Rethinking social value in host-guest encounters: Distant conviviality, cursory lifestyle participation and the tourist experience

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Background of the study NB: This is a work in progress study. Findings presented are preliminary. ‘Social value’ is increasingly positioned as important in understanding the tourist experience (Arai & Pedlar, 2003; Kyle & Chick, 2004; Larsen, 2008). Larsen et al. (2007) argue that tourist travel, even to established tourist precincts, is as much about being with people as seeing places. While they focus on the social connections that tourists bring to a destination, Maitland (2008) has introduced the concept of conviviality to address the connections tourists make to places and local people in a destination. However, he argues that an understanding of conviviality in the context of the tourist experience is yet to be established. This study explores how the host-guest relationship contributes to the tourist experience through a critical examination of social value and conviviality in the case of Chinese tourism to Copenhagen. Purpose of the study We find that social interaction with locals are among the peak experiences for Chinese tourists visiting Copenhagen, yet we observe that the encounters between the visitors and locals are limited in quantity and depth of interaction. We explore three key questions: (1) What constitutes social contact between locals and visitors? (2) how is social value produced between locals and visitors? (3) what is the relationship between context, quality and quantity of contact in terms of outcomes from social contact? Methodology The study is based on 36 semi-structured mini-interviews with Chinese first time independent travelers visiting Copenhagen. The majority of respondents had previous travel experience in Europe. About half stayed at Airbnb’s, the other half at hotels or hostels. One third of interviewees were respectively in their 20s, in their 30s and between 40 and 50 years of age. 23 were female and, 12 were male. The average length of stay in Copenhagen was 4 days. The analysis followed established procedures for inductive analysis (Denzin & Lincoln, 2013; Strauss, 1987), working recursively between data and existing theory until themes or patterns emerged. Results Friendliness of locals and a convivial atmosphere is among the best experiences for Chinese tourists visiting Copenhagen. When analyzing specific examples given, it is evident that the social interactions between tourists and locals are brief and distanced: “… we didn’t have any interactions with the local people on purpose, but we smiled back if they smiled to us and had small talks when we went shopping. These were great experiences and we felt the people here are very warm.” This suggests that for Chinese tourists visiting Copenhagen, the quantity of social contact is less important, as long as the perceived quality of the few social encounters is high. It also indicates that very little interaction is needed to establish what is perceived as high quality interaction. Experiencing the local lifestyle was also among the peak experiences for a number of interviewees. Keywords included: leisurely, safe, happy, livable, trust, care, educated, kid-friendly, healthy, stylish and free. “The bike culture here is very great and people cycling very fast here. I felt very happy when I saw them biking and even want to try it myself. The bikes in China are chaos. Unlike here, there are specific bike lanes here. It’s very environmental-friendly.” The positive tourists experience comes from gazing at the local people’s lifestyle, and in some cases imagining what it would be like to be part of it. This suggests that social value is created from cursory lifestyle participation or even imagined participation for Chinese tourists visiting Copenhagen. Conclusions Our research suggests that positive social outcomes and tourist experiences may result from distant, brief and cursory encounters between tourists and visitors. In the particular case, it seems that quantity of contact is less important than the (imagined?) quality of contact and the particular context (long-haul, culturally distant travelers, with specific expectations of friendliness and happiness of locals). Our findings suggest that social value concepts, such as conviviality, are based on erroneous assumptions about the depth of involvement and participation needed, to achieve valuable experiences and feelings of conviviality. Research implications and limitations Previous research on conviviality in tourism has shown that some tourists seek out non-touristic experiences and areas (Maitland, 2008, 2010; Jørgensen, 2020). Yet, it seems that even in these cases, their interactions with locals may be distant and cursory. This suggests that our findings are more pronounced in the Chinese context, but not necessarily unique to it. Further exploration of our data and additional research is needed, to determine whether our findings apply outside the specific case.
StatusUdgivet - 2020
BegivenhedConsumer Behavior in Tourism Symposium 2020 (CBTS): Consumers' travel behavior in transition: Between persistence and change - Online, Trier, Tyskland
Varighed: 16 dec. 202018 dec. 2020


SymposiumConsumer Behavior in Tourism Symposium 2020 (CBTS)
AndetVirtuel konference

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