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How recreation involvement,


place attachment and conservation
commitment affect environmentally
responsible behavior
a
Tsung Hung Lee
a
Graduate School of Leisure and Exercise Studies , National
Yunlin University of Science & Technology , Douliou, Yunlin, 640,
Taiwan
Published online: 05 May 2011.

To cite this article: Tsung Hung Lee (2011) How recreation involvement, place attachment and
conservation commitment affect environmentally responsible behavior, Journal of Sustainable
Tourism, 19:7, 895-915, DOI: 10.1080/09669582.2011.570345

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09669582.2011.570345

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Journal of Sustainable Tourism
Vol. 19, No. 7, September 2011, 895–915

How recreation involvement, place attachment and conservation


commitment affect environmentally responsible behavior
Tsung Hung Lee∗

Graduate School of Leisure and Exercise Studies, National Yunlin University of Science &
Technology, Douliou, Yunlin 640, Taiwan
(Received 28 December 2009; final version received 26 February 2011)

This study examines a behavioral model using latent variables of place attachment,
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recreation involvement, conservation commitment and environmentally responsible be-


havior among tourists visiting wetlands. In total, 928 usable questionnaires were col-
lected. Confirmatory factor analysis and structural equation modeling were applied to
the data by using LISREL 8.70 for Windows. Analytical results, which further elucidate
the behavioral models of nature-based tourism, suggest that place attachment, recreation
involvement and conservation commitment critically impact environmentally responsi-
ble behavior. In this behavioral model, conservation commitment simultaneously and
partially mediates the relationships between place attachment and environmentally re-
sponsible behavior and between recreation involvement and environmentally responsible
behavior. A series of management implications are drawn, including the need to use this
information via a visitor interpretation strategy, greater use of partnerships with local
communities and businesses to spread the importance of wetlands and of environmen-
tally friendly behavior, and the need to work with other wetlands to share the type of
visitor motivations best suited to encourage environmentally friendly behavior.
Keywords: conservation commitment; environmentally responsible behavior; place
attachment; recreation involvement; wetlands

Introduction
Nature-based tourism is directly dependent on the use of natural resources in a relatively
undeveloped or undisturbed natural setting, a qualification that applies to an area’s scenery,
topography, water features, vegetation, wildlife and cultural heritage (Ceballos-Lascuráin,
1996). Wetlands tourism is one example of this activity (Ceballos-Lascuráin, 1996). Wet-
lands form the basis for this study; they have high levels of biodiversity and are usually
very sparsely populated, meaning that tourists only come to wetlands to enjoy nature rather
than other attractions. Nature-based tourism may benefit nature in a number of ways. First,
nature-based tourists are typically attracted to the biodiversity and landscapes of natural set-
tings such as wetlands. They often use rural, village-level and small-scale accommodation
that has relatively low impact on nature and its surroundings, but brings income into the area
and builds valuable local support for nature conservation. The development of sustainable
wetland tourism to accommodate these tourists’ needs could contribute significantly to the
sustainability of these natural settings (Galley & Clifton, 2004). Second, people who have
frequent exposure to a natural, functioning ecosystem are more likely to hold conservation


Email: thlee@yuntech.edu.tw

ISSN 0966-9582 print / ISSN 1747-7646 online


C 2011 Taylor & Francis

DOI: 10.1080/09669582.2011.570345
http://www.informaworld.com
896 T.H. Lee

attitudes and pro-environmental behavior than those who spend more time in a constructed
environment (Stewart & Craig, 2000). Finally, it has been suggested that cueing common
ecological behaviors may lead participants to choose environmentally friendly products
more frequently and to use scrap paper with increased efficiency (Cornelissen, Pandelaere,
Warlop, & Dewitte, 2008).
Assessing the environmentally responsible behavior of nature-based tourists can help
planners promote the sustainable development of recreational settings. Empirical studies
of natural settings indicate that several factors, such as environmental attitudes (Corral-
Verdugo, Bechtel, & Fraijo-Sing, 2003), place attachment (Vaske & Kobrin, 2001) and
conservation commitment (Dierking et al., 2004), positively impact on environmentally
responsible behavior among users. In addition, Davis, Green, and Reed (2009) conducted
a study among students of the Soka University in Southern California and found that con-
servation commitment is a new theoretical construct that strongly predicts environmentally
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responsible behavior.
Previous studies have discussed the profiles of ecotourists or developed behavioral
models to assess the effects of motivation, attitude and destination image on the satisfaction
and future visitation behavior of wetland tourists (Kerstetter, Hou, & Lin, 2004; Lee, 2009).
However, few studies have examined the environmentally responsible behavior of wetland
tourists. Moreover, the question of how the recreation involvement and place attachment of
wetland tourists impact on their propensities for environmentally responsible behavior has
not yet been studied. Previous studies have also not examined recreationists’ perceptions of
the interdependence of place attachment, conservation commitment and environmentally
responsible behavior when visiting a natural destination.
The main purpose of this study is to examine how place attachment and recreation
involvement impact environmentally responsible behavior and how conservation commit-
ment mediates the relationships between place attachment and environmentally responsible
behavior as well as between recreation involvement and environmentally responsible be-
havior among wetland tourists. This study concludes by presenting data that support a
number of practical managerial implications. Recommendations for further study are also
given.

