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VFR Travel: Is It Still Underestimated?
Given that VFR (Visiting friends and relatives) is such a huge
form of travel throughout the world, with so many facets of
relevance, it is remarkable that this special issue is only the
second special issue on the subject. The rst special issue
was over two decades ago and was guest edited by Joseph
O0Leary and one of these guest editors, Alastair M. Morrison.
Those guest editors highlighted the state of VFR in the title of
their paper that it was desperately seeking respect(Morrison
&OLeary, 1995). In fact, a clear theme that has run through
much of the VFR travel research is that it has been
underestimated and neglected. Of note, the rst VFR paper
(Jackson, 1990) asked the question about VFR in the title
is it underestimated?The question in the title was tting to
ask. Through the 1990s and the early turn of the century, that
original question resulted in further efforts from VFR re-
searchers to attempt to ensure the eld was better understood.
Just over two decades after Jacksons (1990) paper, Backer
(2012) set out to answer Jacksons (1990) with her paper en-
titled VFR travel: it is underestimated. These editors now
pose a further question through this special issue by asking
is it still underestimated?
VFR is not only a major form of travel throughout the
world, but is also the oldest form of travel (Backer, 2011).
However, as VFR researchers are well aware, the eld has
been neglected for a very long time. The sleeping giant
was only tapped on the shoulderin 1990 when Jackson
(1990) revealed to the academic community that VFR was
underestimated. Given the age and size of VFR travel, it does
seem extraordinary that it took so long for the rst scholarly
paper to be raised. Since that rst paper, some attention was
offered by a number of researchers and a special issue dedi-
cated to VFR travel was published in 1995. The period of the
1990s was one of VFR awakening, and a handful of re-
searchers made solid efforts to provide evidence on the im-
portance of VFR. Some of those original researchers from
the 1990s have contributed to this special issue (Alastair M.
Morrison, Brian King and Anthony Seaton). Thus, this spe-
cial issue offers contributions from some of the original
VFR researchers, as well as those who mark the new wave
of VFR researchers.
This special issue contains seven papers (excluding this
paper) across a range of themes. Namely, this special issue
focuses on the broadness of VFR travel and how it has rel-
evance to a range of other elds. The structure of this in-
troduction piece is to provide the reader with a basic
overview and summary of the featured papers. It then pro-
vides the reader with a discussion on citations. The nal
section of this paper is to offer the reader some insights
on where the eld of VFR travel has come and what is felt
is needed in the future. It is hoped that this special issue
provides the academic community with a sound apprecia-
tion of the diversity of VFR travel and the importance
within tourism studies.
FEATURED PAPERS
These guest editors were extremely pleased with the level
of interest expressed in this special issue. When the an-
nouncement was made to invite researchers to contribute,
there were dozens of emails from interested people. Not
all the themes could be incorporated into this issue, and
not all papers were passed by the independent reviewers.
Reviewing was undertaken completely separately from
these guest editors. Whilst it is always hard to decline pa-
pers, it is certainly a positive indicator when the level of
interest far exceeds the number of papers that can tinto
an issue.
This special issue contains contributions from 11 authors
(including these editors), with a range of diverse and unique
themes. As stated by Seaton (2017), it may be time for
researchers to branch out into more innovative and
experimental methodologies that go behind the performance
gures(p. 456). Themes in this issue include the relation-
ship of VFR with respect to the following: hosting of VFRs
(Yousuf & Backer, 2017), migration (Provenzano & Baggio,
2017), disaster recovery (Backer & Ritchie, 2017), VFR
traveller gaze (Huang, King, & Suntikul, 2017), family life
cycle (FLC; Backer & Lynch, 2017), cultural tourism
(Seaton, 2017) and travel mobilities (Rogerson, 2017).
Further, countries and regions with which the papers in this
issue focus are as follows: South Africa, China, Australia
and the European Union. Two papers (Backer & Ritchie,
2017; Seaton, 2017) do not have a focus on any particular
geographic region, instead focusing on examples throughout
the world.
