Virtual Reality and Attitudes toward Tourism
Iis P. Tussyadiaha, Dan Wangb and Chenge (Helen) Jiab
aSchool of Hospitality Business Management
Carson College of Business
Washington State University Vancouver, USA
bSchool of Hotel & Tourism Management
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong
Recent developments in Virtual Reality (VR) technology present a tremendous opportunity for
the tourism industry. This research aims to better understand how the VR experience may
influence travel decision making by investigating spatial presence in VR environments and its
impact on attitudes toward tourism destinations. Based on a study involving virtual walkthrough
of tourism destinations with 202 participants, two dimensions of spatial presence were identified:
being somewhere other than the actual environment and self-location in a VR environment. The
analysis revealed that users’ attention allocation to VR environments contributed significantly to
spatial presence. It was also found that spatial presence positively affects post VR attitude change
toward tourism destinations, indicating the persuasiveness of VR. No significant differences
were found across VR stimuli (devices) and across prior visitation.
Keywords: virtual reality; spatial presence; attitude change; virtual tourism; non-travel.
Virtual reality (VR) is touted to be one of the important contemporary
technological developments to greatly impact the tourism industry.
While VR has been around since the late 1960s, recent developments in
VR platforms, devices, and hypermedia content production tools have
allowed for the technology to emerge from the shadows into the realm
of everyday experiences. The (potential) roles of VR in tourism
management and marketing have been discussed in tourism literature
(e.g., Cheong, 1995; Dewailly, 1999; Guttentag, 2010; Huang et al.,
2016; Williams & Hobson, 1995). VR has been suggested as a substitute
for travel and tourism products (i.e., a substitution for actual visitation)
(Cheong, 1995), making it beneficial for the management of protected
* Citation: Tussyadiah, I.P., Wang, D., & Jia, C.H. (2017). Virtual reality and attitudes
toward tourism destinations. In Schegg, R., & Stangl, B. (Eds.), Information and
Communication Technologies in Tourism 2017. Springer International Publishing.
areas, such as natural and cultural heritage sites (i.e., to limit the number
of tourists or restrict visitation), and, thus, a positive contributor to
sustainability (Dewailly, 1999). Recent innovations in VR offer
unbounded potential for mass virtual visitation to actual tourism
destinations. The availability of low cost VR devices and the abundance
of tourism-related VR content make it easier for people to experience
virtual tours of tourist cities and attractions. Studies also argue that VR
is a powerful tourism marketing tool (Huang, et al., 2016; Williams &
Hobson, 1995; Williams, 2006). It provides marketers opportunities to
offer more compelling imagery of tourism destinations to potential
tourists by giving them a sense of what it is like to be there, a “try before
you buy” experience.
As VR provides an environment in which users can retrieve information
via multi-sensory (e.g., visual, auditory and kinaesthetic) modalities,
users are able to perceive realistic representation of the environment it
portrays (Slater & Usoh, 1993). Consequently, the immersive nature of
the VR experience has been identified as a means to facilitate consumer
learning of products (Suh & Lee, 2005), increase brand recognition,
product recall, and memory of experiences (Kim & Biocca, 1997; Mania
& Chalmers, 2001), and generate positive attitude and behavioural
responses. Importantly, an immersive VR experience allows users to
perceive a sense of being in the virtual environment, a perception of
presence (Slater & Usoh, 1993; Steuer, 1992), which is key to the
effectiveness of persuasive VR content. Indeed, literature in VR has
focused on theorizing presence and conceptualizing its determinants,
correlates, covariates, and consequences in various contexts, such as in
education, healthcare, entertainment, retailing, etc. (e.g., Burke, 1996;
Mania & Chalmers, 2001; Steuer, 1992). However, these studies, as well
as VR studies in tourism context (e.g., Huang et al., 2016), mainly dealt
with simulated virtual worlds where resemblances to real places were
coincidental (e.g., virtual seminar room, 3D tourism attractions).