Literature review
Environmentally responsible behavior
Development is sustainable when it meets current needs without compromising the ability
of future generations to meet their needs (World Commission on Environment and Devel-
opment [WCED], 1987). In the face of recent environmental degradation, sustainability has
become an increasingly widespread topic within conservation. To help offset this continu-
ing trend toward environmental degradation, the natural environment should be protected
(Oskamp, 2000).
As concern about the environmental impacts of tourism has increased, the tourist ac-
commodation sector has responded, gradually acknowledging the importance of improving
sustainable management and operation (Trauer, 1998). At an individual level, environmen-
tally responsible behavior describes the actions of someone who advocates sustainable or
diminished use of natural resources (Sivek & Hungerford, 1989/1990). Consequently, the
sustainable use of an environment can be increased when its users behave in an environ-
mentally responsible manner.
Journal of Sustainable Tourism 897

Scholars have specified a number of categories of environmentally responsible be-


havior. Hungerford, Peyton, and Wilke (1980) deconstructed the notion of environmen-
tally responsible behavior into persuasion, consumerism, political action, legal action and
eco-management. Stern (2000) defined environmentally responsible behavior as public
environmental activism, nonactivist behaviors in the public-sphere and private-sphere en-
vironmentalism. Smith-Sebasto and D’Costa (1995) defined and developed measurement
scales for the following categories of environmental action: as civic action, educational
action, financial action, legal action, physical action and persuasive action that may pertain
to any aspect of environmental behavior. On the basis of Smith-Sebasto and D’Costa’s
(1995) findings, Vaske and Kobrin (2001) utilized four general actions (learning how to
solve environmental problems, talking with others about environmental issues, talking with
parents about environmental issues and trying to convince friends to act responsibly) and
three specific actions (joining community cleanup efforts, sorting recyclable materials out
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of the trash and conserving water by turning off the tap while washing dishes) to assess
environmentally responsible behavior. Additionally, some other scholars have used general
ecological behavior to represent environmentally responsible behavior (Davis et al., 2009;
Kaiser, Doka, Hofstetter, & Ranney, 2003).
In discussing how best to study environmentally responsible behavior, scholars in the
field have proposed a number of different variables. A study in Switzerland demon-
strated that environmental attitudes (including personal philosophical beliefs, environ-
mental awareness, emotion and perceived control) positively impacted on people’s pro-
environmental behavior (Schultz, Shriver, Tabanico, & Khazian, 2004). Others have found
that place attachment is linked to environmentally responsible behavior (Vaske & Kobrin,
2001; Williams & Vaske, 2003). Although few studies have examined the relationship be-
tween recreation involvement and environmentally responsible behavior, the present study
suggests that recreation activity is an antecedent variable for environmentally responsible
behavior. The basis for this claim is that the relationships between recreation involvement
and place attachment (Kyle, Graefe, Manning, & Bacon, 2003) and between place attach-
ment and environmentally responsible behavior (Vaske & Kobrin, 2001; Williams & Vaske,
2003) have already been demonstrated.
Kerstetter and Bricker (2009) indicated that commitment to the natural environment is
a critical factor for predicting environmentally responsible behavior. Additionally, tourist
motivations may affect some people’s environmentally responsible behavior (Osbaldiston
& Sheldon, 2003). Andereck (2009) indicated that tourists who were strongly motivated
by nature-based experiences tended to give greater value to environmentally responsible
practices than tourists who were less motivated by nature-based experiences.

Conservation commitment
The concept of commitment has been widely applied in studies of consumer psychology
(e.g. Bodkin, Amato, & Peter, 2009) and is a key variable for understanding the mainte-
nance of successful, long-term oriented relationships (e.g. Morgan & Hunt, 1994). More
specifically, conservation commitment can be said to exist within a person who is willing
to support environmental conservation in a given period. The various applications of con-
servation commitment in assessing the environmental psychology of nature-based tourists
have garnered considerable attention in the literature (Ballantyne, Packer, & Hughes, 2008,
2009; Kim, Scott, & Crompton, 1997; Kyle & Mowen, 2005; Kyle, Mowen, Absher, &
Havitz, 2006).
898 T.H. Lee

Attitudinal commitment is a multi-faceted construct consisting of positive affection,


identification and a willingness to exert effort on behalf of an organization (Jaussi, 2007).
Four broad social subsystems markets, science, social systems and political systems impact
corporate environmental commitment (Lynes & Dredge, 2006; Renn, 2001). Ballantyne
et al. (2008) measured conservation commitment in terms of a number of conservation-
related practices (i.e. doing volunteer work to help an environment, donating money to an
environmental organization, recycling and picking up the litter of others).
The current literature indicates that psychological constructs, such as place attachment,
activity, attitude and commitment, are important for understanding the relationships between
recreationists and their recreational destinations (Moore & Graefe, 1994; Pritchard, Havitz,
& Howard, 1999). Kyle et al. (2003) indicated that place identity significantly moderated
the role of place attachment in the relationship between recreationist fee attitudes and
support for spending the revenue generated by those fees. Moreover, Kyle et al. (2006)
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have suggested that organizational commitment may often include a strong place-bonding
component. Yet, another study suggested that individuals who build attachments to natural
settings might also develop a sense of identity that is associated with these places. As a result,
their initial feelings of attachment to such natural settings can grow into a wider sense of
commitment to the environment and thus lead to more environmentally responsible behavior
(Vaske & Kobrin, 2001). Additionally, Kim et al. (1997) found significant relationships
among socio-psychological involvement, commitment and the future intentions of birders.
These previous studies all provide evidence that, for nature-based tourists, psychological
bonds exist between place attachment, activity and commitment.
Conservation commitment strategies involve a person making a statement regarding
his or her conservation behavior (Geller & Lehman, 1991). The relationship between a
promise and its related behavior can be strong when the promise is made (Katzev &
Wang, 1994). Furthermore, when someone’s commitment to a conservation action increases
after a recreational experience, that person’s environmentally responsible behavior tends to
increase immediately (Dierking et al., 2004).
Ballantyne et al. (2009) indicated that wildlife tourists are more frequently engaged
in low-level conservation commitment actions (recycling, conserving water and energy)
than in high-level conservation commitment actions (acting as conservation volunteers and
donating money to conservation organizations). Because the linear relationship between
conservation commitment and environmentally responsible behavior has not been well
studied in nature-based tourism, this study presents the following hypothesis:
H1 : Conservation commitment significantly and directly affects environmentally responsible
behavior.

