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Socially sustainable tourist behaviour: bridging the gap between scholarly research and real-world issues

Socially sustainable tourist behaviour: bridging the gap between scholarly research and real-world issues

Li, Jiawei ORCID: 0000-0003-1585-7640, Morrison, Alastair ORCID: 0000-0002-0754-1083, Nguyen, Hai ORCID: 0000-0003-1826-4904 and Coca-Stefaniak, J. Andres ORCID: 0000-0001-5711-519X (2024) Socially sustainable tourist behaviour: bridging the gap between scholarly research and real-world issues. In: Maxim, Cristina, Morrison, Alastair ORCID: 0000-0002-0754-1083, Day, Jonathon and Coca-Stefaniak, J. Andres ORCID: 0000-0001-5711-519X, (eds.) Handbook of Sustainable Urban Tourism. Research Handbooks in Tourism series . Edward Elgar, Cheltenham and Masachussetts, pp. 102-115.

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The concept of sustainable tourism emerged in the 1970s (Serrano et al., 2019), with early research in this field led initially by geographers and environmentalists to discuss sustainable development from an environmental perspective (Butler, 1999). Over the time, sustainability grew in importance and became increasingly embedded in tourism research, with the first definition of sustainable development published by the United Nations’ Brundtland Commission in 1987 (Liu, 2003). By the 1990s, scholars were becoming increasingly concerned about sustainable tourism as a concept despite a need for more consensus on a precise definition. However, definitions gradually emerged for sustainable tourism (Cater, 1993; Butler, 1999), though sustainable tourism and sustainable tourist behaviour (STB) continued to be used interchangeably. Today, sustainable tourist behaviour has become a critical field of enquiry within sustainable tourism (Xiao and Smith, 2006; Lu and Nepal, 2009). As tourism destinations' sustainability challenges continue to grow, it is becoming increasingly apparent that changes in the behaviour of tourists will be necessary in the future (Schultz, 2014). Some of the earliest research describing sustainable tourist behaviour emerged around the beginning of the 21st century, focusing on environmental sustainability (Wearing et al., 2002). A decade later, researchers started to investigate other dimensions of sustainability, including social and cultural ones, which broadened the discussion of sustainable tourist behaviour. Although a growing body of research addresses multiple sustainability issues, a universally accepted definition of sustainable tourist behaviour continues to elude scholars (John, 2020), partly due to the heterogeneity of tourism destinations and the complexity of the challenges they face. Nevertheless, in general terms, it can be posited that sustainable behaviour involves actions and consumption that tend to deliver social or environmental benefits while reducing the negative impacts (Alazaizeh et al., 2019) in a “green”, “ethical”, “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” fashion (Hanna and Adams, 2019). A systematic search of the tourism literature performed using the Scopus database, revealed that there is a growing interest among scholars in sustainable tourist behaviour, in particular related to social and cultural sustainability (Alazaizeh et al., 2019; Gao et al., 2017; Mustafa, 2019). Still, the concept of socially sustainable tourist behaviour remains relatively unexplored, especially in the context of urban tourism destinations, where the interaction between visitors and residents tends to be subject to additional challenges as a result of higher population densities. The concept of socially sustainable tourist behaviour (SSTB) refers to behaviours deemed beneficial to the sustainability of tourism destinations from a socio-cultural perspective. Using the United Nation’s framework for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (United Nations, 2019) as a reference (Figure 8.1), it could be argued that SSTB can be directly related to SDG1 (no poverty), SDG3 (good health and wellbeing), SDG5 (gender equality), SDG8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG10 (reduced inequalities), SDG11 (sustainable cities and communities), SDG12 (responsible consumption and production), and SDG16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions). Parallel to this, the communication between academics and real-world on this topic is minimal. Significant gaps exist between academic research and practice. For instance, compared to other disciplines, little research appears to exist on the relationship between tourist behaviour and resident/tourism employee wellbeing (Mathew and Sreejesh, 2017). Another arena where academic research is lacking relates to how tourist consumption contributes to the sustainability of local economies (Testa et al., 2018). Practitioners do not have the same level of knowledge nor fully benefit from academic findings. In turn, primarily due to a seemingly perennial - though not necessarily deliberate - lack of communication between practitioners and academics, urban tourism practice appears to need to be more engaged with research findings, with the risk of this gap potentially widening in the next few decades. Accordingly, this chapter aims to highlight the gaps between academic and real-world in terms of the discourse of socially sustainable tourist behaviours, and to provide suggestions on how to bridge the gaps. The specific research objectives were to:
1. Assess the adequacy of the coverage of sustainable behaviour and socially sustainable behaviour in the academic and practitioner literatures.
2. Determine if gaps exist in the two literatures and, if so, what these gaps are.
3. Provide practical recommendations and suggestions on how to bridge the gaps.
The major contribution of this chapter is in identifying the gaps that exist related to socially sustainable tourist behaviour between academia and practice, and in stating how these gaps can be closed. Closing the gap between academic and real-world will help practitioners in addressing sustainability issues caused by tourists, which is required for achieving sustainable development. The UN’s (2015) “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” and its 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) are used as guidance for call for actions for all stakeholders to get engaged in sustainable development from multiple dimensions, including the social perspective (United Nations, 2019).

Item Type: Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords: urban tourism; sustainable tourism; sustainability; social sustainability; tourist behaviour
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Business
Last Modified: 24 Nov 2023 11:32

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