Existential Outcomes of Tourism Experience: The Role of Transformative Environment
Under the parameters of the experience economy 3.0, product experiences that have the capacity to transform a consumer in some way are predicted to constitute an ultimate economic offering. Additionally, the idea of meaning making under the experience economy 3.0 attests to the fact that greater material wealth and more consumption do not necessarily imply greater contentment; thus, individuals seek experiences that are personally meaningful. Thus, in the age of full-scale commodification and commercialization, people seek out memorable experiences that are not simply enjoyable but also personally meaningful and conducive to optimal human functioning and self-actualization. Conceptualizing transformation as the changes in tourists’ existential authenticity and anxiety, the first study intended to investigate the effects of tourism experiences on these existential outcomes. Positive effects were found, and perceived meaningfulness was identified as the major influencing factor. Additionally, the type of tourism experience, travel party size, socio-demographic characteristics such as gender, age, educational level as well as hardiness were shown to be powerful factors affecting changes in tourists’ existential authenticity and anxiety. Thus, to facilitate tourism experiences that are conducive to tourists’ self-actualization, tourism experiences must be perceived as personally meaningful. Continuing to use existential philosophy as a theoretical background, the second study aimed to phenomenologically explore the essence of a transformative tourism experience while focusing on the triggering episodes and subsequent long-term changes in tourists’ existential authenticity and anxiety. The resulting structure consisted of nine chronologically ordered themes in which existentially-oriented concerns were prevalent. Remarkably, although triggered during the trip, transformative changes tended to occur in the process of meaning making when participants returned to their usual environment. The triggering episodes did not seem to differ from the ones evoking “peak” experiences as proposed in the literature and led to intense affective, cognitive, and sensory responses in tourists. Yet, a transformative tourism experience is unique in the sense that it is the interpretation of the triggering episodes rather than the triggering episodes themselves led to enduring personal changes. Transformative changes were essentially linked to enhanced existential authenticity yet sustained sensitivity to existential anxiety. Once again, meaning-making, as an essential component of the experience economy 3.0, was shown to be the driving mechanism behind personal transformations in tourism.
Cai, Purdue University.
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