(CNN) – Iceland had a problem five years ago.
International tourism had more than tripled since 2000, and many visitors were first-timers unfamiliar with Iceland’s rugged landscape.
“In the media you often saw negative stories about tourists doing something they weren’t supposed to do,” says Sigríður Dögg Guðmundsdóttir, Head of Visit Iceland.
“Instead of putting up roadblocks and saying, ‘You can’t go. You can’t do that, “we wanted to educate,” Guðmundsdóttir explains.
Iceland described seven common types of problematic behavior – from looking for dangerous photo ops to illegal off-road driving. They changed their approach to responding to the incident to speak directly to tourists about the importance of their behavior.
The promises appeal to the emotions of tourists
Tourists enjoying kayaking in the waters of beautiful Milford Sound. Before the pandemic, New Zealand released the “Tiaki Promise”.
Jorge Fernández / LightRocket / Getty Images
“The commitments seem so simple,” says Julia Albrecht, expert in sustainable tourism. With GOOD Travel co-founder Eliza Raymond, she is studying the growing use of tourism pledges.
Their power, she says, lies in how they appeal to a visitor’s emotions.
“It’s a positive approach – places don’t denote people. Instead, they build the idea that by following these desirable behaviors, you’re more likely to have a better, more authentic experience.”
“It all happened in less than a year. So it was either a kind of common awareness that we wanted to do things differently, or a few destinations very quickly understood what Iceland was doing,” says Albrecht.
Protect nature and people
Visitors watch the Fargradalsfjall volcano spew molten lava on August 19, 2021, near Grindavik. Iceland tries to help tourists make safety a top priority in its unpredictable landscape.
Sean Gallup / Getty Images
While the promises were varied and many addressed local issues, the places that adopted the promises had a few things in common.
“Growing up in (Iceland) we learn to be safe. But it is not a given that a visitor knows exactly how to behave in our wild nature, ”explains Guðmundsdóttir.
Destinations were also trying to balance the increasing pressure of tourism on their infrastructure and the natural environment while ensuring the needs of local people, the survival of traditional cultures and the sustainability of the destination itself.
A tourist takes photos of a New Zealand fur seal at the Kaikoura Seal Colony in Kaikoura, South Island. Tourists are encouraged to make a commitment to respect wildlife.
Sanka Vidanagama / NurPhoto / Getty Images
This meant that many promises had been crafted with a dual purpose.
“They were aimed at raising awareness and providing education,” says Albrecht, informing visitors of local expectations to “end bad behavior or protect people in the landscape.”
At the same time, she said, they were looking to the future, “to make sure the places were not too altered by visitors or by tourism.”
Do pledges really work?
Tourists take a selfie photo against the backdrop of Helsinki Cathedral in Finland, which uses humor and rhymes to convey its message to visitors.
Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg / Getty Images
Pledges, by their nature, are based on the idea that if you make a public pledge, it’s more likely to keep.
For this reason, most tourism promises are educational and not punitive. One exception is the Palau Pledge which comes with fines of up to $ 1 million for visitors who break their promises.
Other commitments could highlight unwanted or illegal behavior. The Islandic Pledge, for example, includes the promise that drivers “will never venture off the road,” which is also a legal offense for which you can be fined. But the commitments themselves are intended to be constructive.
This means that so far there is no easy way to measure their success, although Guðmundsdóttir says that after the release from Iceland, fewer terrible tourist stories have appeared in the local media.
Even with no real results to show, the concept continued to gain traction in other places.
Promises, often totaling only a few hundred words, have appeared on destination sites and in advertising campaigns.
“Places have taken a break from tourism and no longer want what they had before. Many are looking for a more lasting reset,” she says.
“A gentle way to give direction”
A visitor to Gwaii Haanas National Park in Haida Gwaii examines Haida mortuary poles.
Don Johnston / Alamy
“It is based on fundamental teachings that are at the heart of being Haida,” says Gaagwiis, also known as Jason Alsop, President of the Haida Nation. The purpose of the Haida Commitment is to introduce visitors to a handful of ancient laws, or values, that still ring true today, including Yahguudang (respect for all beings), Tll yahda (for doing things right) and Ahl kyáanang tláagang (ask permission first).
While pledges are only a small part of managing tourism, the hope is that by getting visitors to see a destination as more than just a backdrop for their vacation photos, they will take action. in a more thoughtful way.
“People want to do the right thing,” Alsop says, “and it’s a gentle way of giving direction.”
He goes on to say that the overall goal of the engagement is to reduce damage to the environment and limit conflict between guests and locals.
“We want customers to have a rewarding experience,” he says. “But we also want them to know that this is our home and that after they leave, we will still be there, depending on that.”