A battle within, a struggle of decisions: the impact of multiple identities in tourism decision-making
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The impact of multiple identities in tourism decision-making

Can post-pandemic tourism's revival withstand global challenges, as social identities shape travel decisions, invoking intricate emotions and ambivalence?

After the pandemic waned, tourism witnessed an extraordinary revival. Although the industry overflowed with prospects for recovery, it also faced unparalleled hurdles arising from anti–globalisation movements, geopolitical tensions, inequalities, and conflicts. When considering travel, these circumstances made individuals question their convictions, principles, and group associations.

In tourism, an individual’s social identity shapes their destination choices. Social identity theory suggests that people attribute different identities to express their sense of self and convey their group affiliations in specific situations. When clashes occur between in-groups and out-groups, individuals’ core group identities, such as national, religious, or cultural affiliations, can be easily triggered.

Concurrently, tourists’ experiences are influenced by their perceived identity-related needs, such as presenting a desired image, showcasing their identity to others, or impressing their social group through their possessions. The presence of multiple identities and conflicts between independent and interdependent self-perceptions within an individual’s self-concept can lead to intricate and unpredictable behavioural patterns accompanied by complex emotions.

Multiple identities, mixed emotions and travel intentions

Individuals’ self-perception can vary depending on the group they feel best represents them in a given situation. Through self-categorisation, different facets of identity are activated based on social contexts and environmental cues. Engaging in tourism, especially international travel, demands substantial investments in time and money. The distinctiveness and exclusivity of a travel experience often stem from its high cost and limited availability. People enjoy visiting places with prestigious qualities like uniqueness, distinctiveness, and global recognition. Such destinations serve as reflections of their life achievements and invite admiration.

This phenomenon is particularly prominent among individuals driven by materialism who seek personal fulfilment by consuming prestigious items, showcasing their high social status. For these individuals, international tourism or journeys to exotic and expensive locations serve as a means to uphold their ideal self-image and garner admiration from their social circle. The ability to afford inaccessible destinations can engender a sense of superiority

A battle within, a struggle of decisions: the impact of multiple identities in tourism decision-making
Credit. Midjourney

In addition to using tourism as a platform to demonstrate material success, individuals also strongly identify with their ethnicity, race, and community. When faced with conflicting interests between groups, individuals tend to strengthen their affiliation with their group and display antagonistic attitudes towards other groups. This dynamic involves making comparisons both between individuals and between groups. The pursuit of a positive group identity drives this process of comparison, often leading to heightened ethnocentrism and animosity towards outgroups, which can manifest as prejudice and hostility.

Prejudice is a natural part of international tourism due to intergroup dynamics. Prejudiced individuals tend to believe in their inherent superiority over out-groups and are likelier to experience group-based emotions. Those with strong prejudices against an out-group may avoid places and tourism offerings that contradict their in-group values, instead opting for destinations that align with the acceptance of the majority within their own group. Particularly in collectivist cultures, people tend to display more cooperative behaviour towards group members exhibiting a more distant stance towards out-group members.

Types of ambivalence and coping behaviours

Ambivalence arises when individuals hold conflicting evaluations of the same object, with some aspects being rated positively while others are viewed negatively. When people experience multiple emotional states concurrently or in succession, they are more likely to display heightened levels of ambivalence. For instance, embarking on a ghost-hunting trip can evoke excitement and fear, resulting in ambivalence during decision-making. To alleviate the discomfort caused by indecisiveness, individuals employ coping strategies to reduce cognitive dissonance.

This trend also applies to individuals who experience mixed emotions resulting from their multiple social identities. Concurrent feelings of happiness stemming from perceived admiration from a social audience, alongside hostility due to prejudice, can lead to varying degrees of ambivalence when choosing destinations to visit. Researchers have identified four types of ambivalent states based on positive and negative attitudes.

Among these, individuals holding strong positive and negative feelings towards a particular destination display high ambivalence, making their behaviours less predictable. For example, a tourist who desires admiration from others for visiting a certain place but harbours intense animosity towards it is more likely to delay their decision or avoid it altogether due to the conflicting emotions they experience.

Navigate the labyrinth and a symphony of choices

In conclusion, the influence of multiple identities on tourists’ emotions and decision-making in international tourism is undeniable. The complex interplay between identities and emotions gives rise to ambivalence, which significantly impacts their attitudes and behaviour. It is important to move beyond a simplistic understanding of positive and negative emotions and recognise the nuanced emotions rooted in individuals’ multifaceted identities. Such emotions make their attitudes ambivalent and their behaviour less predictable.

Marketers can leverage this understanding by offering emotionally positive products and experiences, including exclusive offerings that appeal to materialistic tourists seeking social recognition. With the rise of nationalism and anti-globalisation sentiments, minimising tourist ambivalence is crucial. Tailored experiences and market segmentation strategies can enhance the appeal while considering the cultural identities of inbound tourists.

Monitoring and addressing potential sources of humiliation or discrimination is important. Understanding bilateral relationships, existing prejudices, and historical animosities is essential, as citizens of collectivist cultures may exhibit uniform behaviour towards out-group members. Strategic crisis management plans should consider how individuals from different cultures resolve ambivalence from internal emotional conflicts.

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Journal reference

Yu, Q., Huang, Y. A., Li, X., & Ren, Z. (2023). To go or not to go: multiple identities and the effects of ambivalence. Current Issues in Tourism26(12), 2044-2063. https://doi.org/10.1080/13683500.2022.2077180

Dr Qionglei Yu is an Associate Professor in Marketing and Data Analysis and the Director of Accreditation at Newcastle University Business School, UK. Qionglei received her PhD from the University of Sheffield. Her work is published in world-leading journals, and she also has years of experience in industrial consultancy. Qionglei's research interests include applying marketing strategies and practices within the organisation, as well as exploring customer emotional and behavioural responses towards technological innovation and digital transformation, particularly in the service and tourism sectors. Qionglei has published extensively in world-leading journals in marketing and tourism.