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BESTEN committee member Dr Julia N. Albrecht, University of Otago, New Zealand, and social enterprise GOOD Travel co-founder Eliza Raymond have investigated tourism planners’ and managers’ motivations behind visitor pledges and related implementation strategies. Such initiatives that encourage visitors to commit to responsible behaviours in tourism destinations are becoming increasingly prevalent. The Icelandic Pledge was introduced in June 2017, followed by the Palau Pledge in December 2017, New Zealand’s Tiaki Promise in November 2018, and the Sustainable Finland Pledge in August 2019. Albrecht and Raymond found that the pledges aim to create an emotional connection that destinations hope can be used to inspire visitors to protect the places they visit for future generations. Dr Albrecht says that while traditional visitor codes of conduct may sometimes have effectively communicated how to protect a destination, the pledges aim to appeal to visitors’ emotions. As such, they are more likely to encourage desired behaviours.
The research included interviews with 19 experts involved in the development and implementation of destination pledges in Iceland, Palau, Hawaii, New Zealand and Finland. Stakeholders commented that communicating why visitors should protect destinations was a key goal for the destination managers involved in the pledges. For example, the co-founders of the Palau Pledge described how they used the winning sales and marketing formula used by companies like Apple and applied the same principles to the Palau Pledge to inspire and connect with visitors. A common approach was ensuring that the pledges appropriately represented the destination’s culture and values. The language, symbolism and stories being used were all described as important elements of communicating local culture to engage and inspire visitors. In general, the researchers found the pledges have been well received by visitors, industry and residents but the question of whether the pledges are serving as an effective visitor management tool and positively influencing visitor behaviour remains. Destination managers in Palau and New Zealand are developing a range of impact measurement tools, and it is hoped that data will soon be available to assess whether understanding why destinations deserve to be protected is translating into behavioural changes.
Julia N. Albrecht, Department of Tourism, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand & Eliza Raymond, GOOD Travel, Wellington, New Zealand