Exploring the relationship between sustainable tourism behaviour and psychological well-being in tourism experiences
While the closely related fields of sustainability and well-being have been usefully informed by research in recent years, efforts to integrate these fields are yet to be systematically advanced. This investigation seeks to contribute to this convergence of these research fields. It addresses the context of tourism as an experience-based form of consumption with the potential to enhance individual ephemeral (hedonic) and sustainable (eudaimonic) well-being. Given the complex array of stakeholders involved in the tourism sector that can function as agents of change, this study focuses on individual tourists and their capacity to direct tourism toward greater sustainability. Although the empirical work was conducted before the outbreak of COVID-19, this inquiry is timely as the global pandemic has provided key stakeholders with a rare opportunity to rebuild a more sustainable post-COVID tourism sector. An extensive critical review of the existing literature informed the framing of this thesis. A tourism-wellbeing-sustainability triple helix vision guided the review of the key theoretical perspectives. This included well-being theories in relation to tourism experiences and possible interconnections between well-being and sustainable behaviour. To date, the literature has remained largely silent on how tourist’s pro-sustainable behaviour connects to their experienced well-being, as there is no identification of a clear link between these constructs. Recognising the gap in the literature, the overarching aim of the present study is to understand the role of the tourists’ sustainability-related decisions in their well-being and to explore whether what is good for the well-being of the destination’s residents and environment is also good for the well-being of individual tourists. The investigation is exploratory in nature and qualitative in approach. Data were collected via thirty semi-structured in-depth interviews with men and women from a wide range of age, culture, and education with a recent international tourism holiday experience. The empirical data were interpreted by applying a data-driven thematic content analysis approach. The research finds that responsible tourist behaviour can be usefully linked to the PERMA model of psychological well-being from positive psychology. Therefore, tourists’ responsible behaviour can directly lead to positive psychological outcomes not only in terms of hedonic (positive emotions) but also deeper level eudaimonic well-being (engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment). There was little evidence that tourists perceive responsible tourism behaviour as self-sacrifice. A set of external barriers (e.g., lack of tools at the destination) and internal conflicts (e.g., a lack of sense of attachment to the destination) were identified as underlying reasons why individuals are often less responsible in their tourism experiences compared to their everyday lives. When engaged in irresponsible tourism behaviour, tourists experienced short- and longer-term negative emotions, including a sense of guilt. However, negative emotions are shown not to be necessarily a negative outcome as they could drive an individual toward behaving in appropriate ways best for the destinations and themselves. Participants reported a degree of awareness about environmental impacts of tourism aeromobility and identified it, when avoidable, as an instance of a deeply entrenched irresponsible tourism behaviour. To maintain their sense of psychological well-being when engaging in such conduct that goes against their beliefs, tourists employed a range of defence mechanisms such as depreciating the consequences of their behaviour and denial of personal responsibility. The research contributes to knowledge in tourism studies by linking concepts from psychology to tourist behaviour studies. It reconceptualises well-being in tourism as much more than the mere pursuit of pleasure, to include important aspects of personal and collective well-being. It also contributes to framing responsible tourist behaviour and psychological well-being as compatible pursuits. The empirical findings of the thesis, therefore, have implications for the tourism sector as a more positive messaging strategy could increase tourists’ motivation to engage in responsible behaviour in their tourism experiences and would be less likely to elicit defensive responses. With the transformational affordance of the global pandemic, the present research recommends that researchers in the fields of tourism well-being and sustainability take on an active role in informing, driving, and guiding discussions toward a responsible recovery, with sustainability a centrepiece of post-COVID tourism.
Advisor: Higham, James
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Tourism
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: "sustainable tourism", "psychological well-being", "eudaimonic well-being", "responsible tourist", SDG3, SDG12
Research Type: Thesis