The role of travel agents’ ethical concerns when brokering information in the marketing and sale of sustainable tourism
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Using conservation tourism as a test case, this study explores the role high-end travel agents play in selling sustainable tourism. It examines a niche marketing activity in that process. The study focuses on agents’ consideration of ethics as they act as information brokers between tourists and operators. Data were collected from interviews with agents and analyzed using a deductive content analysis based on six overarching concepts and theories on ethical decision-making. The findings emphasize the implicit influence within conservation tourism of tourism’s ethical dimensions, whilst identifying many constraints that prevent a full consideration and/or disclosure of ethical concerns in the sales process. Most importantly, agents made assumptions using a false consensus bias about clients’ preferences for service over concerns for the environment and were not prepared to discuss the more sensitive issues surrounding conservation with their clients. A number of recommendations are proposed regarding the need to unpack conservation information, overcome the false consensus bias, and agents’ reluctance to discuss ethics in the sales process. Finally, the findings have broader implications for the development of sustainable tourism, which ultimately will depend on a dialogue of ethical concerns and values within the tourism supply chain between suppliers, brokers, and tourists.