A Comparative Study of International Cultural Tourists

By McKercher, Bob | Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, August 2004 | Go to article overview

A Comparative Study of International Cultural Tourists


McKercher, Bob, Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management


This article analyses a subset of 1204 international tourists from 5 jurisdictions who were surveyed as part of the ATLAS Cultural Tourism Project. The study seeks to compare and contrast the trip and demographic profiles of visitors, and their motivations and actions. The results of the study challenge some of the assumptions of the cultural tourism market. For the most part, cultural tourists are no different from other tourists. Importantly, cultural tourism appears to be a secondary trip purpose and specific attractions play no significant role in the decision to visit a destination. Differences were noted in motivations, with some jurisdictions attracting people who wish to have a cultural experience in order to learn, while others attract tourists to cultural attractions primarily for reasons of fun or leisure.

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Few international comparative studies of cultural tourists have been undertaken. Costs, methodological challenges, difficulties in finding collaborative partners and the need to use a consistent research instrument are just some of the challenges that inhibit such studies. The ATLAS Cultural Tourism Project, an initiative of the European Association for Tourism and Leisure Education, has attempted to rectify this situation by developing a survey for cultural tourism visitors and encouraging collaborators to apply that survey in their own jurisdictions. This ambitious project has interviewed nearly 30,000 visitors to cultural heritage attractions since 1991 (European Association for Tourism and Leisure Education, 2003). The author joined the study for the 2000 survey period, along with representatives from 13 other countries or jurisdictions. During that survey period, some 6079 visitors were surveyed. This article examines the subset of 1204 international tourists who were surveyed at cultural heritage attractions in 5 jurisdictions: the United Kingdom, Ireland, Slovakia, Hong Kong and Australia. The study compares and contrasts the profiles, activities undertaken and motivations for participation in cultural tourism activities of the 5 cohorts of visitors surveyed.

Understanding the Cultural Tourism Market

Our understanding of the cultural tourism market is, in many ways, naive and overly simplistic. Most of the research to date has tended to be generic, treating cultural tourists as a single entity. As a result, it provides a very misleading overview of this sector. In fact, many prevailing opinions about the size and economic importance of, and differences between, cultural tourism and other tourism markets are based on flawed assumptions that drive data analysis. Political correctness and a desire to show that cultural tourists represent a new type of tourist compound the issues.

Cultural tourism has allegedly emerged as a dominant tourism market of the new millennium. The World Tourism Organization estimates that cultural tourism accounts for 37% of all tourist trips or that 37% of all international tourists participated in some cultural tourism activity (Richards, 1996), while other studies suggest that 70% of Americans travelling to Europe seek a cultural tourism experience (Antolovic, 1999), half of domestic American tourists participate in some form of cultural tourism activity (Miller, 1997), and even that 60% of all tourists in Tasmania can be classified as cultural tourists (Tasmanian Visitor Survey [TVS], 1995). But are these figures accurate? On the surface, they add credence to claims about the value of promoting cultural heritage attractions to tourists. Yet few people appreciate how these figures are generated and the context in which they must be interpreted as a result.

Traditionally, labels were ascribed to reflect the primary purpose of the trip: "business travellers"; those who travel to visit friends and relatives ("VFR" tourists); and those who travel to a meeting, as part of an incentive, or to attend a conference or an event ("MICE" tourists). …

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