Can We Really Segment Future Tourists?
Dr Ian Yeoman
Friday, 23rd April 2010
'I am taking a holiday weekend break in Vegas and an eco tourism vacation in South Africa this year,' said the tourist -

Why? Tourists cannot be labelled according to their attitudes and beliefs – what they say and what they do, are two totally different things.

This is why segmenting tomorrow's tourist is becoming a lot more difficult. If the future is rising incomes and wealth accumulation (which it will be) distributed in ways that alter the balance of the power to even more centricity, along with the age of richness in new forms of connection and association, allows a liberated pursuit of personal identity which is fluid. An identity which is less restricted by background or geography but more by achievement. In the fluid environment, communications channels and technologies are fast moving and instant, which produces a culture of choice enhancement.

Tourists have the means for endless choice and creative disorder. They have the power to express opinion and they do so, whether it is through tripadvisor.com or youtube.com. In fact, they form their opinion not on trusted sources from authority but peer review, hence the importance of consumer generated content and the advocacy of local authentic information as provided, for example, by the citizens of Philadelphia at uwishunu.com.

They are excellent at using networking tools to get a better deal or complain about poor service. A fluid identity allows tourists to be frivolous, promiscuous and just plain awkward. A fluid identity means tourists want to sample a range of new experiences, hence the rise of the long tail (Anderson 2008) and emergence of bespoke tourism products i.e. specialist cruise markets at insightcruises.com.

Globalisation shapes people's lives and the mixture of cultures produces exposure to new ideas and different identities.  The tourist is the centre of the globalisation of experiences, where holidays in exotic locations that are deep inside countries are becoming the norm. No longer is an international holiday confined to a resort, but more authentic and an engagement with local cultures and living.

Globalisation is brought nearer to us all through social media and personalised communications world, a society that is fast, instant and networked. Everyone seems to be online 24 hours a day, anywhere, as technology has become more accessible and costs of transactions are falling.

The power of personal mobile technology means more features, interactivity and multi-functionality which delivers a different way in which tourist providers have to engage with future tourists. One of the challenges for any tourist destination is how do they protect their brand equity when it quickly can be destroyed or poked fun at on youtube.com or facebook.com.

Tourist's sense of timing and patience is changing, society is now just a click away from a screen and is not one that likes the notion of delayed satisfaction. Patience is now measured in nano-seconds driving an immediacy culture. The tourist has become programmed to be narcotic, wanting more all the time in an instance. In Tokyo, 30% of hotel reservations are on the day of arrival as smart phone argumented technology allows tourists to look at a hotel through the smart phone camera and gauge availability, then book accommodation through a related website like expedia.com.

Longevity is a key trend associated with fluid identity, as consumers live longer with wealth they expect richer experiences and more. They visit places and do things that their parents couldn't afford or would not have heard of. They will search for experiences that hold's back the wrinkle of old age, whether it is a spa treatment in Hungary or a medical procedure in South Africa. Health and medical tourism become more important in this along with any service that rejuvenates the sole or a tired body.

Longevity also changes life courses, so change becomes the norm and unpredictable. Although tourists may have their favourite place, they like refreshment and renewal. This means, they ask themselves who they are and a multiplicity answers suffice. Michael Wilmot calls this complicated lives, in which the choice explosion of holidays and travel means tourists has brought upon themselves complexity and complications resulting in some anxiety.

Tourism destinations need to understand their tourists, not engaging in a relationship which is about mass selling but focusing on what tourists want at the right time and at the right place. To a certain extent, fluid identity is about wealth and a have-it-all society, these tourists can afford holidays several times a year and a multitude of short breaks. This is a tourist that can afford to be concerned about the environment so doesn't mind paying a little bit extra.

In a have-it-all society, the desire is for sociality, economic gain, family involvement, leisure and self improvement which are less lineated by stages of life or gender, all of these desires are reflected in holiday activity, whether it is an extended family holiday at Walt Disney or a cultural short break in Paris.

Although rising wealth means more opportunity it is also means a fear of loss, in which society is portrayed as in decline. Here the consumer turns to therapies and anti-depressants, is anxious about the future and thinks society has lost its way. Writers, such as Frank Furedi label this 'the culture of fear'. From a tourism a nd media perspective there seems to be a focus on a health scare or terrorism incident which impacts upon destinations.

A heightened sense of personal freedom has undoubtedly increased the growth of world tourism, where identity is built on liberal attitudes reinforced through education and knowledge. The exposure of tourists to a multi-cultured society allows greater expression of individuality, whether this is sexual behaviour or unconventional lifestyles, however this degree of liberalism differs around the world.

Fundamentally, as economies grow they become more liberal in outlook and seek to push out their identity. As such, they will try new things and visit new places, destinations in the far away places that seemed inaccessible to previous generations.

The manifestations of a fluid identity are wide ranging, from overt and status-driven to the anonymous and elusive. Yet the common characteristic for the tourist, is that they simply don't want to consume but experience the consumption in several ways, increasing aspirations and higher order expectations.

One noticeable trend shaping a fluid identity is the movement from conspicuous consumption to inconspicuous consumption, from tourists from mature economies who are well versed to travel. It has become the norm not to parade wealth and success in a deliberate ostentation, but to be more conservative, wiser and discreet.

From a tourism perspective, inconspicuous consumption has developed as the experience economy, has matured from theatre to the desire for authenticity, where tourists search for deeper and more meaningful experiences.

How much of cultural capital has your destination got? This is how tourists talk about destinations and experiences. The importance of cultural capital defines identity and status, it becomes the critical currency of conversation i.e., "have you been to South Africa", "I swam with the dolphins in New Zealand" or "I built a bridge for a community in India". It is the knowledge and experiences of the arts, culture and hobbies that help define who people are rather than their socio-economic grouping.

Sociologists argue that consumers are moving from an era of industrial to cultural capitalism, where cultural production is increasingly becoming the dominant form of economic activity and securing access to the many cultural resources and experiences that nurtures human psychological existence becomes an important aspect in shaping identity.

This means the definition of culture changes, the tourist is both happy with a high brow opera and low brow comedy, hence the rise of the creative class and no brow culture associated for example, with the success of Edinburgh's festivals which embody the diversity of cultural capital and breath of experiences.

So, marketing becomes a lot more difficult in the future. Can we really segment tomorrow's tourist with such a fluid identity?

Dr Ian Yeoman
Victoria University of Wellington
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