, countries are failing to acknowledge their destination’s unique circumstances, and lack the understanding that collaboration across the spectrum; from tourism authorities to supply chains to local businesses is required to deliver real tangible impact.
And if the advent of ‘revenge travel’ this year has revealed anything about travellers, it is that when it comes to their holidays, a low carbon footprint isn’t their top priority. One of the reasons sustainable behaviour is so difficult to implement in tourism is the traveller mindset. It is typically characterised by hedonistic rather than rational behaviour; when we go on holiday, we’re seeking to maximise our experience, abandoning the measures we put in place to maintain control of our at-home lives for a more carefree, relaxed state of leisure. The glass of wine with lunch, or a holiday cocktail — when questioned about their drinking habits abroad, over half of Americans revealed they forgo their usual drink of choice, with 79% buying drinks that ‘feel more like a vacation’, revealing our prioritisation of the experience over anything else.
This means even climate-conscious travellers often let their green principles slide in the face of the experience. We know visitors want to travel sustainably, we just have to create the path of least resistance to help them achieve it. What do we mean by the path of least resistance? We mean the course of action which presents the least friction; the easiest way or the easiest choice. How can destinations and businesses work together to design the path of least resistance, and make sustainability the default? Here are three initiatives from the Ticino region, which has successfully employed behaviour change tactics to maximise the region’s unique characteristics, infrastructure and culture to improve sustainability on a destination and business level.
Campofelice Camping Village
Gracing the shore of Lake Maggiore, the Campofelice Camping Village in Tenero, Switzerland offers guests an enticing mix of comfort and immersion in nature. Downstream of the Swiss Alps, the village has access to some of the best quality drinking water in the world. Despite the fact that this tap water was free and widely available, guests holidaying in the village chose to drink bottled water because it was the most obvious option, creating enormous amounts of unnecessary single-use plastic waste that was costly to dispose of.
Instead of trying to nudge guests to make them aware of the premium quality of the tap water and raising awareness of the plastic waste they were creating, BehaviorSMART worked with Campofelice to improve the visibility and appeal of the tap drinking water facilities for guests to refill bottles. Campofelice are making drinking tap water the easiest option, by using a visual brand to make the water points easily identifiable, highlighting the ‘free & natural’ benefits of the water and adding a sense of fun and engagement by inviting users to ‘Swiss the tap’. Once implemented next season, the next step of the programme is to introduce reusable water bottles, giving guests few reasons to opt to buy bottled water from shops at their own expense.
Hotel & Spa Internazionale Bellinzona
With its beautiful facade and 3-star hospitality, the Hotel & Spa Internazionale Bellinzona offers modern accommodation in Ticino’s capital close to the historic town centre. Rather than explicitly targeting the environmentally-friendly traveller or pushing the responsibility onto its guests, Hotel & Spa Internazionale aimed to reduce its negative footprint by boosting the footprint of the local economy. In the hotel’s restaurants, it did this by using clear symbols; signalling and positioning local products as the most attractive choice on their breakfast buffet and restaurant menus to hotel guests. But it also took this idea beyond the hotel doors, providing guests with reusable shopping bags they could use to carry their purchases of local wine and products back to the hotel; eliminating the need for single-use shopping bags.
Plus, much like Campofelice, to discourage guests from using single-use plastic, they swapped out these products for glass carafes and glasses. Then, because acquiring bottled water took the effort of leaving your hotel and paying for it, guests opted for tap water because it offered the path of least resistance when it came to having a drink of water.
Up from Lake Maggiore, Ticino is a beautiful network of alpine valleys and rivers; irresistible to tourists seeking escapism, adventure and relaxation outdoors. But to fully explore this mountainous region, many visitors were hiring cars to maximise their experience; adding to the area’s emissions and traffic concerns. Rather than simply offering incentives, since 2017 tourists staying anywhere throughout the region have been issued with a Ticino ticket; granting them unlimited free travel access to the public transport network of buses and trains. What’s more, the ticket offers generous discounts on cable cars, funicular railways and cruise excursions, further incentivising car-free travel and making it the easiest, cheapest and most enjoyable means of exploring the region.
Incentives like this may at first seem like they require large financial investments in order to be able to offer these services for free, but Ticino achieved this by redistributing funds from the tourist tax all visitors to Switzerland pay upon arrival. Last year, the Ticino ticket went digital; further reducing any friction in the travel experience and giving guests the ability to access their free travel pass through the Ticino Ticket Web App. By making public transport impossible to resist, Ticino has shifted the behavioural and mobility patterns of visitors on a destination level; resulting in huge reductions in emissions and the carbon footprint of the tourism economy in the region.
These examples not only demonstrate how the path of least resistance can be implemented with relative ease at both business and destination level, but reveal how both have complementary roles to play in changing sustainable behaviour in the tourism economic ecosystem. In the same way, the camping village incentivised their guests, so tourism authorities can incentivise businesses to make the change. Because small changes make a big difference; while these changes seem to be minor, when they are applied across businesses such as accommodation facilities, they amount to major improvements in the footprint management direction on a destination level.
So as we move towards a new year, consider the individual strengths and qualities of your tourism business or destination. What could you change to create the path of least resistance, and make sustainability easy?
Milena S. Nikolova