According to PhD student, Ms Siew Imm Ng; international tourists' perception of their own homeland cultural similarities with a destination, comparing things such as food, religion, language spoken, leisure activities and physical appearances, are key motivators when booking a holiday destination.
Siew stresses that those in tourism businesses in Australia must emphasise these similarities between the destination and homeland due to the significant ‘pull' factor it creates when drawing tourists to a destination.
"I studied the influence of cultural similarity perception on tourists' intercultural decisions in terms of vacation destination selection and the extent of involvement in the destination's culture while touring in that destination," Siew said.
Using a variety of tested scales drawn from previous tourism studies, Siew's research found three significant business implications for the tourism industry in attracting visitors to their countries, particularly in attracting tourists to Australia.
Her first finding related to purchasing motivation, and what encourages tourists to experience different lifestyles. With samples collected from Australia, Germany, the USA and China, Siew found the cultural similarity perception evident. The similarities people perceive between their culture and another, significantly influence tourists' destination selection decision in a positive direction. This suggests that some similarities like food and religion should draw tourists to a destination.
Siew next compared Germans, Americans and Chinese tourists and what influenced their extent of involvement with Australian culture while touring in Australia. She found a positive relationship between similarity perception and extent of involvement with Australian culture in American and German samples but not in the Chinese sample.
This finding appears to suggest that for low cultural distance groups like American and German tourists to Australia, tourist activities with a high blend of Australian culture are desirable and can act as a pull factor (low cultural distance means small extent of cultural barriers). An example of such tourism could be a home stay with an Australian family.
In contrast, for a high cultural distance group (high cultural barrier) like Chinese tourists to Australia, activities with a lower blend of Australian culture might be more appropriate as cultural barriers like language, religion and attire differences might prevent them from having high involvement in Australian culture. To appeal to Chinese tourists, promoting a home stay with Chinese migrants might be appropriate.
"Emphasising interactions with locals, eating local food, speaking the local jargon and so on is ideal for encouraging tourism, especially with German and American markets," she said.
After three years of intensive research, Siew completed her PhD, submitting it for final examiner approval last November and although examination is not yet complete, she has received accolade for her academic ability through having two articles published in Journals.
‘Tourists' intention to visit a country: the impact of cultural distance' was published in Tourism Management and ‘Are Hofstede's and Schwartz's Value Frameworks Congruent?' was published in International Marketing Review.
Throughout her research she cared for her children, had two articles published in journals and to top it all, headed down a new path of self discovery.
"The PhD process changed my views on many aspects of life, like the importance of family and friends, of luck and good health and of time management and work-life balance. In the first six months I lacked confidence in my abilities. Completing my PhD made me a positive thinker, nothing is impossible now!"
Siew would like to thank her supervisors, Dr Julie Lee and Professor Geoff Soutar.