Actions Speak Louder than Words: Leading Sustainable Tourism into the Future

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1 Actions Speak Louder than Words: Leading Sustainable Tourism into the Future Anne-Kathrin Zschiegner PhD Student, Centre for Sport, Leisure and Tourism Research, University of Exeter Business School. Rennes Drive, Exeter, Devon. EX4 4PU United Kingdom INTRODUCTION: ONE FOR ALL BUT NOT ALL FOR ONE? If there s one thing we re not short of in the area of sustainable tourism, then perhaps it s ideas. Since the term sustainable development entered the lexicon of managers and policy-makers in the United Kingdom, we have been awash with ideas, initiatives, projects and programmes. From green tourism to wise growth or low carbon to slow tourism, we have been looking at new ways to encourage visitors and businesses to act in more responsible ways now with a view to the future. Each idea represents an innovation to one degree or another, and it is fair to observe that sustainable tourism management is much more advanced than it was ten or perhaps even five years ago. Climate change is highly visible in the popular media and industry publications. Environment in its various guises is central to the tourism experience, so it is hardly surprising that an increasing number of businesses, organisations and destinations have shown a greater interest in embedding the 1

2 principles and practices of sustainable development into their operations. One aim of current government policy nationally has been to widen as well as deepen sustainable practices. Wedge Theory suggests that, taken together, even modest incremental improvements from many sources will deliver significant cumulative change as the Stern (2006) Report makes clear. This raises interesting questions such as what does it mean to act in a sustainable manner; how many businesses act like this; and for what reasons? Conversely, how many do not; why do they not; and how might their thinking be converted or their actions transformed? LEADERSHIP AND SUSTAINABLE TOURISM There is no doubting that these are questions that policy-makers, practitioners and consultants have tried to tackle (e.g. DCMS 2006, 2007; SWCCIP 2007a, 2007b; SWT and SWRDA 2005; Sustainable Development Strategy UK 2005). Best practice manuals, case-studies, guidance notes and the like encourage those in the tourism sector to enact sustainable development (e.g., SWCCIP, 2008; Visit Britain, 2008). From an academic standpoint, these make valuable contributions, but the further application of theory and concept may enhance our understanding of the problems as well as the possible solutions. For instance, the way in which leadership functions in organizations should offer some additional clues. In my PhD studies at the University of Exeter Business School, I am examining the role of leadership styles in progressing the management of sustainable tourism. Leadership has become a popular idea in Business Schools in recent times, albeit nowhere near as popular as sustainable development. Often leadership and management are (mistakenly) used synonymously but there are important and subtle differences. Management is about optimising the outputs and outcomes from an organisation (or sector), and it comprises several functions including direction. Leadership is a vital aspect of direction and it concerns how managers act to inspire action and deliver change. LEADERSHIP IN SUSTAINABLE TOURISM Leadership has not featured prominently in analysis of sustainable tourism but it is certainly important. Tim Smit is routinely identified as luminary through his inspirational 2

3 and ground-breaking work at Eden. Transformational Leaders, like Smit, motivate and encourage by raising their followers level of awareness about the importance of particular outcomes, and by transforming followers personal values to support the collective vision for an organization (Jung & Avolio 2000: 949). They often act as the innovators or early adaptors as they philosophically believe in the need for change. Transitional Leadership is style based on an exchange process concerning the fulfilment of obligations. Followers are rewarded for their performance, and leaders are not actively involved in their work unless mistakes or problems attract attention. Laissezfaire Leadership is sometimes termed non-leadership in the sense that leaders chose to avoid making decisions or taking actions. Hence it is the most ineffective and passive form of leadership (e.g. Tejeda 2001; Antonakis et al 2003) These forms of leadership are revealed through the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) (Bass 1985; Bass and Avolio 1990; Bass and Avolio 1995). Although by no means a perfect tool (cf. Tepper and Percy 1994; Yukl 1999; Gillet and Morda 2003), the MLQ nevertheless allows us to identify and categorise approaches to leadership while also connecting to other forms of business behaviour such as, in this case, recycling, energy saving, water saving and networking. As with much quantitative research, the measures are usefully calibrated and more deeply understood through follow-up qualitative research to explore motivations, attitudes, opinions and feelings. I am currently in the second year (of three) of my studies, and I have recently completed an extensive questionnaire survey (n=193) and semi-structured interview (n=18) with senior managers and owners of accommodation providers in Torbay (i.e. Brixham, Paignton, Torquay) on leadership and sustainable tourism. Torbay was selected due to its size as well as the long-standing reputation of the area for commitment to sustainable tourism. The Green Tourism Business Scheme accredits a significant number of businesses in South Devon. The detailed analysis of my data is currently being conducted at the time of writing (March 2009), but some important issues are beginning to emerge from my research, not least in the types of leadership driving change. MOVING FORWARD INTO THE FUTURE It is clear that many who believe in the principles of sustainable development (i.e. the transformational leaders) have already changed their practices, and in some cases they 3

