Sustainability Science

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 431–445 | Cite as

Tourism and transitions toward sustainability: developing tourists’ pro-sustainability agency

  • Aisling Force
  • David Manuel-Navarrete
  • Karina Benessaiah
Original Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Sustainability Transitions, Management, and Governance


Leveraging human agency for sustainability transitions may benefit from interventions at the subjective level. This paper explores nature-based tourism as an example of a social process through which pro-sustainability agency could be promoted in tourists. We examine the potential of nature-based tourism to advance sustainability through a model linking tourism experience, personal change and pro-sustainability agency. Our conceptual model is explored through an empirical study of tourists surveyed before and after one-day whitewater rafting tours on Costa Rica’s Pacuare River. Results suggest that tourists’ past experiences, motivation, predispositions to change and fit with personal development processes are leveraging factors for the design of nature-based experiences that promote pro-sustainability agency. These findings have significant implications for the design of tourism, including ways to extend tourists’ experiences, increase collaboration among tourism operations and enhance the guides’ role in tour impact. This research highlights tourism sustainability as a necessary complement to sustainable tourism, and the opportunity of tourism actors to design activities that encourage pro-sustainability agency.


Sustainability transitions Tourism sustainability Ecotourism Change agent Personal change Whitewater rafting 



The authors would like to thank Arnim Wiek for his critical review of the manuscript from which it has greatly benefited. The authors would also like to express gratitude to the Costa Rican tourism operation, particularly the guides, for hosting the research. These tourism actors played an immense role in enabling this exploratory investigation. A Travel Grant from Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability funded the field research portion of this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan KK 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.School of Geographical Sciences and Urban PlanningArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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