by Diana Condrea*

 

Abstract


This article explores one of the most ambitious ideals of the tourism industry, that opening up the last and most remote wilderness of the Planet to tourism, will inspire and empower tourists to act in favor of its conservation. Nonetheless, this noble and highly-desirable goal is not backed-up by solid and extensive research, much needed to shape the future of polar tourism as these areas are facing today more dangers than ever before: climate change, tourism expansion and natural resource exploitation plans. In-depth interviews with tourists who have travelled one or more times to Antarctica were used as a main research method, using the Interactional Framework (Powell et al., 2009), Kellert's typology of environment values and the Responsible Environmental Behavior Model (Hines et al., 1986) as theoretical approach. The results suggest that conservation ambassadorship is a potential outcome for those tourists who have the strongest emotional connection with Antarctica, who attach it a high moralistic value, whose identity and travel behavior was influenced by the polar experience. These tourists are experienced in nature-based activities, have powerful pro-environmental attitudes and, if engaged, could perhaps take actions to promote conservation. More research, both quantitative and qualitative, is necessary to determine the variables that could enhance some tourists to act as conservation ambassadors.


1. Introduction


Researchers and practitioners argue that tourism is the fastest growing industry in the world and it seems that despite global economic and political unrest, people continue to travel, creating and recreating new destinations of interest. The contemporary tourist changes his or her identity and claims to be a traveller, an individual in search of post-modern experiences, losing interest for traditional destinations like European capitals and willing to flee to the end of the world to explore the unexplored and touch the untouched. How much they take back from the experiences that often immerse them deeply in unique natural settings is not yet known for sure. Even less is known on what they give back for the protection of the places they visit, not even when these places are the last great wilderness the world has left like the Antarctica.
Several authors argue that immersing in this type of scenery will make the tourists become the ambassadors of its protection (Splettstoesser, 2000). However, this statement is not supported by extensive research that is very much needed in order to develop and strengthen sustainable tourism in Antarctica before irreversible impacts occur. And looking at the fast rates of tourism growth in the Polar Regions, an increase of 344% of ship-borne tourists in 13 years and by 917% of land-based tourists in 9 years (Snyder, 2007), the need for consistent and well researched advice is both obvious and urgent.

 

In this sense, the present article will explore the possibility of potential ambassadorship attitudes and behaviours occurring for tourists who have travelled to the Antarctica. For this purpose, the author collected and analysed the narratives of those who have been there across three relevant theoretical frameworks: Interactional Framework (Powell et al, 2009), Model of Responsible Environmental Behaviour - REB (Hines at al., 1986) and Kellert's typology of environmental values (Kellert, 1998). (Ed. Research for this article took place between April & March 2012).

 

2.Theoretical background


One of the pioneers of Antarctic tourist expeditions, Edward Lindblad, justified his option of opening the Southern ice for tourists by arguing that "You can't protect what you don't know" (IAATO.org, April 8, 2012). Almost half of century later, the members of the IAATO are still connecting their commercial activity to:

 

"enhance public awareness and concern for the conservation of the Antarctic environment and its associated ecosystems" in order "to create a corps of ambassadors for the continued protection of the Antarctica by offering the opportunity to experience the continent first hand" (IAATO, org, April 8, 2012).

 

But how effective is this claim? Defined as:

 

"the process of advocating the preservation of the continent by those who have been on the "ICE" and so have a first-hand experience of the values being sought to protect" (Maher et al., 2003),

 

the ambassadorship behaviour is seen as the result the polar experience has on the tourist (Mahler et al., 2003; Splettstoesser, 2000):

 

"There are probably no greater ambassadors for Antarctica than tourists who have been there and disseminate information about its fragile environment and need for its protection after they return." (Splettstoesser, 2000: 54)

 


Despite its admirable ambitions, this potential ambassadorship is not backed-up by sufficient empirical findings regarding post-visit behaviour of tourists (Stewart et al., 2005; Mason, 2005) who "may also simply leave their mark on the environment and never think about it again" (Mahler et al., 2003: 2008). As Powell et al. (2008) observe, there is a clear lack of research regarding the impact of the Antarctic tourism experience on precise cognitive, attitudinal or behavioural outcomes. The scarce existing research indicates however that the Antarctic operators have the potential of educating the public through a combination of interpretation, operation guidelines and voluntary efforts that would allow IAATO members to influence future environmental behaviours (Powell et al., 2008). In this context, interpretation can be understood as:

 

