Quality Experiences of China’s Family Tourists in the United States

Quality Services and Experiences in Hospitality and Tourism

ISBN: 978-1-78756-384-1, eISBN: 978-1-78756-383-4

ISSN: 2042-1443

Publication date: 12 October 2018


Family tourism remains an important market segment. Its dynamics evolve when family members take a trip together. Understanding how families from emerging markets create quality touristic experiences is essential in a globalized environment of tourism flows. Using textual data from online blogs, this study explores how multigenerational family tourists from China experience and interpret the United States as a destination. Results show that traditional Chinese values assist family members to construct quality experiences. Different generations fulfill their respective functions with pleasure and responsibility. The findings suggest that quality experiences for the family tourists from China are constructed upon their consumption of the physical and tangible environment in the United States.



Zhang, Y. and Cai, L. (2018), "Quality Experiences of China’s Family Tourists in the United States", Quality Services and Experiences in Hospitality and Tourism (Bridging Tourism Theory and Practice, Vol. 9), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 75-90. https://doi.org/10.1108/S2042-144320180000009006

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Copyright © 2018 Emerald Publishing Limited


Experiences in tourism may be defined as “the subjective mental state felt by participants” (Otto & Ritchie, 1996, p. 166). Two dimensions of experiences exist. The first is the service quality as evaluated by tourists. SERVQUAL by Parasuraman et al. (1988) is frequently applied or adapted to measure the quality of service in terms of customer expectations in tourism and hospitality contexts (Cai, 2010). However, service is only one component of touristic experiences. The second dimension is the quality of a tourist’s “leisure pursuit” (Ottto & Ritchie, 1996, p. 166), which translates to the enhancement and development of one’s state of mind during travel. To understand the quality of touristic experiences in both dimensions, a holistic approach is warranted to examine the manifold dynamics throughout a trip. These undercurrents may include tourist–tourist, tourist–service provider, and tourist–destination relations. Together they construct the quality experiences and create a memorable memory for the tourists.

This study analyzes quality experiences using the case of family tourists from China visiting the United States. Jenkins (1978), Rosenblatt and Russell (1975), and Michie (1986) were among the first to examine the decisionmaking process and impacts of family tourism. Later, Fodness (1992), Lehto, Morrison, and O’Leary (2001), and Lehto, Choi, Lin, and MacDermid (2009) integrated lifecycle, family functioning, and travel typology into this realm of research. What is not clear yet is the cultural factors that may influence the interpretations of family tourism as the marketplace has become global. In fact, new trends have been observed, where Western families are no longer the only target market and interest for industry professionals and academic researchers. Specifically, Schänzel and Yeoman (2014) suggest that studies should take into consideration varying forms of family organization from emerging markets and adopt a multidisciplinary approach to grasp the fast-changing realities. The current work focuses on the family tourists of the rising outbound China market in regard to their family dynamics and quality experiences. Specifically, this study is aimed at investigating how generational differences among family tourists are presented and negotiated, and how its members interact with a destination and its service providers.

Multigenerational Experiences of China’s Outbound

The human experiences involve people’s interactions with others, the self, and the natural environment. Experiences at different times and spaces constitute each person’s life trajectory. Among them, tourism experiences play a key role in one’s economic and leisure life. These experiences, on one hand, provide means for consumptions of marketed goods and services in the global system. On the other hand, they establish a pathway to individuals’ happiness. Touristic moments and memories may incur transformative experiences in one’s life course. They enhance one’s understanding of the self, the family, and social relations surrounding the individual.

Experiences and Experience Economy

Pine and Gilmore (1999) established four realms of experience along two main dimensions. They refer to the participation level of consumers in an experience and the degree of their connectivity to the surrounding and environment (Mehmetoglu & Engen, 2011). The former spans between active and passive participation. When participating actively, consumers are the co-creators of the experience along with the product and service suppliers. For example, as Pine and Gilmore (1998) suggest, skiers are active participants because they themselves create a sports scene while enjoying the ski facilities offered by the resort. However, passive participation is observed in most parts of the traditional economy, in which consumers simply observe and purchase goods or services. A transaction involves merely nothing else but “watch, take, and pay.” For example, moviegoers are only spectators of what is being presented on the screen.

