University of Oulu, 2019

Ethical and political consumerism in tourism

Brown Bag seminar examined socially and ecologically responsible tourism practices

The latest Brown Bag seminar was a part of the Festival of Cultures and it dealt with the major theme of the week: travel. The speaker was Siamak Seyfi, an Assistant Professor in the Geography Research Unit at the University of Oulu. He has a PhD in Tourism Geography and his recent research deals with the subject of this Brown Bag seminar, ethical and political consumerism in the context of tourism.

Tourism is one of the largest industries in the world. It generates about ten percent of GDP globally and accounts for one in every ten jobs. Tourism is a complicated phenomenon with many aspects. This seminar focused on tourists as consumers.  

According to Seyfi political consumerism means consumers choosing brands, products and services according to how ethical, environmentally friendly and socially and politically responsible they view them to be. This can be done for example either by boycotting things deemed bad or “buycotting” things deemed good. 

Political consumerism is on the rise. One of the reasons for this is customers understanding of the politics behind products and their consumption increasing. Social media is also a factor. Consumerism makes spending money a way to shape your personal identity: when you spend your money, you are taking part in “economic voting” and choosing what companies to show your support to. This is increasingly seen as a lifestyle choice, for example with the way vegans and freegans consume products.

Seyfi lists human rights violations, treatment of LGBTQ-people and other minorities, violations of animal welfare and rights and inappropriate environmental actions as things that lead to consumers boycotting travel destinations. Boycotts usually mean less tourists, less business and a dent in the public image of a destination. The number of travel boycotts is rising. The main reasons for that are social media, increase in social movements, emphasis on ethical consumerism and the use of tourism as a vehicle for social change.

Ethics are important in making tourism-related choices. A consumer must choose where to go, what form of transport to use and what kind of entertainment to take part in. Some examples of political consumerism in sustainable tourism are slow travel, whale watching, conservation tourism and volunteer tourism. Social media can also be used to express concerns and promote a more sustainable form of tourism. Tourists can actively choose or refuse certain services to generate social, political and environmental change. As tourism is increasingly becoming a focus area of fighting climate change and reducing carbon emissions customer activism is important and the role of a consumer is highlighted in the discussion of responsible and sustainable tourism. 

Last updated: 26.11.2020