By and large, surfers are seen as a conscious tribe, one that values the natural environment and tends to pay heed to the local communities in the places they visit. As such, you’d expect their behaviours to embody their philosophy. Yet, when it comes to surf travel, both your paper and previous research suggest that, albeit aware of the negative impacts of tourism and demonstrating a wish to adopt a more sustainable stance, we don’t really walk the walk. You write that one of the reasons for this gap between values and actions has to do with tourists being “frustrated by a range of barriers and express particular irritation with being overwhelmed by the amount of options available, which renders it difficult to know which behaviours to choose.” What are some of these barriers faced by surfers in decision-making processes concerning surf travel?
Our data shows that surfers want to be sustainable travellers by-and-large, but that they do not really research tourism providers’ commitments and approaches to sustainability. This was the main gap between attitudes and behaviors we isolated. Tourism providers are the link between surfers and the environments and communities they visit. Operators need to understand that there is value in investing in sustainability (i.e., supporting local civic and environmental organizations, hiring locals and offering opportunities for career advancement, eliminating waste, and the list goes on) and surfers need to start looking for and voting for these behaviors with their wallets.
The main barrier I would then say is that most surf tourism operators are small-scale entrepreneurs who also want to be sustainable, but get tied up with the difficulties of running a viable economic enterprise and also surfing a lot. Let’s be fair, and let’s not throw any stones. Sometimes they don’t always know the best and most cost-effective ways to enhance the sustainability of their practices, or reach potential visitors with information about them, even if they are implementing good practices. Lots of surf entrepreneurs I know are doing really great things, but feel like boasting about their efforts makes it disingenuous or something. I just want to see sustainable surf tourism businesses flourish and I think information seeking and share is a critical element in our increasingly digital world.
Have you any suggestions on what potential solutions to these barriers could look like – both in terms of individual behaviour shifts and policymaking?
We hope our research nudges individuals planning surf trips to research the sustainability of their tourism providers before deciding where to spend their money. Even give them a call if they don’t have information on their website. My girlfriend thought I was crazy when I was making all of these pre-trip calls to Morocco, asking the hotel operators these kinds of questions. She later agreed that our trip was special because our providers were Moroccan brothers who made us feel welcome and wanted to show us their culture in addition to making sure we were scoring waves. But the reality is, even with a conversation you can tell if operators are concerned and do things for the community and local environment. And by supporting good practices, this incentivizes providers to do more and for others to get on board.
Specific to surf tourism, policymakers can ensure surf-break protection and not allow the desire for “more is better tourism” to incentivize infrastructure that could damage the very reason surfers visit the places they do. Examples abound of hotel developments blocking sand and wind flow and damaging surf-breaks, or constructing breakwalls to protect tourism properties that then ruin the waves, or reduce their quality. Protect the peaks and consider limiting visitation of surfers to a locally derived carrying capacity. This last one seems unlikely anytime soon, but could provide the basis for more sustainable surf destinations broadly speaking.