From a theoretical point of view, researching VR experience with actual
tourism destinations will provide: (1) a better understanding of presence
in VR experiences involving virtual depictions of real environments
where possible actions resemble actual consumption (e.g., sightseeing)
and (2) a conceptualization of the role of the VR experience in shaping
attitudes toward actual consumption (i.e., visitation). From a managerial
point of view, as destinations are faced with strategic decisions about
investment in different VR platforms and modalities, understanding how
travel consumers respond to various VR stimuli (i.e., attitudinal
consequences of “having been” to a destination) is of practical
importance. Therefore, the aim of this study is to investigate the
perceived spatial presence during a virtual walkthrough of a tourism
destination and how it influences users’ attitude toward the destination.
2 Theoretical Foundation
The discussion of the persuasiveness of VR experiences is centred on
presence theory. Presence is understood as the psychological state in
which media users feel lost or immersed in the mediated environment;
the degree to which users feel that they are somewhere other than the
actual environment (Slater & Usoh, 1993). As VR environments
facilitate sensory and motor engagement (e.g., moving head allows
changes in point of view, walking or haptic feedback enables navigation
in VR environment), they allow users to perceive vivid mental
representations of the mediated spaces (e.g., tourist cities) and, thus,
enhance the feeling of embodiment (Wirth et al., 2007). Slater, Usoh,
and Steed (1994) used a navigation metaphor of presence in virtual
environment, which includes the user’s sense of being there and the
locality of the virtual environment. Using the transportation metaphor,
Kim and Biocca (1997) operationalized presence as having two
dimensions: arrival (i.e., a feeling of being present in the mediated
environment) and departure (i.e., a feeling of separation from the
physical environment). Finally, Wirth et al. (2007) associated spatial
presence with two dimensions: self-location (i.e., the feeling of being
located in mediated environments) and, in most cases, perceived action
possibilities. Recent studies apply the aforementioned definitions of
presence in various contexts (e.g., Weibel, et al., 2015; Leonardis, 2014).
This study defines presence as the users’ perception of self-location in a
VR environment and separation from the actual environment.
Previous studies have identified various factors that contribute to spatial
presence, including those associated with the users. Spatial ability, which
is an individual’s ability to produce vivid spatial images in his/her mind,
has been suggested as an important factor influencing spatial presence.
For example, when presented with a blueprint of a building, individuals
with higher spatial ability will be able to imagine the structure of the
building easily. Wirth et al. (2007) argue that spatial ability may
contribute to the formation of spatial representation of the mediated
environment in VR experiences. That is, users with higher spatial visual
imagery may find it easier to imagine the VR environment and fill in
missing spatial information from their memory (Wirth et al., 2007).
Therefore, it can be suggested that users’ spatial ability contributes to the
feeling of presence in the VR environment.
H1: Spatial Ability has a positive effect on sense of Presence during the
Another important user factor contributing to presence is (user-
controlled) attention during the VR experience. In order for users to
interact with VR environments, they must allocate sufficient attentional
resources to objects and events within the VR environments (Bystrom,
Barfield, & Hendrix, 1999; Draper, Kaber, & Usher, 1998). Wirth et al.
(2007) suggest that only those who pay attention to the VR environment
will experience spatial presence. That is, a greater allocation of
attentional resources to the VR environment will bring about a higher
sense of presence (Bystrom, Barfield, & Hendrix, 1999; Weibel et al.,
2015); distractions to users’ attention to the VR environments will
diminish the feeling of presence (Draper, Kaber, & Usher, 1998).
H2: Attention Allocation has a positive effect on sense of Presence
during VR experience.
Research has shown that sense of presence in the VR environment has
positive consequences on user behaviour. Indeed, the key propositions
and findings in VR research suggest that an enhanced sense of reality
with VR generates positive effects on attitude, belief, and intention (Kim
& Biocca, 1997; Suh & Lee, 2005). For example, Klein (2003) identified
that (tele)presence positively influences consumer attitude towards
products advertised in computer-mediated environments. In the context
of tourism, Hyun and O’Keefe (2012) found that (tele)presence via web-
mediated information directly leads to positive virtual destination image.
