chapter  8
8 Pages

Concluding thoughts

This book has explored the complex, contradictory and contested landscape of ethical consumers’ motivations through the prism of their holiday choice decisions. Starting with an examination of the variables considered significant in understanding consumer decision making and tourist motivation, Chapter 1 recalled the unique set of challenges facing researchers in this area of study. Perhaps the most important starting point for any study of human beings is to remember that they are not the rational decision makers they were once thought. Indeed, the myth that people are attracted to goods and services purely for economic utility has long been debunked. Not only do studies now recognise the primacy of affect over cognition in many decision contexts, but they also reveal that consumers are not always self-interested, their choice behaviours reflect a wider social context, and consumption decisions are mediated by factors such as routine, habit and social practice (Dickinson et al. 2010; Jackson 2005). Of additional importance to those seeking to understand consumer beha-

viour is that products and services are inherently meaningful to consumers, and people construct a range of personal and social identities through their consumption, both intentionally and unintentionally (McCracken 1986). This combination of accident and design thus gives rise to another significant challenge facing researchers: individuals are rarely able to identify their own motivations accurately, are often unable to articulate these either to themselves or others, and can be prone to exaggeration and obfuscation about their true motives. Such issues have for many decades tested researchers interested in all aspects of human behaviour, but they have been particularly difficult to manage in studies designed to understand people’s attitudes about, and intentions towards, the purchasing of ethical goods and services. Chapters 2 and 3 examined some of these issues at length, and proposed several reasons as to why such a confused and confusing understanding of ethical consumers’ interests, concerns and motivations persists. One of the key reasons identified in Chapter 3 refers to the terminology

used to describe individuals concerned about the moral issues involved in

with no single term defining these people or their interests. Additionally, the chapter discussed market research surveys published in the UK in the late 1990s and early 2000s that offered misleading information over the extent of demand for ethical products. These studies proclaimed widespread public interest in the ethics of consumption, and a pronounced willingness to pay extra for ethical goods and services (see for example, Mintel 2001, 2003, 2004). Consequently, many companies jumped on the ‘ethical bandwagon’ and promoted products and services the ethical attributes of which were less than genuine, re-igniting scepticism over corporate ethical claims and effectively holding back the market for many years. Second, in a rush to exploit the perceived commercial opportunities offered by the production and consumption of ethical products and services, many producers and retailers ignored the reality of the market, where sales of ethical and fair trade products remained persistently small. Indeed, any note of caution expressed by academics (and others) over issues such as social desirability bias or attitude-intention-behaviour gaps were completely disregarded. While social desirability bias is a methodological consideration discussed in

many studies of human behaviour, identifying the factors responsible for the attitude-intention-behaviour gaps has proven irresistible for researchers of ethical consumers, whose purchasing behaviour is often described as inconsistent and contradictory. Whilst such discrepancies are often attributed to a combined sense of bewilderment and confusion over the different ethical issues and how to deal with them, increased public cynicism over ethical and clean wash, and/or a lack of awareness and information about how to be an ethical shopper, researchers have latterly accepted that ethical consumers display a ‘flexible’ approach to decision making, where they sometimes buy ethical and at other times do not. Such ‘flexibility’ appears to be a critical aspect of the reality of ethical consumption, especially given the extensive amount of time and effort that these individuals expend in order to fulfil their ethical aspirations, manage the pragmatics of the marketplace, and satisfy their desire for an ethical identity (see Bedford 2011; Carrigan et al. 2004; Shaw and Riach 2011; Szmigin et al. 2009; Varul 2009). Chapter 3 examined all of these factors in some depth before evaluating whether comparisons could be made between the ethical consumer and the responsible tourist. Most notably, the chapter traced the historical trajectory of research into both the demand for and supply of responsible tourism products, before concluding with observations about the trade-offs, or coping strategies, commonly associated with ethical consumers and noted in responsible tourist behaviour. Throughout this book, research has indicated that human beings are complex