Place attachment
Place attachment refers to any positive or negative relationship that a person has with a
location, often arising from the person’s complex experiences with the place, and creating
an emotional bond with that place (Kyle et al., 2003). In recreation and leisure, place
attachment is embodied in the emotions and feelings associated with a recreational setting
(Hidalgo & Hernández, 2001; Moore & Graefe, 1994).
Many leisure scholars have argued that place attachment consists of two components:
place identity, which is a symbolic or affective attachment to a place, and place dependence,
which is related to the functionality of a place for a recreational activity (Gross & Brown,
2006; Hidalgo & Hernández, 2001; Hwang, Lee, & Chen, 2005; Kyle, Graefe, Manning, &
Journal of Sustainable Tourism 899

Bacon, 2004; Kyle et al., 2003; Moore & Graefe, 1994; Vaske & Kobrin, 2001). Some leisure
and tourism scholars have established a measurement profile for place attachment, which
includes place dependence, place identity and lifestyle constructs (Bricker & Kerstetter,
2000; Hwang et al., 2005).
Emotional place attachment can also play a vital role in how individuals act in natural
resource management and politics (Cheng, Kruger, & Daniels, 2003). People typically use
places to protect and enhance their self-identity (Proshansky, Fabian, & Kaminoff, 1983),
and they may conceptualize a resource in different ways depending on how they define
themselves.
Several leisure and tourism scholars have approached place attachment as an antecedent
to environmentally responsible behaviors (Tsaur & Sun, 2009; Vaske & Kobrin, 2001) or
pro-environmental behaviors (Halpenny, 2010). Hence, the effects of place attachment on
responsible behavior have been examined among hikers in a national park, youth who
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participated in a natural resource work program and visitors to a national park. However,
no studies have been conducted to study these issues regarding wetland tourists.
In a study of the community living near the Shirakami-sanchi World Heritage site, in
Japan, Kato (2006) found that one community’s sense of spiritual connection and place
identity supported its conservation commitment. Additionally, Davis et al. (2009) indicated
that high levels of conservation commitment predicted high levels of pro-environmental
behavior among students. Thus, at least in certain situations, conservation commitment
appears to be an antecedent to pro-environmental behavior. However, the linear relation-
ships among place attachment, conservation commitment and environmentally responsible
behavior have not yet been examined. The present study seeks to remedy this research gap
by examining these relationships among wetland tourists.
To support an integrated approach, the relationships among place attachment, recreation
involvement, commitment and environmentally responsible behavior merit reexamination
in the context of wetland tourism. This study thus presents the following two research
hypotheses.
H2 : Place attachment significantly and directly affects conservation commitment (H2–1 ) and
significantly and indirectly affects environmentally responsible behavior (H2–2 ).

H3 : Place attachment significantly and directly affects environmentally responsible behavior.

Recreation involvement
Recreation involvement, a concept that has been thoroughly discussed in the literature,
represents the degree to which an individual engages in a particular activity. Recreation
involvement tends to be positively related to motivation (Kyle et al., 2006), place attachment
(Kyle, Bricker, Graefe, & Wickham, 2004), assessment of a tourist experience (Gross &
Brown, 2006), agency commitment (Kyle & Mowen, 2005) and loyalty to a recreational
destination (Kyle et al., 2006; Lee, Graefe, & Burns, 2007).
Moreover, factors such as personal values, needs, personality, motivation and self-
awareness affect the recreation involvement of tourists or recreationists (Dimanche, Havitz,
& Howard, 1991; Kyle et al., 2006). A high level of recreation involvement increases
sensitivity to activity attributes, perception of activity importance, recreational commit-
ment and, ultimately, loyalty to a recreational destination (Bricker & Kerstetter, 2000; Lee
et al., 2007). Thus, studies of recreation involvement have significant implications for
understanding tourist behaviors.
900 T.H. Lee

Recreation involvement has been assessed in studies of camping, risky activities,


sports and trail hiking, wherein it was evaluated through the constructs of attraction, self-
expression and centrality (Kyle, Bricker, et al., 2004; McIntyre & Pigram, 1992; Wiley,
Shaw, & Havitz, 2000). Other studies have assessed recreation involvement by using the
constructs of importance, enjoyment and self-expression (Havitz & Dimanche, 1997; Lee
et al., 2007).
Tourism and leisure studies have frequently implicated recreation involvement in de-
scribing the connection an individual has with a recreational activity (Gross & Brown,
2006; Hwang et al., 2005). Several studies in this area have utilized structural equation
modeling (SEM) to examine the linear relationships between recreation involvement and
place attachment (Hwang et al., 2005; Kyle, Graefe, & Manning, 2004; Kyle et al., 2003),
recreation involvement and destination loyalty (Iwasaki & Havitz, 2004; Kyle, Bricker,
et al., 2004; Lee et al., 2007), motivation and destination loyalty (Kyle et al., 2006) and
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recreation involvement and destination loyalty (Lee et al., 2007). Recreation involvement
has thus been shown to be an important factor to consider when interpreting the experiences
of tourists and recreationists and explaining their behaviors.
In one case, environmental involvement was shown to significantly and positively relate
to environmental behavior among wine tourists (Barber, Taylor, & Deale, 2010). Lee and
Moscardo (2005) indicated that tourists with higher levels of involvement in environmental
actions were more likely to prefer eco-friendly service providers (e.g. tour operators and
accommodations) than those with lower levels of involvement. Additionally, active involve-
ment (in this case, through participation in ecological restoration fieldwork) was found to
positively impact pro-environmental attitudes and ecological behavior intentions among
university students (Bowler, Kaiser, & Hartig, 1999). However, the question of how recre-
ation involvement impacts environmentally responsible behavior has rarely been examined,
despite the fact that tourism and leisure studies have pointed to potential relationships
between these constructs.
Iwasaki and Havitz (2004) found that involvement in an activity leads to an increased
commitment in service offerings. Moreover, Casper, Gray, and Stellino (2007) indicated that
the opportunities for involvement significantly predicted sport commitment among tennis
players. However, there remains a gap in the literature when it comes to examining the re-
lationships among recreation involvement, conservation commitment and environmentally
responsible behavior among nature-based tourists.
On the basis of the aforementioned empirical studies, the following two research hy-
potheses are proposed:
H4 : Recreation involvement significantly and directly affects conservation commitment (H4–1 )
and significantly and indirectly affects environmentally responsible behavior (H4–2 ).
H5 : Recreation involvement significantly and directly affects environmentally responsible
behavior.

