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‘Authentic but not too much’: exploring perceptions of authenticity of virtual tourism



Virtual tourism and authenticity are concepts amply discussed by tourism scholars. Yet, limited empirical studies have explored perceptions of authenticity of virtual tourism. This paper attempts to fill this gap existing in the body of knowledge as it provides an insight into perceptions of virtual tourism and authenticity. Driven by an interpretivist paradigm, twenty in-depth, online interviews were conducted with a group of tourism students studying in a Malaysian private university. The findings show that while virtual tourism was not perceived as totally inauthentic, the participants conceived corporeal and sensorial involvements as crucial components to experience authenticity in tourism settings.
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Information Technology & Tourism
ISSN 1098-3058
Inf Technol Tourism
DOI 10.1007/s40558-016-0059-y
‘Authentic but not too much’: exploring
perceptions of authenticity of virtual
Paolo Mura, Rokhshad Tavakoli & Saeed
Pahlevan Sharif
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‘Authentic but not too much’: exploring perceptions
of authenticity of virtual tourism
Paolo Mura
Rokhshad Tavakoli
Saeed Pahlevan Sharif
Received: 26 March 2016 / Revised: 6 July 2016 / Accepted: 9 July 2016
Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016
Abstract Virtual tourism and authenticity are concepts amply discussed by tourism
scholars. Yet, limited empirical studies have explored perceptions of authenticity of
virtual tourism. This paper attempts to fill this gap existing in the body of knowl-
edge as it provides an insight into perceptions of virtual tourism and authenticity.
Driven by an interpretivist paradigm, twenty in-depth, online interviews were
conducted with a group of tourism students studying in a Malaysian private uni-
versity. The findings show that while virtual tourism was not perceived as totally
inauthentic, the participants conceived corporeal and sensorial involvements as
crucial components to experience authenticity in tourism settings.
Keywords Virtual tourism Authenticity Tourist behavior Qualitative research
&Paolo Mura
Rokhshad Tavakoli
Saeed Pahlevan Sharif
School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts, Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus,
No. 1 Jalan Taylors, 47500 Subang Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia
Centre for Tourism, Hospitality and Culinary Management, Sunway University Business
School, Sunway University, No. 5, Jalan Universiti, Bandar Sunway, 47500 Subang Jaya,
Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia
Taylor’s Business School, Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus, No. 1 Jalan Taylors,
47500 Subang Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia
Inf Technol Tourism
DOI 10.1007/s40558-016-0059-y
Author's personal copy
1 Introduction
‘But what enhanced for Kublai every event or piece of news reported by his
inarticulate informer was the space that remained around it, a void not filled
with words. The descriptions of cities Marco Polo visited had this virtue: you
could wander through them in thought, become lost, stop and enjoy the cool
air, or run off’’. (Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities,1972,p.38).
In The Invisible Cities the Italian novelist Italo Calvino pictures a scene in which
Marco Polo narrates to Kublai Khan fascinating accounts of the several cities he
discovered during his journeys in Asia. It does not take too much time for Kublai
Khan (and the readers) to realize that the journeys and the cities described by Marco
Polo are probably imaginary or pseudo-real. Yet, both Kublai Khan and Marco Polo
seem to enjoy these accounts to the fullest as these mesmerizing and evocative
narratives allow their minds to travel through a multitude of diverse cities and
experiences. In fact, as they ‘wander through them in thought’, Kublai Khan and
Marco Polo can be comfortably classified as virtual tourists. But Kublai Khan and
Marco Polo are not the first virtual tourists in history as traveling without the body,
or virtual tourism, has been part of human history since prehistoric times (Bittarello
2008). Cave paintings created during the Neolithic Era are a typical example of
people’s representations of ontologically alternative worlds. Similarly, in ancient
literary texts and myths, such as Homer’s Odyssey, places and situations portrayed
are representing virtual worlds, which cannot be found in non-virtual life (Ward
2000; Wertheim 1999). Religious texts are also among the examples that embody
the idea that it is possible to travel without the body. Within Abrahamic religions,
for example, death is often conceptualised as a virtual journey in which our souls
move to ‘other places’ or ‘dimensions’ without the presence of our ‘physical selves’.
Watching a theatrical representation or reading a book are forms of virtual tourism
as they allow us to escape from our mundane daily realities and enter different
virtual worlds.
While traditionally humans have participated in forms of virtual travel,
technology has played a pivotal role in enhancing and multiplying people’s
possibilities to travel virtually. As the line between ‘offline’ and ‘online’ is
becoming more blurred or almost inexistent (Floridi 2007), virtual digital worlds are
more and more omnipresent in our daily and touristy lives. Virtual museums (Lewis
1996), electronic booking systems (Buhalis 2003), online shopping (Nielsen
Company 2015) are only among few of the multiple examples showing that parts of
our tourist experiences are already digitally virtual. Advanced technological gears
already available in the market, such as the ‘Oculus Rift’ and the ‘Google Glass’,
are capable of providing very complex multi-sensorial experiences in virtual worlds
as well as in virtual tourist destinations. It is thus important to focus on virtual
experiences as current technological developments suggest that they may play an
important role in tourism in the near future.
Indirectly, the notion of virtual tourism has also been part of the traditional
tourism literature as theories on tourist motivation have implicitly contemplated the
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idea that bodily travels are often anticipated by ‘un-bodied’ journeys. Despite this,
while corporeal mobilities and ‘bodily’ tourism have been object of interest within
academic circles, less has been written by scholars about virtual tourism.
Interestingly, while in the 2000s technological developments have paved the way
to more elaborated virtual tourism experiences, empirical studies focusing on
tourists’ experiences in virtual environments have been relatively scarce in the last
15 years. Instead, with few exceptions (Tavakoli and Mura 2015), tourism studies
have tended to discuss conceptually (in a rather futuristic fashion) the notion of
virtual tourism and its implications for the tourism industry without paying attention
to virtual tourists’ experiences (see Cheong 1995; Guttentag 2010; Hobson and
Williams 1995; Williams and Hobson 1995).
