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Guilt and Shame Enter the Responsible Travel Game

Or, Could Indigenous Values be the Win-Win that Destination Marketers Really Need?

Indigenous woman teaches her child about the land
Headline image from a responsible travel article written by Indigenous content creators and healers Your syilx Sisters for a recent destination marketing campaign in the North Okanagan. Credit: kelsie kilawna, Your syilx Sisters.

Now more than ever, we want visitors and residents to do the right thing. 


Pick up your garbage, don’t litter, respect wildlife, take the bus, don’t drive, don’t pee in the streets (yes, it’s a problem, just ask festival organizers), avoid single-use plastics, conserve water, be kind, avoid crowding, respect local customs and privacy.


Communities can get fed up pretty quick, and with good reason. Destination managers are feeling the pressure.


It turns out, activating the right values makes all the difference when you’re looking to change what people do when they visit.


Experts in environmental attitudes and behaviours have shown that when it comes to creating lasting social and environmental change, the most effective approach is to connect with people’s values and identity, not their wallets or motivated self-interest.[1]


Take something as small as low tire pressure which makes your vehicle less efficient and dramatically increases your carbon emissions. Researchers in the US found that signs reminding motorists to check their tire pressure because it will save them gas and money, fell flat (sorry).


Turns out, the best way to prompt pro-environmental behaviour was to hold up a sign that said: “Care about the environment? Check your car’s tire pressure.”[2]


Getting travellers and visitors to behave correctly has become a hot topic as more and more destinations crack down on over-tourism. Destination managers and local governments are throwing everything they can at the problem from getting visitors to sign pledges, putting cultural hot spots on no-travel lists, banning cruise ships and AirBnB short-term rentals, taxing day-trippers, increasing police patrols and fines, setting visitor caps, and more.[3] 


Messaging is sometimes soft, polite, friendly or jarring for effect. But always, in some way or another, the message boils down to: “pull your socks up or don’t show up.”


Social responsibility guilt is certainly a thing, and social marketers from all walks have either looked at, dreamed about or used guilt as the primary emotion in getting consumers to regulate their own behaviours.[4]


If you’re crafty and a messaging master, you can even choose what kind of guilt response you want to trigger. There’s anticipatory guilt where the consumer thinks about the negative consequences that their actions will cause. And then, there’s reactive or consequential guilt that happens when something bad has already occurred and its result is staring you in the face.


There’s a lot of different opinions on the effectiveness of using guilt and shame to influence an outcome you want. Some advocates say that it diminishes trust, makes you less likely to talk about your decision with others (bye bye word-of-mouth), and just plain turns people off. Others warn that serving up too much guilt risks creating negative associations and attitudes towards your subject, message or brand.[5]

Your target audience’s own values will absolutely moderate their response to your social cause advertising, guilting them to do better. Credit: Caleb Woods, Unsplash

There’s some upside to the practice. Guilt marketing has been shown to increase learning and discourage bad behaviour. If you’re into conditioning, bombarding people with guilt can even leave a ‘negative residue’ which can trigger the action you want from the person subconsciously, without them even thinking about it. It doesn’t seem very ethical (think Jason Bourne) but it certainly saves spending extra on ads.


Your target audience’s own values will absolutely moderate their response to your social cause advertising, guilting them to do better.   For example, their skepticism towards advertising or the joy they get from consumption can hinder feelings of guilt, while the individual’s level of ecological concern or collective responsibility will enhance it. 


Based on this alone, Destination Canada’s Explorer Quotient (EQ) market segmentation tool measures these values and is an essential tool for crafting sustainable travel messages that stick.


So when destination developers and marketers need to get the word out, what should we do?


Experts are ultimately wary of guilt and shame tactics, saying they’re dangerous and create potentially damaging and unnecessary brand liabilities. We stamp out one fire only to create another one.


Promoting community values backed up with public accountability on the other hand make better and lasting change, say eco-behaviour experts like Tom Crompton, founder of Common Cause, and the internationally renowned social psychologist, Tim Kasser. The celebrated pair look for ways to nurture human nature to solve environmental problems.


Recent tourism campaigns around the globe have been trying to tap into this vein. On the Westcoast of British Columiba, Canada, the Don’t Love It To Death campaign has been set on finding that track. Launched a couple years ago by the Sea-to-Sky Destination Management Council, content and messages remind outdoor enthusiasts and visitors to be mindful of their impact on delicate ecosystems and communities.


Giving Indigenous values and voices their own platform in destination marketing campaigns is another approach that fits, if done right.


Your syilx Sisters, Indigenous content creators and cultural trainers, recently kicked off season 3 of the Travel Local SHIFT podcast. They talked about how Indigenous values can teach ‘little brother’ to walk gently on the land, and are proving to be a more positive way to nudge people to behave. 

“If we don’t use our intelligence to take care of the land, we can no longer consider ourselves beautiful;” said the Sisters.


You’ll want to listen-in and hear the Sisters talk about how they’ve been working with Travel Local and the Okanagan Indian Band, Destination Silver Star, Tourism Vernon, Silver Star Mountain Resort and Destination BC to deepen tourism’s approach to place-making and regenerative travel in the North Okanagan through what they call “the Medicine of Place.”


In a recent article for their Warm Layers marketing campaign, the syilx Sisters share the philosophy.



“Our Ancestors have cared for our syilx Homelands for countless generations, and we must uphold their legacy with love and gratitude. We ask guests on these lands to tread lightly, leaving with only a deep love for the medicine of this place,” reads the article.


The Sisters emphasize the importance of taking the time to learn about the protocols of their people, and embrace their teachings that have been passed down through the generations. 


“By showing respect for the land and all it holds, you not only honour our Ancestors but also forge a deeper connection to the earth and most importantly to yourself.”


On Turtle Island, a continent that is home to the largest assembly of living Indigenous cultures on the planet, it seems obvious and overdue for destination marketers to strike closer relationships with Indigenous communities and meaningfully empower them to educate visitors and locals alike about those better values and practices that connect people to the land and each other.


Some have started this work, but even they'll admit it is still very early days. More allies and reconciliation champions are always needed.


We need to keep earning the trust of local Indigenous leaders and work with their Elders, knowledge keepers and youth on programs and partnerships that connect visitors and locals more directly with these deeper and more fulfilling land-based teachings.


In this arena, guilt and shame wouldn’t even play.



Notes


  1. Crompton, T. and Kasse, T. (2009) Meeting Environmental Challenges: the role of human identity. Goldaming, Surrey: WWF. Common Cause Foundation, May 31, 2024.

  2. Bolderdijk, J. et al. (2012) ' Comparing the Effectiveness of Monetary Versus Moral Motives in Environmental Campaigning', Nature Climate Change 3, pp. 413-416.

  3. 24 destinations cracking down on overtourism, from Venice to Bhutan, Natalie Wilson, Independent, April 2024.

  4. If you’re looking for an academic sweep of the marketing literature and consumer research, try Antonetti, Paolo & Baines, Paul. (2014). Guilt in Marketing Research: An Elicitation–Consumption Perspective and Research Agenda. International Journal of Management Reviews. 17. 10.1111/ijmr.12043.

  5. 3 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make When People Tell Them No, Sabree and Thomas, Entrepreneur, September, 2020.

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