An eye to the future: Defining a framework for the VR tourism experience.
The significance of new immersive technologies in tourism has been acknowledged in the literature. Specifically, the Virtual Reality (VR) technology experience is often theorised to be linked to the behavioural intentions of tourists. However, there is still unknown about how experiencing these kinds of technologies ultimately influences behavioural intentions of the tourists, such as their intention to visit the destination. Specifically, the lack of theoretical foundation leads to a lack of explanation to the dimensions and process that are involved in VR tourism experience. ‘Dimensions’ are defined as the key concepts of the VR tourism experience, whilst ‘process’ refers to the steps involved. This study investigates these dimensions and process in order to reveal how these connect and ultimately affect tourists’ behavioural intentions. In exploring these key concepts and their associations, this research aims to define a framework for the VR tourism experience.
This research comprises two studies, applying an exploratory sequential mixed methods design and connective phase between these two studies. This mixed method design included an exploratory qualitative approach followed by a quantitative one. In study 1, in-depth semi-structured interviews were designed with an exploratory approach. After experiencing a VR tour to Rome, interviews were conducted with 20 students at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand to gain an initial understanding of the dimensions and process of the VR tourism experience. The data was transcribed, and the thematic analysis was performed using NVivo. Based on the qualitative results, the variables, and scales for a conceptual framework with eight factors and questionnaires were designed, using the connective phase between study 1 and 2. Then in study 2, the quantitative phase of this research was conducted with new groups of participants, including 63 individuals using three questionnaires. First, participants answered a pre-experience questionnaire that included demographic characteristics and measured participants’ intentions to visit Rome prior to the VR tour. This helped to explore the effectiveness of VR tourism experience after the tour. Having experienced the same tour as used in study 1, participants then answered an experience questionnaire, directly after the tour. One week after the tour, participants were emailed a post-experience questionnaire to be answered. This questionnaire assisted in measuring the durability of participants’ emotions, feelings and behavioural intentions towards the destination and the technology. The data were then analyzed using Structural Equation Modelling (SEM).
The analysis of study 1 focused on finding the dimensions and process of the VR tourism experience. As dimensions, authenticity was identified as a significant perception, awe as a complex emotion, sense of presence and place attachment as feelings that were associated with this experience. The behavioural intentions of tourists were also revealed, including intention to visit the destination, intention to recommend the destination, intention to use the technology, and to recommend it. The process of the VR tourism experience was identified as perceptions, feelings, emotions, and behavioural intentions.
The data analysis of study 2 focused primarily on the associations between these dimensions to discover how these connect to affect the behavioural intentions of tourists. In relation to tourists’ perceptions of the VR experience, authenticity was found to be connected to presence, awe and place attachment; whilst presence was strongly associated with awe. The components of complex emotion of awe were found to positively impact place attachment. Finally, study 2 revealed that place attachment was the only dimension that connected all perceptions, feelings, and emotions to the factors of behavioural intentions.
The contribution of this thesis is twofold. It provides a general framework for the VR tourism experience by revealing the dimensions and key concepts of this experience. It also identifies the process or steps involved in the VR tourism experience. The effectiveness of the VR tourism experience was identified before, during and after this experience. This study connects experiencing new trends in technology to tourists’ complex emotions, feelings, and their behavioural intentions. These technologies are at the forefront of changes that contain significant potential to affect behavioural intentions. By exploring the dimensions of the VR experience, this research reveals how this technology has the potential to change tourists’ engagement and intention to visit the destination. Practically, exploring tourists’ emotion, feelings, and behavioural intention through using VR technology could represent a significant step forward in attracting tourists to different destinations, as well as revealing their future intention to visit a destination. Based on the theoretical and practical contributions of the study, several recommendations are provided for future research and for stakeholders in this area.