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Catastrophism, Goebbels, and Greenwashing in Tourism

Influencing Supply and Demand to Follow a Sustainable Model

The headline might catch your attention by combining these three concepts that may not seem to align at first glance. However, I hope to clarify any doubts and explain these types of strategies, both negative and positive, while delivering a message about the best options for enhancing the image and development of tourism in these pivotal years for many global destinations.

Let me define these concepts commonly used in marketing and tourism communication, especially when related to environmental and sustainability issues.

The connection between catastrophism and greenwashing lies in how both strategies can be used in the field of marketing and communication to influence public perception and purchasing decisions, but in opposite directions.

“Catastrophism” is a term used in marketing to refer to a strategy that seeks to dramatically highlight or exaggerate the problems, dangers, or negative consequences that could arise if a consumer, destination, or territory does not adopt a specific service or management strategy.

This technique is based on the idea that by focusing on the worst possible consequences, consumers can be persuaded to take immediate action to avoid these problems. The main goal of catastrophism in marketing is to create a sense of urgency and anxiety in consumers, which can lead them to make impulsive purchasing decisions, motivating them to act quickly to avoid the posed dangers.

It can focus on real or perceived problems, but the emphasis is on highlighting the negative aspects and short-term consequences, so it may not be effective in promoting sustainability.

One of the issues with the “environmental catastrophism” strategy in tourism, such as the climate crisis, is that its consequences do not have an immediate impact, which can lead to a lack of perceived risk and generate distrust.

Greenwashing is a strategy in which a company or brand claims that its products or actions are more environmentally friendly than they actually are. Instead of exaggerating problems or negative consequences, greenwashing exaggerates or emphasizes sustainability, environmental or social responsibility, and commitment, often deceptively or unsupported by evidence.

In general, we can say that it is a quick and negative reaction to the catastrophism strategy, which obviously loses its effectiveness as consumers become more mature.

The relationship between both concepts lies in the fact that both strategies can appeal to the emotions and concerns of the public to influence their behavior. However, catastrophism focuses on highlighting negative aspects and feared consequences to motivate action, while greenwashing aims to exaggerate the positive aspects (in this case, sustainability) to attract consumers. Both strategies can be controversial if perceived as manipulative or deceptive.

The theory or model of Goebbels refers to the propaganda and mass manipulation strategies developed by Joseph Goebbels, who was the Minister of Propaganda of the Nazi Third Reich during World War II. This model was based on constant message repetition, simplification of ideas, manipulation of emotions, and the suppression of contradictory information to influence public opinion and gain the support of the population for their objectives.

Despite its political connotations, this strategy is still used today, as seen in the handling of the COVID pandemic. Ethically, it is questionable as it explicitly acknowledges manipulation. However, some argue that the end justifies the means. When considering the future of tourist destinations, it is at stake if not handled correctly, i.e., by efficiently introducing sustainability and regeneration into tourism management and development processes. We must take into account these three concepts, both their positive and negative aspects.

As you can see, they are frequently used by companies, administrations, and civil society.

Here, I present this reflection, which may help visualize why sustainability is still not fully understood enough to become the best tool, if not the objective itself, for ensuring the success of the tourism industry (win-win).



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