Ecotourism : characteristics and involvement patterns of its consumers in the United Kingdom
Over the last ten years the increased demand for ecotourism has represented not only a growing trend in the tourism industry, but also one of the most significant challenges to the sector. It became evident over this type of consumer had shifted away from mass tourism towards experiences perceived to be more individualistic and enhancing. In part, this trend was stimulated by the increased global awareness of environmental issues which in turn, encouraged a growth in visits to natural areas and placed ecotourism at the centre of the re-orientation of tourism. This growth of demand for ecotourism initially ran ahead of the supply of ecotourism products, and created a new challenge for researchers and scholars in tourism. In particular, the consumer-driven demand for ecotourism created a disequilibrium in academic circles. For example,there are uncertainties and confusions both in terms of the definition of ecotourism and also in the enumeration of its fundamental principles; confusions which in part are derived from a lack of understanding of the behaviour of ecotourists. Indeed, it can be suggested that until the behaviour of ecotourists is fully explored it will continue to be difficult to clarify the concept of ecotourism. Having said this, there are a number ofstudies in the supply environments of North America and Australia which provide evidencet that ecotourists are consumers with strong motivations to be in and protect rather than profligate the natural environment. However, such studies have not been carried out in Europe and it is therefore the aim of this doctoral research to remedy this gap by examining the consumer behaviour of British ecotourists by using the involvement concept and techniques. In particular, this research concentrated on the assessment of the so-called occasional and frequent ecotourists, derived from their presence in the natural areas. These types of individuals provided the basis for the research analysis in which both qualitative and quantitative procedures were used to outline their characteristics and involvement patterns. The occasional ecotourists were subject to a quantitative assessment, where their involvement and ecotourism knowledge confirmed the existence of this type of ecotourist as well as their primary characteristics and values. With the intention to explore the product knowledge of frequent ecotourists the so-called laddering interviews were conducted which presented ecotourists knowledge structures,as well as providing a back bone for the quantitative assessment.In turn, this enabled both their profiles and involvement elementsto emerge aswell ashighlighted their value domains. Overall, this study underlined the behavioural andinvolvement patterns of thesetwo types ofecotouristsand indicatedthe elements of an ecotourism holiday experience which are not usually associated with this form of travel.