Methods
Study sites
This study focused on three well-known, nature-based recreation areas in southwestern
Taiwan: the Cigu wetland (23◦ 05 N, 120◦ 05 E), which has the largest lagoon in Taiwan; the
Sihcao wetland (23◦ 00 N, 120◦ 10 E), a wildlife refuge area; and the Haomeiliao wetland
(23◦ 22 N, 120◦ 05 E), a nature reserve area.
Journal of Sustainable Tourism 901

Development of the research instrument


We developed a questionnaire to administer to tourists visiting the Cigu, Sihcao and
Haomeiliao wetlands. This questionnaire included items measuring recreation involve-
ment, place attachment, conservation commitment and environmentally responsible be-
havior. Key background information from the tourists was also collected. A copy of the
research instrument can be found on the online version of this paper as Appendix 1.
In August 2008, a pretest was conducted at the Cigu wetland. Respondent sampling
took place at the Wanchiryo sandbar because almost all tourists to the area visited this
spot. We thus achieved systematic sampling by selecting respondents randomly at a loca-
tion visited by nearly all of the tourists. The questionnaires were presented to randomly
sampled tourists via a systematic sampling method (one of every 10 tourists was sam-
pled) at the Wanchiryo sandbar in the Cigu wetland during the daytime. In total, 123
usable questionnaires were collected. The questionnaire items and Likert scales were as-
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sessed by looking at the Cronbach’s alpha, percentage of missing data, mean, standard
deviation, item discrimination, skewness, kurtosis, relation coefficients and factor load-
ings. Moreover, the questionnaires were further modified on the basis of feedback from
a wetland tourism manager at the Cigu wetland, a scholar specializing in nature-based
tourism, and 10 tourists visiting the Cigu wetland who made comments concerning item
comprehensibility. All items of the questionnaire were adopted because they met the cri-
teria of the item analysis; however, some items received minor changes in wording to
improve comprehensibility. The final questionnaire consisted of five sections, described as
follows.
An eight-item scale was developed to measure the place attachment of tourists visiting
wetlands. The items included in this scale were based on the findings of Kyle et al. (2003).
Place attachment was composed of place dependence (measured by four items) and place
identity (four items). As with recreation involvement, item responses for place attachment
variables were scored on a seven-point Likert scale.
Items for recreation involvement were based on the findings of McIntyre and Pigram
(1992) and Kyle et al. (2003). The recreation involvement construct consisted of attraction
(measured using five items), self-expression (four items) and centrality (four items). Item
responses were scored on a seven-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 for “strongly disagree”
to 7 for “strongly agree”. Thus, a 13-item scale was developed to measure the recreation
involvement of tourists visiting wetlands.
For conservation commitment, a three-item scale was constructed. The items included
in the scale were chosen on the basis of findings obtained by Ballantyne et al. (2008).
Here, commitment represented affection, identification and willingness to exert effort on
behalf of the organization, and it was measured with the following three items: “I donate
money to environmental organizations”, “I do volunteer work for groups who help the
environment” and “I actively search for information about environmental conservation”.
As has been described previously, item responses were scored on a seven-point Likert
scale.
The 12-item scale for environmentally responsible behavior was constructed to assess
the extent to which an individual’s actions were motivated by a desire to interact with the
environment in more responsible ways (Hungerford & Volk, 1990), based on the studies by
Smith-Sebasto and D’Costa (1995) and Birgit (2001). This scale consisted of civic action
(four items), education (two items), recycling (two items), persuasive action (two items)
and green consumerism (two items). Again, item responses were scored on a seven-point
Likert scale.
902 T.H. Lee

Demographic variables included gender, age, marital status, education level, occupation,
city of residence, income and membership in conservation groups. These questions were
used to create profiles of the respondents.

Sampling and surveying


Because the majority of visits to the wetlands take place on Saturdays and Sundays, the
survey was conducted for two days (a Saturday and a Sunday) per season (summer, au-
tumn, winter and spring) at each site over a one-year period. Four graduate students were
hired and trained in research data collection techniques (such as face-to-face questionnaire
administration, randomized sampling and techniques for reducing the refusal rate) to act
as research assistants and collect the survey data. The sampling locations were selected
on the basis of their high popularity with tourists: the Wanchiryo sandbar at Cigu and the
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wharfs at Sucho and Haomeiliao. Additionally, most tourists visited the wetlands by boats;
because the boats ran only during the daytime, this meant that nearly all tourism occurred
during daylight hours. Tourists were sampled as they departed the boats via exit areas at
selected locations by a systematic sampling method (in which one of every 10 tourists was
selected) during daylight hours. Each respondent received a souvenir pen upon finishing
the questionnaire, which typically took about 7 minutes. The questionnaire phase of the
research was carried out from September 2008 to July 2009. In total, 1094 questionnaires
were distributed. With 151 refusals and 15 incomplete questionnaires, 928 questionnaires
were usable, representing a sampling error (in the case of an infinite population) of 3.22%
at a 95% confidence level (p = q = 0.5). We could not assess the differences between the
subjects who provided usable responses and those who refused because the latter group
tended to cite a lack of time, a lack of interest in filling out the questionnaire or an inability
to access the questionnaire, or their illiteracy.

Data analysis
Once collected, the data were then statistically analyzed through SPSS 15.0 for Windows to
calculate Cronbach’s alpha and the descriptive statistics. The Cronbach’s alpha scores for
the latent variables of recreation involvement, place attachment, conservation commitment
and environmentally responsible behavior were 0.92, 0.94, 0.85, and 0.91, respectively. All
scores exceeded the benchmark threshold of 0.70 (Nunnally & Bernstein, 1994), indicating
that the instrument had good internal consistency.
The proposed model was examined by using SEM to test both the theoretical relation-
ships within the model and the model’s overall fit with the survey data, using LISREL 8.70
for Windows. All parameters were estimated using maximum likelihood estimation. The
measurement model was validated by using confirmatory factor analysis. The structural
model examined the hypotheses simultaneously by using path analysis.
An insignificant change in chi-square (χ 2) statistics between the nested models was
used as a test of invariance (Byrne, 1993). The χ 2 values were used to determine whether
the two competing nested models differed significantly in their ability to explain the esti-
mated construct covariance in SEM analysis (Jöreskog & Sörbom, 1996). The best-fitting
model was then determined by comparing four competing models with the theoretical
model (TM; Figure 1). According to the TM, conservation commitment had a partially
mediating effect on place attachment→environmentally responsible behavior and on recre-
ation involvement→environmentally responsible behavior. Competing model 1 (CM1 )
represents the TM model but with the path of recreation involvement→environmentally
Journal of Sustainable Tourism 903
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Figure 1. The theoretical model and competing models of wetlands tourists.