The second dimension, the connection with the environment, varies from absorption to immersion. Although absorption is similar to immersion in that both require the participant to be a part of the experience, absorption happens when the experience is taken into the internal universe of the participant. A good example would be an education experience. Immersion focuses on the participant giving out to the experience. Hiking in nature is an experience of immersion as the hiker allows himself or herself to embrace and be accepted into the environment. Along the two dimensions, Pine and Gilmore (1998) suggest that the richest experience should include four realms. First, entertainment requires minimal participation from the consumers’ side. When watching TV shows or operas, one keeps a static position and performs almost no actions. In this process, the audience absorbs the message delivered during the show. Second, an educational experience also incorporates absorption, though with active participation from the consumers. Taking a class demands a student’s interaction with the instructor, and the knowledge and information are what is absorbed by the student.

Third, an esthetic experience causes minimal participation by the consumer. He or she again becomes an observer of what happens in the front. However, one is immersed in the environment usually from a psychological sense. Patrons of an art museum usually are not allowed to come into contact with the art display, which is an example of passive participation. At the same time, their appreciation of an art piece often requires them to go inside the domain of the artist’s mind and be immersed. Lastly, an escapist experience may be achieved if the participation level becomes high. When the art museum invites artists to interact with its patrons in different activities, such as a group painting lesson, the immersion is sustained and the high involvement of the patrons may change the patrons’ role from observers to co-creators of the experience.

Pine and Gilmore’s concept of the experience economy is an evolutionary change from mass standardization to serving customers uniquely and efficiently (1998). In the traditional economy, consumers had to choose what was available on the market and were guided and even manipulated by the interests of production (Koritz & Koritz, 2001). This was particularly true when products were commoditized and there hardly was any differentiation across the market. The rise of the experience economy was the result of the changing demand side (Mehmetoglu & Engen, 2011). Consumers started to search for something new and personal, forcing producers to offer experiences (Jenson, 1996). An experience, according to Pine and Gilmore (1999), refers to events that engage the individual in a personal way. Other definitions have also emphasized the extraordinary and meaningful aspect of an experience particularly in consumption (Boswijk, Thijssen, & Peelen, 2007). It is important to note that a definition of experience is not equivalent to the experience itself, for experiences are something internal for the experiencer to engage in and with. Anyone else may only watch and evaluate from a distance and can never grasp fully what is inner to the experiencer. This leads to individuality, one important dimension of experiences (Tarssanen & Kylänen, 2005).

However, to grasp all elements experienced by a tourist at a destination is challenging (Oh, Fiore, & Jeoung, 2016). One major concept that has emerged in this stream of research is tourism authenticity. If a major goal to visit a place is to seek its authenticity, genuineness, and verisimilitude (Loureiro, 2014), then tourism needs to set the stage for the reproduction of what is perceived to be the reality (Taylor, 2001). Different from manufacturing and retailing, in which the stage is prepared to display and sell products as an add-on, the stage is the product of tourism. The local market, natural landscape, architecture, people, language, and all other cultural cues together constitute the stage for tourists to watch, gaze, and peek. Several studies have attempted to measure tourism experiences based on Pine and Gilmore’s conception. Oh et al. (2016) found that the four realms of experience are a suitable framework for measuring bed and breakfast experiences. Entertainment, esthetics, education, and escapism were consistently observed in their study, with esthetics being the dominant factor in experience evaluation. Lo, Qu, and Wetprasit (2013) confirmed that only the realm of entertainment was not observed in Chinese tourists’ spa experiences. Mehmetoglu and Engen (2011) assessed Pine and Gilmore’s model in the contexts of music festival and museum, suggesting that different experiential dimensions led to tourism satisfaction in different contexts.