Therefore, it can be suggested that a higher sense of presence in the VR
environment will result in positive attitude toward tourism destinations.
H3: Sense of Presence during the VR experience has a positive effect
on Post VR Attitude Change toward destination.
Literature has also explored the role of media affordance in facilitating
presence and its consequences. Wirth et al. (2007) suggest that users
respond to highly immersive technology with strong feelings of spatial
presence. VR environments that synchronously stimulate several sensory
channels (e.g., visual, auditory, haptic) are more likely to cause users to
feel that they are in the mediated environment (Wirth et al., 2007). For
example, Ruddle, Payne, and Jones (1999) identified differences
between users navigating VR environments using helmet-mounted
displays and those using desktop displays, in that the more natural
interaction with the helmet-mounted display results in more accurate
space orientation. Therefore, it can be suggested that different immersive
capabilities of VR devices (e.g., head-mounted Samsung Gear VR vs.
hand-held Google Cardboard) and the stimuli they presented (e.g., street
view vs. realistic video), which influence the nature of user interaction,
will result in different degrees of presence and, in turn, attitude change
H4: The sense of Presence during the VR experience will vary
according to different types of VR stimuli.
H5: The degree of Post VR Attitude Change will vary according to
different types of VR stimuli.
Users’ prior experience with tourism destinations (i.e., prior visitation)
plays a role in VR experience of the destinations. Memory of first-hand
experiences with the actual environment (i.e., prior knowledge of the
space) can serve as a reference in perceiving the mental representation
of the VR environment, which will influence the sense of spatial
presence during the VR experience. Therefore, it is expected that the
sense of presence and, consequently, attitude change toward tourism
destination after VR experience will vary between users who have visited
the destination and those who have not.
H6: The sense of Presence during the VR experience will vary
according to Prior Visitation to destination.
H7: The degree of Post VR Attitude Change will vary according to
Prior Visitation to destination.
A questionnaire was developed to test the hypothesized relationships
between Spatial Ability, Attention Allocation, Spatial Presence, and post
VR Attitude Change. In order to measure Spatial Presence, presence
scales from SUS questionnaire (Slater, Usoh, & Steed, 1994),
telepresence (Kim & Biocca, 1997), and MEC Spatial Presence
Questionnaire (MEC-SPQ; Vorderer et al., 2004) were included (a total
of 22 items). Spatial Ability (four items) and Attention Allocation (four
items) were measured using MEC-SPQ (Vorderer et al., 2004). These
were measured using a 5-point Likert-type scale with Strongly Disagree
– Strongly Agree anchored statements. The scale for Post VR Attitude
Change targeted perceived changes in liking, preference, and interest in
the destination (from 1 – “Much Weaker” to 5 – “Much Stronger”).
Recent studies have found that the younger the customers, the more
likely they are to be interested in VR (eMarketer, 2015; Global Web
Index, 2016). To represent the group of customers who are highly likely
to experience and be influenced by VR, undergraduate and graduate
students were invited to participate in the study. In order to ground this
research in the context of personal use of VR, existing VR applications
and personal VR devices were used. Participants with Apple iOS
smartphones were asked to download the Cardboard app and use Google
Cardboard VR viewer to visit Tokyo, Japan (i.e., street view stimuli).
Others were asked to use Samsung Gear VR (with a Samsung
smartphone) to experience Porto, Portugal (i.e., video stimuli). After the
VR experience, all participants were asked to complete the questionnaire
online. In order to test the hypotheses, data were analysed using factor
analysis and analysis of variance (ANOVA).
A total of 202 participants completed the questionnaire. The majority of
participants are between the ages of 18 and 24 (97%), female (80%), and
have a 4-Year University Degree (76%). Most participants (N = 136;
67%) used Google Cardboard, and most had never visited the destination
portrayed in the VR experience (N = 144; 71%).
