No signal here: self-development and optimal experience from digital-free tourism

Li, Jing (2019) No signal here: self-development and optimal experience from digital-free tourism. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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The present research aims to establish a conceptual understanding of the benefits tourists may gain from digital-free tourism. The concept of digital-free tourism was proposed to represent situations characterised by the absence of or severely limited access to information and communication technology. There has been a contemporary concern over the sustained use of the internet and digital technologies, in terms of the side-effects on individuals' physical, psychological and social conditions and the possible deterioration of tourist experience. Therefore, the assumption of the potential of reduced technology use in tourism to improve tourist well-being has been claimed. Four interrelated studies were conducted to investigate the topic both as a social phenomenon and a niche tourism market. The rewarding outcomes of digital-free tourism were examined by addressing three specific questions.

The first research question "is digital-free tourism rising in prominence?" was answered by the first study – media representation of digital-free tourism: a critical discourse analysis included in Chapter 2 of this thesis. Archival data, that is online media documents focusing on the broad topic of digital detoxing on holiday, was analysed at three levels, including linguistic characteristics, temporal diachronic interpretation and socio-cultural explanation. Media discourses around digital-free tourism were found to be evolving. Specifically, vacations and tourism are discoursed as ideal situations for managing technology use behaviours. The value of digital-free tourism over time has moved from relieving stress to life flourishing. Multiple digital-free tourism providers now offer diverse experiences to a growing broad market.

The second research question "what are the positive experiences and impacts of digital-free tourism?" was answered by conducting the second study – exploration of benefits from digital-free tourism: a grounded theory approach in Chapter 3. Sixty five carefully selected key informants with expert knowledge or personal experience of digital-free tourism were asked to report their experience, observations and perspectives about reduced technology use on holiday. Based on the patterns in the data, a theoretical model was developed to display the positive changes of tourists' psychological, behavioural and life conditions through the process of digital-free tourism.

The third research question "in what ways does digital-free vacation experience contribute to people's well-being?" was addressed in two further in-depth studies. These studies were developed in Chapters 4 and 5.

The third study in Chapter 4 - self-development in digital-free tourism: building character strengths through coping with challenging investigated the correlations between digital-free tourism and the development of character strengths and virtues which build personal well-being. Key-informants' statements obtained in the previous study were re-coded by employing a catalogue of twenty four character strengths in positive psychology as a priori coding scheme. In the results, twenty three character strengths were found to be related to digital-free tourism. They were perceived to be the strengths that were utilised to cope with issues faced in the digital-free contexts. A tiered model was built to outline the core, secondary and peripheral strengths in digital-free tourism.

The fourth study in Chapter 5 - optimal experience: the role of reduced smartphone use in increasing perception of restorative environments and producing flow attempted to develop measures for the levels of perceived restorative quality of digital-free tourism environments and the flow tourists experienced when technology use was reduced; as well as to examine the nexus among critical variables by testing a Partial Least Squares Structural Equation Model (PLS-SEM). The hypothesised positive correlation between restorative environment and flow was confirmed. Smartphone dependence was found to be effective in reducing the level of flow and moderating the relationship between restorative environment and flow. A VI trend of high dependence on smartphone weakening tourists' ability to perceive restorative digital-free environment was also revealed by this empirical study.

Consequently, the value and significance of positive changes of tourists' psychological, social, behavioural and life conditions arising from disconnection are suggested in these findings about the understudied concept of digital-free tourism. Such knowledge can make important theoretical contributions to the understanding of the intricate relationship between technology and tourism, the rewarding outcomes of vacation time involving reduced technology engagement, and the well-being from positive tourist experience. Digital-free tourism can provide individuals opportunities to experience a new way of being in this digital era, reflect on and regulate the technology use behaviours of themselves and their families, as well as increase well-being through selecting unplugging vacations. The present research also introduced digital-free tourism as a new style of tourism product and service that can be an effective strategy for remote regions to develop innovative forms of tourism.

Item ID: 64280
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: disconnectivity, critical discourse analysis, digital-free tourism, grounded theory, ICT, information and communication technology, lifestyle, media discourse, positive psychology, relationships, rewarding experience, well-being
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Copyright Information: Copyright © 2019 Jing Ji.
Additional Information:

For this thesis, Jing Li received the Graduate Research School Medal of Excellence.

Two publications arising from this thesis are stored in ResearchOnline@JCU, at the time of processing. Please see the Related URLs. The publications are:

Chapter 2: Li, Jing, Pearce, Philip L., and Low, David (2018) Media representation of digital-free tourism: a critical discourse analysis. Tourism Management, 69. pp. 317-329.

Chapter 3: Li, Jing, Pearce, Philip, and Chen, Tingzhen (2019) New connections from being disconnected; digital free tourism and rewarding experiences. In: Proceedings of the 29th Annual Council for Australasian University Tourism and Hospitality Education Conference. pp. 149-159. From: CAUTHE 2019: 29th Annual Council for Australasian University Tourism and Hospitality Education Conference: sustainability of tourism, hospitality & events in a disruptive digital age, 11-14 February 2019, Cairns, QLD, Australia.

Date Deposited: 07 Sep 2020 01:44
FoR Codes: 15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150606 Tourist Behaviour and Visitor Experience @ 50%
10 TECHNOLOGY > 1005 Communications Technologies > 100599 Communications Technologies not elsewhere classified @ 50%
SEO Codes: 90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9003 Tourism > 900302 Socio-Cultural Issues in Tourism @ 100%
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