This research utilizes the Pleasure Travel Attitude Dimensions to examine the overall quality experiences of family tourists from China in the United States. Um and Crompton (1991) suggest five dimensions of a quality touristic experience. The dimension of social agreement refers to consensus among members in a group. It creates togetherness with family or friends. Examples of social agreement may include all family members agreeing on a place to go or following recommendations from others. This dimension is particularly relevant to family tourists as it demonstrates the unique dynamics at a destination. Togetherness is perhaps the core aim of family tourism.

The dimension of active needs refers to the need to engage in outdoor recreation activities. It may also reflect one’s wide interests in a variety of touristic activities. Attractions that provide delightful and exquisite natural environment can also satisfy one’s active needs. Staying active is one purpose of outdoor tourism. In the case of independent Chinese tourists, virtual observations of online blogs seem to suggest that road trips are a common way to tour the continental United States. This implies a significant amount of outdoor times spent together with family members. The dimension of travelability represents whether a destination is easy for tourists to commute and safe to walk around. Political and social conditions may also influence the travelability of a place. Concerns, such as safety problems and inadequate health measures at a destination, may reduce its travelability. At the same time, monetary issues, such as transportation cost and economic standard of living, are essential in evaluating a destination’s travelability. This dimension may be the most universal for all types of long-haul trips. The ease of trips, in terms of transportation, cost, and security and safety, is among the priority concerns for international tourists.

Tourists with passive needs tend to seek relaxation during a trip. The dimension of passive needs involves several distinct facets. Relaxation and well-being are closely connected as both are about the internal state of mind of a tourist. Climate, however, addresses a tourist’s desirability for a certain physical environment. This study attempts to find whether the physical environment and climate are linked to relaxation or internal well-being for family tourists from China. Lastly, the dimension of intellectual needs embodies different interests and lifestyles pursued by a tourist. People with intense intellectual needs often seek challenging experiences that stimulate the mind and soul. It is important to note that intellectual needs are interpreted differently for various trip types and modes. These needs are usually accompanied by intellectual challenges that deliver mental satisfaction for tourists visiting a foreign culture.

Study Methods

Trip blogs provide personal narratives about touristic experiences and at the same time “a mechanism for exchanging information among tourists” (Wenger, 2008, p. 169). Schmallegger and Carson (2008) suggest that online peer-to-peer information exchange is on the rise. This medium is deemed trustworthy since it is intimate accounts of a tourist’s internal experiences with a destination. It is one’s own interpretation of tourism products and experiences (Banyai & Glover, 2012) that establishes a relationship between the storyteller and the audience. Upon establishing the relationship, a virtual community is developed and its members do not expect commercial motives from fellow bloggers as they do from TV advertisements and other traditional marketing tools (Wang, 2011). The majority of Chinese websites of trip blogs follows the business-to-peer model and has similar operations as Expedia in the US Qyer.com (bbs.qyer.com), in comparison, is a distinguished platform. The website was founded as a start-up in Hamburger, Germany, by a Chinese student in 2004, according to Qyer.com. The primary goal of the website is to promote self-arranged low-cost trips. Registered members can post their trip itineraries and blogs with accommodations and dining options, transportation, shopping savings, and other tourism-related information. Although Alibaba became a major investor of Qyer.com in mid-2013, the website has remained its peer-to-peer legacy among its fast-growing user base.

Qyer.com is highly distinctive from other platforms because of its specific documentation of trips. Typically, a complete blog starts from the trip planning stage with the process of obtaining a tourist visa (if necessary) to detailed descriptions on how the accommodation, airline, departure port, and trip routes are finalized with various information sources. The actual trip itinerary explicitly shows activities, such as sightseeing, shopping, and dining, chronically from the first day till the last. Qyer.com offers its registered users a template to conveniently log all activities. Visual aids, such as photography and video, may also be uploaded. Wu and Pearce (2016) suggest that Qyer.com is a comparable platform with Lonely Planet in terms of sharing trip tips. It is noteworthy that the instantaneity of sharing that the site provides through its mobile app and services may have constructed a user network that is more dynamic than that of Lonely Planet.