Moreover, little has been written about the role of virtual experiences on tourists’
perceptions of authenticity. Previous studies (Dewailly 1999; Guttentag 2010;
Hobson and Williams 1995) acknowledge the existence of a link between virtual
tourism and authenticity. Yet, despite the prolific literature on authenticity in
tourism (Cohen 1988; MacCannell 1976; Wang 1999) there are no in-depth
empirical studies discussing perceptions of authenticity of virtual tourism. As both
perceptions of authenticity and virtual experiences are part of tourists’ experiences,
a better understanding of the relationship between the two is crucial to further
advance our understanding of tourist behaviour and experiences.
The study of the relationship between virtual tourism and authenticity raises a
number of questions: What is the relationship between virtuality and authenticity? Is
virtual tourism a possible way to achieve forms of tourism perceived as authentic?
How are tourists’ perceptions of authenticity influenced by non-corporeal travel
patterns? Are tourists ready to replace or combine their corporeal travels with
virtual forms of tourism? What is the relationship between virtual and non-virtual
tourist experiences? This paper aims to answer these questions and attempts to fill a
gap existing in the tourism literature concerning the relationship between virtual
tourism and authenticity.
2 Literature review
2.1 Virtual tourism
There is no consensus about a universally accepted definition of ‘virtual tourism’ as
definitions of ‘virtual reality’ are multiple and often discordant. Hobson and
Williams (1995, p. 128) refer to virtual reality as ‘the computer-generated medium
that gives people the feeling that they are being transported from a physical world to
a world of imagination’. Following Burdea and Coiffet (2003), Gutie
´rrez et al.
(2008) and Vince (2004), Guttentag (2010, p. 638) defines virtual reality as ‘the use
of a computer-generated 3D environment—called a ‘virtual environment’ (VE)—
that one can navigate and possibly interact with, resulting in real-time simulation of
one or more of the user’s five senses’. Likewise, Tavakoli and Mura (2015) employ
Bell’s (2008, p. 2) notion as of ‘virtual world’, namely, ‘a synchronous, persistent
network of people, represented as avatars, facilitated by networked computers’.
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Overall, past research has tended to place emphasis on the importance of online and
digital tools to denote virtual reality. This seems to be aligned with lay
understandings and interpretations of the term ‘virtual’, which links virtuality to
technological hardware and software.
However, within the context of this paper we would like to propose a broader
definition of virtual tourism, namely one that contemplates the existence of
alternative realities or worlds (both digital and non-digital) in which tourists can
travel without their bodies. In this regard, Tavakoli and Mura (2015, p. 400) argue
that ‘to consider the ‘virtual world’ as a mere outcome of technology-based
developments would be misleading’. In this respect, they support Bittarello’s (2008)
idea that virtual experiences have existed since ancient times propelled by people’s
imagination and fantasies (religious texts, novels and paintings are examples of
representations of virtual worlds). This rather broad definition of ‘virtual tourism’
does not want to deny the role of technology-based devices in providing virtual
experiences. Indeed, one cannot deny that the development of technology is
increasingly facilitating the possibility of experiencing immersive environments in
which human senses (e.g. vision, taste, smell, etc.) are stimulated. However, our
definition contemplates the idea that forms of travel that do not involve the physical
movement of the body can also be propelled by human fantasy and imagination
without the use of technological devices.
Also, in this paper the word ‘real’ is not employed to indicate non-virtual
experiences as the virtual/real dichotomy is ontologically problematic. Notwith-
standing the conceptual issues concerning what is reality, to label virtual
experiences as non-real and non-virtual experiences as real would be misleading.
Indeed, what is real and not-real cannot be defined based on the corporeality of the
experience. Considering that perceptions play an important role in defining what is
real and non-real, virtual experiences can be considered as ‘real’ if perceived as
such by an individual. Therefore, to avoid banal oversimplifications, we will employ
the term ‘non-virtual’ to indicate physical patterns of mobilities as opposed to non-
corporeal virtual tourism.
Another misconception would be that of considering virtual tourist experiences
as ‘mirrors’ of corporeal experiences. Indeed, to minimise virtuality to a ‘mirror’ of
corporeal experience can be misleading as virtual reality may only be based on
some features of corporeal reality (see augmented reality). Hyperreality not only
(re)produces ‘facsimile’ scenarios but also ‘fac-different’ realities (Eco 1986). In
this respect, virtual tourism acts as a catalyst for both the (re)production of non-
virtual tourist destinations and the (re)production of tourist spaces and experiences
that do not have a referent or original in the non-virtual world.
Virtual tourism re-conceptualises the idea of space. Notwithstanding astron-
omers’ and cosmologists’ debates concerning the finite or infinite nature of space
(see Levin et al. 1998), virtual tourist spaces can be considered as infinite as
everybody can create digital or non-digital tourist spaces. For example, in Second
Life multiple (and potentially infinite) versions of historical and natural sites, such
as Paris and Las Vegas, exist as all netizens can (re)produce their own tourist
destinations. From this perspective, hyperreality should be regarded as an
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expression of pure capitalism and its related excessive consumption patterns as it
fulfils human desire to have, produce, and consume ‘more’ (Eco 1986).
Virtual tourism not only problematizes the spatial nature of the tourism
experience. It also challenges its temporal dimension as it contests the traditional
idea that tourism is a temporal and temporary escape from work and the mundane
routines of everyday life. People’s temporary virtual escapes can be multiple even
during one single day or hour. Overall, virtual tourism challenges the traditional
dichotomies between home and tourism and/or work and leisure. Indeed, virtuality
leads to conceptualize work, leisure and tourism as one whole ‘hybrid’ dimension in
which individuals are allowed to escape from one experience to another anytime
they want it. Adding to Umberto Eco’s idea that human attitude is often ‘past-izing’
(p. 9) events with nostalgic eyes, hyperreality allows individuals to consume both
‘past-izing’ and ‘future-izing’ re-presentations of tourist realities.