Dimensions of Presence. Factor analysis was performed to identify the
dimensions of presence during the VR experience. As presented in Table
1, two dimensions were identified, each with four items, explaining 80%
of variance in the data. These factors were labelled as Departure and Self-
Location. The factor loadings of all items are higher than .80. Cronbach’s
alpha values for both factors are higher than .90, indicating internal
consistency of the factors. The first factor, Departure, reflects the state
of mind of respondents during the VR experience, whereby the sense of
being in the VR environment was stronger than being in the actual
environment. This is consistent with the concept of spatial presence as
“being there” (i.e., destination) as opposed to “being here” (i.e.,
experiment room) (Kim & Biocca, 1997; Slater, Usoh, & Steed, 1994).
Self-Location represents the sensing of presence and actions of self in
the VR environment, which is consistent with MEC-SPQ’s (Vorderer et
al., 2004) self-location scale. None of the items representing Locality
(Slater, Usoh, & Steed, 1994) or Possible Actions (Vorderer et al., 2004)
emerged as meaningful factors; items were eliminated due to cross-
loadings or low factor loadings.
Table 1. Dimensions of Presence
Factor 1: Departure
During the VR experience, the sense of being in
VR environment was stronger than being
During the VR experience, there were times when I
felt I was actually there.
During the VR experience, I felt the sense of being
During the VR experience, I often thought to
myself that I was actually there.
Factor 2: Self-Location
It seemed as though I actually took part in the
I felt like I was actually in the VR environment.
I felt as though I was physically present in the VR
It was as though my location had shifted into the
Factors Influencing Presence. Two-way, between-subjects ANOVAs
were performed to assess the effects of Attention Allocation and Spatial
Ability (as covariates), as well as Types of VR Stimuli (i.e., Google
Cardboard/Tokyo vs. Samsung Gear VR/Porto), Prior Visitation (visited
vs. never visited), and interaction between Types of VR Stimuli and Prior
Visitation on Departure and Self-Location. As illustrated in Table 2, the
results revealed the significant influence of Attention Allocation on
Departure (Effect Size = .288, p = .000; R2 = .319). However, the other
factors were not significant. It can be suggested that the higher the level
of attention devoted to the VR experience, the greater the extent of
perceived departure from the physical environment. Fig. 1 illustrates the
estimated marginal means of Departure with different Types of VR
Stimuli and Prior Visitation. Even though there are mean differences
between these groups (i.e., respondents using Samsung Gear VR
reporting higher presence, especially among those who had never visited
the destination), these differences are not statistically significant.
Table 2. Between-Subjects Effects on Departure
Square F Sig. Effect
Device X Prior Visitation
Fig. 1. Estimated Marginal Means of Departure
Note: Covariates are evaluated at: Attention Allocation = 3.575, Spatial Ability = 3.243
Table 3 presents the results of a two-way, between-subjects ANOVA to
identify the effects of Attention Allocation, Spatial Ability, Types of VR
Stimuli, and Prior Visitation on Self-Location. The results revealed the
significant influences of Attention Allocation on Self-Location (Effect
Size = .410, p = .000; R2 = .423). However, the other factors were not
significant. Similar to the other dimension of presence, it can be
suggested that when respondents are focusing their attention during the
VR experience, they are more likely to feel a stronger sense of locating
the self in the VR environment. Fig. 2 illustrates the estimated marginal
means of Self-Location with different Types of VR Stimuli and Prior
Visitation. It can be observed that among those who had never visited
the destination, the use of Samsung Gear VR yielded higher level of
GOOGLE CARDBOARD SAMSUNG GEAR VR
perceived self-location. However, the mean difference is not statistically
Table 3. Between-Subjects Effects on Self-Location
Square F Sig. Effect
Device X Prior Visitation
Fig. 2. Estimated Marginal Means of Self-Location
Note: Covariates are evaluated at: Attention Allocation = 3.575, Spatial Ability = 3.243
Presence Influence on Attitude Change. A two-way, between-subjects
ANOVA was also performed to test the influence of Departure and Self-
Location on post-VR Attitude Change toward a destination. The effects
of Types of VR Stimuli and Prior Visitation were also estimated (see
Table 4). Significant influences of Departure (Effect Size = .022, p =
.035) and Self-Location (Effect Size = .039, p = .006) were identified
(R2 = .184), even though the effect sizes are small. Other factors are not
significant. It can be suggested that spatial presence contributes to
positive attitude change toward tourism destinations. Fig. 3 presents the
estimated marginal means of Attitude Change with different Types of
VR Stimuli and Prior Visitation. It can be observed that among those
who have visited the destination, post VR attitude change was more
GOOGLE CARDBOARD SAMSUNG GEAR VR
prominent in those using Samsung Gear VR, especially among those
who had visited the destinations.