This study identifies Qyer.com as a reliable source of storytelling on touristic experiences. Using the search words “parents” and “USA,” 422 blogs were found about family trips made by tourists from China to the United States. Then 25 best blogs as rated by the website administrator were randomly selected for data analysis. The composition of these blogs follows a template provided by Qyer.com. The template recommends the blog content organized into several sections: visa, flight booking, hotel booking, rental car information, preparation process, shopping, and daily activities. The titles of these sections are customizable. Users can use both text and photos to document their trips. Textual data and photographs were collected from the selected blogs for analysis. Because there exists few studies on family tourists from China, the study considers a qualitative approach appropriate for theme generation when empirical evidences are still lacking, and quantitative testing may not be viable at this stage. Thematic analysis was adopted in the coding process, in which preliminary codes were obtained first and then combined into major themes. Adopting the Pleasure Trip Attitude Dimensions as guidance, the themes were finally grouped into its five dimensions.

Five Experiential Dimensions

Social agreement, in the context of social contract in the Western civilization, is a form of voluntary compromises made by the individuals involved in a decision. This is established upon their consent (Freeman, 1990). It is meant to build ethics and justification for all members of society. This notion is particularly valued when peers take a trip together and decisionmaking is an all-inclusive process. This dimension takes on a distinct cultural element when Qyer.com users travel with their parents. Family trips are considered an opportunity to compromise and sacrifice. Decisionmaking is often upon the preferences of the senior generation. There is a lack of social agreement among all parties in trip planning. Younger family members, who have the expertise and knowledge in organizing overseas trips, voluntarily give up their own interests to accommodate the projected needs of their parents. The following quotes demonstrate this unique character of Chinese family trip planning:

My initial plan was just to travel along Route 66. But it may be my parents’ first and only trip to the U.S, I would rather let them see America as much as possible. So I changed my plan to include as many cities as possible in the West Coast. (Blog 15)

My parents are not very interested in the shows in Las Vegas, given their conservatism. So I only bought tickets to Universal Studio Hollywood. (Blog 2)

My parents like to shop a lot, so we had to give up many attractions originally in the plan. My mom had to buy some cosmetic products for her friends, so we shopped at many stores just for the same products. (Blog 16)

I had to take care of my parents’ appetite first. They are not big fans of Western cuisines, so we tried our best to dine at only Chinese restaurants. I could have gone out by myself and had American food, but it would be meaningless for a family trip. So I did not. (Blog 22)

Togetherness is one fundamental concept observed from the blogs. But it is important to highlight that it is parent-oriented; from the bloggers’ perspective, being together means to be with their parents, and the trips are to be planned with the focus of parents. The examples presented show this perspective:

I dedicate this blog to my parents, and hope that this will remind me of the good times we spent together in the U.S. (Blog 16)

I planned this trip for my parents. When I last traveled to the U.S. without them, I had this thought that they must be brought here to enjoy the beauty and nature of this country. (Blog 10)

When specific decision invoked negative consequences on the parents, younger family members expressed guilt. Because family trips were considered a means to enhance the life of the senior generation, any actions that led to disadvantages of the seniors would be considered inappropriate. For example:

I made the wrong decision to have chosen a flight that arrived in the morning. Although this gave us an extra day for the trip, it was too exhausting for my parents, and I consider this my failure. (Blog 13)

The social agreement dimension as reflected in the blog narratives is closely related to Chinese family values. In particular, the relational and group orientations (Yao, 1988) are presented in the form of children’s obedience to and willingness to serve their parents (in Chinese Xiao, 孝).