2.2 Virtual tourism: issues and opportunities
Previous studies on virtual tourism (Dewailly 1999; Hobson and Williams 1995;
Williams and Hobson 1995) have highlighted the implications of virtual reality for
the future development of the tourism industry. Dewailly (1999), for example,
argues that combined forms of virtual and non-virtual tourism may lead to more
sustainable forms of mass tourism as travelling without the body may reduce the
impacts of corporeal presence. This may be particularly appealing within a
discourse of heritage preservation, especially with regard to tangible heritage. As
tourists’ consumption of heritage is based on the meanings people associate to it
through an active and subjectively laden process (Nuryanti 1996), do we need
physical presence for the creation and sharing of these meanings? However, the
non-presence of tourist ‘bodies’ in a destination could also lead to unsustainable
practices from an economic perspective. Not travelling to a tourist destination can
be detrimental for those communities that rely on tourists’ money for their
existence. It is also true that tourists do not need to be in situ to spend money. In
Second Life, many virtual spaces and services are chargeable and generate revenue
of millions annually without tourists’ corporeal mobility (Mitchell 2011).
Within this complex scenario, Dewailly (1999, p. 51) poses an interesting
question concerning the development of virtual tourism: ‘Are we then heading
towards a dual tourism, where the ‘wealthy’ (in terms of both time and money) are
offered the opportunity of using the virtual to refine their choice, before going to the
field to experience it, while the poor have to be satisfied with just the virtual?’. The
possibility of widening the gap between the rich and the poor through virtual
tourism should not be underestimated. Yet, it is also true that virtual tourism
‘democratizes’ the possibility of travelling as it may lead to more accessible
experiences for certain groups, such as the diversely abled. Travelling without the
body can be easier and less frustrating for a paraplegic, especially if we take into
account that at the moment many heritage and natural sites worldwide are not easily
accessible. In this respect, Hobson and Williams (1995, p. 133) claim that ‘VR
[virtual reality] could offer alternatives for those who are disabled but who want a
tourism experience’.
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From a different angle, virtual and corporeal tourism should not be regarded as
exclusive phenomena. Rather, it may be argued that virtual tourism can
complement, instead of replace, corporeal patterns of mobility. As Dewailly
(1999, p. 41) points out, ‘virtual reality seems to promote tourism, rather than
discourage it’. The idea that a combination of both virtual and non-virtual tourism
may lead to more sustainable practices should be contemplated. Virtual journeys,
for example, may be used to educate the public to destinations’ different cultural
practices. Also, travels in virtual realities could be used to experience fragile parts
of the destination while physical mobility could be employed for less disruptive
travel patterns. Among the various issues concerning the development of virtual
tourism, it also needs to take into account how authentic tourists would perceive
forms of travel without the body.
2.3 Virtual tourism and authenticity
The quest for authenticity, almost an obsession for tourists, has been widely
documented in the tourism literature. Indeed, the term ‘authenticity’ has been
studied and explored since the 1970s from so many different perspectives that some
commentators have questioned the meaning of this term. Seminal work on the topic
conducted by MacCannell (1976), Cohen (1988), and Wang (1999) has dissected the
role of authenticity in the tourism experience. MacCannell, for example, claims that
tourists (mainly modern Western tourists) seek authentic experience when they
travel. However, most of the times tourists experience contrived experiences,
namely staged representations of events and cultures fabricated by the tourism
industry to accommodate desires and expectations (MacCannell 1976; Pearce and
Moscardo 1986). Authenticity is a problematic term as it involves politically
charged discussions concerning the ‘Other’ and socially-constructed representations
of past events and cultures, which are often informed by colonial and postcolonial
discourses (Tucker 2009). Importantly, it has been highly recognised that the nature
of authentic experiences cannot be regarded as objective as tourists’ perceptions of
authenticity are the result of negotiated experiences between tourist selves and
toured objects (Wang 2007). Although some scholars have questioned the
importance of authenticity for tourists (Boorstin 1964; McKercher 1993), the
interest and subsequent body of knowledge on authenticity has grown substantially
within tourism studies in the last 20 years.
Interestingly, the bodily dimension of authenticity has been implicitly assumed
by tourism scholars as the corporeal interaction between tourists and toured objects
(objective and constructive authenticity) or tourist activities (existential authentic-
ity; see Wang 1999) is often assumed. In discussing the notion of existential
authenticity, Wang (1999) refers to the notion of ‘intra-personal authenticity’ to
describe the corporeal aspect of authenticity. More specifically, Wang’s (1999)
intra-personal authenticity involves a physical dimension that only bodily experi-
ences can produce. Indirectly, the visual dimension of authenticity has also been
reiterated within the tourism literature. Building on Urry’s (1990) concept of ‘tourist
gaze’, tourists’ experiences in general, and of authenticity in particular, have been
traditionally based on tourists’ desires to ‘gaze upon’ the toured objects.
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Despite this, the multi-sensorial bodily experience of authenticity has been
partially overlooked. In their study of tourists’ and residents’ perceptions of
authenticity in Sydney’s Little Italy, Mura and Lovelock (2009) identify several
critical components that may trigger perceptions of authenticity, such as architecture
(visual aspect), food (sense of taste and smell) and music (hearing). This suggests
that perceptions of authenticity may be activated by experiences that involve all the
different senses of the body. Indeed, the visual dimension is important in the
experience of authenticity; yet, other senses, such as taste and smell, are equally
Without denying the importance of the body in tourism experiences (Veijola and
Jokinen 1994), the question arises as to whether the same multi-sensorial experience
can be reproduced and consumed by the tourists without their corporeal selves.
