Experiencing Events and Tourism Products and Services

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This blog is written by Dr Dan Knox and Dr Ed Little

Special-Interest Holidays in the Experience Economy

We all need a break now and again, but why? And what do we do when we get one? We undertook a research project designed to understand the motivations for the consumption of special-interest tourism and events experiences services among UK consumers.  We focused particularly on such special-interest categories as educational trips, participatory sports training, fundraising expeditions, thrill-seeker experiences, celebrity meet and greets, and creative vacations incorporating such activities as painting, cooking, wellness, or yoga. The data gathered in a survey of 2000 respondents show substantial numbers of consumers interested in unusual, spectacular or unique short-break experiences that align with their personal values and interests. The demand for more spectacular experiences is shown in this research to be related to attitudes, personalities and demographic factors – particularly age and gender.

Emotional Clusters: Comfort vs. Intensity

Analysis revealed that emotional responses to short-break experiences grouped into two key clusters which we have labelled ‘feet up’ and ‘foot down’.  The `Feet up’ cluster is associated with feelings of satisfaction, relaxation, joy and fulfilment, the `Foot down’ cluster with the arguably more powerful emotional responses of surprise, adrenaline and love. The contrast between these clusters is best described by the degree of intensity associated with the activities, distinguishing between ‘comfort-seeking’ and ‘thrill-seeking’. We also explored the relationships between emotional responses, personality types, age and gender. It should be noted that these categories are not mutually exclusive and that people can move between them as they take different trips in any short period of time. 

Gender and Emotional Stimulation

Key findings include the fact that women were significantly more likely than men to have emotional motivations and responses to their holidays. There were statistically significant differences between men and women in the strength of feelings of excitement, love, surprise, joy, satisfaction, trust and fulfilment, with women scoring more highly on all of these.  A heightened female responsiveness to emotional stimuli can be further identified in relation to the thrill-seeking and comfort-seeking categories as women were most likely to score highly in relation to both. Female consumers are both the most comfort-seeking and the most thrill-seeking of tourists and travellers in the contemporary UK. Though men were more likely to be higher scorers than women, the highest scorers on thrill-seeking tended to be women. It is possible that higher emotional intelligence and responsiveness of women explains their preponderance in the higher-scoring groups for each of foot down and feet up profiles.

Slowing Down, Age and the “Mid-Life Crisis”

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, older consumers were more likely to report “comfort” related responses than “intensity” related, and there was also a clear tendency for older consumers to be less interested in special-interest activities. It was found that the extent to which consumers value comfort vs. intensity in their emotional experiences of trips changes as they age. Older respondents had a greater tendency to value comfort over intensity but more detailed analysis indicates that these tendencies vary in ways we might not expect, with a steady growth of comfort-seeking during the 30s and 40s, but a resurgence of foot down in the 50s for many consumers. This is suggestive of the mid-life crises or changing attitudes as people age – perhaps youth really is just a lifestyle choice.

Feet up overtakes foot down during the approach to the age of 40, though it is a rise in the enjoyment of feet up rather than a fall in the enjoyment of foot down that drives this. Consumers appear to start to change their motivations as they approach 40 and we would expect this pattern to continue from this point onwards. The crossover between foot down and feet up occurs in the years of the early-to-mid-40s.  Comfort-related motivations on average overtake intensity-related motivations at the age of 43 – more specifically at 42 for women and at 45 for men.  

It was also found that the association of feet up with an enjoyable holiday does not simply rise steadily after this as we might expect.  Instead, there is a small resurgence of thrill-seeking and a dip in comfort- seeking in the early 50s before the decline of foot down and rise in feet up return to their expected trajectories again as people enter their 60s. This suggests that there is a renewed vigour among travellers in their 50s, perhaps a rebirth or recognition that time and opportunity might be passing them by.  There are probably two processes at work here – the realisation of the passage of time inspiring work towards completion of bucket lists and a renewed wanderlust among consumers in their middle-aged period perhaps following changes to family and home life.

Implications for the tourism services industry

Unsurprisingly, this research showed that motivations for special-interest, leisure experiences are many and varied. However, it was found that clear distinctions could be made between different types of experience, which in turn can be linked to differing personality types, age groups and genders. As well as being useful in the marketing of special interest tourism services, these findings have broader implications for the sector. The story of travel and tourism in British outbound markets over the past two decades has been one of the growth of independent travel as consumers have increasingly booked their own flights and hotels online, made all of their own arrangements and effectively operated as their own travel agency.  This trend is unlikely to disappear but elements of the special interest market simply cannot be independently booked where there are issues of access or exclusivity.  Booking a meeting with a celebrity or a foot down experience are not currently equivalent to booking a flight or an international train, and are not likely to become so in the near future.  This is an opportunity for tour operators and travel agencies to regain some market share with innovative offerings that are otherwise difficult to access.

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