The dimension of active needs is best illustrated by the photography component of the blogs. Photos of both nature and architecture are major elements of the blogs. They include mountains, sky, rivers and forests, bridges, skyscrapers, churches, and other man-made objects. As one couple describes:

My husband and I like to watch documentaries by BBC and Discovery Channel, particularly those about nature and parks. We had long been wanting to visit the U.S. just for the national parks. (Blog 14)

All 25 blogs mention driving rental cars for at least half, if not all, of the entire trip. During their road trips, national parks in Arizona, California, and Utah are the most popular, including Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Zion, and Yellowstone National Parks. Many blogs include similar photos of important landmarks, such as the Delicate Arch of the Arches National Park and Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park. Many share photography tips on how to position the best angle to capture the same object. This has resulted in heavy repetitions of attraction descriptions, even to the point where two blogs have very identical contents.

It is important to note that one unique active need of China’s family tourists in the United States is air quality. Given the air pollution in major Chinese cities, many expect to experience a clean environment during their overseas trips. As one blogger concludes after his trip, “Now as I recall my trip and look through the photos, I can imagine the fresh air I breathed in the U.S. It is a small relief for me as I am breathing smog in China.”

As for travelability in the Pleasure Travel Attitude Dimensions, this study finds the term particularly fitting of the blog data. The blogs have shown that trip costs are observed to be the top priority for most families during the planning process; and transportation is among the biggest concerns of the family tourists from China for a road trip in the United States, as evidenced by the following narratives:

[…] I had searched on Priceline for a long time. I found that official hotel websites usually give me the best price if the property is close to an attraction. I had also used coupon codes on different hotel booking websites […] Often I found it difficult to decide between city and suburban hotels. I wanted the cheap price but also close proximity to the place I wanted to visit. (Blog 1)

I highly recommend the national park annual pass for family road trips. It is cheap for a party of four or more people. (Blog 7)

I chose this hotel because of the free breakfast, free parking and its walking distance to Disneyland. (Blog 2)

Because we were touring along the ‘big loop’ route connecting Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco, the most economical way was to rent a car. We believed that it was the most efficient way to do a road trip in the U.S. This would allow us to visit as many attractions as possible given the limited time. (Blog 4)

Driving in general was enjoyable for me and my family. The quality of my rental car was superb, and most people on the road followed the traffic laws and regulations. Although I wouldn’t say that the physical conditions of the highways are as good as those in China, driving in the U.S. is very easy. The traffic signs are big enough for me to read. (Blog 6)

One important component of a quality touristic experience is the challenges that motivate a tourist to develop certain skills that he or she not necessarily has already had for the daily life. For the dimension of intellectual needs, the two major challenges faced by family tourists from China are the language barrier and the use of mobile technologies, both of which, to a large extent, are interrelated. Language creates the main challenge for international trips (Kozak, 2016), and this is echoed by the Chinese bloggers. According to Um and Crompton (1991), tourist experiences may stimulate one’s urge to take intellectual challenges or position one to face intellectual difficulties. In this study, Chinese family tourists seem to belong to the latter, and this is exemplified in the narratives that follow:

Initially I found it difficult to use American rental car websites, because I would have to browse in an English environment. For example, in case I needed a refund, I would have to go through a lot of hassles. So I had to give up on those sites. (Blog 8)

As we all know, Google Maps is not available in China, as well as some other social media mobile apps. So I had a hard time planning for my trip. I had to follow other people’s instructions [in existing online blogs] to learn how to use them, so that I was able to adapt to the user interface [in the English language]. (Blog 12)

Relaxation is a basic form of passive needs in trips and often one of the most sought-after perspectives in a quality experience. However, the narratives in the blogs imply little intention to relax by family tourists from China in the United States. Because Qyer users may see blog writing as a task, which demands structured organization of rich information, they are inclined to build a busy schedule that is worth to report back to the Qyer community. For example, one tourist uploaded a PDF version of her family’s 23-day itinerary in the Western United States spanning 7,000 kilometers (about 4,350 miles) from Northern to Southern California and finally to Utah and Wyoming. As she describes, “writing this blog is going to be a grand project […] Both of my parents are photography enthusiasts. I had to take the challenge and responsibility to take them to the U.S.” (Blog 19). Another tourist with his wife drove with their parents for 3,600 kilometers (about 2,237 miles) within 12 days. He reflects, “this entire trip was very exhausting. We had to drive through several attractions within a day.” (Blog 6). These narratives reflect that Chinese tourists’ primary goal for long-haul trips is to keep occupied with various sightseeing and entertainment activities. Though physically exhausted, they may be emotionally energized by a busy schedule.