Although there are still limitations in the technology simulating virtual experiences,
there exist gadgets capable of providing multi-sensorial virtual experiences. Digital
scent technology, for example, focuses on the reproduction of olfactory experiences
in the virtual environment through olfactometres, such as the ‘Nasal Ranger’.
Similarly, digital taste simulators, such as the ‘Digital Taste Interface’, allow users
to experience simulated taste sensations. Overall, the body still seems to be the most
advanced ‘machine’ to stimulate our senses; yet, recent technological developments
have enhanced virtual sensorial experiences. Due to financial constraints, this paper
cannot be focused on tourists’ multi-sensorial digital experiences as the machines
mentioned above are not available to consumers yet and, if available, are too
expensive to be purchased. Despite this, it needs to be remembered that both mono-
sensorial (based on the visual aspect) and multi-sensorial (based on the stimulation
of several senses) perceptions of authenticity in virtual tourism destinations are still
3 Methodology
A qualitative approach, driven by an interpretivist paradigm, was selected to
conduct this study due to the complexity and multifaceted aspects of virtual
experiences. Bamberger (2000) and also Rao and Woolcock (2004) suggest that to
understand development issues adequately (and to offer meaningful policy
recommendations) it is necessary to obtain context-specific ‘‘depth’’ through
qualitative approaches. Besides the researchers’ ontological and epistemological
beliefs, virtual tourism is a concept that has not been studied in detail by tourism
scholars. As such, it has many unexplored aspects that only qualitative research can
unveil. Moreover, Jennings (2010) believes that qualitative approaches are more
appropriate than quantitative methods for an in-depth understanding of tourist
The participants of this study were tourism students (specializing in tourism,
hospitality, recreation and event management) from a private university in
Malaysia. Despite the criticism raised by scholars on students’ involvement in
research projects (see Clark and McCann 2005), the researchers believe in the
importance of exploring this target market’s perceptions. Students can be regarded
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as potential tourists. Moreover, as tourism students will be the leaders, adminis-
trators, marketers and managers of future tourism developments in Malaysia and
overseas, it was regarded as important to understand their perceptions of
authenticity and whether virtual tourism was conceived as a possible tool to
achieve alternative forms of mobility.
The students participating in the study, who are from Bangladesh, China,
Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Taiwan, and Vietnam, provide
a multicultural and interesting insight into the topic under investigation. All
participants attended tourism-related courses and have a basic understanding of
matters related to authenticity and virtual tourism. One of the researchers conducted
a class on authenticity, which covered basic notions and theories about this topic, and
a class on virtual tourism, which gave students an overview of the different forms of
virtual tourism (as discussed earlier in Sect. 2). Participants were asked to express
their views about their experiences and perceptions in different virtual worlds, such
as Second Life. The students were selected from a group of people who had never
experienced virtual worlds or virtual reality through the most recent gear available in
the market (e.g. the Oculus Rift) before the interviews. The students were approached
after they replied to an invitation posted on Facebook by the researchers.
In-depth, online, semi-structured interviews via online tools were the data
collection methods selected to explore perceptions of the authenticity of virtual
tourism. There were two reasons behind this choice. First, online interviews reduce
participants’ vulnerability and decrease the tension related to the relationship of
power between instructors and students (although the interviewer was not the main
lecturer). Although Shapka et al. (2016) believe that online interviews require
longer time and reduce the depth of the empirical materials, Markham (2005) finds
this approach as crucial in breaking barriers between interviewer and participants.
Indeed, some of the participants reported to be more comfortable during the online
interviews rather than in face-to-face interactions. Second, online interviews were
perceived by the participants as part of virtual communication experiences as virtual
tourists interact via online textual or vocal chats in virtual worlds.
During the recruitment process, the researchers provided an overview of the aims
of the project and answered all the questions students had about their involvement.
The interviewers followed ethical guidelines for online interviews, such as the
guarantee of anonymity and the provision of online and offline consent forms, as
suggested by Markham (2005). Before the interviews, it was emphasized that
students’ participation was entirely voluntary. Also, during this stage the researchers
reiterated that non-participation (or withdrawal from the study after accepting to
participate) would have not led to any disadvantage for them. An information sheet
was circulated among the students and those who agreed to participate in the study
were asked to sign a consent form (or acknowledge their participation online). The
participants were assured that pseudonyms would have been assigned to guarantee
anonymity and confidentiality. A total of twenty students were interviewed in the
A list of questions was designed before the interviews and follow-up questions
were asked during the interviews to obtain rich data. These questions tried to
explore the notion of mobility in tourism, the barriers to travel (such as financial
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issues, visa, disability, etc.), the future of tourism, and the authenticity of virtual and
corporeal tourism. Each online interview lasted 60–90 min. Transcribing was not
required since the interviews were text-based. The empirical data collection
continued until theoretical saturation was achieved (Jennings 2010).
The analysis of the empirical materials started after conducting the first
interview. Each interview was read immediately after the interview by the main
researcher and by the interviewers, who started to reflect upon the responses
obtained. Codes and theme were generated progressively. This process continued
until theoretical saturation was achieved, as Lofland and Lofland (1994) suggest.
More specifically, the phases of thematic analysis suggested by Braun and Clarke
(2006) were followed. First, the empirical material was read several times to
identify initial codes and to allow researchers to familiarize themselves with the
data. Second, related codes were grouped to identify emergent themes. Third, the
themes were named and reviewed by the researchers. Finally, the themes were
discussed in relation to the existing literature on the topic and the research questions
of the study.
