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The Role of Awe in Ecolodges

 The term ecolodge for the purpose of this blog, encompasses the ecolodge and its site. The site includes local features of possible interest such as a beach, waterfall or vista. It also includes built features of the ecolodge such as accommodation, restaurants, pathways, seating, and elements such as pools, games courts, and landscaping. Research on ecolodges to date has not considered awe experiences of guests, but has concentrated primarily on the services provided or construction aspects. The emotions of tourists play a core role in the behavioural responses and cognitive evaluations of tourists to ecolodges. If ecolodge owners wish to attract guests and repeat visits, the guest experience needs to be awesome, or at least contain elements of awesomeness. In order to design awe into ecolodges, a brief understanding of this powerful emotion requires some understanding.

The emotion of awe is complex and multifaceted and is an intensely personal affective experience which is difficult to explain to others. The key components of awe are recognised as vastness, self-diminishment, and cognitive accommodation. Vastness here implies more than physical size and may include vastness related to aesthetics (Taj Mahal, waterfall), complexity (the Fibonacci sequence), time (age of the universe), or power (Tsunami). Awe is the most complex and nuanced emotion on the spectrum of emotions. The difficulty in comprehending its transience and complexity can cause a humbling sense of self-diminishment. An awe experience is something vaster than the individual can immediately comprehend, and it reduces emphasis on the immediate desires and concerns of the self as the mind struggles with this explosive external stimulus. This decrease in the feeling of self-importance can in turn lead to greater selflessness in relationships and greater pro-social behaviour. It has been widely reported that the awe triggered by swimming with whales can lead to pro-whale support and activism. The context of the awe experience informs the context of the pro-social behaviour. Awe inspiring experiences can create such intensity of emotions that they transcend existing frames of reference to contradict our knowledge. When such knowledge contradictions happen, perceived stimuli do not make immediate sense and existing knowledge needs to be changed. It is this change following an awe experience at an ecolodge that could lead to pro-environmental behaviours.

Gaining an understanding of awe at ecolodges can lead to purposively designing ecolodge facilities to generate or enhance awe experiences for pro-environmental benefit. An awesome experience has the potential to increase tourist numbers and repeat visits, and thus increase revenue for ecolodges and the tourism industry in general. The benefit for tourists having awesome experiences is also clear.

The following link is a University of the Sunshine Coast survey on awe experiences at ecolodges. Its aim is to find out what triggers awe experiences at ecolodges and if there is any change to pro-environmental attitude. It is not a critique on any particular ecolodge. Your participation in this survey will assist in improving sustainable attitudes and would be most appreciated.

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