"...a process of communicating to people the significance of a place so that they can enjoy it more, understand its importance and develop a positive attitude to conservation. Interpretation is used to enhance the enjoyment of place, to convey symbolic meaning and to facilitate attitudinal or behavioural change." (Mason 2005: 175)

 

Effective interpretation appears to be the vital element for creating the ambassadors corps (Powell et al., 2007) and the relevancy of this claim is supported by research done in other nature-based tourism cases like the Galapagos (Powell and Ham, 2008) or Penguin Islands (Hughes, 2005). In the Galapagos case, Powell and Ham argue that:


"...well-designed and delivered interpretation during the ecotourism experience can increase knowledge of the host-protected area, supportive attitudes towards resource management issues facing the host-protected area, general environmental behavioural intentions and philanthropic support of conservation" (Powell and Ham, 2008: 467).



In the case of Antarctica, educational efforts based on interpretation are an important part of the soft visitor management techniques employed by the tour guides of the IAATO members, but few researches actually investigate the way people use interpretation to understand the destination or if it really leads to a behavioural change (Mason, 2005).

Given the lack of theoretical-based studies regarding an actual change in the post-visit behaviour of polar tourists towards the protection of the two regions, it seems adequate to introduce and discuss relevant research regarding the impact of other forms of nature-based and wildlife experience.

 

The Interactional Framework


Powell et all. (2011) argue that due to the combination of the physical and social environments that characterizes nature-based tourism experiences, this type of tourism can be analysed as part of an interactional system. The author will apply this approach to explore the case of Antarctica tourism, considering the interactive relationship between the key elements of the framework presented below:


Figure 1 Interactional model of the nature-based tourism experience (Powell et al., 2011: 764)

 

Figure 1Figure 1

 

Responsible Environmental Behaviour (REB)
The variables that determine tourists to behave responsible towards the environment is without a doubt one of the most crucial point of tourism research. One potential explanation was offered by Hines et al, back in 1986, the authors connecting REB to the interaction of situational factors and the intention to act that is further determines by severable variables as: knowledge of issues, knowledge of action strategies, the perceptions of one's ability to change things trough own behaviour, attitudes, verbal commitment and an individual sense of responsibility. The REB model is presented in the figure bellow:

 

Figure 2. The Model of Responsible Environmental Behaviour (after Hines et al., 1986-1987 in Lee and Moscardo, 2005: 549)

 

Figure 2Figure 2

 

Kellert's typology includes nine values that reflect different values people can assign to nature. Developed initially to evaluate attitude towards animals, the typology was consistently used also to more general aspects of the human-environment relationship (Farnham, 2007).
In the case of the Antarctica tourists, the author considers that Kellert's typology helps assess their environmental values by exploring how they "attach meaning to and derive benefits from nature" (Kellert, 2005, p.34). The nine values are summarized in the table below, with the mention that the aesthetic and humanistic values are grouped together because it was considered they were closely related.

 

Table 1: Kellert's typology (Kellert, 1998)

 

Notion

Definition

Utilitarian

Material and practical importance of nature

Naturalistic

Immersion and direct involvement in nature

Scientific

Knowledge and understanding of nature

Aesthetic-humanistic

Physical attraction and beauty of nature/Affection and emotional attachment to nature

Moralistic

Spiritual and ethical importance of nature

Symbolic

Symbolic significance of nature

Dominionistic

Mastery and control of nature

Negativistic

Fear and aversion of nature

 

3.Methodology

 

Taking into consideration the constructivist perspective of the research and the need to elicit rich-data content, the author opted for the use of interviews "probably the most widely employed method in qualitative research" (Bryman, 2008:436). This method appeared as possessing a high degree of flexibility, needed to collect the needed information and to allow the interviewees' own personal perspectives to emerge.
In order to assure "the comparability of the interviewing style" (Bryman, 2008:439) and given the need to address specific issues regarding the tourists' experiences and their wider perspectives, semi-structured interviews were considered as the next optimal step. This decision was also based on the need to ensure the complementarity of findings. An interview guide was therefore developed and four main groups of questions were further created in order to collect the data needed for the analysis process.


The interview guide


The first category addressed the elements of the Interactional Model of Powell et al. (2011), applied in the fourth chapter, and asked questions regarding the characteristics of the trip like duration, activities, quality of lectures, group size. The second group of questions focused solely on the experience and its most and least favoured moments and its perceived outcomes. Their respective answers were analysed using Kellert's typology of environmental values, a vital aspect of understanding the complexity of the experience and the level of closeness with natural settings. This typology has been used by several researchers to understand people's attitudes towards nature and the general outcomes they perceive by interacting with it (Kellert and Ham, 2011; Rauwald and Moore 2002).