4 Findings
4.1 An overview of participants’ virtual and non-virtual experiences
In the first part of the interview, the respondents were asked to describe the usual
activities and routines carried out in their everyday lives. The empirical material
highlights that all the participants’ mundane experiences are a combination of both
virtual and non-virtual experiences:
As for nowI’m studyingso my daily routine will be like classes,
assignments, movies/drama, then Facebook(Karen, 21 Malaysia)
[during my free time] I usually go online or hang out with my friends. The
sites I usually go to are Facebook, Tumblr, or watch drama and
moviesYouTube too (Ann, 21 Malaysia)
Usually [] I would go out with friends, stay home, social media[in the
virtual environment I do] a lot, because nowadays a lot of online games are
actually linked with social media like Facebook so sometimesI need a
Facebook account in order to play the gamesother than that I also like
Instagram, Youtube(Andrea, 23 Malaysia)
I love playing online games (e.g. World of Warcraft) and I like to eat!! I spend
most of my time in my room or in front of my laptop (like a nerd hehe) (Julia,
22 Indonesia).
The excerpts from the interviews highlight that despite the participation in non-
digital virtual activities (e.g. reading books and watching dramas on TV) many of
the social activities the interviewees participate in during their leisure time are
online, mainly in digital virtual social spaces. More specifically, the most common
activities include social interactions on Facebook, Instagram and Youtube, in which
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conversations are held, friends are met, new people are approached and games are
played with other netizens.
However, the responses form the interviews also shed light on the level of
immersion of these virtual experiences. The respondents refer to activities with very
low sensorial immersion as technological gear capable of more immersive
experiences is still not available to the wider public. In this respect, the empirical
material shows that while the majority of participants seemed to be relatively
knowledgeable about virtual tourism, none of them has ever experienced very
immersive forms of virtual reality or virtual tourism (e.g. by using the ‘Oculus Rift’
or more advanced gear present in some laboratories worldwide). As it will be
discussed in the following paragraph, respondents’ lack of complex sensorial virtual
experiences plays an important role in affecting their perceptions of authenticity
concerning virtual tourism.
4.2 Virtual tourism and authenticity
When asked to discuss the perceived differences between virtual and non-virtual
experiences, the respondents clearly stated to privilege the latter due to the lack of
corporeal and sensorial stimulation of the former:
actual games [non-virtual experiences]it’s funlike paintballonline
gamesit’s fun but a long period of time can be stressful to the eyesI
think I like when I can actually play myselfactually me running around and
stuffit’s tiring but worth the experience (Joey, 22 Maldives)
[I like more non-virtual experiences because of] physical contactcan talk
about anything we wantin computer game cannotI believe no matter how
advanced technology is it will not be able to be compared to the actual game
of football[It will miss] physical contact, the possibility to talk to other
playersin computer games we cannot do thisthere is no touching
(Josephine, 28 Maldives).
The participants were also asked to express their ideas about their perceptions of
authenticity of virtual tourism experiences:
Virtual tourism is very very close to the real productsbut it’s not 100 %
authenticit lacks the sensorial experience (Sam, 24 Maldives)
I cannot get to feel the atmosphere, I don’t get to eatall this in the virtual
environment is unavailable (Karla, 21 Malaysia)
I want to go there and feel the place fullyThe weatherListen to the people
passing by me as I walkThose little details are very important, that makes
everything real (Ann, 21 Malaysia).
As the actual technology does not allow people to have a full sensorial
stimulation in the virtual environment, virtual tourism is perceived as ‘less
authentic’ than corporeal mobility due to the impossibility of ‘feeling’, ‘smelling’
and ‘tasting’ in the experience.
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Also, the corporeal experience allows them to obtain tangible signs of the tourism
experience, which are important in the recollection phase during the post-tourism
[referring to corporeal tourism] I like to take pictures to show on
Facebookjust wanna show all my friendsI just like the feeling when
they say ‘‘omg!! The place is so nice’hahaahahah’’I am so envious u can
go to those places’other reasonit is part of my record or diary on
Facebookit helps me memorizewhen I review my photos I can remember
the timeand feel I am there a second time throughout my memoryI like
the feelingit brings me back to the travel situationevery time I remember,
it makes my memory strong, and can make me feel that those things seem just
happened yesterday (Karen, 21 Taiwan).
However, the responses show that virtual tourism plays an important role in
encouraging corporeal mobility as the interviewees admitted that some of their
fantasies and desires about tourist destinations arose after their virtual journeys. One
of the respondents, for example, pointed out that her desire to visit the Vatican City
was triggered by her previous virtual trips to this destination. Likewise, the same
point was elaborated by other participants:
The real experience is only when u really go there and experience itbut it
[virtual tourism] really creates a kind of wanting feeling to really experience it
(Sharif, 24 Maldives)
[virtual tourism] makes me more wanna go there see and feel for myself
(Nick, 21 Nepal).
Moreover, all the participants acknowledged the importance of digital virtual
tourism as technological improvements may be able to provide more sophisticated
sensorial experiences in the near future, which in turn may lead to more complex
and ‘authentic’ virtual tourist experiences. In this respect, six of the respondents do
not exclude the possibility that in the future virtual tourism may become as
‘authentic’ as non-virtual tourism. Despite this, all the respondents pointed out that
virtual tourism could only complement, rather than replace, corporeal travel as the
latter is perceived as essential to experience authenticity.
5 Discussion
While the respondents did not deny that authenticity can also be experienced in
virtual environments, they regarded virtual travel as less authentic than corporeal
mobility. In this regard, one of the main points emerging from the empirical
material is that the physical presence of the body was perceived by the participants
as important to experience authenticity. Indeed, the findings of this study support
Veijola and Jokinen (1994) on the importance of the tourist body in the provision of
meaningful tourism experiences. As such, the responses obtained from the
interviews seem to privilege Wang’s (1999) theorisations of authenticity. In
discussing the notion of ‘existential authenticity’, Wang (1999) refers to two
‘Authentic but not too much’: exploring perceptions of
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dimensions of authenticity, namely intra-personal and inter-personal. Importantly,
Wang’s (1999, p. 362) intra-personal authenticity reasserts the importance of the
body and bodily feelings to experience personal authenticity due to the fact that ‘In
tourism, sensual pleasures, feelings, and other bodily impulses are to a relatively
large extent released and consumed and the bodily desires (for natural amenities,
sexual freedom, and spontaneity) are gratified intensively’. Moreover, Wang (1999)
also discusses the importance of inter-personal relationships in the experience of
authenticity. From this perspective, authenticity cannot transcend the physical and
emotional bonds created by physical travel.
