Academic and research departmentsSchool of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Environmental Psychology Research Group (EPRG), Centre for Sustainability and Wellbeing in the Visitor Economy.
I am an environmental psychologist and conservationist, passionate about the relationship between humans and the natural world. I joined the University of Surrey as a PhD Researcher and ESRC Scholar in October 2016, and have since taken on a Teaching Fellow role within the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
Prior to academia, I have 10 years’ travel industry experience having held positions at Walt Disney World, Bournemouth Tourism, The Tourism Society, VisitEngland and, most recently, VisitBritain.
My environmental interest was ignited when I travelled to Antarctica with Students on Ice, having been elected as the UK’s student representative of International Polar Years in 2007-2008. I then joined the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) on a research expedition to Svalbard in 2011. Such experiences led to my award winning Master’s thesis, The future of Antarctica. Is tourism an ally or an enemy? The publication of my first book, Arctic Reflections: Moment of Inspiration, a Lifetime of Action (Tomac., Hehir. 2013) and now my PhD.
Areas of specialism
Recognised and funded by the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council), my environmental psychology based PhD research collaborates with leading tour operators and international wildlife charities to measure the actual value travelling has for conservation across the booking journey. Outcomes of this research identify the types of experiences/activities that add value and engage tourists to emotionally connect with the environments they visit, and pinpoint triggers in travel that inspire philanthropic donations both onsite and subsequently.
I am passionate about teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
My module leadership and teaching spans across many of the School of Hospitality, Tourism and Events modules including:
MANM050 Visitor Attractions Management (Module Leader)
MANM150 Destination Management and Marketing (Module Leader)
MAN3149 Leadership (Module Leader)
MAN1106 Global Citizenship
MAN2101 Tourism Policy and Development
MAN2112 Managing Organisations and Human Resources
MAN3162 Mentoring and Professional Development
MAN3156 Strategic Brand Management in Tourism
Nature-based tourism offers the opportunity for tourists to see first-hand both wildlife and the conservation efforts of organisations and individuals to protect habitats and species. Whilst recent studies hint that tourism can prompt visitors to provide philanthropic support for conservation, studies to-date have focused on behavioural intentions within specific case studies rather than actual behaviour, thereby limiting generalisability and explanatory scope. Consequently, little is known if and why individuals donate more after nature-based tourism. An online questionnaire, which included both quantitative and qualitive measures, explored key predictors of what triggers tourists to engage in philanthropic behaviour. Through a collaboration with two leading UK adventure travel companies, 924 participants' travel patterns and donation histories were examined to assess the role tourism plays in prompting new donations. Findings confirm, first, that travel to last chance destinations prompts higher instances of new philanthropy compared to other international and domestic trips; second, that other key factors, including the importance of stronger identity with nature and/or first-time visitation, influence new philanthropic support. Alongside the scholarly contributions, this study provides actionable guidance on how to encourage philanthropic behaviour working with both tour-operators and non-profit organisations.
Youth-based programmes providing education-based expeditions to the Polar Regions have been offered for more than two decades, and whilst studies hint that participants return as inspired and empowered ambassadors, research to date has been inconclusive as to what impact such expeditions have had on their participants’ subsequent lifestyle decisions and pro-environmental behaviours. To address this research gap, Social Identity Theory (SIT) was used to evaluate the impact of youth polar expeditions on participants’ pro-environmental behaviour, up to 18 years after their polar voyage. In collaboration with Students on Ice (SOI), this study tested the direct and indirect relationships between previous SOI students’ (n = 217) social identity towards the alumni programme and their subsequent connections with nature and pro-environmental behaviours. Findings suggest that social identity might be one way to explain the long-term impact of educational expeditions in terms of desired future pro-environmental behaviours, underscoring the critical importance of an alumni programme. Furthermore, a Community-Engaged Research (CER) approach was adopted to evidence the impact of this research beyond the realm of academia. We reflect on the CER approach with the intention of assisting others to produce impactful and socially robust knowledge, maximising the real-world impact of the findings.
For tourism to be entirely sustainable, one cannot travel. This is impossible. This paradox is particularly evident within last chance tourism (LCT), where tourists, seeking experiences with vanishing animals and land/seascapes, can accelerate the decline of those very attractions. Though recent studies hint that those with the highest intentions to visit LCT destinations are also some of the most concerned with climate change, no study has assessed the psychological drivers that may help explain why individuals are increasingly engaging in this paradox. Drawing on the VBN model, this research examines a theoretical framework to assess the psychological drivers behind individuals’ intention to engage in environmentally responsible behavior while traveling and, ultimately, their desire to participate in LCT. Results reveal that a set of environmentally referent cognitions (i.e., values, environmental worldview, awareness of consequences, and ascription of responsibility) lead to personal norms activation, which then influence tourists’ intent to behave in pro-sustainable ways and, ultimately, individuals’ intentions to engage in LCT. Findings are important as they further confirm the benefits of using VBN theory within an LCT context. For practitioners, this research strengthens the appeal of sustainable tourism operations to secure business and receive positive word-of-mouth from potential LCT tourists.
Hehir, C., Stewart, E.J., Maher, P.T. and Ribeiro, M.A., 2020. Evaluating the impact of a youth polar expedition alumni programme on post-trip pro-environmental behaviour: a community-engaged research approach. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, pp.1-20. Open access/free download available via: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09669582.2020.1863973
Denley, T.J., Woosnam, K.M., Ribeiro, M.A., Boley, B.B., Hehir, C. and Abrams, J., 2020. Individuals’ intentions to engage in last chance tourism: applying the value-belief-norm model. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, pp.1-22.