Highlights from the Latest Journal of Travel Research

I doubt many people read the Journal of Travel Research (yes, there are such things!) but I’ve been referring to it in preparation for a presentation at the Historic House Museum Consortium of Washington, DC.  Looking at the September 2012 issue of the Journal of Travel Research, I thought I’d share some of the highlights from articles that might interest historic sites and house museums:

  • In “GPS as a Method for Assessing Spatial and Temporal Use Distributions of Nature-Based Tourists,” Jeffery Hallo et al examine the use of GPS devices to study visitor behavior in national parks (an idea that can be easily be applied to large historic sites).  This research typically has to be done either by asking visitors to recall their experiences in a survey or by asking visitors to record their own behavior in diaries–both cumbersome and highly subjective methods.  GPS provides a better way to study human behavior, but so far the inaccuracy and cost has been major hurdles.  A test of three of the newest GPS devices, however, shows that these hurdles have been overcome by the GlobalSat GD-100 with a MSRP of $64.  In July-October 2008, 323 visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia agreed to carry a GPS device during their travels.  By mapping visitor travels and identifying high and low areas of activity, they can improve the management of the Parkway.  For example, high activity on the borders of the counties, not just one or the other, suggested that adjacent counties should cooperate on promotion; little travel off of the Parkway suggested that nearby attractions off of the Parkway need to better promote themselves and help visitors find their way; and lots of visitor activity in specific spots along the Parkway suggested additional interpretation or visitor amenities may be needed at some locations.  They also predicted that improvements in GPS may help assess the impact of visitors on the environment, monitor visitors to prevent entry into unauthorized areas, permit indoor studies within museums, and allow the collection of data from visitors’ smartphones.  I’m all for visitor research, but I have to say this makes me a little nervous.
  • On a happier note, a study by Lynn Minnaert of low-income tourists in England showed that vacations can have a positive impact on learning.  Previous studies have focused on learning as a significant motivation for travel but not much attention has been paid to whether learning actually occurs.  This is particularly an issue for ecotourism, which believes its nature-based focus and formal educational experiences makes tourists more environmentally responsible and “greener”.  Minnaert’s study shows that learning happens during vacations for most people, even if no formal educational component is provided.  It occurs because vacations provide a geographical and psychological separation from everyday life, allowing people the freedom to explore new ideas and reflect on their experiences–the fundamental elements needed for learning to take place.  But the learning that occurs isn’t necessarily new knowledge, but more often new skills or improvements in inter- and intra-personal behavior and attitudes (such as joy, confidence, and familial bonding).  Historic sites will need to determine for themselves if those outcomes are worth pursuing.
  • Finally, Juan Nicolau’s “Asymmetric Tourist Response to Price: Loss Aversion Segmentation” caught my eye because I had no clue what the title was about and what it was doing in a journal about travel research.  If you like historic sites, random parameter logit models, probability ratios, Bayesian estimation methods, and quasi-hedonic regression techniques, this is the article for you.  I, on the other hand, jumped right to the conclusion and if you’re thinking about raising your admission fees, you’ll be interested.  He claims that the usual studies about pricing are useless.  They’ll ask visitors if a proposed admission fee or lodging rate is too high, too low, or just right, with the predictable result that people have a stronger reaction to price increases than decreases.  Even worse, Nicolau says these studies fail to recognize that price sensitivity is relative and that different segments of the population respond differently.  Based on a study of 410 tourists in Spain, he’s figured out their reactions to changes in prices.  What’s this mean for you?  If you’re offering a discount, be sure to show the original price (i.e., the relative price) so that visitors can make the comparison.  If you’re raising prices, hide the original price so they don’t have a comparison and won’t be upset.  Finally, if you’re in Spain, visitors who are motivated to visit your site to relax, enjoy cultural activities, or discover new places will be less sensitive to price increases.  On the other hand, if they’re looking to enjoy the weather or visiting friends and family, expect some grumbling at the admission desk.  Surprisingly, income level made no difference (I’d assume the lower the income, the more sensitive you’d be to prices).  You’ll need to study your visitors to discover the correlations between price sensitivity and visit motivations.