4 are acting as key champions and advocates as policy-makers and trade bodies would hope. A great many businesses have more critical, even sceptical views of leading change and have to be convinced almost objectively as to its merits (i.e. the transactional leaders). Among them, many have noted that it makes good business sense to alter their practices to one degree of another, and they have enacted change; conversely, for others the case has not (yet) been made. And there are some business people who will simply not budge (i.e. the laissez-faire leaders). No matter what pleas are made to their better judgements, they are (currently) just not interested in changing or they are not able to. Where does this leave us moving forward? Perhaps somewhat obviously, we are far better placed than we were five years ago but arguably with no room for complacency if my research is more widely representative. Easy wins have been made, and the key appears to be persuasion and tailoring messages to different constituencies. Mainstreaming however well-intentioned - is simply not going to encourage greater uptake among the many businesses that have not so far moved. Legislation may offer one possible solution (to leverage the laissez-faire business people) but legislation frequently antagonises, rather than encourages, small- and medium-sized enterprises. Indeed, the future development of sustainable tourism is finely poised. Tourist boards should continue to be notable catalysts. They have the ability to marshal resources and to tailor advice, guidance and support among different types of businesses at a regional level (i.e. where it s most meaningful). Despite this, many boards have seen their roles if not also their funding significantly contract. Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) may, and indeed should, pick up responsibility for sustainable tourism but simple expediency at the local level may frustrate this: for many, enhancing the tourist experience and destination marketing may be more obvious priorities than medium- to long-term trajectories. And where do universities fit into all this? As this presentation has shown, through more correctly diagnosing the problem and looking for the solution. The key appears to be convert laissez-faire leaders into transactional leaders, and to continue to convince more transactional leaders to act on the benefits of sustainable practices. If the case is not updated there is also the distinct possibility that behaviour may lapse. Current 4

5 conversion rates among transactional leaders are based on the data as they stand now. Understanding will move on. We need to make the science more straightforward and the business case more compelling. Instead of general persuasion based on soft science as we have had till now, more detailed analysis of issues like resource use (i.e. energy and utilities bills), building construction and design, and climate change adaptation are going to be required which higher education is best placed to deliver. Clearly, talk is cheap and action usually costs, but considerable funding exists within higher education now to address these and other issues in the tourism sector. REFERENCES Antonakis, J., Avolio, B.J. and Sivasubramaniam, N. (2003) Context and leadership: an examination of the nine-factor full-range leadership theory using the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire, The Leadership Quarterly 14: Bass, B. & Avolio, B. (1995) MLQ Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire. Redwood City, CA: Mind Garden. Bass, B. M. and Avolio, B. J. (1990) Transformational Leadership Development: Manual for the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologist Press. Bass, B. (1985) Leadership and Performance beyond Expectations. New York, NY: Free Press. Department of Culture, Media and Sport (2006) Sustainable Development Action Plan Online document. Available from: [Last accessed: ] Department of Culture, Media and Sport (2006), Sustainable Development Action Plan Online document. Available from: [Last accessed: ] Gillet, S. R. and Morda, R. (2003) Effective leadership in tourism and hospitality organisations in the 21 st century, in: Kuslavan, S. (ed.), Managing Employee Attitudes and Behaviours in the Tourism and Hospitality Industry. London: Nova Publications. 5

6 Jung, D. & Avolio, B. (2000) Opening the black box: an experimental investigation of the mediating effects of trust and value congruence on transformational and transactional leadership, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 21: South West Climate Change Impacts Partnership (SWCCIP) (2007a) Climate change and tourism in the South West of England. Online document. Available from: [Last accessed: ] South West Climate Change Impacts Partnership (SWCCIP) (2007b) Climate change and your tourism business - what can you do to adapt? Online document. Available from: pdf [Last accessed: ] South West Climate Change Impacts Partnership (SWCCIP) (2008) Tourism Sector. Online document. Available from: [Last accessed: ] South West Tourism and SWRDA (2005) Towards 2015 Shaping Tomorrow s Tourism. Online document. Available from: [Last accessed: ] Sustainable Development Strategy UK (2005) Securing the Future. Online document. Available from: [Last accessed: ] Tepper, B.J. and Percy, P.M. (1994), Structural Validity of the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire, Educational and Psychological Measurement, 54(3): Tejeda, M.J., Scandura, T.A. and Pillai, R. (2001) The MLQ revisited Psychometric properties and recommendations, The Leadership Quarterly, 12: Visit Britain (2008) Green Start. Online document. Available from: [Last accessed: ] Yukl, G. (1999) An Evaluation of Conceptual Weaknesses in Transformational and Charismatic Leadership Theories, The Leadership Quarterly 10(2):

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