904 T.H. Lee

responsible behavior removed. If CM1 were to have a significantly better model fit than
the TM, it would mean that conservation commitment partially mediated the relation-
ship between place attachment and environmentally responsible behavior and fully me-
diated the relationship between recreation involvement and environmentally responsible
behavior. Competing model 2 (CM2 ) is again similar to the TM but with the path of
place attachment→environmentally responsible behavior removed. If CM2 were to have
a significantly better model fit than the TM, it would indicate that conservation commit-
ment partially mediated the relationship between recreation involvement and environmen-
tally responsible behavior and fully mediated the relationship between place attachment
and environmentally responsible behavior. Competing model 3 (CM3 ) represents the TM
with two paths, place attachment→environmentally responsible behavior and recreation
involvement→environmentally responsible behavior, removed. If CM3 were to have a sig-
nificantly better model fit than the TM, it would suggest that conservation commitment
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completely mediated the relationships between place attachment and environmentally re-
sponsible behavior and between recreation involvement and environmentally responsible
behavior. Finally, if all competing models showed a significantly poorer model fit than the
TM, the TM would be accepted, indicating that conservation commitment partially medi-
ates the relationship between place attachment and environmentally responsible behavior
as well as the relationship between recreation involvement and environmentally responsible
behavior.

Results
Respondent profiles
The demographic profiles of the respondents are summarized as follows. Briefly, 54.1%
were female and 45.9% were male; 54.8% were married and 45.2% were unmarried; 35.6%
were 31–40 years old and 29.7% were 21–30 years old; 59.1% had a university education
while 20.5% had only a high school education; 24.8% were professionals and 18.8% were
students; 37.5% had a monthly income of NT$20,001–40,000 and 26.1% had a monthly
income of less than NT$20,000 (1 US$ = 31.75 NT$ as of August 10, 2010); and 50.7%
lived within 2 hour’s distance from the wetlands and 40.3% lived more than 3 hours away.
Additionally, we found that very few non-Taiwanese people visited these wetlands.
Although no tourist data were available for the areas studied, the demographic charac-
teristics of the respondents in the study were similar to those reported in a previous study by
Lee (2009). For example, there were 54.1% female respondents in the present study, similar
to the 50.8% figure in Lee’s (2009) study. Most respondents in the study were between the
age of 31 and 40 years (35.6%) and between 21 and 30 years (29.7%), similar to Lee’s
finding of 30.9% respondents between the ages of 31 and 40 years and 25.2% between the
ages of 21 and 30 years.

Measurement model
The measurement model specifies how latent variables or hypothetical constructs should
be assessed in terms of the observed variables, and it represents the validity and reliability
of the responses of observed variables to latent variables (Bagozzi & Yi, 1988; Hair, Black,
Babin, Anderson, & Tatham, 2006). Confirmatory factor analysis indicated that the χ 2 of
the measurement model is 3915.74 with 575 degrees of freedom (df ) (p < 0.05), implying
Journal of Sustainable Tourism 905

that the measurement model was not a good fit with the data. However, a large sample
size can hinder this test’s ability to assess model fitness because sample size can affect
the χ 2 value (McDonald & Ho, 2002). Thus, we employed several other measurement
model fit indices to verify the results of the χ 2 test: the normed fit index (NFI) of 0.97, the
comparative fit index (CFI) of 0.97, the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA)
of 0.08 and the standardized root mean square residual (SRMR) of 0.062. On the basis
of the results of these descriptive fit indices, we concluded that the measurement model
actually fit the sample data well (Hair et al., 2006).
Table 1 lists factor loadings, t-values, average variance extracted (AVE) and composite
reliability for the latent variables. All composite reliability values exceeded 0.6, demonstrat-
ing that the latent variables had a high degree of internal consistency (Jöreskog & Sörbom,
1996). The measurement for the latent variables reached convergent validity at the item
level because all factor loadings exceeded 0.5 and because all t-values associated with each
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completely standardized loading exceeded 1.96, reaching statistical significance, providing


evidence of convergent validity (Anderson & Gerbing, 1988). Discriminant validity was
evaluated by using AVE; for this assessment, the criterion was that average variance should
exceed 0.5 (Bagozzi & Yi, 1988). In this study, except for environmentally responsible
behavior (0.47, very close to the threshold of 0.5), the AVE for place attachment, recreation
involvement and conservation commitment exceeded the threshold of 0.5, indicating that
this study had adequate discriminant validity.