The presence of the body in situ was perceived by the participants as important to
provide complex sensorial experiences. Indeed, the participants indicated that an
authentic tourism experience involves sightseeing, trying new food and interacting
with other bodies. The transcripts from the interviews seem to support Mura and
Lovelock (2009), who point out that perceptions of authenticity can be influenced by
different elements, such as architecture, food, music and fragrances. The respondents
did not deny that in the future virtual experiences could become more complex.
However, as the virtual experiences and technological gadgets available to the public
at the moment only provide the stimulation of two senses, namely sight and hearing,
the participants perceived virtual tourism as incapable of offering more realistic
multisensorial experiences (e.g. experiences involving taste and smell). Within this
scenario, while the tourism literature has placed much emphasis on the visual aspect
of tourist experiences (see Urry 1990), this study highlights that tourism experiences
not only are opportunities for tourists to gaze upon the toured objects. Rather,
travelling includes activities in which tourists consume places using all their senses.
Some of the participants also mentioned that even when technology will provide
complex sensorial experiences they will still prefer corporal travel over virtual
forms of tourism. This preference was supported by the idea that tourism is not just
experiencing people and toured objects at the destination. Rather, the participants
referred to tourism as an experience that triggers emotions before and after
travelling to the destination. Some of the interviewees, for example, emphasised the
importance of physical travel to collect tangible evidence of the trip, such as photos
and souvenirs, and ‘consume’ them during the recollection stage at home. Similarly,
other respondents described their excitement and anxieties before travelling to a
destination as well as the rituals performed (e.g. preparing the baggage) in
preparation of the trip. Importantly, some responses seem to suggest that not only
are perceptions of authenticity triggered by experiences at the destination, as
assumed by much tourism literature on authenticity. Rather, authenticity is a
complex experience that is activated and influenced by tourists’ experiences and
emotions before, during and after the trip.
6 Conclusion
As non-corporeal forms of mobility are progressively becoming more common in
people’s leisure and tourist experiences, more information is needed about tourists’
perceptions of authenticity in virtual tourism environments. By focusing on a group
P. Mura et al.
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of tourism students in Malaysia, the work on which this paper is based provides an
insight into perceptions of virtual tourism and authenticity. More specifically, this
article tries to answer the following questions: What is the relationship between
virtuality and authenticity? Is virtual tourism a possible way to achieve forms of
tourism perceived as authentic? How are tourists’ perceptions of authenticity
influenced by non-corporeal travel patterns? Are tourists ready to replace or
combine their corporeal travels with virtual forms of tourism? What is the
relationship between virtual and non-virtual tourist experiences?
Overall, the findings of this study show that none of the respondents would like to
replace corporeal forms of tourism with virtual mobilities. In this regard, the
participants conceived corporeal and sensorial involvements (absent in virtual
spaces) as crucial components to experience authenticity in the tourism experience.
Virtual tourism was only partially perceived as ‘authentic’; yet, the participants
were open about the possibility of combining (rather than replacing) virtual and
non-virtual forms of tourism. This suggests that virtual and non-virtual tourism are
related and should not be regarded as exclusive categories.
The results of this study have important implications for both tourism scholars
and industry practitioners. For the body of knowledge, the contribution of this study
is twofold. First, this paper advances our understanding concerning the notion of
virtual tourism. More specifically, this work refers to virtual tourism as travelling in
virtual digital worlds (e.g. travelling in Second Life or with the support of
technological tools like the Oculus Rift); yet, it also acknowledges that non-digital
mental escapes (e.g. reading a book, travelling in ontologically parallel worlds
portrayed in ancient paintings and literary texts) could be considered as virtual
mobilities. Indeed, if one conceives virtual tourism as a way of travelling without
the body, there is no reason for considering digitally induced escapes as ‘more
virtual’ than travelling with the mind while watching a movie or reading a book. As
such, this study attempts to broaden the notion of virtual tourism as previous studies
tend to embrace more restrictive definitions of virtual tourism. In this respect, this
paper is a call for more research capable to unveil whether differences occur
between digital (e.g. Second Life, Facebook) and non-digital virtual experiences.
Also, future studies should cast additional light on tourists’ digital virtual
experiences as the responses show that digital mobilities and experiences are
becoming very common during young people’s leisure and tourist times.
Second, this study contributes to the body of knowledge as it provides additional
information on the relationship between virtual tourism and authenticity. In this
respect, the results highlight that the two concepts are related. Therefore, the
findings should encourage more research on the relationship between virtuality and
authenticity as this has not received much attention by scholars.
Besides the above mentioned theoretical implications, the findings of this study
also provide important information for tourism practitioners. As participants
indicated that many of their leisure and tourist experiences were online escapes,
which in some cases were important for encouraging future corporeal mobility,
marketers should consolidate their presence in virtual spaces. One way of attracting
potential customers, for example, could be the creation of interactive tourist digital
spaces in which destinations and tourist products could be actively promoted by
‘Authentic but not too much’: exploring perceptions of
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virtual guides or other virtual tourists. Moreover, tourism managers should take into
consideration that although the participants of this study would not replace their
corporeal journeys with virtual travels they are still exposed to (and familiar with)
digital experiences from young age. Therefore, in order to make tourism products
more appealing to the young tourist market, tourism practitioners may create new
products, or develop already-existing attractions, that have both virtual (digital and
non-digital) and non-virtual elements, a characteristic already existing in augmented
reality experiences. The combination of both virtual and non-virtual elements may
be of help to enhance the authenticity of the tourism experience. For example, future
technological devices could be used by tourists to virtually touch or feel sensitive
toured objects, which would enhance tourists’ perceptions of authenticity and at the
same time protect sensitive tourist sites.
