Responsibility for sustainability within tourism – an emerging discourse

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för geovetenskaper

Abstract: The tourism industry is at a pivotal point in time, where the potential and threats associated with the industry have gained global attention. While the field provides numerous development opportunities by being one of the largest global industries, the tourism industry’s contribution to universal threats such as global warming and climate change has been acknowledged. As a response, the industry and academia have experienced a shift towards discourses of sustainable tourism, or more recently responsible tourism, where stakeholders aim to embark on a path of holistic sustainability. The global significance of tourism’s potential to foster sustainable development has further been recognized by the assignment of 2017 as the International year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. At the core of the sustainable tourism debate lies the notion of responsibility, particularly the notion of various stakeholders’ responsibility for sustainability within tourism. Within this paradigm, consumers play a central role, as consumers can guide industry action with their travel related choices. Yet, there is a notable discrepancy between consumer attitudes about sustainability and their travel related behaviour and the disparity begs the question of how consumers perceive their own responsibility for sustainability in a tourism context. This study set out to explore the emerging discourse of responsibility for sustainability within tourism by examining how the notion has been addressed, constructed and framed within academia and the industry, with a particular interest in the framing of consumer responsibility for sustainability. Seven themes with additional subthemes of notions about responsibility for sustainability were identified through a literature review consisting of 132 peer-reviewed journal articles and two book chapters. Furthermore, an interpretive content analysis of the recently launched UNWTO Responsible Traveller campaign was carried out. The findings suggest that responsibility for sustainability within tourism has emerged as its own, distinct discourse characterized by an ambiguous and complex nature where the notion of responsibility is influenced by the surrounding context, prevailing social norms and individual identity. While responsibility for sustainability is recognized as the responsibility of all tourism stakeholders, the results suggest that consumers in particular abrogate themselves from a responsibility for sustainability in a tourism context and consequently, the industry is seen to lie in a state of lock-in. The findings indicate that there is a need to re-establish how and by whom responsibility for sustainability is constructed and framed within tourism, while notions of sustainable lifestyles and global citizenship should be fostered together with new social norms that challenge the prevailing status quo.

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