Tourist Behavior Affected by Climate Change

by Bryn Edwards

A study from the 2017 Journal of Sustainable Tourism proposed a psychological explanation for tourist behavior, in particular the effect climate change has on vacation locations. This is a promising development in terms of changing future behavior to further minimize damage that tourism has on native environments and ecosystems. Tourist behavior associated with travel to threatened locations can be attributed to reactance theory, which tells us that people inherently put worth on their freedom, and do not want that freedom taken away. Threatened destinations are alluring because people are more motivated to visit a place if they will not have such freedom in the future. Some factors influence how reactive people are to threatened locations; for example, travel is less important to some people, and people’s awareness and perception of climate change is different. There are four stages that people use to validate the impact that their travel has on the environment. The first stage is denial. People inherently act in their own best interests, and the paper mentions “extensive evidence” of exactly how far people are willing to go to deny the obvious truths in front of them. The second stage is the “consumer’s need to reduce tension.” Basically, a person goes out of their way to eradicate conflicting actions with beliefs. The third stage is people exercising their freedom to travel by demanding more of what they know they shouldn’t, like traveling to disappearing and vulnerable locations. For example, tourist travel increased 32% to Svalbard, Norway, which corresponded with an increase in awareness of declining polar bear habitats. The fourth stage is “helplessness,” the feeling that their actions are so small and insignificant that there is little to no effect. The paper effectively outlines the social implications of human psychology, and the negative impacts on the environment. As I read, the four stages mentioned above resonated on a more personal level, making me realize that I too am guilty of such negative travel practices.


Xavier, F. and Hindley, A., 2016. Understanding tourists’ reactance to the threat ofa loss of freedom to travel due to climate change: a new alternative approach to encouraging nuanced behavioural change. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, Vol. 25, No. 1, 26-42.



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