In order to predict a potential responsible environmental behaviour using the REB framework, a third category of questions was created, in fact the largest, in order to obtain interviewees' perspectives (awareness, knowledge, attitudes, behaviour) on environmental issues regarding both the Polar Regions and the Planet. Three questions from the Revised New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) of Dunlap et al. (2000) were included. Although predominantly used as a complete 15 questions scale in surveys, the author considered necessary to employ some of its questions, that could forge a comparative approach between a more general and a polar perspective, in order to asses interviewees' attitude on environmental issues. Originally developed in 1978 by Dunlap and Van Liere, the NEP scale has since become the most widely used instruments of measuring environmental attitudes, possibly due to the universality of beliefs it measures (Hawcroft and Milfont, 2010).
As mentioned, these three groups of questions were designed to collect the needed data for applying the three instruments used in the analysis. Nevertheless, taking into consideration the research aim, the author considered useful to create a fourth category that addressed questions regarding tourists' perspectives on other fellow tourists and a possible post-visit behaviour advocating for the conservation of the Polar Regions. The age, nationality and profession of interviewees were also addressed so that the portrait of the respondents was complete.


Data collection


Using this interview guide and keeping in mind the focus of the research, four in-depth interviews via Skype were realized between April 20 and May 10, 2012. Given the difficulty to find and interview the polar tourists face to face, the Internet and more precisely Flickr, a social media platform of photo sharing, were used as the main departure point in searching for respondents. The relevancy was therefore constructed departing from the popularity of photos from polar trips inside several groups focused exclusively on this topic. As a result, around 30 persons were contacted through Flickr and almost all replied. However, less than a half were willing to take the interviews through Skype, the chosen online instrument, and several cancelled or abandoned in the last moment. It is not therefore possible to argue that a theoretical saturation was achieved, however the ones that were completed brought an important set of rich and interesting data that allowed the author to pursue the goal of this paper.


4.Data analysis


Four in depth interviews with four tourists who travelled to the Southern Polar Region will be analysed, using first Kellert's typology of environmental values to bring out the outcomes and the nature of tourists' experiences in Antarctica, followed by the impact of the Polar experience on tourists' environmental knowledge, attitudes and behaviours seen through the use of the Interactional Framework (Powell et al., 2011) before predicting a possible REB in the final part of the chapter.


The experience


Departing from the premise that the tourist experience and its perceived impacts are strong indicators in shaping a potential typology of polar tourists, the author addressed several questions to capture an honest and complete image of it. As mentioned before, the nine environmental values from Kellert's typology, summed up in eight variables by mixing aesthetic and humanistic, will be the main instrument to discuss tourists' experiences.
The four experiences presented next bring us four very distinct approaches of the human-environment encounter in Antarctica. Asked to describe their experience, tourists' storytelling is covered in reflexivity and cognitive dissonance. Each one brings to light a new layer of the complex relation between humanity as a society of development and consumption and the menaced natural environment in one of its most fragile spots on Earth. It is therefore not surprising that the experience of their encounter is sometimes highly moralistic. As JM, a 63 year-old American, acknowledges:


"It's...the Antarctic to me is a life changing experience. When you realize the beauty down there and you realize, you know, how brutal it is, but how fragile it is and you see the organization of the tour-operators being so careful...you literally scrub your boots when you go on shore, you scrub your boots when you come off shore ...and I'll never forget, on the first trip somebody dropped a tissue and walked away from it and they literally stopped everybody and said this cannot happen...aaa...it's kind of like when you like at pictures from Space of the Earth and you realize how small it is. You just realize that this is a place of unimaginable beauty, but we could destroy it".

 

Travelling to Antarctica clearly emphasizes ethical concerns regarding the protection of the natural environment seen as brutal in its immensity, but at the same time extremely fragile and in need of complete protection. Experiencing the "unimaginable beauty" that represents in his own words a transformative moment "a life changing experience", JM becomes highly aware of the destructive potential of humans and connects his own individual responsibility by emphasizing the protection measures taken by IAATO tour-operators and announces a potential ambassadorship behaviour.
A different outcome is perceived by OJ, a 43 year-old Norwegian, whose main encounter with Antarctica is a scientific one, underlining the important educational component of polar trips in the South:


"I think our experience was very good. In a way, we felt very privileged to go there and to see these areas so we were very happy to go there and see this. And I think we learned a lot about the animal, the marine life, the birds and I think maybe we are a little bit more humble to nature after this".

