The Authentic Tourist
By Ian Yeoman, Associate Professor at Victoria University School of Management
As the experience economy matures, it evolves into authenticity because consumers search for real experiences rather than ‘products’ which are manufactured. There is a growing desire to find experiences and products that are original and real, not contaminated by being fake or impure. Dr Ian Yeoman, travel futurologist explains how this trend away from impurity, the virtual, the spun, manufactured and the mass-produced in a world seemingly full of falseness is evolving.
The desire for new experiences which are truly authentic and meaningful has resulted in more people, for example taking a career break to travel through Africa or to undertake a similar adventure; it has become a mainstream activity. Career breaks are gap years for adults, a chance to take life by the scruff of the neck and give it a shake, to take a pause for breath, to grab an opportunity to fulfil a lifelong dream. Whether they are young professionals or baby-boomers in their fifties, more and more people are taking time out to travel the world in an authentic way. Actor Ewan McGregor stepped off the Hollywood set to embark on a 20,000-mile tour around the world on a motorcycle. According to Mintel, the age groups that are more likely to undertake this kind of adventure are 25–34 year olds and 35–44 year olds, influenced largely by affluence and a desire for something more ambitious. Today, career breaks or sabbaticals are seen as respectable. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) survey of employment trends showed that a quarter of firms offered their employees the opportunity to take a career break and over a third of Britain’s high earners had considered or were actually taking a career break (amongst those under 34,the percentage was nearly half).
Today, people no longer live to work, but rather work to live. Many adventure travel operators such as or offer trips of up to 28 weeks exploring continents, although these holidays can be broken down into shorter periods. People can spend months travelling through Africa or opt for just 3 weeks in one particular country. Another way to have a meaningful experience is to take part in a volunteering holiday and this sector has had a significant growth in the past few years. A number of organisations such as offer placements for 3 to 6 months, working in schools, orphanages or charities in countries such as Chile, India and Tanzania. Other organisations such as arrange for people to become involved in a wide range of conservation and research projects on game reserves in Southern Africa.
Why Is Authenticity an Important Tourism Concept?
The Future Foundation uses the term ‘authentic-seeking’ for consumers searching for authenticity in a range of products, services and experiences or looking for it within themselves. According to the Future Foundation, going on holiday is now perceived as the No. 1 luxury experience and those who go holiday identify an authentic cultural experience as being the most important aspect of it — and this applies across all age, gender and socio-demographic groupings.
This authentic experience is about avoiding areas and activities where there are many other tourists, indicating a desire to explore the untouched and unexposed. As we see in figure 1, this trend is high amongst socio-economic grouping AB and the older generations, perhaps emphasising their world-weary cynicism about the unoriginal, which is less obvious in the not-yet-jaded younger generations. In terms of activities, the appeal of outdoor holidays and activities is on the rise, whether walking, camping or trekking.
Figure 1: Avoiding tourists on holiday
The phenomenal increase in the popularity of caravanning holidays over the last 5 years is a reflection of the lure of freedom and the open road. As a result of recent changes to the law regarding accessibility to land in the United Kingdom and a greater awareness of health issues, there has also been arise in the popularity of outdoor holidays. Additionally, hiking and nature-based activities are associated with the appeal of the outdoors. The Ramblers’ Association is experiencing a rapid rise in its membership, especially amongst the 20–30 age group, and this suggests that singletons are looking for a social network to become involved, a network that is supportive and provides a community environment that counteracts the perceived negative affects of a networked society and globalisation. Extreme sports are also becoming mainstream activities because rising income levels have led to improved accessibility to niche activities and driven tourism activity towards less-conventional experiences. This trend is pushing the boundaries of activity tourism to a stage where experiencing raw, unadulterated and unmediated thrills is the objective for the consumer. To a certain extent, this trend has a carpe diem about it; people are packing more in because of uncertainties associated with their lives. Yet, at the same time, people seem to undertake these activities within a secure and safe environment, hence the term ‘safe adventurism’.
This certainly points to an opportunity within the market for operators to offer thrill-providing, original experiences without the attendant risks of going it alone. The popularity of independent travel has increased considerably over the past 10 to 15 years and, at the same time, expedition travel has become popular. For example, provide overland tours covering the South East of Africa in a converted Mercedes Benz lorry, in which tourists participate in a holiday, venturing off the beaten track, viewing wildlife, sharing in the chores and sleeping under the stars. Other companies, such as , organise environmental holidays in several countries, focusing on wildlife conservation, with projects ranging from tracking elephants to diving for coral reef off the Tanzanian coast. Overland trips in Africa are proving popular at present, as result of the heightened profile of Africa and the rise of interest in ethical consumption.
Boyle’s appraisal of authenticity indicates that tourists are searching for a connection with something that is real, unsullied and rooted within the destination. Authenticity has to connect to the destination and to be placed in the community, hence the importance of community-based tourism through which the benefits go back into the community. Carey of Tourism Concern notes that sustainable tourism is tied up with authenticity; he states that, when sustainably developed, tourism can create many social and economic opportunities for the destination community. Authenticity and sustainability go hand in hand where communities build a tourism product which belongs to their community; for example the Kawaza Village tourism project in central Zambia where tourists can stay in an authentic African village, learn about environmental issues, collect wild honey and find out about apiculturist.