Table 4. Between-Subjects Effects on Post-VR Attitude Change
Square F Sig. Effect
Device X Prior Visitation
Fig. 3. Estimated Marginal Means of Post-VR Attitude Change
Note: Covariates are evaluated at: Departure = 3.063, Self-Location = 3.313
The technological drive for VR experiences, characterised by the
development of VR platforms and devices for convenient personal use,
indicates great potential for widespread consumption of VR tourism
content. Destination marketers and managers are faced with challenges
in making strategic investment decisions to leverage VR technology to
influence consumers’ travel decisions. This development also presents
research challenges to better understand the effectiveness of VR in
shaping consumer attitudes toward tourism destinations. In order to
answer these challenges, this study investigates spatial presence in the
VR experience involving virtual walkthrough of actual tourism
destinations using personal devices (smartphones and VR viewers). It
GOOGLE CARDBOARD SAMSUNG GEAR VR
was found that the sense of being there (i.e., spatial presence) was
significantly influenced by attention allocation (H2 was supported); the
more the users allocated attentional resources to the VR environment
during the experience, the higher the degree of spatial presence
(consistent with Bystrom, Barfield, & Hendrix, 1999; Draper, Kaber, &
Usher, 1998; Wirth et al., 2007). This indicates that in order for VR users
to achieve higher spatial presence, regardless of their spatial ability, it is
imperative to eliminate any distractions that would prevent users from
allocating sufficient attention to objects or events in the VR environment.
These distractions can originate from the content (e.g., disappearing
objects as users move forward), user experience (e.g., hovering buttons
in a supposedly natural environment), or the devices used (e.g., seeing
the floor during a virtual walkthrough).
Importantly, it was identified that spatial presence contributes positively
to attitude change toward destinations (H3 was supported); a higher
sense of spatial presence leads to stronger interest and liking toward the
destinations. This confirms the effectiveness of the VR experience for
marketing. While there are differences in terms of spatial presence and
attitude change across different devices (Samsung Gear VR yielding
higher degree of spatial presence and attitude change), the differences
are not statistically significant. This indicates that the use of low cost,
less sophisticated devices such as Google Cardboard still results in
comparable experiences and responses to more sophisticated ones.
However, this could also result from statistical representativeness issue
due to the small number of Samsung Gear VR users who had visited the
This study contributes to a better understanding of spatial presence, its
determinants, and its consequences on user attitudes in experiences
involving depictions of real tourism destinations. This study provides
empirical support to literature suggesting the potential role of VR in
tourism marketing and management. Importantly, it provides theoretical
explanation for the effectiveness of VR in influencing users’ response to
marketing stimuli, which is helpful for destination marketers justifying
investment in VR. However, the results of this study are limited by the
characteristics of the participants, a group dominated by young, female
consumers. Future research should include a wider range of participants
and devices/stimuli to test the generalizability of the findings.
Bystrom, K.-E., Barfield, W., & Hendrix, C. (1999). A conceptual model of the sense of presence
in virtual environments. Presence, 8(2), 241-244.