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‘Authentic but not too much’: exploring perceptions of
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... There is no general consensus on the definition of virtual tourism (Mura et al., 2017). Osman et al. (2009) emphasized digital tools when describing virtual tourism as a simulated experience of the real world that consists of video images. ...
... Osman et al. (2009) emphasized digital tools when describing virtual tourism as a simulated experience of the real world that consists of video images. In addition, given that virtual tourism may include imaginative experiences unrelated to visualization technologies, some scholars have adopted a broader definition, namely, one that does not involve physical movement and that can be propelled by imagination beyond technology (Mura et al., 2017). In the context of COVID-19, virtual tourism products offered by destinations in China enable people to travel through electronic devices without physically arriving at the destinations. ...
... Although information technology application in tourism has given rise to virtual tourism since the 1990s, virtual tourism was initially regarded as a marketing tool rather than a completely independent entertainment activity (Huang et al., 2013;Hobson and Williams, 1995;Rainoldi et al., 2018). With the widespread use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology in tourism, people's multisensory experiences in the virtual world have been further stimulated (Loureiro et al., 2020;Mura et al., 2017). In previous studies, technological factors related to virtual experience (i.e. ...
Purpose: Virtual tourism has become popular in recent years. However, there is still a research gap on virtual tourist motivation. This study aims to identify virtual tourist motivation and explore the relationship between virtual tourism and on-site tourism. Design/methodology/approach: This research identifies virtual tourist motivation based on Means-end chain (MEC) theory. Laddering interviews with 32 respondents were conducted to construct a hierarchical value map. Additionally, a motivation analysis of virtual tourism and on-site tourism was developed based on a review of the relevant literature. Findings: This exploratory study revealed 12 attributes, 9 results and 4 values that virtual tourists wish to achieve and identified 5 means-end chains where self-satisfaction is the most important value-led motivation. Compared with on-site tourism motivations, virtual tourism shows possibilities of replacing, complementing and extending on-site tourism under certain circumstances. However, it significantly depends on whether tourists are attracted by the technical characteristics, security and experience conditions of virtual tourism. Originality/value: This study contributes to understanding virtual tourist motivation and offers motivation-based insights into the relationship between virtual and on-site tourism. Managerial implications on how to attract potential online tourists are also provided.
... Through these efforts, the travel and tourism industries hope they can instill an image of a tourist attraction or destination or event in consumers' minds, in hope that consumers will become or continue to be aware of the tourist attraction or destination or event, and will visit it when the situation is more conducive than that in the pandemic. During the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, immersive technology has become a breakthrough and been increasingly permeating the tourism industry worldwide -whether it has been used commercially or non-commercially [6]. ...
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This study aimed to examine the impact of immersive experiences on Gen-Z in Indonesia and their repurchase intention of virtual heritage tours. Based on a recent suggestion to explore the effects of Mixed Reality on visitor experience, an e-questionnaire was distributed digitally through platforms such as WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. Convenience sampling method was used to collect data from 128 respondents. The findings indicated that Gen-Z in Indonesia expressed an intention to repurchase virtual heritage tours after experiencing at least one high-quality tour. The quality of the virtual heritage tour was determined by its ability to create a virtual environment that mimics a real environment and stimulates users' physical senses, as well as the quality of its content. These two factors were found to be the most significant indicators of a successful virtual heritage tour. The findings have practical implications for heritage management, including the use of immersive technology as an alternative way for users to experience heritage sites and to mitigate overtourism. Additionally, this study contributes to the fields of Information and Communication Technology and Tourism, specifically virtual tours and Indonesia. Further research may investigate other factors that may influence Gen-Z's repurchase intention of virtual heritage tours.
... Although these types of tourism are still in the infant stages, they could be exclusive to well-established tourism practitioners. Some of the new technology and infrastructure may be out of reach to local tourism practitioners who are unfamiliar with the hi-technological requirements of virtual tourism and they may end up being excluded from the business by the rich tourism business companies (Lu et al., 2022;Mura et al., 2017). It is clear from this study that a tourism management strategy has been developed to allow for inclusive local community participation despite the pandemic. ...
Tourism in South Africa and Zimbabwe grew exponentially before the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020. Among other things, the sector has been battling disease outbreaks, political instability and, in recent years, the threat of extreme weather events attributed to climate change. Despite these challenges, the sector has made modest contributions to the lives and livelihoods of many rural and urban popula�tions, offering hope to millions of people suffering from poverty and inequality. The sector’s growth rate has always surpassed national economic growth rates. Tourism also provides revenue for threatened natural resources and heritage. Regardless of these successes and achievements, the sector was ill-prepared for the catastrophic outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, which forced border closures disrupting the sector’s supply and demand for destinations. This book emerges from the desire to examine and document the impact, recovery and resilience of the tourism industry from COVID-19. The book takes learnings from close to 45 leading academics across the length and breadth of South Africa and Zimbabwe’s Higher Education system. These leading and top-ranked authors provide a comprehensive picture of the sector during and post the height of COVID-19 infections. Diverse as the num�ber of authors, the book covers a diversity of topics from tourism sectors and sub�sectors, and it is a must-have for tourism practitioners and role players as it provides a comprehensive picture of the tourism sector from a COVID-19 perspective. This is the frst comprehensive compilation on a region to date
Equal distribution of benefits in tourism has always been a complicated matter, compounded by the fact that communities are never homogenous and tourism communities vary in type. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of tourism, including how tourism’s benefits are perceived and distributed. The pandemic has shifted the focus in tourism from ensuring maximum revenues and high tourist arrivals to managing negative impacts associated with over-tourism and relooking at the notion of quality. Most literature on income distribution and sustainable development need to be understood holistically. This study conducted a secondary data analysis of the literature on tourism between 2020 and 2021. It used document analysis of survey reports from South Africa’s National Department of Tourism, Statistics SA, and other relevant sources. It explored how researchers perceive COVID-19 and equal distribution of tourism benefits, considering sustainability perspectives. The study revealed that the tourism sector’s resilience, adaptivity, flexibility, collaboration and co-creation are the premise for survival. It recommends that the private sector utilise different resources to help local communities address poverty, which must be understood as a multi-dimensional problem and not just an economic one.KeywordsTourismEqual distributionSustainable tourismLocal communityCOVID-19
The emergence of digital technology has led researchers, businesses, and entrepreneurs to reflect more on the potential value that Augmented Reality (AR) can play in tourism. Although the relationship between authenticity and travel intention has been examined previously, little is known about how authenticity influences tourist travel intention after an AR experience. To fill this research gap, the current study constructs a theoretical model from narrative transportation theory. The results show that narrative transportation is a mechanism that bridges object-based authenticity and existential authenticity with travel intention. This study provides valuable theoretical insights into the antecedents and consequences of narrative transport while enriching the understanding of AR. Meaningful practical insights are offered to destination authorities.