Each evening, villagers and tourists gather round a campfire, tell stories and dance. The Kawaza tourism project allows tourists, who would normally stay in a nearby safari camp, to meet the real African people. Each tourist makes a minimum donation to the project of US $15 for a day visit or US $45 for an overnight stay. All the monies raised are used for a number of community projects, such as the employment of teachers in the local school or jobs for the village people. The village has everything from an entertainment manager to local dance troupes for the tourists. This concept is repeated all over the world, with specialist travel operators such as or promoting themselves as sustainable tourism operators — where sustainability has become a key driving force in shaping tourism demand.
Sustainability, according to Future Foundation is authenticity linked to goodness, and exploring one’s inner potential is another aspect of authentic-seeking — that of searching for a non-material, authentic and deeper experience. According to research by the Future Foundation, an increasing number of people are undertaking activities which incorporate the creation of something new, for example learning new skills or even going back to traditional activities and putting a modern, techno-friendly twist on them. Learning new skills is evident in the rise of activity learning holidays, such as painting or bird-watching or attending a book festival to hear a reading by the author himself. Most important of all, holidays have become a means of escaping from everyday life and getting in touch with one’s true self.
Holidays provide the right environment for these kinds of unmediated experiences; the idea that ‘it’s just me and the mountain’ and, of course, for some people, the great outdoors has that strong spiritual dimension which satisfies an inner need. The Future Foundation has, since 1983, been asking the question, if you had just one wish, which of these would you choose? This question was asked in 2005 just after the seventh July London bombings and over 35% of people still considered their greatest wish to be to fulfil themselves, up nearly 20% from 20 years ago.
The desire for spirituality is a growing phenomenon in which people wish their lives to have more of a spiritual content, more of a sense of purpose. This seeking of a sense of purpose explains the spirituality through which we search for the opportunity to contribute to society.
Hence, as we have already observed, sustainability extends into ‘volunteering’, ‘community’ and ‘ethical consumption’. This search for a sense of purpose is explained in Maslow’s hierarchical need for self-actualisation which is associated with American television’s Dr McGraw’s definition of authenticity as: ‘The authentic self is the YOU that can be found at the absolute core: it’s the part of you that is not defined by your job, or your function, or your role. It is the composite of all your unique gifts, skills, abilities, interests, talents, insights and wisdom. It’s all your strengths and values that are uniquely yours and need expression, versus what you have been programmed to believe that you are supposed to be and do’.
The cornerstones of authenticity are quintessentially linked to Boyle’s writing about authenticity. So, to conclude, authenticity should be:
- Ethical — An authentic experience should be founded on the principles of community involvement, sustainability and ethical consumption.
- Natural — Tourism should be a natural phenomenon, which is pure and not tainted nor manufactured. Natural tourism products are those which are quintessentially associated with the destination or region.
- Honest — Be honest with your visitors; the tourism industry should not promise something which can not be delivered or produce something tainted by falseness that will spoil the authentic proposition.
- Simple — An authentic experience should be simple to understand and something in which the visitor can see the benefits. The more complicated the experience, the more unbelievable it will be. As the world is full of complications, an authentic experience should be simple and pure and consumed in an inconspicuous manner.
- Beautiful — Authentic destinations have a beauty about them, whether a magnificent view which creates a sense or place, or the feeling that the experience cannot be copied because it belongs in that place and only there.
- Rooted — Authenticity has some sense of past which is rooted in the destination or community.
- Human— A human experience is something that is living and people-focused. This means that the tourist wants human contact which is local and real.
For an extended version of the ‘Authentic Tourist’, download here
Ian Yeoman is the world’s only professional crystal ball gazer or futurologist specializing in travel and tourism. Ian learned his trade as the scenario planner for VisitScotland, where he established the process of futures thinking within the organisation using a variety of techniques including economic modelling, trends analysis and scenario construction. In July 2008, Ian took up a faculty position at Victoria University, New Zealand as an Assoc. Professor of Tourism Management. He is a popular speaker at conferences and was described by the UK Sunday Times as the country's leading contemporary futurologist. Ian’s new book, tomorrow’s tourist envisions what world tourism will look like in 2030, where tourists will go on holiday and what they will do.
Ian has a PhD in Management Science from Napier University, Edinburgh and a BSc (Hons) in Catering Systems from Sheffield Hallam University. Previously, Ian was Senior Lecturer in Tourism and Hospitality Management at Napier University and University College, Birmingham. He has extensive experience within the hospitality industry, for which he was a hotel manager with Trusthouse Forte.
Ian has received a number of awards in recognition of his research including his appointment as a Visiting Professor of Tourism Management at Stirling University and Stenden University of Applied Sciences and the Mike Simpson Award from the Operational Research Society. Ian is also Editor of the Journal of Revenue & Pricing Management.
Further details about Ian and futurology in the travel industry can be found at
Victoria University Management School | Victoria University
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