European travellers and 'experience seekers' more likely to offset their carbon emissions, finds Australian study
(photo: Sydney Airport)
Wed 17 Sept 2014 – Travellers from the UK and Europe are far more likely to support voluntary carbon offsetting measures than their Asian counterparts, reveals an extensive study of international visitors to Australia. Using data from the government’s Tourism Research Australia, researchers from the Griffith Institute for Tourism (GIFT) at Griffith University in Queensland analysed uptake over a three-year period and found younger travellers were more likely to offset their emissions than older visitors. ‘Experience seekers’ – those international travellers who value authenticity, adventure, learning and immersion in the local culture and who form an ‘ideal’ visitor segment for the Australian tourism authorities – and nature-based visitors were found to be significantly more likely to offset. The research confirms other studies that have shown a low but steady take-up of carbon offsetting schemes.
The researchers analysed results taken from the International Visitor Survey (IVS) managed by Tourism Research Australia, which is the leading source of information on visitors to the country, for the period 2008 to 2010. The IVS samples 40,000 departing, short-term international travellers each year and for the three years in question asked them whether they had made a voluntary carbon offset payment on anything associated with their trip.
The weighted analysis of the response, which has just been published in the journal Tourism Management, found that around 2.1% of international visitors to Australia offset their carbon emissions in 2008, with 2.7% offsetting in 2009 and 2.5% in 2010. Despite the reference period taking place during an economic downturn caused by the global financial crisis in 2008, the researchers say the findings reveal a stable carbon offsetting market, and believe the current uptake rate is still comparable and aligns with anecdotal information from industry.
Rates are low for varying reasons, says one of the study’s researchers. “A number of people are still sceptical about man-made global warming. Further, obviously travellers never like having to pay additional fees and taxes, and there are those who don’t know enough about how carbon offsetting works – they might be willing in principle but are not sure if their dollar goes where they think it should,” Susanne Becken, Professor of Sustainable Tourism and Director of GIFT, told GreenAir.
One way to improve uptake, she suggests, is for airlines or travel agents to put the carbon offset on the ticket as a default, so requiring the customer to unclick a box if they do not want to pay. More information about carbon offset projects would also help provide more confidence to the traveller, she adds.
By country of residence, the analysis shows travellers from the UK, Europe and Canada are more likely to carbon offset than those from Asian countries and, perhaps surprisingly, New Zealand. The study says this supports some evidence that social marketing, public discourse and substantial media coverage in the UK and Europe may have performed a role in enhancing climate change mitigation behaviours.
Should future research establish a more formal link between social marketing and carbon offsetting, an implication would be that an increase in carbon offsetting should be driven by government and industry, via marketing, it recommends.
The study’s lead author, Dr Char-Lee McLennan, Research Fellow at GIFT, says: “A better informed population that is more readily exposed to social marketing and media coverage of the issues relating to our carbon footprint is more likely to be supportive of carbon offsetting initiatives.”
She added that further research on Asian travellers’ environmental perceptions and behaviours, and how these perceptions are developed, was important. “Australia’s geographic proximity to the growth markets of Asia dictates that more work needs to be done in this area.”
The results also show that voluntary carbon offsetting visitors tended to be travelling on holiday and indicates business travellers are less likely to offset their emissions, and therefore corporate engagement in offsetting may be low. The study acknowledges that businesses may already be contributing to a company-wide offset scheme and employees may not be informed of offsetting undertaken on their behalf.
Despite the global financial crisis in 2008, the analysis found no decline in the proportion of offsetters between 2008 and 2010. The researchers say this evidence of a stable carbon offsetting market will be important to companies providing offset schemes. However, they add, there is a need for further research to investigate whether the prevalence of carbon offsetting is subject to longer-term behavioural changes as a result of economic crises and also into the identified cluster groups of offsetting-inclined travellers to determine whether there are inherent characteristics that might limit possible future growth in the market.
Professor Becken advises other options on how travellers can reduce their carbon footprint: “One is to choose an airline with high aircraft efficiency; secondly, choose the most direct route where possible; and, thirdly, think about the weight of items you take on board. For example, it is much better to buy duty-free goods on arrival than departure – not carrying an extra several kilos for thousands of miles really makes a difference.”