Burke, R. (1996). Virtual shopping: Breakthrough in marketing research. Harvard Business
Review, 74, 120-131.
Cheong, R. (1995). The virtual threat to travel and tourism. Tourism Management 16(6), 417-
Dewailly, J.-M. (1999). Sustainable tourist space: From reality to virtual reality? Tourism
Geographies, 1(1), 41-55.
Draper, J.V., Kaber, D.B., & Usher, J.M. (1998). Telepresence. Human Factors, 40, 354–375.
eMarketer (2015). Virtual Reality Interest Highest among Gen Z.
Global Web Index (2016). 4 in 10 16-34s interested in VR.
Guttentag, D.A. (2010). Virtual reality: Applications and implications for tourism. Tourism
Management 30(5), 637–651.
Huang, Y.C., Backman, K.F., Backman, S.J., & Chang, L.L (2016). Exploring the implications
of virtual reality technology in tourism marketing: An integrated research framework.
International Journal of Tourism Research, 18, 116-128.
Hyun, M.Y., & O’Keefe, R.M. (2012). Virtual destination image: Testing a telepresence model.
Journal of Business Research, 65, 29-35.
Kim, T., & Biocca, F. (1997). Telepresence via television: Two dimensions of telepresence may
have different connections to memory and persuasion. Journal of Computer-Mediated
Communication, 3(2), n.p.
Klein, L.R. (2003). Creating virtual product experiences: The role of telepresence. Journal of
Interactive Marketing, 17(1), 41-55. DOI: 10.1002/dir.10046
Leonardis, D., Frisoli, A., Barsotti, M., Carrozzino, M., & Bergamasco, M. (2014). Multisensory
feedback can enhance embodiment within an enriched virtual walking scenario.
Presence, 23(3), 253-266.
Mania, K., & Chalmers, A. (2001). The effects of levels of immersion on memory and presence
in virtual environments: A reality centered approach. CyberPsychology & Behavior,
Ruddle, R.A., Payne, S.J., & Jones, D.M. (1999). Navigating large-scale virtual environments:
What differences occur between helmet-mounted and desk-top displays? Presence, 8(2),
Slater, M. & Usoh, M. (1993). Representations systems, perceptual position, and presence in
immersive virtual environments. Presence, 2(3), 221-233.
Slater, M., Usoh, M., & Steed, A. (1994). Depth of presence in virtual environments. Presence,
Steuer, J.S. (1992). Defining virtual reality: dimensions determining telepresence. Journal of
Communication 42, 73–93.
Suh, K.-S., & Lee, Y.E. (2005). The effects of virtual reality on consumer learning: An empirical
investigation. MIS Quarterly, 29(4), 673-697.
Williams, P. (2006). Tourism and hospitality marketing: fantasy, feeling and fun. International
Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management 29(2): 482-495.
Williams, P. & Hobson, J.S.P. (1995). Virtual reality and tourism: fact or fantasy? Tourism
Management 16(6), 423-427.
Vorderer, P., Wirth, W., Gouveia, F.R., Biocca, F., Saari, T., Jäncke, F., … & Jäncke, P. (2004).
MEC Spatial Presence Questionnaire (MEC-SPQ): Short documentation and
instructions for application. Report to the European Community, Project Presence: MEC
(IST-2001-37661). Available from http://www.ijk.hmt-hannover.de/presence.
Weibel, D., Schmutz, J., Pahud, O., & Wissmath, B. (2015). Measuring spatial presence:
Introducing and validating the pictorial presence SAM. Presence, 24(1), 44-61.
Wirth, W., Hartmann, T., Böcking, S., Vorderer, P., Klimmt, C., Schramm, H., … & Jäncke, P.
(2007). A process model of the formation of spatial presence experiences. Media
Psychology, 9, 493-525.
Authors received financial support from the School of Hotel & Tourism
Management, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Grant #1-ZVH2).