 

Besides the cognitive impact, an additional emotional outcome can be identified as OJ is feeling privileged to have been in the vast landscape and, as a result, of his learning process becomes aware of his humbleness as a human in front of nature's complexity. For the next respondent, a 41 year-old British woman, the experience has a strong aesthetic and humanistic value as she is clearly attached to its beauty and wilderness and acknowledges the exceptionality of the natural scenery by her feeling privileged to be there. For SM, her strong emotional connection could set the base for a possible ambassadorship:


"It's...I feel very privileged to have been there, the scenery is absolutely fantastic, it's just an amazing ... yeah, you feel amazed and privileged to be there because the scenery is so untouched and unspoilt and so dramatic and remote. I mean it was one of the best things I have ever done".

 

From establishing a point of reference in someone's life, the Antarctic experience turns into a deception for MJ, a 45 year-old American who does not encounter the destination image she had formed before departure:


"...well the reality of Antarctica as a tourist is quite different than what's in the brochures. It makes it sound as if it's thin incredible place that is unique and wild and you're gonna have a great adventure. I mean, that's ridiculous. You and a hundred of your friends can't just pop down and have a great adventure in Antarctica".


She regrets not choosing a different type of touristic package like kayaking or camping which would have allowed her to experience a dominionistic outcome of surviving in a harsh environment, an image closer to what she perceives as more authentic when compared to the feeling of falsification she gets from the trip:


"you're not Shackleton building a hut and surviving the winter. I mean you're staying in a cabin, you're being fed three meals a day and you're sort of being shuttled around in these masses".


Interviewed tourists strengthen their main values or add new ones when thinking about the way this experience affected their lives and views of the world. JM consolidates his ethical perspective and moralistic dimension considering that the direct contact with nature "incrementally changes your view of the world and it's that, you know, since that we can't just keep abusing were we leave". Meanwhile OJ ties a symbolic value between the experience of feeling humbled by nature, whose power gives it a negativistic value, and its spiritual consequences:


"I'm a bit more humble to nature and I think it's also a very special way to see that we as people, compared to its elements, we are very small. So just a powerful wind will blow us off at sea orr....so in a way, a bit more humble, a bit more...hopefully a bit more wiser about some things in life and also good because being away like this in the middle of extreme elements makes you think at people at home and your family and friends and maybe you feel that you appreciate to be together with them and yeah..."


A completely different impact is perceived by MJ who despite her disenchantment with the polar experience, gains sufficient scientific information to address a moralistic value of protecting Antarctica against the damages of potential mass-tourism:


"...well what I did take back from Antarctica was, I learned a lot about conservation and I concluded that perhaps we have too many people going to Antarctica as tourists and actually that I'm not sure whether I can really get behind budget travel to Antarctica at this point"


We cannot however predict a potential ambassadorship behaviour for MJ given the absence of strong attachment towards the continent. As she admits: "I mean Antarctica was just one of many many places so it wasn't like I went there and then said 'Wow, I'm gonna change my life". From an opposite perspective, experiencing Antarctica has opened a new world for SM and set the premises for her extensive nature-based travelling. She strengthens her humanistic value and adds a scientific one, making her, along with JM, a potential ambassador candidate:


"I think my first trip to Antarctica definitely did [affect her life], hence going back so many times and in the Arctic. I guess it made me more interested in finding out more about the history of these places. I didn't know too much about the history of the exploration of Antarctica or the Arctic. When I first went, it was something I vaguely knew from school. I guess it just made me want to go to more and more remote places as well and just continue to travel a lot".


Although attaching different values to describe their experience and being differently affected by it, all respondents attach a strong aesthetic and humanistic perspective when asked about their favourite moments. The connection between them and the polar wilderness, emphasized by its iconic species, the whales and the penguins, gains a naturalistic perspective as they feel completely immersed and integrated in the natural world that accepts them without any fear:


"...I was shooting a video and I was down on one knee and the lens cap was kind of hanging on a string under the camera and a friend of mine suddenly said: Jim look down and there was a penguin standing two inches from me, looking at the lens cap. So they have no fear of humans because it's, you know, many years since they've been hunted or gone after them down there" (JM).