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Objective This study explores the psychological recovery effects of virtual tourism on individuals. Methods Relevant research usually tends to examine the psychological recovery effects through traditional media entailing a lesser immersive experience. Few studies focus on the psychological recovery effects of virtual tourism, and even fewer on exploring response differences depending on different landscape types. Based on a series of empirical tests and electroencephalogram (EEG) data, this study investigates the impacts of a more immersive 3D virtual tourism with real scenes on people’s relaxation (Pm), concentration (Pa), and positive and negative emotions (PA and NA). Additionally, it clarifies the differences in the psychological recovery effects of four landscape types on the abovementioned attributes. Conclusions The psychological recovery effects did vary according to the type of tourist attractions. There were a few differences based on gender. For instance, men’s relaxation level changed significantly after touring lake-oriented virtual tourist attraction. Individual differences in recovery were also observed. Implications These findings contribute to our knowledge about environmental restoration and its role in alleviating people’s anxiety, especially during situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.
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This chapter outlines some of the ways and means by which inte- grating qualitative and quantitative approaches in development research and program evaluation can help yield insights that neither approach would produce on its own. In assessing the impact of development programs and policies, it is important to recognize that the quantitative methods emphasized in this tool kit, while enormously useful, nonetheless have some important limitations and that some of these can be overcome by incorporating comple- mentary qualitative approaches. An examination of the strengths and weakness of orthodox stand-alone quantitative (and qualita- tive) approaches is followed by a basic framework for integrating different approaches, based on distinguishing between data and the methods used to collect them. Some practical examples of "mixed- method" approaches to program evaluation are then given, and some conclusions drawn.
This study compared data quantity and quality of interviews conducted with adolescents in a face-to-face setting versus online. Thirty participants in grades 10 through 12 participated in semi-structured interviews either through instant messaging or in-person. Results indicated that interviews conducted online produced fewer words and took longer to complete, and involved more rapport-building, however, there were no mean differences in the level of self-disclosure and the formality of the interviews, nor in the number and kind of themes that emerged or in the depth to which the themes were discussed. The findings suggest that despite taking longer and producing fewer words, data quality is unaffected by the mode of data collection (online versus face-to-face).
While corporeal patterns of mobility continue to increase, virtual tourism has become a widespread social practice in contemporary society. Despite this, tourists' experiences in virtual tourist destinations remain relatively unexplored. This is particularly true if Iranian women's gendered identities and patterns of behaviour in virtual tourist destinations are referred to. In order to fill this gap, this paper explores Iranian female tourists' patterns of behaviour travelling in Second Life. Driven by an interpretivist approach, this study employs virtual ethnography, also known as netnography. The findings show that in virtual tourist spaces the participants reject ‘subordinated’ gender-based stereotypes concerning Muslim women's bodily representations in Iran. However, their gendered performances also accept other ‘subordinated’ stereotypical representations of femininity, mostly reiterated by the media in many Western societies. Overall, this paper provides a more in-depth understanding of Iranian women's tourist behaviour in virtual tourist destinations, a topic neglected by tourism academics.
From the Publisher: This in-depth review of current virtual reality technology and its applications provides a detailed analysis of the engineering, scientific and functional aspects of virtual reality systems and the fundamentals of VR modeling and programming. It also contains an exhaustive list of present and future VR applications in a number of diverse fields. Virtual Reality Technology is the first book to include a full chapter on force and tactile feedback and to discuss newer interface tools such as 3-D probes and cyberscopes. Supplemented with 23 color plates and more than 200 drawings and tables which illustrate the concepts described.
This article addresses the fragile and potentially problematic nature of the meeting of tourists and local ‘hosts’ by shifting the discussion away from the authentic/fake binary and focusing instead on emotion in the worldmaking tourism encounter. This is done through interrogation of one particular encounter which took place in Göreme, central Turkey, between a local woman, a German couple and me. The problematic nature of the encounter exposed the point that tourism encounters are not reducible to questions of discourse alone and that, if we are to understand tourism encounters more fully, it is necessary to examine closely their emotional and bodily dimensions. Moreover, it is argued that recognizing and acknowledging emotion, and particularly shame, presents the postcolonial potentialities of tourism and Tourism Studies in that the discomfort of shame can produce a positive disruption of the otherwise inherently colonial relationship between tourist and other. In turn, reflexive interrogation of my own discomfort prompts discussion of researchers' ability to know what is going on in the production of local worlds and, indeed, to be aware of their own often-powerful role in the worldmaking function of Tourism Studies.
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