Scientists have shown through a new study in Frontiers in Communication that it is possible to nudge tourists around the world to exhibit and practice environmentally friendly behavior through subtle messaging and cues.
According to researchers when tourists where repeatedly shown cues or nudges into the right direction they were more likely to demonstrate environmentally conscious actions, such as refusing a plastic bag or avoiding contact with a coral reef. The findings are based on travelers who were observed on the Indonesian island of Gili Trawangan. Messaging and cues were enough to lead people to make environmentally conscious decisions, compared to being given no behavioral cues or messaging.
The study provides many practical takeaways that can be easily implemented by tourist operators or businesses, at a low cost, to increase environmental stewardship and promote positive behaviors in their customers.
Although many of us feel a responsibility to demonstrate environmentally-conscious behaviors and possess the knowledge we need to take these actions, we are often burdened by numerous obstacles, a phenomenon the researchers describe as the ‘knowledge-action gap’. Dr Katherine Nelson, who led the study in partnership with the Gili Eco Trust, explains:
To try and close this gap, the researchers set up scenarios for tourists in two real life situations — when being offered a plastic bag at a convenience store, and when given a briefing before a snorkeling trip. The researchers observed the differences in people’s behavior based on whether a person was confronted with a written or face to face interaction of either a positive message highlighting good outcomes, or a negative message focusing on the bad outcomes of a specific action.
The study showed that the presence of a ‘nudge’ or cue towards certain behaviors was enough to encourage people to behave in more environmentally conscious ways, whether that was refusing a plastic bag whilst at the convenience store or ensuring they maintained a safe distance from turtles when on a snorkeling trip – whether this message was framed positively or negatively did not matter.
The results offer important insights on the effectiveness of simple messaging as a practical way to nudge people towards environmentally conscious behaviors. The tourist sector in particular has huge potential to utilize these types of approaches and make pro-environmental behaviors a simple choice to reduce local impacts.