MJ makes a similar observation for the lack of fear of whales that allows her to be part of the natural setting: "And the whales were very social, they're just not afraid of humans".
The unique naturalistic opportunity tourists have the chance to experience here overcomes the negativistic value they attach when speaking about their least favoured moments of the trip. The bad weather and the inherent dangers of crossing the Drake Passage are seen as a necessary risk, a sort of test for their determination of going there:


"Of course, you know, there's big like Titanic, these big ice mountains and there will always be a possibility that you can run into an ice mountain or something like that. I don't know, I think most of these thought pass through your mind before you go so you make some sort of personal statement for yourself and if you think the risk is too big, then you don't go there". (OJ)


and in the end a mandatory part of their adventure: "You may have terrible weather, you may have rough seas, but that's all part of the deal". (JM)
MJ is the only one who does not include weather in her storytelling as a factor affecting her experience. Her least favoured moments are human-induced and we will further explore them next using the Interactional Model.
Before proceeding to this section, it is however necessary to sum up the preliminary findings reached after applying Kellert's typology on tourists' experience in Antarctica. Travellers' emotional perspective and attachment for the unique landscape as a result of the direct interaction is the strongest way they "attach meaning to and derive benefits from nature" (Kellert, 2005, p.34). The aesthetic and human values are followed by the scientific dimension, from this perspective, Antarctica tourism having achieved its educational purpose, developing interest and learning curiosities through its lectures and interpretation.
Although significant in number of references, the negativistic value connected to the climatic conditions does not shade the general positive experience and is seen as part of tourists' initiation process in the great wilderness. Equal in number of references, but considerably stronger in terms of content and experiences, the naturalistic value emphasizes travellers' desire to go back and their complete immersion in the Antarctica scenery.
Less referenced, the moralistic value is nevertheless the most substantial value of JM, the respondent who until this point exhibits the strongest potential ambassadorship behaviour.What determines each respondent to attach these values and what are the possible changes in their environmental knowledge, attitude and behaviour after their trip will be further discussed, addressing each experience separately for a more accurate and complete analysis.


Interactional Model


The Interactional Model developed by Powell et al. (2011) will be further used in order to explain how different variables influence the outcomes and the potential environmental awareness of the tourist as a result of the nature-based experience.
The author will start by introducing JM, a 63 years-old American, whose experience of Antarctica has the strongest moralist and ethical perspective, clearly connecting the need for conservation and protection of the continent with all the aspects of the trip. This is partly explained by his travel experience, he has been already two times in Antarctica, both trips having a total duration of five weeks. Furthermore, JM has an extensive nature-based travel experience that he admits changed his perspective on the world, thus having a transformative impact of making him more aware on the present environmental issues. He is creating a distance between himself as a nature person and the rest of the travellers, linking an educational and ethical perspective to his trips:


"You know, both my wife and I have always been very much nature lovers and I categorize travel as nature-travel versus people-travel. People-travel to me is the trip to Europe where you see the castles and that kind of thing and it's always kind of been at the bottom of our list. We've been to Africa, we've been to the Antarctic, Arctic, Patagonia, Galapagos, those are kind of places we like to see and I think each one of them incrementally changes your view of the world and it's that, you know, since that we can't just keep abusing were we leave".


Moreover, he is extending his role, attributing himself a political dimension of "environmental liberal" (JM) that is the outcome of his nature travel experience:


"...and 20 years ago or 30 years ago before I ever done any of these trips...I mean I always liked nature, but I guess I didn't had the connection with it and the need to kind of be aware of its protection".


Moving further to the independent variables of the framework and looking at the natural environment, we find out that JM has: "the strongest emotional connection with Antarctica". Apart from his clear nature interest, this is also explained by his positive interaction with several trip characteristics. He travelled with Lindblad Expeditions, the pioneers of polar tourism in the South, benefited from professional and extensive interpretation on shore and on the boat with numerous guides and immersed more profoundly in the natural setting through exploration activities like hiking. On both trips, the number of passengers was under 130 making the experience more personal, this adding to a scrupulous organization from the tour-operator: "the Lindblad National Geographic partnership is just super conscious of environmental issues and wildlife issues and all those things" (JM).
Using the Interactional Model, it could be argued that JM's personal characteristics and his highly positive interaction with the independent variables should influence him in increasing his environmental awareness and maybe change his environmental behaviour. This is in fact an accurate supposition, JM gaining more knowledge from the lectures on various polar topics and openly admitting changing his attitude and behaviour towards the environment after this type of experience:

 

"Yeah, I mean you know, if somebody asked me for a donation to the WWF 30 years ago I probably would have shaken my shoulders and say it's a nice idea, but it's not my money. As you go to these places and see them and feel them you definitely become more involved".


