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Maslow’s Hierarchy through tourists’ eyes

Written by editor

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is possibly one of the most well-known and time-tested management concepts, which identifies a hierarchy of needs that a human being would generally aspire to.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is possibly one of the most well-known and time-tested management concepts, which identifies a hierarchy of needs that a human being would generally aspire to. Initially, working separately, and subsequently pooling their thoughts together, two senior tourism professionals of Sri Lanka have developed a framework to evaluate the evolving tourists’ expectations, as travelers become more conscious on environmental issues.

Maslow’s Hierarchy
Abraham Harold Maslow (April 1, 1908-June 8, 1970) was an American psychologist who developed the concept of a hierarchy of human needs (Malsow 1943), beginning from the basic physiological needs of friendship, love, and security, and moving up to the more high-level. self-actualization needs, as a human being develops and becomes more affluent. This model is often portrayed in the form of a pyramid, where the base-levels are identified at the larger sections in the pyramid, of safety and security needs, while the higher-level needs reside towards the apex of the pyramid, indicating that only a lesser number of people eventually reach this level of development.

Sustainability concerns in tourism
While it is certain that tourism is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing industries (World Travel and Tourism Council [WTTC] 2012), there is no doubt that tourism has a very great impact on the environment. Tourism and travel has been identified as one of the significant contributors to global warming and carbon emissions. Therefore, of late there have been rising concerns about the impact that tourism has on the environment. With people becoming more concerned about global warming and becoming aware of the need to protect the environment, there is now a fast-emerging trend, where more and more tourists are beginning to choose destinations and tourism products that embrace good, Environment–friendly Sustainable Operations (ESO) or Sustainable Consumption Practices (SCP). Kouni, the large Swiss tour operator quoted an Association of British Travel Agents study in 2010, which indicated that 22% of their customers actively seek a sustainable holiday product.

This has fueled a new form of tourism, labeled with many names such as eco-tourism, nature tourism, sustainable tourism, etc. In response to these demands, more and more hotels and tourism service providers are beginning to genuinely embrace and practice energy, water, waste, and environmental management initiatives.

The Evolving Tourists Expectation Model (ETEM)
Based on the above trends, the authors have developed an “Evolving Tourists Expectation Model” (ETEM), which identifies the evolving expectations of tourists, towards being concerned about Environmental-friendly Sustainable Operation in the tourism products and offerings they purchase. This is actually a gradual process of education, learning, and evolution, where the bulk of the tourists (possibly during their first ever holidays abroad) would be satisfied with the basic needs of a good hotel and location at bargain prices. However, as they become more mature travelers and become more sensitized to global environmental issues, they would begin to be concerned about what form of products and services they are purchasing, and how well the service providers embrace ESOs.

The destination itself will mature and evolve over time, from being a cheap run-of-the-mill product, to an environmentally-responsible tourist offering, embracing ESOs in response to market demands.

This process of this evolution has been fitted into the Maslow pyramid to establish the ETEM model by the authors.

Levels of tourist’s expectations in relation to environmental practices
1. Tourists who are easy to satisfy with basic products at cheap prices. These Tourists aim to get “good deals” and usually are not too worried about lack of environmentally-friendly practices in hotels. This category is most often the budget traveler.

2. Tourists who are satisfied with good core products in hotels such as rooms, facilities, and food. These tourists aim to get “good products” at “good value,” and are usually not that worried about a lack of environmentally-friendly practices in hotels. They usually travel on a limited budget.

3. Tourists who are expecting basic ESOs in addition to good core products in hotels. These tourists aim to stay only at hotels who have initiated environmentally-friendly practices. Most of the current day tourists belong to this segment. Globally this segment is expected to increase with more and more people becoming concerned about global warming and environmental issues. This category will pay slightly more in pursuit of such product and service offerings.

4. Tourists who are insisting on experiencing good ESO and enjoy these practices immensely. These tourists will stay only at hotels who have well-established and well-managed environmentally-friendly, sustainable practices. They will usually pay a higher “green premium” for this.

5. Tourists who would not stay in any hotel which does not have excellent ESO. These tourists are usually spiritual about the concept of sustainability and actively participate and contribute to ESO during their hotels stays. They will pay a premium price to experience a more wholesome and richer experience, such as reconnecting with nature.

This model provides a theoretical framework to understand the evolving expectations of tourists towards the sustainability issues in the products and services they procure, in a clear and concise manner, which will help practitioners and academics to further focus on this very important aspect.

In a Sri Lankan context, this model will show that the base category segment will consist of tourists who are mostly the “charter flight” guests who patronized Sri Lankan hotels during the two decades of strife, from 1983 to 2009. They played an important role during those tragic years to help many Sri Lankan hotels avoid bankruptcy, for which Sri Lanka should be grateful. However, this segment is currently in the decline.

In the second level, are most of the guests who have patronized Sri Lankan hotels in the past few years, in the immediate aftermath of the war. This segment is still quite large in Sri Lanka, albeit slowly declining.

Most of the current-day guests belong to the third segment. This segment will continue to increase for the next few years, and very likely will replace most of the guests from the first two segments. Sri Lanka is beginning to see the rise of this segment, resulting in many good environmentally-friendly accommodation units coming on stream to meet this demand.

The fourth and fifth segments are small but have the potential of rapid increase in size and influence to Sri Lankan hotels within this decade.