Researchers Xavier Font, from the University of Surrrey, and Scott McCabe, from the University of Nottingham, present a paper that stresses the importance of sustainable tourism marketing, and call for more pro-sustainability interventions. The authors points out that tourism marketing has typically been seen as exploitative and fuelling hedonistic consumerism. Sustainability marketing can, however, use marketing skills and techniques to good purpose, by understanding market needs, designing more sustainable products and identifying more persuasive methods of communication to bring behavioural change. The article summarises the latest research on the theories, methods and results of marketing that seeks to make tourist destinations better places to live in, and better places to visit. It explores sustainability marketing’s two fundamental approaches, that of market development, using market segmentation, and that of sustainable product development. The authors also points out that there has never been a more opportune or important moment in which to address issues of marketing in sustainable tourism. At the time of writing, news agencies around the world reported that 2016 was officially the warmest year on record. A press release from the UK Met Office in conjunction with the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit stated that a particularly strong El Niño event was partly responsible; however, “…the main contributor to warming over the last 150 years is human influence on climate from increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere”. Yet, it may at first appear that the concepts of marketing and sustainability are antithetical, mutually incompatible Marketing has been defined as the activity, set of institutions and processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners and society at large.This holistic definition suggests a benign view of marketing. Tourism is most often conceived as a “want” rather than a “need”, a luxury or a reward, as a non-essential, hedonic, aspirational consumption activity (reflected in advertising messages), such that tourism marketing is more readily associated with the more malign view of marketing practice. Indeed tourism is sometimes conceived as essentially pure marketing, as it is often based on packaging existing resources and assets of a destination, and subsequent promotion to new markets. Much effort has gone into identifying market segments that have pro-sustainability values, beliefs and behavioural intentions, and finding persuasive methods to convince consumers in general to buy products identified as sustainable specifically because of such characteristics. Researchers are beginning to apply innovative psychological and sociological techniques to improve our understanding about the paradox between what consumer’s state as their preferences, attitudes and intentions, and their actual behaviour as tourists, in order to identify market segments that are willing to purchase more sustainable products or behave in a more environmentally friendly way while on holiday. Some have suggested that tourists would even be willing to pay higher prices for more sustainable tourism experiences.

A sustainability consumerism approach means that firms and social organisations will aim to meet the needs of consumers with relevant pro-environmental or responsible offers, often by highlighting their firm’s sustainability based on certain criteria. This approach faces numerous challenges, such as raising awareness of consumers, often at a time when they are not predisposed to it, and convincing them that the alternative offered will fulfil their needs. It assumes that marketing and communication can make sustainability relevant to the decision-making and purchasing behaviour of the consumer. A further strand of related research and practice is that which attempts at influencing consumers to behave more sustainably. This special issue represents a coordinated effort to study the potential for behaviour change towards more sustainable tourism. Truong and Hall stand out for their previous contributions on this topic, and in their paper in this issue, they have studied 14 programmes that they consider to share some behavioural change strategies typical of social marketing. They found that despite the banner of social marketing, most programmes in practice are used to achieve business objectives (eight of the 14 seek to reduce water and energy consumption and improve waste management for example, which reduce operational costs for business), while those with clear altruistic benefits focus on a range of issues including preventing litter, preventing drug and substance abuse, reducing demand for rhino horn, and eating better and exercising more. While we have made much progress, the limitations of a market-led approach to sustainable tourism are numerous. The proportion of travellers that actually purchase sustainable tourism products remains rather limited.

The research presented here shows that there are many innovative solutions to sustainability challenges and that there is a growing impetus for the development of more sustainable tourism products that can be marketed successfully.

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