Moving to a completely different experience, we introduce MJ, an American woman of 45, who has been to Antarctica only once, for less than a week, and has no intention of going back. Some of her personal characteristics and trip features might explain her decision.

 

Although travelling extensively and thus having a significant experience as a tourist, MJ does not believe that travelling has more than a recreational outcome:


"I don't actually believe travel actually can change your life, I believe travel is a fun thing to do but I think it is overstated in regards to its affect to the people's day to day life".


MJ is very disappointed by her polar experience, partly because she does not encounter the image that motivated her to visit Antarctica in the first place, the great isolation and the exploratory adventure, and that, according to her, is a result of both tourism development and severe guidelines:

"The thing is that Antarctica has to be protected and as such I don't think it's responsible for these giant cruise ships to go down and run random who are not members of the voluntary treaty organizations but at the same time adhering to these very strict rules about what you can do and not do kind of makes the trip not particularly up to your expectations".


Her interaction with the trip characteristic is generally negative, as she feels harassed by other passengers, around 110 tourists on the boat, and criticizes the impersonal organization: "You bought into this concept of going into this remote place and having this adventure and it actually becomes this exercise in people-moving" (MJ).

She argues for the lack of quality of the overall trip as a consequence of it being a budget-travel, in a clear connection with her limited immersion in the natural environment. The overall negative outcome resulting from the interaction of her personal traits and the trip characteristics lead to weak increase in her environmental awareness. She admits having increased her environmental knowledge by learning on how damaging tourism is for the continent and further criticizes it despite her presence there as a tourists, in a possible attempt to distance herself from the dissatisfying experience she had. However, she perceives no change in her attitude:

"No, I think it was just the same as it was before. My attitude towards Antarctica has changed somewhat because I was not aware of the numbers of tourists going there previous to my trip. And I was not aware of the dangers of the cruise ships going down. So that I learned basically from the lectures".


After applying the Interactional Model on two very different experiences, we move forward to discuss SM's case, the British woman of 43, who has been already three times in Antarctica, almost seven weeks overall. She has a solid touristic experience all over the Globe, with a clear preference for nature-based settings like Madagascar, Borneo, Kuril Islands. Although her first time visit was the result of a coincidence, her deeply aesthetic and humanistic experience motivated her to travel further to the Arctic and go back twice to the Antarctic:

"I guess having been to Antarctica, I just became a bit obsessed with it and then I went to see how to Arctic was in comparison to the wild and pristine nature...and I guess is just something that got into my soul (laughing) and became a bit of an obsession"(SM).


Analysing her interaction with the first independent variable, the natural environment, we find out that it: "still feels more special [compared to the Arctic] for me because is so remote and no country owns it. It's such an effort and the cost to get to, it seems more special". The perception of uniqueness can also be understood as the outcome of a very positive interaction with the characteristics of the trips that allowed her a more extensive physical and spiritual immersion through activities like hiking and a more personalized experience due to the limited number of people in each of the trip: 100, 60 and 12. SM feels she benefited from the lectures of the guides that helped her improve her knowledge on the history and wildlife of the continent:

"I mean on the boats especially there are long periods of time when you're at sea...and they give lectures that are very comprehensible. They have specialists on various types of animals and some specialists on the history so, yeah, my knowledge of the area definitely increased from that..."(SM)


Taking into consideration SM's strong experience as a nature tourist, her powerful connection with Antarctica and her positive interaction with the features of the trip, we could argue that, according to the Interactional Framework, SM increases her environmental awareness as a result of her experiences in the polar region. This theoretical model proves to be useful once more, as SM believed she learned more about NGOs fighting whaling and more importantly acknowledging an impact in her attitude towards nature as a result of experiencing the peacefulness oh human-animal interaction. She also expresses a possible shift in her environmental behaviour:

"Probably, I mean going for the first time in Antarctica you just realize there's this whole continent that's completely untouched and unspoilt and the animals are not scared of you because they had no reason to be and it just makes you realize that, you know, you need to take more care of the planet and ...I guess I'm not a massive polluter apart from taking airplanes. I don't have a car...apart from my airplane usage, you know, I try not to use to many resources myself, and maybe that's something that comes with going there, having been to these special places, I'm not sure..."


