Continuum of an Experienced Tourist's Multidimensionality – Explorations of the Experience Levels of German and New Zealand Tourists
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The improved global mobility, growing middle class, and sustained importance of travelling for hedonic and eudaemonic reasons contributed to a growth in international tourist arrivals. This has also resulted in tourists becoming increasingly experienced. Although the creation of memorable experiences has remained the central focus in strategic destination management, today’s tourists seek engaging and interactive experiences that go beyond memorability. Instead, today’s tourists want to accumulate experiences that contribute to self-development and act as a catalyst for personal growth. This study proposes a conceptual framework that indicates the continuous progression of tourists towards these desired personal transformations. The ongoing debate around the concept of experience in the tourism literature reveals a duality of the term experience. Most studies focussed on the creation and consumption of immediate experiences (German Erlebnis). The accumulated experiences over time expressed as a level of prior experience (German Erfahrung) functioned as an antecedent to predict decision-making, travel behaviour and motivation. A clear understanding of the process of experience accumulation remains undervalued and past research fails to comprehensively identify the dimensions of an experienced tourist. The aim of this study was to fill research gaps associated with an experienced tourist. An exploratory sequential mixed methods research design was applied in Germany and New Zealand. The research approach encompasses semi-structured interviews with representatives from 15 destination marketing organisations and an online survey conducted with 500 German and 500 New Zealand tourists. The multi voice and holistic approach adopted to explore the dimensions of an experienced tourist from a macro-micro perspective expands research designs and contributes methodologically to tourism academia. Industry experts suggested eight dimensions of an experienced tourist, yet emphasised that identifying as an experienced tourist is highly subjective. The subjectivity of being experienced was addressed through self-rated scales in the online survey. Multiple linear regression analysis was implemented to explore the statistical predictability of experience levels. The accumulation of experiences is suggested as a complex and multidimensional process deeply imbedded in the tourist’s subjective consciousness and is related to the individual’s country of origin. Despite the identification of country-specific factors to explain the German and New Zealand experienced tourist, overarching themes were explored and previous studies that referred to countable factors were challenged. Predictors of experience levels range from static, mostly retrospective factors related to the general and travel profile of respondents, to more dynamic factors that are related to the stages of the travel journey and expand into future travel intentions. The key results are synthesised in a generally applicable model and the Continuum of the Experienced Tourist’s Multidimensionality (CETM) is proposed. The model depicts factors that positively or negatively contribute to the self-assessed experience level of German and New Zealand tourists. Theoretical contributions are achieved as the CETM model enhances the holistic understanding of transformations that lead to becoming an experienced tourist. In identifying experienced tourists as a promising market segment, the study suggests managerial implications for the tourism industry. The empirical CETM model requires future research and further testing to become a theory.