Studying tourist behavior in a cross-cultural context

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The massive growth of international tourism over the last 50 years is an indicator of people’s increased mobility.

Globalization, economic development, and political changes leading to the opening of China and Eastern Europe have significantly in- creased the number of tourists who are crossing national borders. The increasing high demand for international tourism will expose future tourists to culturally different societies. It will bring many diverse cultures together, offer many wonderful opportunities for meeting people from distant continents and countries, and provide many occasions for cross-cultural contact around the world.
The 2020 forecast shows that culturally diverse visitors will be the future targets of the international tourism industry. This will create many challenges for the industry as it attempts to globally standardize its products and at the same time attract culturally bound visitors. It will become crucial for the industry to develop a thorough understanding of culturally distinct tourists and to identify cultural differences and similarities between them and the locals.
If the industry is to flourish in the future, it must undertake the important task of learning the foreign languages of the international tourist markets. However, cultural differences are not limited to language, food or clothing. Cultural differences are particularly related to cultural values, needs, preferences, and attitudes. These differences are experienced in a variety of human interactions.
Failure to understand these differences can lead to serious consequences, such as insults, uncomfortable situations, misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and conflicts between people. For example, the simple rejection of a cup of coffee or tea could be perceived as being rude. Declining an invitation or being late can be considered an affront. Similarly, setting deadlines and time schedules or asking visitors to travel at a specific time can be considered offensive and threatening. In order to successfully attract and satisfy international visitors, and to avoid making cultural mistakes and blaming others for having bad manners or being arrogant, future industry employees must learn to identify cultural differences between international tourist markets: What is acceptable behavior and what is not?
Learning about the cultural differences in international visitor behavior represents a key factor in effective segmentation, targeting and promotion to the specific foreign markets. For example, while all women are interested in shopping, Asian women (office ladies) are particularly known for being interested in traveling for the purpose of shopping. They spend heavily on brand-name handbags and luxury items. Thus, although women travelers might share some interests, there are obviously differences among them.
As a result, although there might be similarities among international tourists, there are obvious differences among them. However, contrary to general belief, many international tourists are also similar in numerous ways. Cultural similarities, if properly identified, can be vital in clustering tourists in terms of their profiles. For example, while separate advertising strategies might need to be designed by the airlines to appeal to culturally distinct markets, the first or business-class passengers may be persuaded by the same messages emphasizing luxury and upscale facilities. Success of marketing in culturally distinct markets is influenced by how different and similar are the beliefs, values, and customs that govern the selection and use of the product in the various markets.
Understanding tourist behavior in a cross-cultural context is very important because it facilitates learning about international tourists, recognizing differences between tourists and locals, designing more effective marketing strategies that successfully target the specific group of international tourists, and implementing these strategies. The greater the differences between international tourist markets, the more advisable it is to use distinct and culturally tailored strategies in each market. If the cultural values, beliefs and customs of specific markets differ significantly, then a highly individualized marketing strategy must be developed for each market. On the other hand, if there are cultural similarities among tourist markets, then a similar marketing strategy may be used for all markets.
Identifying cultural similarities and differences among the international tourist markets allows the tourism industry to understand that tourist behavior is culture bound and that culture deeply affects tourist behavior and the operations of the whole industry. Understanding the cultural background of the target market, being sensitive to cultural differences, and accepting and respecting these differences help to minimize cross-cultural marketing and management mistakes, enhance tourist holiday experiences and satisfaction, increase tourism demand for a travel product, improve business profitability and, consequently, contribute to the success of the tourism industry.
If the tourism industry is to survive in the global economy, it must address tourists from a cultural point of view. Globalization destroys cultural characteristics, identity, and attractiveness of tourism products, and homogenizes the total international tourist market. Capitalizing on national cultures and cultural diversity of international tourists can be the major step to the future success of the international tourism industry. Effectively dealing with culturally different tourists and their national cultures will allow the tourism industry to flourish in the next decades. Since cultural differences are potential grounds for cultural misunderstanding and conflict between tourists and locals, understanding which cultural differences have the most detrimental effects on tourist behavior is vital to managing the relationship between guest and host.
From the tourist perspective, it is important to tourists to learn about the culture of local hosts. Cultural under- standing of locals helps tourists to adjust their behavior to the unfamiliar environment in which they travel. Many tourists experience culture shock when they get off the plane. They do not understand the foreign language. They do not know how to ask for help, how much to tip, how to order a meal, or what is appropriate to say in a new culture. Unable to understand the behavior of locals, tourists can feel annoyed, upset, and even insulted. Understanding locals’ behavior, customs, dress style, and eating and sleeping habits can also be an interesting educational experience.
From the local resident perspective, it is also important to local hosts to learn about the culture of international tourists. Cultural understanding of international tourists helps locals to respond to the culturally determined needs of tourists. Many locals have difficulties when talking to international tourists; they do not understand the tourists’ language; hence they do not know what tourists are asking or what they want to do. Although locals rely on the services of translators and tour guides, they often experience communication and interaction difficulties with international tourists. Lack of understanding of tourist behavior makes the locals feel incompetent in providing services to tourists, and this can be frustrating and stressful.