The Interactional Model allows us to also understand why OJ, a 42 years -old Norwegian, who has travelled recently for the first time to Antarctica for about three weeks, does not feel that his attitude towards environment has changed after the trip. Mentioning his preference for nature travelling, he legitimizes this option through his Norwegian background:

"...and I think being raised in Norway and in Norway you know...we had lots of nature, lots of mountains, lots of rivers and we like to do physical exercise and to see beautiful things around us. I remember gymnasium, I was very interested in biology, and I think maybe the impact from my grandfather, I was very interested in experiencing nature".


OJ appears to have a solid experience in nature, but also a scientific interest in it. He travels to Antarctica to see it still intact given the menace of future climate change, but also due to a more symbolic meaning that his grandfather attached to the continent during his childhood stories. His interaction with the trip characteristics appears to be a positive one as no negative commentaries are made regarding the organization. From all the respondents, OJ has travelled with the largest number of tourists, approximately 200, but also experienced a limited immersion in the natural environment, shortened by another passenger's health problems that required them to turn the boat around, providing him with the feeling that something special was stolen away. Nevertheless, the various guides and their interpretation created a highly educational trip:

"We were very privileged you know...this was an expedition cruise, but it was also like being on a university at sea so it was very nice (laughing) cause we had these very good, superb lectures that brightened our eyes and I think we had better profit being there. We could understand more things with these lectures".


Despite his passion for nature travelling, his scientific interest in the continent and positive interaction with the trip, OJ does not perceive a change in his environmental attitude as an outcome of his Antarctic experience. He justifies it by his previous awareness achieved through his WWF membership, but admits nevertheless increasing his knowledge as a result of the lectures.
Taking into consideration that the same theoretical framework was applied to all respondents and the same aspects of their socio-demographics and trip features were analysed, we can conclude that the strongest environmental outcomes in terms of knowledge, attitude and behaviour are achieved in the case of tourists:

• Who have a passion for nature with a solid background in nature travel
• Who have an extensive and positive polar experience, preferably in smaller groups
• Who benefited from intense interpretation
• Who experienced a deeper immersion in the scenery

Given the fact that the Interactional Model was used at this point to test the factors that are influential in increasing environmental knowledge and attitude, a further instrument will be used to identify the potential environmental responsible behaviour of tourists and therefore their ambassadorship potential.


Model of Responsible Environmental Behaviour (REB)


In order to predict a possible REB it is first necessary to identify an intention to act, influenced by personality factors and the level of knowledge of issues and action strategies. The REB is also determined by several situational factors that will not be taken into consideration in the further analysis given the absence of relevant data regarding this aspect.

Addressing first the knowledge of both issues and action strategies, we can observe that all tourists display certain knowledge of environmental issues related to climate change for both Antarctica and the rest of the world. In order to elicit their knowledge on possible action strategies, all respondents were asked to think about the threat that tourism might pose to the polar region they visited. As it turns out, all of them identified sustainable and controlled tourism as the main action strategy to reduce harmful effects:

"If tourism can be humble, very safe and good and if the guides are professionals and if they have a good discipline, it's not a problem, then it's ok, but if people are left to do whatever they like to do I don't think that's good because then they start to scare off animals and do things they shouldn't do". (OJ)


Some went even further in addressing the possibility of using ecotourism in order to help poor countries develop without destroying their natural heritage:

"The ecotourism is starting to put some of these countries in a position where they can say: Hey we can preserve what we got and economically be better off when people come to visit". (JM)


Although displaying a common acceptance of sustainability as an action strategy, tourists' personality factors shape different patterns of attitudes and personal responsibility. Two of them, JM and SM, display a strong pro-environmental attitude regarding the use of natural resources, the abuse of the natural environment and human's domination on other species. Asked if people have the right to modify nature for their own needs, SM builds her attitude on her travel experience:

"I don't think we have the right to go in and cut down the rain forest for our needs. I mean Madagascar is a place where like 90% of it is deforested and that because they use wood for cooking and fuel and it's really devastating seeing, you know, what used to be rainforest, now just dry hills with tree stumps. So no, I don't think we should"(SM).


