Written by Tsung Hung Lee and Fen-Hauh Jan.

Tourism can result in adverse environmental effects, particularly as greenhouse gas emissions are associated with travelling and other recreational activities. Tourism does not only contribute to global warming but also contributes to the physical degradation of tourist destinations. Whether tourists intentionally or unintentionally damage the environments at tourist destinations, continues to be discussed. Reducing the impact of tourism on the environment, and educating tourists on environmentally responsible behaviour (ERB) have now become growing and important issues. Thus, the ways in which human activities cause serious environmental damage must be elucidated from a range of perspectives in order to reduce environmental harm and provide solutions.

Taiwan is located on the fault line that separates the Euro-Asian and Philippine continental plates. Approximately 75 percent of its land mass is mountainous and about 59 percent of its forested areas are in the central region along the north-to-south axis of the island. The significant variation in altitudes in this region causes a large variation in climatic conditions, generating a considerable variation in forest diversity. Taiwan has abundant and numerous national forest recreational areas, which are becoming increasingly important because they form a network of ecological conservation areas.

Taiwan is surrounded by ocean and has a long coastline that offers varying natural scenery. The west coast has many wetlands that are commonly used for farming and fishing. In recent years, some wetlands have been developed as recreational areas. For example, Guandu, Aowu, Haomeiliao, Cigu and Sihcao have been developed as nature-based tourism sites.

Tourists should be invited to work as “conservation partners” or “environmental volunteers” who engage in pro-environmental behaviours. This is in preference to the imposition of regulations or laws to control tourists’ adverse environmental behaviours during their participation in recreational activities.

Taiwan has several small islands, such as Liuqiu and Penghu, that have been developed as low-carbon islands to support sustainable tourism. Island-based tourism provides various attractions, including beautiful scenery, natural resources, island experiences, and local cultural activities which attract many visitors.

Taiwan used community-based development models in the mid-1990s as a means of increasing the sustainability of tourism in rural Taiwan. Since Taiwan’s agricultural sector lost its competitive advantage following the accession of Taiwan to the World Trade Organisation in 2002, community-based tourism – integrating both sustainable tourism and environmental conservation – has become one of the best alternative development models for economically depressed rural areas.

Although there exists an extensive literature on the assessment of ERB, studies regarding the methods of measuring ERB are lacking. Lee, Jan, and Yang (2013) first attempted to assess tourists’ ERB by using three surveys to establish a reliable and valid 24-item scale with a first-order and seven-factor model. They defined ERB as “tourists who strive to reduce their environmental impact, contribute to environmental preservation and/or conservation efforts, and do not disturb the ecosystem and biosphere of a destination during recreation/tourism activities.” They developed seven constructs; civil action, financial action, physical action, persuasive action, sustainable behavior, pro-environmental behavior, and environmentally friendly behavior, for conceptualising and evaluating the ERB of tourists.

However, as with most research, there are limitations. This scale relies on a self-reported measurement of tourists’ own ERBs, and so may not fully capture actual behavior. Applying the above concept and measurement of the ERB of tourists, the authors examined the factors that affect ERB and developed a series of theoretical models on ERB. They found that environmentally aware tourists’ develop significantly more positive attitudes regarding demonstrating ERB. Moreover, several precedent variables such as recreational involvement, place attachment, and conservation commitment affect tourists’ ERB.

Given that recreational activities in nature may affect tourists’ ERBs, with regards to both environmental attitudes and biospheric values, organisers of a nature-based tourism destinations should design and provide tourist activities that focus on the ecosystem and wildlife to enhance tourists’ biospheric values. They should also use pro-environmental activities, such as ecological hiking, environmental education, and environmental workshops, to help improve tourists’ environmental attitudes and their general ERBs. Tourists should be invited to work as “conservation partners” or “environmental volunteers” who engage in pro-environmental behaviours. This is in preference to the imposition of regulations or laws to control tourists’ adverse environmental behaviours during their participation in recreational activities.

Nature-based activities and tourist destinations are important for tourists who want to enjoy nature and take part in outdoor activities. Area/tourist managers who can identify the critical factors that cause environmental damage, and promote recreational engagement and experiences, develop environmental attitudes, and biospheric values, and also promote conservation among tourists, will be able to better develop sustainable tourism and ERBs.

One final observation is in regard to the assessment of studies which use self-reported measures to test ERB. Many may over-estimate their own ERB because of their own social desirability. Future studies should focus on observing participants in order to better evaluate ERB models.

Tsung Hung Lee is a Distinguished Professor at National Yunlin University of Science & Technology, Taiwan. Fen-Hauh Jan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Tourism and Hospitality at TransWorld University, Taiwan. Image Credit: CC by William Cho/Flickr

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