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Understanding Wellness Tourism: An Analysis of Benefits Sought, Health-Promoting Behaviours and Positive Psychological Well-Being Cornelia Voigt, University of South Australia Project Overview Wellness tourism is one of the most promising niche markets within the tourism field, but it remains an area with few empirical studies. Thus, the fundamental aim of this research was to advance the knowledge of wellness tourism by investigating wellness tourists and the nature of their experiences. Currently, there seems to be little understanding of who wellness tourists are, how they can be typologised, and the benefits they seek from their wellness tourism experiences. This thesis suggests a typology of wellness tourists consisting of three groups: (1) beauty spa visitors; (2) lifestyle resort visitors; and (3) spiritual retreat visitors. One purpose of the thesis was to compare these three groups to explore whether they are different or whether they share similar socio-demographic characteristics and motivational factors. Additionally, the wellness aspect of wellness tourism is poorly understood; thus another aim of this research was to establish a working definition of wellness that was operationalisable. The two major elements of wellness that were proposed for this research are ‘wellness lifestyle’ (i.e. the extent of living a healthy life) and ‘positive psychological well-being’ (i.e. consisting of ‘hedonic well-being’ or happiness and ‘eudaimonic well-being’ or personal growth and fulfilment). Consequently, another aim of the research was to explore the major wellness variables and examine whether wellness lifestyle and well-being levels differ among the three groups of wellness tourists identified for this study. Moreover, the relationships among the major variables (i.e. benefits sought, wellness lifestyle and positive psychological well-being) have received scant attention from tourism scholars and were subject of research in this thesis. Objectives of Study This research sought to achieve the following objectives: 1 To conceptualise the construct of wellness. This was based on a review of literature from the fields of health promotion, positive psychology, tourism, and leisure. 2 To propose a wellness tourism typology and examine whether there are distinct differences in socio- demographic and travel behaviour characteristics across three different wellness tourist types (i.e., beauty spa, lifestyle resort, and spiritual retreat visitors). 3 To understand how wellness tourists link their wellness tourism experiences to their personal wellness. 4 To identify the benefits wellness tourists seek from their wellness tourism experiences. 5 To determine whether benefits sought, wellness lifestyle and positive psychological well-being vary according to the three different wellness tourist types. 6 To empirically examine the relationship between hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. 7 To investigate the relationship between benefits sought and positive psychological well-being. 8 To examine the relationship between wellness lifestyle and positive psychological well-being. Methodology An exploratory design formed the basis of this research, although it also contains elements of a more explanatory nature. A mixed methods research design incorporating both qualitative and quantitative methods was employed to answer the identified research objectives. First, semi-structured interviews with 27 wellness tourists explored the benefits they sought, and to what extent wellness tourists linked their experiences to wellness. Another objective of these interviews was to generate items for the survey instrument in phase 2. Data analysis in the qualitative research phase was carried out using qualitative thematic analysis. The qualitative research was followed by a quantitative phase involving 509 usable questionnaires from a mail-out to client/member lists of three different Australian wellness tourism organisations. The quantitative phase investigated wellness tourist group differences in regard to the major variables of the research (i.e. benefits sought, wellness lifestyle and positive psychological well-being), as well as the relationships among these constructs. The data analysis of this phase employed a variety of statistical techniques, ranging from exploratory factor analysis (EFA), chi-square tests for independence, MANOVAs and ANOVAS as well as hierarchical multiple regressions. Key Findings of Research Wellness tourists are not one single, homogenous group. There were statistically significant differences between the three groups of wellness tourists in regard to all demographic and travel behaviour characteristics, as well as in respect to all major variables, with the exception of eudaimonic well-being. A scale measuring benefits sought by wellness tourists was developed and exploratory factor analysis revealed six benefit factors: Transcendence; Physical Health & Appearance; Escape & Relaxation; Important Others & Novelty; Re-establish Self-Esteem; and Indulgence. The majority of wellness tourists in this sample did not routinely engage in an overall wellness lifestyle, thus not supporting the claim of several wellness tourism scholars that wellness tourists already life a healthy everyday life. However, spiritual retreat visitors had a significantly healthier overall lifestyle compared to beauty spa and lifestyle resort visitors. Although it is often proposed that health-promoting behaviour leads to physical and mental well-being, this research has shown that only the wellness lifestyle factor of Interpersonal Relations predicted hedonic as well as eudaimonic well-being. The other factors (Nutrition, Physical Activity, Stress Management, and Health Responsibility) did not predict positive psychological well-being. Depending on their content, benefits predicted positive psychological well-being in different ways. Accordingly, those wellness tourists who place high importance on the benefits of Transcendence and Indulgence are more likely to be happier and have a fulfilled life. In contrast, the benefit factor of Re- establish Self-Esteem predicted well-being negatively, meaning that those tourists who seek to regain their self-esteem are more likely to be unhappy and are less fulfilled. Significance of Research to Stakeholders This thesis provides the Australian wellness tourism industry with an enhanced knowledge of wellness tourism in general and the characteristics and needs of wellness tourists in particular. Understanding potential differences between wellness tourist groups and their motivations will allow wellness tourism providers to tailor their communication efforts and product and services development to wellness tourists’ expectations. This thesis makes a unique contribution to the literature by combining constructs and theories from several research fields: tourism and leisure, health promotion, and positive psychology. This research leads to a better understanding of wellness tourists, by comparing three types of wellness tourists in regard to their socio-demographic profiles and in respect to the three major constructs of this research (i.e., benefits sought, wellness lifestyle, positive psychological well-being). Empirical research to understand the benefits sought, the wellness lifestyle and positive psychological well-being of wellness tourists, particularly in regard to the latter two constructs, has been basically non-existent. Moreover, the relationships among these three major variables are poorly understood. What Next I would like to continue working as a tourism researcher and lecturer and in 2010 I will work as a lecturer for Advanced Marketing at the University of South Australia. For more information please contact Cornelia Voigt by email Cornelia.Voigt@unisa.edu.au or + 61 8 8302 0751.
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