This is a response to Finja Hansen’s article: Tourism with a conscience – An empircal investigation of the perception of travelers on CSR-certification of tour operators based in Germany
Certification and labeling are often used in tourism, but their usefulness is debatable (Gössling & Buckley, 2016). This is nicely illustrated in the article of Finja Hansen. The implications of her study on corporate social responsibility (CSR) certification suggest that tourists should be more involved in CSR and its role within the decision-making process of vacations.
My own research has addressed similar topics. For instance, I have participated in research on sustainable behavior of tourists in relation to information communication (Hardeman et al., 2017), carbon labeling (Eijgelaar, Nawijn, Barten, Okuhn, & Dijkstra, 2016), and the gap between intention and behavior (Antimova, Nawijn & Peeters, 2012).
The tour operators of the study mainly use certification as a showcase for external audits. This is a sensible choice! Hansen’s findings and many others (e.g., Eijgelaar et al., 2016; Horne, 2009) find that traditional labels have no or only a very limited effect on tourists’ behavior. We really should give up on expecting these labels or certificates to have any kind of effect on tourist behavior and accept that their main use is simply a marketing tool to dress up company policy measures for the outside world, i.e. external auditors or shareholders. It would be wonderful if tourists actively participate in “post travel events” to discuss sustainable policy measures, as suggested by Hansen, but it seems far removed from reality.
Should we then give up on a sustainable (tourism) future? No. But we should be realistic. Tour operators, airlines, hotels, etc. are for-profit companies. That means that their main goal is to make profit, taking into account national and international laws, and industry guidelines about what is acceptable and what is not within a specific industry. Tourism demand is highly important too, but so far studies show that sustainability ranks low(est) in the decision-making process of tourists (e.g., Eijgelaar et al., 2016). The answer is thus not going to come from the tourism industry nor from tourists, but mainly governmental actions will allow for a more sustainable future (Peeters, 2017).