ZMET: A psychological approach to understanding unsustainable tourism mobility

C. Khoo, B. Prideaux

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


As the scale of global tourism flows continues to grow and the impacts of climate change become more apparent, issues related to tourism mobilities and the ability of destinations to sustain long-haul markets will become increasingly important. Distance is a particularly important factor because, as the average distance of individual trips grows, there is an increase in the collective environmental impact of annual emissions. The magnitude of anticipated increases in global air travel is demonstrated by a recent report from Boeing that forecasts that the total demand for passenger jet aircraft is likely to grow from 20,000 aircraft in 2010 to 40,000 in 2030 (Boeing, 2013). One issue that is likely to affect the ability of destinations to maintain long-haul tourism flows in the future is the impact of legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emission. Actions of this nature are already occurring with carbon pricing schemes implemented in Australia and the EU (World Bank, 2013). Despite many protests, the UK government has imposed the Air Passenger Duty as a climate change mitigation strategy by increasing the price of air travel and in the process making the UK’s air travel tax one of the highest in the world. The issue of sustainable mobilities will grow in importance as concerns over climate change begin to determine international policy agendas. The implications for tourism are obvious, particularly the longhaul aviation sector that is currently the tourism industry’s major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (UNWTO-UNEP-WMO, 2008). Any change in demand for long-haul travel due to climate change mitigation policies will have a knock-on effect on short-haul travel and in so doing change the demand patterns for domestic road, rail, air and sea transport. Changing patterns of demand of this nature will create new opportunities for destinations as well as close off existing opportunities. A number of studies have noted the gap between awareness of climate change and personal actions undertaken to alter personal travel behaviours (Becken, 2004; Huebner, 2012; McKercher et al., 2010). Several researchers have noted that engaging in air travel to distant destinations is seen as a right by many consumers (Becken, 2007). In some cases, lack of action stems from the belief that it is the role of other agencies, not the individual, to make changes that can reduce the impact of climate change (McKercher et al., 2013). Changing attitudes is a complex task and as Pidgeon (2011) acknowledges, even in circumstances where accepting personal responsibility might save one’s life, wearing seat belts for example, long-term communication strategies, backed by punitive action, were required to achieve the desired effects. Understanding and then changing consumer attitudes is, therefore, a pressing issue. Achieving tourists’ social and behavioural change could be a key to achieving responsible tourism, particularly where climate change is concerned. Research has demonstrated that tourists do not choose environmentally friendly transportation despite their declared positive attitudes towards sustainable tourism (Beudeanu, 2007). As Gössling et al. (2010) observed, technology and management alone cannot reduce emissions. To overcome the apparent reluctance to cut back on personal air travel (Higham et al., 2013), there is a need to address existing discrepancies between tourist intention (what they say they would like to do) and behaviour (what they actually do). A recent paper by McNamara and Prideaux (2010) illustrates this gap, in that case between tourists’ self-reported use of interpretation provided in a natural area and actual observed use. Although a large majority of respondents reported that the availability of environmental information at a forest site was important, only 24 per cent of visitors actually stopped to read interpretative signs, with the average time spent reading being 2.1 minutes. Recent evidence (Kollmuss and Agyeman, 2002; Sheeran, 2002) suggests that attitude-behaviour gaps present themselves as substantial psychological barriers to positive change. For an approach based on reducing these barriers to be effective, new psychological and behavioural approaches are required. There is, therefore, an urgent need to understand responses at the individual level using techniques that reflect the complexities of a tourist’s thoughts and behaviour. This chapter outlines a relatively new method to identify and evaluate varied deep-seated motivations in individual travel practices and those choices that may constitute barriers to increased sustainability. It outlines how the Zaltman metaphor elicitation method (ZMET) technique may be used to identify barriers to individuals adopting sustainable mobility practices. It draws on the psychology of travel and tourism, and on the growing use of photographs and photography as a tool for understanding travel psychology. © 2014 Editorial matter and selection: Scott A. Cohen, James E.S. Higham, Paul Peeters and Stefan Gössling.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnderstanding and Governing Sustainable Tourism Mobility: Psychological and Behavioural Approaches
PublisherTaylor and Francis Ltd.
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)9781135038311 (ISBN); 9780415839372 (ISBN)
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


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