Structure model
In this study, the χ 2 test (χ 2 = 3035.54, df = 573, p < 0.05) could not determine the model’s
goodness-of-fit, possibly due to the large sample size. Other goodness-of-fit statistics, such
as goodness-of-fit index (GFI) (0.83), adjusted GFI (AGFI) (0.80), NFI (0.97), nonnormed
fit index (NNFI) (0.98), CFI (0.98), RMSEA (0.072) and SRMR (0.059), indicated that the
model fitness was acceptable.
Figure 2 shows the path diagram for the linear relationships among place attachment,
recreation involvement, conservation commitment and environmentally responsible behav-
ior. The analytical results indicated that conservation commitment affected environmentally
responsible behavior directly (β 21 = 0.48, t = 10.62, p < 0.001); thus, H1 holds. Place
attachment directly affected conservation commitment (γ 11 = 0.26, t = 3.01, p < 0.01)
and indirectly affected environmentally responsible behavior (γ 11 × β 21 = 0.12, t = 3.86,
p < 0.001); thus, H2–1 and H2–2 are accepted. Place attachment also directly affected envi-
ronmentally responsible behavior (γ 21 = 0.19, t = 2.54, p < 0.05); thus, H3 is accepted.
Recreation involvement directly affected conservation commitment (γ 12 = 0.37, t = 4.16,
p < 0.001) and indirectly affected environmentally responsible behavior (γ 12 × β 21 =
0.18, t = 4.40, p < 0.001); thus, H4–1 and H4–2 hold. Recreation involvement directly
affected environmentally responsible behavior (γ 22 = 0.19, t = 2.51, p < 0.05); thus, H5 is
accepted.
Additionally, the squared multiple correlation (equivalent to R2) was 0.37 for conserva-
tion commitment, indicating that 37% of the variance in commitment can be attributed to
place attachment and recreation involvement. The squared multiple correlation was 0.58 for
environmentally responsible behavior, indicating that 58% of the variance in environmen-
tally responsible behavior could be attributed to place attachment, recreation involvement
and conservation commitment.
906 T.H. Lee

Table 1. Factor loadings (t-values), average variance extracted (AVE) and composite reliability (CR)
of the measurement model.

Factor
Variables loadings t-value AVE CR
Place attachment 0.61 0.92
Wetland tourism is meaningful to me 0.76 26.9
I identify strongly with visiting here 0.72 24.5
I am very attached to visiting here 0.81 29.5
I have a special connection to visiting here and 0.81 29.4
other tourists who visit here
I enjoy visiting here more than visiting any other 0.80 31.2
place
I get more satisfaction visiting here than visiting 0.80 28.7
any other place
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Visiting here is more important to me than 0.82 30.1


visiting any other place
I would not substitute any other type of recreation 0.65 21.6
for what I do here
Recreation involvement 0.53 0.94
Visiting wetlands is very important to me 0.78 28.0
Visiting wetlands is one of the most enjoyable 0.85 31.8
things that I do
Visiting wetlands pleases me 0.85 31.5
Visiting wetlands interests me 0.83 30.7
Visiting wetlands offers me relaxation 0.80 26.2
A lot of my life is related to visiting wetlands 0.65 21.6
Visiting wetlands plays a central role in my life 0.68 22.9
Most of my friends are in some way connected 0.60 19.5
with visiting wetlands
I like to discuss visiting wetlands with my friends 0.66 22.0
When visiting wetlands, I can demonstrate my 0.63 20.9
ability and personality
I can tell others a lot about visiting wetlands 0.74 25.8
When visiting wetlands, I can really be myself 0.72 24.8
When I visit wetlands, others see me the way I 0.67 22.5
want them to see me
Conservation commitment 0.65 0.97
I am willing to donate money to environmental 0.79 27.2
organizations
I am willing do volunteer work for groups that 0.80 27.9
help the environment
I am willing to actively search for information 0.83 29.3
about environmental conservation
Environmentally responsible behavior 0.47 0.91
I insist on candidates who have a 0.68 22.8
pro-environmental policy
I have joined or contributed financially to 0.69 23.5
environmental organizations
I invest in companies that utilize green 0.68 22.8
technologies
I carpool or utilize the mass transit system to 0.67 22.5
commute to work
I watch TV programs about environmental issues 0.80 28.8
I read books, publications and other material 0.81 29.2
about environmental problems
After traveling, I leave the place as clean as it was 0.61 19.8
before
(Continued on next page)
Journal of Sustainable Tourism 907

Table 1. Factor loadings (t-values), average variance extracted (AVE) and composite reliability (CR)
of the measurement model. (Continued)

Factor
Variables loadings t-value AVE CR
I sort trash to separate nonrecyclable from 0.65 21.7
recyclable material
I persuade others to adopt pro-environmental 0.60 19.4
behaviors
I promote environmental conservation 0.72 24.9
I engage in energy efficiency and CO2 reduction 0.61 20.1
(e.g. I bike/walk to work)
I buy environmentally sound products 0.63 20.6

Note: ECVI = expected cross-validation index, IFI = incremental fit index, CN = critical sample size, Measure-
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ment model fit: ECVI = 4.43, CN = 184.47, SRMR = 0.062, CFI = 0.97, IFI = 0.97, NFI = 0.97.
Source: Jöreskog and Sörbom, 1996.

Figure 2. Final model of wetland tourists. ∗ p < 0.01, ∗∗ p < 0.01, ∗∗∗ p < 0.001.

Competitive models
Table 2 lists the statistical indices of the TM (χ 2 = 3382.39, df = 572) and the three com-
peting models. First, χ 2 for the TM and CM1 (χ 2 = 3383.85, df = 573) was 1.46 (with
1 df , p > 0.05), indicating that the TM and CM1 were insignificantly different in terms of
model fitness. Moreover, the statistical indices indicated that the TM had a better model fit
than the CM1 , thus supporting the adoption of the TM. Second, χ 2 for the TM and CM2
(χ 2 = 3398.55, df = 573) was 16.16 with 1 df (p < 0.05), demonstrating that the TM
and CM2 differed significantly in terms of model fitness. The statistical indices indicated
that the TM had a better model fit than the CM2 , further supporting the adoption of the
TM. Third, χ 2 for the TM and CM3 (χ 2 = 3462.52, df = 573) was 80.13 with 2 df
(p < 0.05), indicating that the TM and CM3 differed significantly in model fitness. The
statistical indices indicated that the TM had a better model fit than CM3 , again supporting
the adoption of the TM. These comparisons indicate that the TM was a better model than
the competitive models. Finally, the analytical results indicated that conservation commit-
ment partially mediated the relationships between place attachment and environmentally
responsible behavior and between recreation involvement and environmentally responsible
behavior simultaneously.
908 T.H. Lee

Table 2. Fit indices for the theoretical model and competitive models.

