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The effect of priming, nationality and greenwashing on preferences for wildlife tourist attractions

Moorhouse, Tom P., D'Cruze, Neil C., Macdonald, David W.
Global ecology and conservation 2017 v.12 pp. 188-203
Internet, animal welfare, ecology, ethics, income, markets, nationalities and ethnic groups, surveys, tourists, wildlife, wildlife management, Australia, Canada, China, United Kingdom, United States
Many wildlife tourist attractions (WTAs) have negative impacts on animal welfare and species conservation. In the absence of regulation, raising standards requires tourists to create market pressure by discerning the likely impacts of WTAs, and choosing to attend those with benefits. We created a novel, experimental survey to examine whether priming tourists to engage with the ethical dimension of their choice of WTA may stimulate them to prefer WTAs that are beneficial for wildlife.Our experimental survey comprised 10 mock webpages, mimicking promotional materials for existing types of WTA, five designed to represent beneficial (“good”), and five detrimental (“bad”) WTAs. WTAs were presented in random order via an online platform to 3224 respondents - 1614 Chinese in China, and 1610 English speakers in Australia, Canada, UK, and USA - who rated their preference for each. Prior to the survey 1610 respondents, stratified by country, were “primed” by asking them introductory questions about WTAs’ likely impacts.Primed English-speaking respondents were a mean of 4.1 times more likely to select lower likelihoods of attending bad WTAs, compared with control (unprimed) respondents. Priming had a smaller effect on Chinese respondents, making them 1.5 times more likely to select lower likelihoods of attending bad WTAs. Priming made all respondents more likely to select high likelihoods of attending good WTAs, but the effect was larger for Chinese respondents (2.0 times more likely) than English-speaking respondents (1.2 times more likely).After the survey respondents were shown ratings of each WTAs’ welfare and conservation impacts, and asked to re-assess each WTA. English speaking respondents were 5–13 times more likely to select lower likelihoods of attending bad WTAs after seeing the ratings, while Chinese respondents were 3–4 times more likely to do so.We conclude that respondents were able to discern beneficial from detrimental WTAs, and preferred beneficial WTAs when primed to consider the likely impacts of WTAs on wildlife conservation and animal welfare, but that the effect of priming was smaller for Chinese respondents. We recommend prominently hosting accurate information on the likely impacts of WTAs in the fora in which tourists are making their decisions, to direct tourist revenue away from WTAs with poor standards, and towards those that improve individuals’ welfare, and/or support species conservation.