A Framework of Multigenerational Experiences

The quality of the touristic experience depends on a broad spectrum of conditions and measures. This study explores a case of multigenerational trips that has presented a series of unique characters valuable for future research. Further analysis of the data suggests that the five dimensions do not act as parallels (Fig. 1). They interact at different stages of a trip. How they play different roles to construct a quality experience is yet investigated. This provides new directions for future empirical studies, especially in a cross-cultural context. First, family types and values need to be considered. Cultures that influence family values have significant impacts on how family members behave around each other. When multiple family generations take a trip together, culture influences how they take on different roles in creating memorable experiences. For example, this study finds that generational responsibilities have influenced younger Chinese tourists to reconsider their itineraries when senior generations are present. These decisions then influence their evaluation of travelability of the United States as a destination. At the same time, traditional Chinese family values lead to a different interpretation of social agreement as opposed to what may be usually understood in the West. For Chinese family trips, an agreement is reached when the younger generation makes sacrifices in exchange for the senior generation’s comfort and satisfaction. The agreement is not based on mutual consent on decisionmaking during a trip, but a harmonious relationship among family members. This may often result in certain members giving up on their own touristic interests to fulfill others’ wishes and expectations during a trip.

Figure 1. 
A Framework of Multigenerational Experiences

Figure 1.

A Framework of Multigenerational Experiences

Second, a destination’s travelability has opposite effects on one’s positive and passive touristic needs. Road trips are one major way that Chinese families experience destinations in the United States. The ability to mobilize quickly in between attractions, cities, and states substantially enhances their exposure to the destination’s natural landscapes and outdoor activities. Their active needs are easily satisfied due to the convenient rental car services and reliable highway networks available in the United States. However, passive needs may not be a priority for long-haul Chinese family tourists. Relaxation to them means slowing down and impedes their mobility at destinations. The blog narratives imply a sense of competition among tourists. Because their goal is to report a quality and busy trip, the pressure to collect stories and landmarks may urge them to visit as many points of interest as possible. It then ultimately may lead to sacrificing rest and relaxation. Although a few bloggers complained about the exhaustion during their journeys, most expressed a sense of fulfillment made possible by their busy trip schedules. This suggests that quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive. Chinese family tourists tend to consider the number of attraction visitations a major component of quality experiences. The lack of international trip opportunities in the past may have resulted in their current exceptional eagerness to see the world. This implies that the psychological and social conditions that influence one’s appreciation of quality experiences need to be examined in future research.

Lastly, the fulfillment of one’s active needs largely depends on the characteristics of both the destination and the tourist’s home country. As some bloggers recalled, the natural resources at the US national parks were a major chapter of their trips. Many memorable touristic experiences took place in outdoor spaces. The bloggers sensed a contrast between natural environments of China and the United States. Many mentioned or implied in the blogs that they particularly enjoyed the “fresh air and blue sky” in this country. Such sentiment is directly related to air pollution in China in recent years that have caught international attention. Given that many bloggers reside in major urban centers in China, their unfortunate experiences with the severe smog at home had made their trips abroad even more enjoyable than for those who never have lived in heavily polluted places.