Models TM CM1 CM2 CM3


Chi-square 3382.39 3383.85 3398.55 3462.52
df = 572, p < df = 573, p < df = 573, p < df = 573, p <
0.05 0.05 0.05 0.05
Chi-square/df 5.91 5.91 5.93 6.04
GFI 0.81 0.81 0.81 0.81
AGFI 0.78 0.78 0.78 0.78
NFI 0.97 0.97 0.97 0.97
NNFI 0.97 0.97 0.97 0.97
CFI 0.97 0.97 0.97 0.97
IFI 0.97 0.97 0.97 0.97
RMSEA 0.071 0.077 0.077 0.078
SRMR 0.077 0.079 0.077 0.096
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ECVI 4.32 4.32 4.33 4.41


CN 181.91 181.83 181.82 177.34

Note: TM = theoretical model, CM1 = TM with recreation involvement→environmentally responsi-


ble behavior path removed, CM2 = TM with place attachment→environmentally responsible behavior
path removed, CM3 = TM with recreation involvement→environmentally responsible behavior and place
attachment→environmentally responsible behavior paths removed.

Discussion
The question of how antecedent variables impact the environmentally responsible behavior
of nature-based tourists has seldom been examined using visitation behavioral models.
This study examined the linear relationships among place attachment, recreation involve-
ment, conservation commitment and environmentally responsible behavior among wetland
tourists. Although some of these constructs have been discussed in the literature, the struc-
tural relationships between these variables have not been examined simultaneously. The
analysis of this behavioral model allowed us to shed light on previously proposed but unex-
amined behavioral models among nature-based tourists. This study thus contributes to the
literature on sustainable tourism and behavioral studies.
As the environmentally responsible behavior of tourists increases the friendly treatment
of an environment, the opportunity for sustainable development likewise increases (Sivek
& Hungerford, 1989/1990). On the basis of studies by Smith-Sebasto and D’Costa (1995)
and Birgit (2001), this study used measures of civic action, education, recycling, persuasive
action and green consumerism to assess the environmentally responsible behavior of tourists
visiting wetlands. Because this scale has been shown to have acceptable reliability and
validity, both in previous studies and in this study, it can be used to effectively assess
the environmentally responsible behavior of tourists visiting wetlands. Moreover, critical
variables such as conservation commitment, place attachment and recreation involvement
have been examined to predict tourists’ environmentally responsible behavior, a set of
relationships that is described below.
First, conservation commitment significantly and directly affected environmentally re-
sponsible behavior, suggesting that conservation commitment is an antecedent variable and
can be used to effectively predict environmentally responsible behavior among tourists
visiting wetlands. A recreationist with a greater commitment to conservation will be more
likely to exhibit environmentally responsible behavior. This finding is in agreement with
the findings described in previous studies of environmental behaviors (Davis et al., 2009;
Dierking et al., 2004).
Journal of Sustainable Tourism 909

Furthermore, the relationships examined by this study indicated that place attachment
directly affected conservation commitment and indirectly affected environmentally respon-
sible behavior; this is an original finding. Moreover, place attachment significantly and
directly impacted environmentally responsible behavior. This analytical finding is in agree-
ment with the conclusions of previous studies dealing with tourists visiting a national park
(Halpenny, 2010; Tsaur & Sun, 2009) and youths participating in nature resource work
programs (Vaske & Kobrin, 2001). This finding thus reflects the fact that place attachment
is an antecedent of environmentally responsible behavior. As place attachment increases,
the likelihood of environmentally responsible behavior among recreationists also increases.
Additionally, no studies have discussed how conservation commitment mediates be-
tween place attachment and environmentally responsible behavior among nature-based
tourists. By comparing competing models, the present study examined the role that conser-
vation commitment played in partially mediating the relationship between place attachment
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and environmentally responsible behavior. The mediating effect of conservation commit-


ment in this study is an important finding because it elucidates the relationships among
place attachment, conservation and environmentally responsible behavior among wetland
tourists. Consequently, place attachment is an important antecedent variable in the behav-
ioral model specified for tourists visiting wetlands. According to this linear relationship,
increasing place attachment and conservation commitment can enhance environmentally
responsible behavior among wetland tourists.
In this study, recreation involvement proved to be an antecedent of conservation com-
mitment among tourists visiting wetlands, a conclusion that is consistent with the findings
reported in several previous studies (Iwasaki & Havitz, 2004; Kim et al., 1997; Kyle
& Mowen, 2005). Previous studies have empirically examined the relationship between
recreation involvement and conservation. The current study adds to the growing body of
literature, indicating that increased recreation involvement leads to conservation commit-
ment among wetland tourists. We suggest that recreation involvement impacts conservation
commitment among wetlands tourists.
The relationships among recreation involvement, commitment and loyalty are already
well established (Iwasaki & Havitz, 2004; Kim et al., 1997; Kyle, Graefe, Manning, &
Bacon, 2004). However, few studies have examined the relationships among recreation
involvement, conservation commitment and environmentally responsible behavior. The
empirical findings obtained by this study indicate that recreation involvement significantly
and directly affected conservation commitment and also that recreation involvement signifi-
cantly and indirectly affected environmentally responsible behavior; the linear relationships
among recreation involvement, conservation commitment and environmentally responsible
behavior among wetland tourists is an original finding. Moreover, a comparison of com-
peting models indicates that conservation commitment partially mediated the relationship
between recreation involvement and environmentally responsible behavior. This study is
the first to examine these relationships and suggests that recreation involvement is an an-
tecedent variable of environmentally responsible behavior while partially mediating the
effect of conservation commitment.