and perplexing subjects for study. However, while this statement is not revolutionary, researchers of holiday decision making and leisure choice behaviour face a further challenge: consumers view holidays very differently from other products and services, which may have significant impact on any decision that they make regarding whether or not they will travel responsibly. Holidays are known to be unique spaces of consumption, with any prevailing norms and

to consumers’ ethical intentions (Barr et al. 2010; Dickinson et al. 2010; Hares et al. 2010). Indeed, recent research has highlighted that even the most environmentally dedicated consumer, who actively performs a variety of green behaviours at home, displays behavioural inconsistency on holiday, saying that ‘they would pay the [aviation] tax and keep flying anyway’ (Barr et al. 2010: 477). Having already identified these issues in general consumer research, the apparently similar and equally contrary nature of responsible tourists’ choice decisions is perhaps not entirely unexpected. Partly this is due to the logistical constraints associated with the structure of the tourism industry, but while Chapter 3 reviewed the serious criticisms levelled at the unethical nature of some elements of the tourism industry’s operational and development activities, it also recalled that people’s primary motivations for a holiday are to enjoy themselves, have fun and relax. It is perhaps not unexpected, therefore, that an individual might experience some dissonance or internal conflict at the interface between any ethical intentions and their consequent holiday choices. Potentially, an exploration of the variables involved in this conflict may go some way to explaining the perceived ‘gap’ between tourists’ stated intentions and their purchasing behaviour. With a view to clarifying the gap observed in ethical consumers’ holiday decision making, Chapter 3 introduced the concept of values. One of the most significant aspects of values, which render them useful for

understanding ethical consumption behaviour, is the role they play in the initiation of the value-attitude-behaviour sequence. Recalling the discussion in Chapter 4, people make decisions according to their value priorities, with ethical behaviour being influenced by the extent to which people are motivated by the self-transcendent values of universalism and benevolence or the more selfenhancing values of power and achievement. Consequently, values have been explored in many studies, particularly those seeking to explain ethical consumption behaviour. However, Chapter 4 claims a lack of research attention on the ability of values to offer insight into responsible tourist behaviour to be a serious omission, not least because they conflict when people make judgements and choices. For example, someone who is generally motivated to satisfy and display their benevolence values by buying fair trade products may experience value conflict when it comes to organising a family holiday, where hedonistic motivations become more important, particularly if overseas air travel is a necessary part of the activity. Potentially, therefore, a detailed examination of these individuals’ holiday choices and a corresponding investigation of the values they reveal in the process could offer significant insight into the decisional trade-offs that responsible tourists make and provide a richer understanding of some of the key attitude-behaviour gaps inherent in ethical consumption. On this premise, Chapter 5 detailed the study at the heart of this book,

which aimed to examine the holiday decisions of ethical consumers to reveal whether they incorporated their everyday consumption values into their holiday choices. The chapter revealed that while some ethical consumers enjoy

others are genuinely concerned about the impacts of their holidays and spend a great deal of time and effort to achieve the goal of being ethical consumers on holiday. Of course, the data also revealed other significant motivations, such as the importance of holidays for renewing and strengthening family bonds, for spiritual reconnections with nature and for the fun, happy and rejuvenating experience of seeing new places, meeting new people and enjoying a temporary disconnect from everyday life and work. While these imperatives are significant for many, if not all tourists, researchers necessarily have to separate fact from fiction, especially on occasions where social desirability bias may occur. To counter the potential for the latter, Chapter 5 offered the author’s interpretation of the data but at the same time provided extensive detail of the study respondents’ narratives. By doing so, it was intended that readers would benefit from reading and evaluating these conflicts between intention-attitude-behaviour as they were recalled, described, managed and/or avoided by ethical consumers in their own words. While it is easy to dismiss the notion that human beings always tell the