Solomon, Bamossy, Askegaard, and Hogg (1999) suggest that self-identity is central to the creation of meaningful and quality experiences. In other words, quality experiences develop around the self, and the self is the center that benefits from such experiences. However, this may not apply to the Chinese context. Findings of the study suggest that the mutual benefits of all family members are the focus of Chinese family trips. The experience is only meaningful when all members’ interests, especially senior family members, are taken care of. Self-identity or the personalization of the touristic experience is latent. The personal joy is embedded in the joy of all members even when individuals must make a sacrifice. Multigenerational trips reinforce the connection between family members and Chinese family values, although in recent years the family structure in China has experienced major changes. As Hu and Scott (2016) suggest, the decline of multigenerational co-residence and the rise of dual-income-no-kids households may have led to shifted attention to the individual or nuclear family in China. In this sense, multigenerational trips provide the environment for the Chinese tourists to revisit the concept of family in the traditional sense. It is worth noting that this environment provided in travel is foreign (in this case the United States); hence, the experiences assist the tourists to recall what it means not only to be family, but also to be a Chinese family. The cultural and environmental contrast between the US destinations and the traveling Chinese tourists at these destinations helps to develop quality experiences that enhance the unity of a family.

Functionality and tangibility are dominant benefits sought after by family tourists from China in the United States. Such benefits include the natural environment, tourism-related infrastructure, food choices, safety, and cost. Tangibility is the main theme of their interactions with destinations. It aligns with the finding by Lehto, Fu, Li, and Zhou (2013) that the functional means of touristic activities play an important role for Chinese families. The study specifically reveals that Chinese family trips predominantly are associated with two aspects of tangibility: what tangible products can I consume and what tangible objects can my camera capture? Although their mental relaxation and well-being are hinted in the blogs, they are mostly generated by the observations of tangible memories of destinations. There is a substantial lack of mentioning of people, service personnel, and human-to-human interactions in general during their trips. Their focus is primarily on human-to-object interactions. Therefore, the study argues that the materialistic aspect of tourism (the consumption of food, goods, and the overall physical environment) constitutes the core of quality touristic experiences for Chinese families. This observation also explains why shopping seems to be the most popular activity among Chinese tourists in the United States, a destination with abundant goods and services (Cai, O’Leary, & Boger, 2000).

Chinese families’ special attention to these benefits may be linked to the practicality of the Chinese thought process. Instead of a general sense of the world, the Chinese mind is likely to focus on concrete and specific purposes of objects and events in the surrounding. Reasoning and truth may not be the first ideas that come to the Chinese logic (Ng, 2007, p. 61). For example, when one encounters something new, a question that may be commonly asked is “what is it for?” As Hucker (1975) suggests, the Chinese people focus on the current life and its practicalities and believe that life can always be improved in some way. In the tourism context, visiting a foreign country is a means to access materialistic goods that may better one’s life at home. Hence, the spiritual uplifting of the touristic experience is likely to be overshadowed by the physical.


It has become a widely accepted notion that tourists strive for an extraordinary experience that allows them to personally connect with a place, culture, and people. The focal point of this experience is to recognize the self: self-development, self-exploration, and self-reflection. For example, the term “transformational experience” is used to capture the state of mind of tourists through pre-trip and onsite activities (Fu, Tanyatanaboon, & Lehto, 2015, p. 83). The belief in the spiritual underpinning of tourism is driven by Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy of needs, which dictates that there is a pathway to a fulfilling life through self-actualization. However, the full acceptance of the theory is risky for tourism studies (Wahba & Bridwell, 1976). It is possible that this may motivate researchers to look for quality and extraordinary experiences only from cases with transcendent storytelling that stimulates ineffable resonance from the audience.

Transformation moments (Bosangit, Hibbert, & McCabe, 2015) are widely sought after by tourists. Popular books, such as Gilbert’s memoir (2006), are good examples to trigger the public craving for exceptional experiences. The writing of travel and tourism has become the means to advocate for the secondary needs as depicted in the upper levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of motivations. Physiological, safety, love, and belonging needs, to a large extent, are left unnoticed when quality experiences are being discussed. This study has demonstrated that the primary human needs can be essential elements in constructing quality touristic experiences. As the patterns of global tourism flows continue to shift, destinations such as the United States should be better informed of the changing demographics of international tourists and emerging segments in order to design and deliver essential quality services that meet their unique basic needs as well as their expectations for quality experiences.