Management implications
Like other forms of nature-based tourism, wetland tourism gives rise to economic benefits
that result from the conservation of natural resources and directly assist both local commu-
nities and nations in achieving sustainable environmental development (Lewis, 2001). Wet-
lands can be important tourist destinations for visitors who want to enjoy natural ecosystems
910 T.H. Lee

and recreational activities. The need to work with local communities and tourism-related
businesses, to create partnership opportunities, to increase local business knowledge of wet-
land issues and opportunities, and of visitors’ needs and motivations, would be a basic and
positive implication (Haukeland, 2011; Moore & Weiler, 2009). Accordingly, wetland man-
agers need to understand visitors’ inclinations toward environmentally responsible behavior
and, subsequently, the possibility of sustainable wetland tourism. Wetlands managers who
are able to determine the critical factors that increase environmentally responsible behavior
among the wetlands’ visitors will be able to enhance their management of such wetland
destinations. Thus, the findings of this study could offer important insights for mangers
of wetlands and wetland tourism (see Brown, Ham, & Hughes, 2010, for an example of a
practical project).
Greater commitment to conservation felt by a recreationist increases the likelihood that
he or she will exhibit an environmentally responsible behavior. This finding suggests that
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the managers of wetlands should make greater efforts to provide, for example, advertising
pertaining to the improvements in environmental commitments that accompany sustain-
able wetland tourism or pro-ecological activities or tours in the wetlands that encourage
a commitment to conservation as a means of improving environmentally responsible be-
havior among wetlands tourists. Moreover, managers of wetlands could utilize the tools
of environmental education, such as interpretation strategies using relevant themes, story
lines and media; interpretation brochures, pro-environmental corners and eco-label tours;
and an ecological homepage, in order to further enhance conservation commitment and
environmentally responsible behavior among wetlands tourists (Ham & Weiler, 2002).
According to the proposed behavioral model, conservation commitment and environ-
mentally responsible behavior are significantly affected by place attachment. Thus, we
suggest that wetlands management should maintain and protect coastal and wetlands envi-
ronments to ensure environmental quality for recreation and to promote place identity and
place dependence among tourists who visit the wetlands (Stedman, 2002). Moreover, place
attachment contributes to civic activity in the form of sustainable behaviors (Uzzell, Pol, &
Badenas, 2002) and ecological behaviors (Vorkinn & Riese, 2001). Such involvement will
likely elicit positive emotions from nature-based tourists and promote their conservation
commitment and environmentally responsible behavior toward local, nature-based recre-
ational wetlands. Moreover, as wetland tourists tend to have a high level of place attachment,
conservation commitment would support and promote sustainable tourism in the wetlands;
additionally, pro-environmental attitudes and environmentally responsible behaviors con-
tribute to environmental conservation. Place attachment requires positive work to create
loyalty and repeat visitation: ideas to encourage that could include an active website with
an email notification of events and seasonal changes.
Analytical results indicate that recreation involvement impacts conservation commit-
ment and environmentally responsible behavior. Recreation involvement is reflected in a
recreationist’s preference for a recreational activity. When tourists have a high degree of
recreation involvement, their conservation commitment is enhanced, as is their tendency to
exhibit a higher degree of environmentally responsible behavior. This study thus suggests
that wetland managers would do well to aim their efforts at specific attributes of recreation
involvement by offering wetlands ecotourism and environmental education classes to en-
hance conservation commitment and environmentally responsible behavior among visitors
and, consequently, developing sustainable wetlands tourism.
Many of these implications would benefit from wetlands managers working together to
learn new skills and gain mutual support: the European Wetlands Network is an example
that might be considered (Wetlands, 2011).
Journal of Sustainable Tourism 911

Limitations and research directions


Despite this study’s contributions, the findings presented here need to be qualified in the
light of several limitations. First, the study was conducted by self-reported measures, so
it is possible that some individual responses may be overestimated, especially when social
desirability is present or a specific set of norms exists (Mick, 1996). Second, environ-
mentally responsible behavior was measured on the basis of studies by Smith-Sebasto
and D’Costa (1995) and Birgit (2001), both of which used generic behaviors rather than
measuring the individual’s behaviors and attitudes relating to the specific wetland that the
participant had visited. It would thus be worthwhile to explore other instruments or mea-
surement scales for assessing environmentally responsible behavior in relation to wetland
tourism; such instruments might then be used to predict environmentally responsible be-
haviors specifically relevant to wetland tourists. Third, the respondents in this study were
randomly sampled over the course of a year. While this sampling approach allowed us to
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assess the current behavioral model’s suitability to tourists visiting wetlands in Taiwan,
it meant that we assessed only cross-sectional data and could not examine longer peri-
ods of time, possibly giving rise to the common method variance by the methodology
(Sekaran, 1992). Further research is needed to investigate visitor data over multiple years.
Similarly, to better understand the relationships between conservation commitment and
environmentally responsible behavior, it would be useful to perform a longitudinal study of
wetland tourists.
Finally, this study developed a behavioral model for assessing the relationships among
place attachment, recreation involvement, conservation commitment and environmentally
responsible behavior among nature-based tourists in Taiwan. In the future, yet more rigorous
testing of the model should be undertaken by using different nature-based recreational
settings, such as forests, national parks and natural protected areas in different countries.
Eventually, the goal would be to assess the applicability of this behavioral model to the
experiences of other nature-based tourists.

Conclusion
Few studies have examined how place attachment, recreation involvement and conservation
commitment affect the environmentally responsible behavior of tourists visiting nature-
based destinations. This study first developed a behavioral model to assess and discuss
the behavior among nature-based tourists and then examined the relationships among
place attachment, recreation involvement, conservation commitment and environmentally
responsible behavior.
The current study’s findings, which advance our understanding of behavioral mod-
els for nature-based tourists, suggest that place attachment significantly and directly af-
fects conservation commitment and indirectly affects environmentally responsible be-
havior. Additionally, place attachment significantly and directly affects environmentally
responsible behavior. Recreation involvement significantly and directly affects conser-
vation commitment and indirectly affects environmentally responsible behavior. More-
over, recreation involvement directly and significantly impacts environmentally responsible
behavior.
Consequently, we conclude that, in this behavioral model, conservation commitment
partially mediates the relationships between place attachment and environmentally re-
sponsible behavior and between recreation involvement and environmentally responsible
behavior simultaneously.
912 T.H. Lee

Notes on contributor
Tsung Hung Lee is an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Leisure and Exercise Studies
at the National Yunlin University of Science & Technology, Taiwan. He received his PhD from
the Hokkaido University, Japan. His research interests are in the areas of ecotourism, recreational
behavior and wildlife tourism. He has authored or co-authored journal articles on leisure, recreation
and tourism studies in Taiwan and internationally.

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