What the tourism industry needs to do to deal with tourist vandalism: Advice from Tourism Researcher Professor Abhishek Bhati
Professor Abhishek Bhati, researcher of tourist behaviour management and Campus Dean of James Cook University in Singapore, outlines strategies and advice for tackling tourist vandalism.
Noticeable degradation can decrease the appeal of tourist attractions, which in turn affects tourist experience and satisfaction. Whether it’s fountains in Rome or the Great Wall of China, tourists have been caught vandalising local landmarks and attractions. These acts include being a nuisance and being significantly destructive and disruptive.
The problem is, how can we stop tourists from carrying out such distasteful behaviour?
Insights from an expert
Professor Abhishek Bhati has had a significant history of studying tourist vandalism, and he also worked on vandalism control for his PhD in 2014. His research in the field spans half a dozen papers, with even more research exploring topics such as tourist behaviour management, sustainable tourism and resilience planning in tourism.
Professor Bhati says, “Vandalism by tourist destroys the cultural and historical tourism features which deprives future generations from rich intercultural experiences. The host community loses elements leading to its identity and potential tourism revenue streams in absence of features lost to vandalism. A multi-stakeholder intervention is required to address vandalism by tourist.”
Learning how stakeholders tick
By studying stakeholders’ perceptions of vandalism at tourist attractions in Singapore and Bangkok, Professor Bhati explored the differences and similarities in the attitudes of key stakeholders — such as site managers and local government officials responsible for policies and procedures that inform and guide visitor behaviour — towards attraction management. This provided an opportunity to identify how much the community is willing to manage vandalism in tourism.
The results showed that vandalism is a problem in both Singapore and Bangkok, yet the underlying reasons for property damage are different. For instance, Singapore residents believe that using proper management instruments and consistent public policies could remedy their consistent vandalism levels in the long run. On the other hand, Bangkok residents link their fluctuating vandalism levels to ineffective policies and lack of public education.
This highlights the importance of engaging community and stakeholders as a way of controlling vandalism in communities where government regulations and enforcement are less than effective. At the same time, it suggests that enforcing community participation in societies like Singapore with pre-existing high levels of government efficiency might not be effective. Instead, the recommendation is to promote a more individualistic participation with an emphasis on individual social responsibility.
In fact, a separate study from Professor Bhati found that increased personal involvement from local residents leads to a decrease in the perception of severity of vandalism. In addition, as the local resident’s perception of site management and community involvement increases, their own personal involvement also increases.
Prevention, Restoration, Education, and Participation — A multi-dimensional approach that addresses tourist vandalism
Therefore, it is critical to understand that addressing tourist vandalism takes more than just stricter laws and stringent measures. In order to successfully tackle tourist vandalism, it is important to take into account participation from the community and broader society.
In order to effectively control vandalism and promote sustainable development, Professor Bhati proposes the Prevention, Restoration, Education, and Participation (PREP) framework.
- Prevention. Implement strategies to prevent acts of vandalism altogether. These strategies include surveillance and restricting access through environmental design.
- Restoration. Restore vandalised attractions by employing rapid repair and maintenance. When vandalism is present, it creates an environment where vandalism is perceived as normal, and thus encourage vandalism.
- Education. Increase awareness of vandalism and its effects on sustainability in the tourism sector. Visitors and the local community should be the primary focus to establish an interest in the issue of vandalism and to discourage undesirable visitor behaviours.
- Participation. Encourage a sense of ownership and engagement within the community. Participation in decision-making and operations are key factors in achieving higher levels of effectiveness of intervention strategies and building sustainable attraction management outcomes.
Tourist vandalism has become an increasingly urgent problem to solve — not only as travel picks back up, but because it poses a risk to sustainable development and environmental protection, when tourists damage public property or destroy aspects of the natural environment.
Despite various measure taken over the years, tourist vandalism remains a problem. Therefore, Professor Bhati’s PREP framework recommendation embraces a multi-dimensional approach that aims to successfully support the tourism industry in the fight against tourist vandalism.
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