Tourists' happiness through the lens of positive psychology

Filep, Sebastian (2009) Tourists' happiness through the lens of positive psychology. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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The purpose of the thesis is to contribute to knowledge in tourism studies by linking fresh concepts from psychology to tourist behaviour studies. The research field is called positive psychology and stems from organised initiatives by mainstream and prominent psychologists since the year 2000. The broad aim of positive psychology is to investigate what makes life worth living and the central preoccupation is with what human happiness means and how it can be measured.

The thesis is divided into six chapters. Following an introductory chapter on happiness, a detailed literature review covers key themes of positive psychology, youth travel, cultural tourism, tourist motivation, tourist satisfaction and methodological creativity. Each of the themes is divided into smaller sections in which recent and salient works are discussed. Knowledge gaps related to the overall theme of tourist happiness are identified in the review of these themes. To close the gaps, the thesis then addresses three questions:

1) How can a positive psychology approach to understanding human motivation contribute to a sound theory of tourist motivation? 2) How can flow state methods from positive psychology contribute to a better understanding of tourist satisfaction? 3) How can the answers to the first two questions contribute to a conceptualisation of a happy tourist?

Three studies are presented and analysed through a positive psychology lens in chapters 3, 4 and 5 to broadly address these questions. The studies analyse the experiences of a group of Australian study-abroad university students in relation to their travel year in Spain. The first and the last studies were conducted in Sydney and the second study was conducted in Spain. The first is a motivation study which consisted of a smaller qualitative investigation and a separate quantitative, supportive study. Travel motives of the student group were investigated qualitatively through an analysis of "a perfect day" at a destination. Using personal narrative essays, travel motives of relationship/belonging, safety/comfort, curiosity/mental stimulation and self-development were identified through this positive psychology lens. In the supportive context study, motives of a group of backpackers were investigated through motivation scales. It was shown that the students' travel motives are similar to the motives of these other youth travellers. The essay approach thus eases the measurement of motivation. It is shown that through descriptions of perfect days similar travel motivations can be uncovered as in a more complex survey. By simplifying the measurement (employing the simple question which is universal in its application and is not culture, age nor gender specific) the positive psychology approach contributes to a sound theory of tourist motivation.

The second study is an analysis through in-depth interviews of the students' immediate conscious experiences at Spanish cultural heritage sites. The aim of this study was to identify immediate satisfaction themes from on-site experiences of the students at these sites. It is shown that the students' immediate satisfaction is characterised by challenge-skill balance, total concentration, autotelic (intrinsically rewarding) events, time transformation and the related themes of mindfulness, object focus, personal experience, calm/tranquility and discovery. It is further demonstrated that the flow model from positive psychology was useful in uncovering this layer of satisfaction and that it contributes to the overall picture of tourists' happiness.

The last study is an analysis of the students' memorable experiences in Spain. These experiences were analysed through personal narrative essays. It was found that the satisfaction themes of challenge-skills balance and autotelic events featured in the students' memorable experiences. Evidence of eudaimonia and surprise was also uncovered. These themes, together with those identified in the motivation and the onsite study further contribute to the exploratory picture of tourists' happiness.

The sixth and final chapter recaps the contribution of the three studies and presents a preliminary overview of tourists' happiness. Tourists' happiness through the lens of positive psychology is a product of the travel motivations for relationships and belonging, safety and comfort, curiosity and mental stimulation and a motive for personal development. The tourists' happiness is also about the on-site and memorable experience themes identified in the satisfaction studies. These tourist experience themes are all linked to the three dimensions of happiness from positive psychology: meaning, engagement and positive emotions. It is recommended that future tourism research relevant to the issue of tourists' happiness and the positive psychology field should be conducted. Suggested future research studies are: a challenge-skill balance study, a positive emotions and meaning "study, a positive psychology study on tourism education and a study of benefits of travel to tourists' health.

Item ID: 10842
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: tourist perceptions, tourist behaviour, tourist behavior, positive psychology, tourist satisfaction, student tourists, youth tourists, tourist experiences, tourism in Spain
Date Deposited: 30 Apr 2010 04:07
FoR Codes: 15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150606 Tourist Behaviour and Visitor Experience @ 100%
SEO Codes: 90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9003 Tourism > 900302 Socio-Cultural Issues in Tourism @ 100%
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