truth, especially in a discussion of their altruistic-egoistic motivations in front of a stranger, it is also important to accept that some people are inherently and genuinely trying to be ethical consumers and therefore believe that they are being honest and open about their motivations. The extent to which a reader will accept the ‘truth’ of a study narrative, therefore, will largely depend on whether they believe human beings are capable of honest introspection. Regardless of such a proviso, Chapter 6 represents a sincere attempt to open up discussion about the sometimes conflicting nature of responsible tourists’ holiday decisions by means of a deep exploration of these individuals’ motivational values. Significantly, the application of the means-end chain theory (Gutman 1982) and the use of the laddering interview technique (Reynolds and Gutman 1988) proved invaluable for the analysis of the study data – a view held by many researchers addressing the role and importance of human values and their influence on consumption behaviour (see Chapter 3 for a full discussion of these). How the analysis was achieved, and what this process revealed, formed the subject of Chapter 6. Looking in detail at the discussion presented in Chapter 6, it is clear that

responsible tourists believe they are deeply motivated to satisfy their ethical values on holiday, and the analysis of the data using Schwartz’s (1992) value scale is extensively described in the chapter. However, this detailed interpretation also revealed a number of significant insights indicating that not all respondents considered their values to be at conflict with truly ethical aspirations. For instance, one mother bought organic food not because she wanted to discourage the use of pesticides and harmful additives in commercial food farming to protect the environment and improve farm animal welfare, but because she wanted her family to have access to chemical-free food. Similarly, evidence that responsible tour operators are popular for reasons other than ethical motivations was supplied by a retired geography teacher

this tour company offered small group tours and arranged ‘authentic’ visits to meet local people, thus giving her the opportunity to connect with what she described as ‘untouched’ societies. Another respondent, a man in his late seventies, enjoyed staying in an ecocabin on holiday because the lack of modern technology in the cabin afforded him a nostalgic connection with the remembered simplicity of his childhood. Examples of similar stories are found in many studies of all types of

consumer behaviour. As stated earlier, human beings are complex, they are often untruthful, impetuous, prone to exaggeration and often seek to please, especially in research interview situations. However, it is difficult not to acknowledge the consumption plight of ethical consumers, and hence responsible tourists, as they have to assimilate a tremendous amount of market information about the products and services available to them and it is not surprising that compromise and trade-offs occur. Indeed, the practical considerations of availability, value for money and convenience may be the reason why ethical consumers are not always seen to follow their principles either during their weekly shop or on holiday. These and other comparable considerations were discussed in Chapter 7, which reviewed extant literature to determine the challenges facing stakeholders keen to encourage an increase in both the demand and supply of responsible tourism. Specifically, it examined the strategy of mainstreaming ‘responsibility’ to

different stakeholder groups, and detailed the approach adopted by companies promoting fair trade products to the general grocery market, how social marketing has been utilised in the health and welfare sector to encourage positive behaviour change, and questioned whether it might be useful to encourage demand for responsible tourism. Whilst not proclaiming to offer a definitive ‘solution’ to the problems stemming from what is often condemned as an unsustainable approach to the development and management of global tourism, the chapter also offered some recommendations to help those seeking to progress an agenda for change by encouraging individual tourists to change their behaviour. This final chapter has briefly reviewed the book’s content in order to offer

new insight into the challenges of researching ethical consumers’ holiday choices. It has also discussed how values can provide a more accurate picture of what these people want from a holiday and revealed that this is not very different from the things all tourists look for. The chapter has also considered how the book contributes to knowledge about the moral dilemmas facing ethical consumers in their holiday choice behaviour, how they compromise, resolve, navigate, negotiate and in some cases ignore them, and how this information can be utilised by those keen to increase demand for the production and consumption of responsible tourism. While other books may offer a more detailed examination of the ethical dilemmas in tourism (see Fennell’s 2006 book Tourism Ethics), or focus on a specific aspect of ethics (see Holden and Fennell’s 2013 book The Routledge Handbook of Tourism

of this book is a detailed understanding of ethical consumers’ holiday choices and how these are shaped and influenced by their ethical values. As such, it has extended knowledge of these consumers’ motivations, made some progress in understanding how they manage their sometimes conflicting priorities, and provided insight into some of the key variables associated with the attitude-intention-behaviour gap.