Presenting a similar strong attitude towards protection, JM indicates his own country, the US, as a major abuser of the environment, using his knowledge to connect environmental sustainability with economic development and emphasizing the need to stop the abuse before it is too late:

"...if you look at America, we absolutely just used and abused the environment through the industrial age and up to fairly recently when people started to say, you know, we need to stop. But it has a lot to do with the economic climate of any given country. I mean, many countries know can afford not to break the environment to the extent that they did 30-4-50 years ago, some countries, China, India don't have that luxury yet and maybe don't care, but I think ultimately, at the end of the day, we got to stop or there's not gonna be nothing left to live on"(JM).


As for the other personality factors, JM and SM are assuming their personal responsibility through their financial support for environmental NGOs and attempt to behave in a nature-friendly way. Based on these findings, we could argue that their intention to act is present and could predict a responsible environmental behaviour.

A change in attitude is visible for the next two respondents. MJ opposes humans' superiority: "I don't think that we as a species are necessarily more important than say the species of whales. I don't know if we need to be strip-mining the entire world", but does not display a general strong pro-environmental attitude and, at least from the available data, does not indicate taking actions of personal responsibility, therefore presenting a weak intention to act. A similar assumption could be addressed in the case of OJ, who advances a more utilitarian perspective on human-nature relation, assuming that modifying the natural environment is an inherent step for economic development. He uses his country, Norway, as an example of exploiting natural resources for the needs of industry and societal development:

 

"...in Norway we have these waters in the mountains and in order to get enough electricity here, we have these water power plants and in a way we do modification to the lands, to the rivers to produce electricity, so I don't think we can avoid it"(OJ).

While all other respondents clearly oppose hunting, OJ believes whale hunting is not unethical, belief that might be legitimized by his Norwegian nationality. Taking into consideration the absence of a strong pro-environmental attitude, we cannot argue that this respondent will assume a REB, a necessary prediction for identifying potential ambassadors.

 

5.Conclusions


This research attempted to explore if and how a potential conservation ambassadorship is one of the outcomes of tourists travelling to Antarctica, one of the more moral reasons used to open this last wilderness to the global tourism industry. Addressing this research question implied the need to comprehend how the interviewed tourists perceive nature and values they attach to it in report to their polar adventure and beyond, but also the interaction between the various components of their Antarctica experience. To elicit this kind of data, in-depth interviews built on three theoretical frameworks (Interactional Model, Responsible Environmental Behaviour, Kellert's typology) were preferred.

The same theories were used to analyse the very rich and complex data obtained following the interviews. At this point, the following conclusions can be presented:

The strongest and more common environmental values of interviewed tourists, according to Kellert's typology, encountered are the aesthetic and human which denote a great attachment possible only through the experience of a direct interaction with this polar wilderness. Nonetheless, the less referenced moralistic value is considered the main indicator of a potential ambassadorship behaviour as it connects love and respect for nature with the moral implications of its protection.

The polar tourists who are nature enthusiast and have extensive nature travel experience, who have previously visited the polar regions, preferably in small numbers, who have benefited from intensive interpretation and who have had the chance of a deep immersion in the Antarctica scenery are the most likely to possess the strongest environmental outcomes in terms of knowledge, attitude and behaviour.

While possessing the necessary knowledge of issues and action strategies, the personality factors appear to be the main determinant in indicating a potential responsible environmental behaviour, with respondents presenting strong environmental values backed-up by a solid experience and moralistic views towards nature appearing to be more likely to take personal responsibility, preceding a possible intention to act.

Summing up, two of the interviewed respondents were considered to present potential ambassadorship behaviour following their polar experience as they have the strongest emotional connection with Antarctica, connection that shaped their identity and perspective and their general travel patterns and attach it a high moralistic value,. The potential ambassadors are experienced tourists, with a strong preference for nature-based tourism activities, possess the most powerful pro-environmental attitude and are most likely to act for the conservation of this polar area. These tourists should be the ones targeted by responsible tour-operators in their efforts to build a sustainable and beneficial impact of polar tourism.

While this research article is limited by the small number of respondents, who nonetheless provided rich and extremely interesting data, the author would like to underline the necessity to develop more studies using both qualitative and quantitative methods to determine what triggers or what prevents polar tourists to become active conservation ambassadors.

 

References


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Web resources:

International Association of Antarctica Tour-Operators (IAATO), www.iaato.org, accessed in April and May, 2012

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Diana Condrea is Coordinator & Founder of Uncover Romania (www.uncover-romania.com). A sustainable tourism professional and CUM Laude Tourism Master graduate, passionate about nature and wildlife she enjoys researching the complex and challenging relation between nature protection and tourism development. She believes strongly  in the capacity of tourism to empower local communities while limiting negative environmental impact.

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