The place of challenge and post-travel culture involvement in small group tourism

Author: Daria Tikhonova

Tikhonova, Daria, 2020 The place of challenge and post-travel culture involvement in small group tourism, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

Terms of Use: This electronic version is (or will be) made publicly available by Flinders University in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. You may use this material for uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material and/or you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact with the details.


This interdisciplinary study advances the understanding of how international tourists can develop long-term interest in cultures significantly different to their own by conceptualising and empirically exploring a previously unexamined relationship between perceived challenge and post-travel culture involvement. In addition to tourism and leisure studies, anthropology, positive psychology, social psychology and education literature, this study has closely engaged with the theories of acculturation and stress, appraisal and coping. Informed by these theories, a novel conceptual framework was developed to examine potential involvement benefits of manageable stress, signified by challenge as a positive cognitive appraisal of experience as somewhat stressful, substantially effortful and personally significant. Post-travel culture involvement was approached as tourists’ behavioural involvement with a host culture after travel.

The thesis critically analyses the findings from semi-structured in-depth interviews with twenty-one Australians who visited eleven countries across Europe, Asia, Latin America, Middle East and North Africa on small group, single-destination cultural tours facilitated by four Australian outbound tour operators in 2015-2016. The study focused on group travel as an underappreciated travel mode that could potentially support the relationship in question. Thematic and non-cross-sectional analysis methods were employed to examine individual concepts and illuminate contextual links between them.

The findings are presented through three distinctive chapters. The first analyses a confluence of tourist motives and establishes motivational relevance and congruence of the tours. It lays the foundations for the second chapter that discusses tourists’ coping with diverse anticipated and unexpected demanding situations; their significance to the participants’ personal life circumstances, self-image and self-interests; and tourist perspectives on challenge and its place in their experiences. Thus, in addition to theoretical and conceptual contributions, the study provides rich empirical insights on several truly disorienting situations, beyond contact with adversity. In particular, it highlights a complex relationship of Western tourists with religion and spirituality and argues that further attention should be afforded to touristic experiences of any destinations where religion remains a dominant aspect of everyday life. The third chapter explores post-travel culture involvement and pre-tour and on-tour sources, including moments of challenge. Mental challenge, arising from emotionally, intellectually and interculturally demanding but beneficial encounters, was found to be a prominent contributor to post-travel involvement through reading about the destinations’ histories and cultural heritage, as the tourists searched for answers to unresolved questions about themselves and their hosts. However, involvement with food and the arts on return was significantly less popular.

Beyond the role of challenge in group travel, the spectrum and the sources of post-travel culture involvement, this study reveals broader implications for understanding tourist motivations for culture learning and the mental effort they are prepared to invest into understanding other ways of thinking and living. It also illuminates tourist perspectives on cultural difference, sameness, and tolerance; and discusses how heightened concern with the latter can reduce personal relevance of intercultural encounters; and calls for further research on the ethical dilemmas faced by tourists and tour operators. The thesis concludes with recommendations for tour marketing, itinerary design, and selection and training of tour leaders.

Keywords: tour operators, group tours, involvement, cultural tourism, transformative tourism, challenge, stress, cognitive appraisal, coping

Subject: Tourism thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2020
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Dr Gareth Butler