Assessing VFR travel globally, Backer and Ritchie
(2017) consider whether VFR travel might be a viable
market to assist communities rebuild after tourism crises
and disaster recoveries. The paper is unique in that it as-
sesses what research has been done to consider whether
VFR might be appropriate to rebuild communities through
examining both the tourism literature as well as the medi-
cal literature. Interestingly, there is great focus on VFR
travel in the medical literature, and Backer and Ritchies
(2017) paper is the rst to bridge the disciplines of medi-
cine and tourism together in an examination of VFR travel.
In considering the suitability through a market segmenta-
tion lens, they determine that domestic VFR travel is a
suitable market for destination recovery, but not interna-
tional VFR.
Also considering VFR travel from outside of the tourism
lens, Seaton (2017) provides a delightful narrative on the
volume of cultural literature (including novels, plays, poems
and lms) that feature VFR. As Seaton (2017) states,
relationships between family, relatives and friends, and
visits to or by them, are mainstays of human life for all
except the chronically unfortunate, isolated or disaffected
Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
International Journal of Tourism Research,Int. J. Tourism Res.,19: 395399 (2017)
Published online in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) DOI: 10.1002/jtr.2145
(p.455). Classical novels highlight the relationship between
VFR and class since receiving visits among relatives and
friends was an essential ritual of polite society(p. 459)
and accordingly Jane Austens novels are all VFR texts
(p. 459). Seaton (2017) also captures the less attractive side
of being a VFR, beautifully displayed by Figure 3 in his
article that depicts observing wildlife in the bedroom
(p. 458) at the hosts home.
The concept of hosting VFRs features in Yousuf and
Backers (2017) paper entitled hosting friends versus
hosting relatives: is blood thicker than water?Indeed,
the perspective of hosts of VFR travellers has not received
as much research attention as it deserves given the central
role that hosts have in VFR travel. The paper by Yousuf
and Backer (2017) attempts to improve some of that
imbalance through reporting on the in-depth interviews
undertaken with 34 hosts of VFRs. The authors also
contribute to the eld through offering a denition of hosts
and providing a denitional model of hosts showcasing the
three different types of VFR hosts. The model can be used
as a tool to disaggregate and understand VFR hosting data
and importantly was tested in their study. The differences
in hosting friends versus hosting relatives are explored,
and the authors highlight that there are very different
experiences, stresses and joys that come from hosting
friends versus relatives. Differences were also explored in
terms of the perspectives of migrant hosts versus non-
immigrant hosts.
The perspective of the VFRs is the focus of the paper
by Huang et al. (2017) who discuss that the different
connections that VFRs have with their homeland will
impact on how those VFRs gaze as tourists. Using Urrys
(1990) tourist gazeas a conceptual framework, the
authors examine the perceptions of China as a destination
to visit, by second-generation Chinese-American migrants.
The qualitative study examines the responses from 26
participants nding that respondents to their study were
of a hybrid nature whereby visiting their homeland
involved seeking and nding both the exotic and the
familiar(p. 431).
The correlation between human migration and VFR
travel is the focus of the paper by Provenzano and Baggio
(2017). Migration stocks and tourism ows are compared
by the authors between the 28 countries belonging to the
European Union. The analysis by the authors is over a
12-year period spanning from 2000 to 2012. Based on
use of complex network analysis and gravity models,
Provenzano and Baggio (2017) nd that tourism ows
may be affected by the stock of immigrants. As a result
of the analysis, the authors conclude that the higher the
stock of immigrants in a county, the higher the ow of in-
coming tourists(p. 418).
Those spatial patterns of VFRs between countries was
also realized as a research gap by Rogerson (2017) whose
paper concentrates on examining the migration ows of
VFRs by focusing on South Africa. Understanding these
migration ows in South Africa is an important contribution
to scholarship and industry; especially since VFR travel is a
dominant form of tourism in the poorest regions. In some
regions, VFR is the only type of touristic activity, thus
highlighting the importance in better understanding the eld.
Rogerson (2017) notes the importance of the eld to policy,
particularly since VFR travel involves socio-economically
disadvantaged individuals who otherwise cannot engage in
other forms of travel. Thus, VFR offers an important aspect
of a naturally occurring form of social tourism that has
important policy implications.
In terms of families, the level of VFR activity across
different stages of the FLC is examined by Backer and
Lynch (2017). The study examines the differences between
VFRs and non-VFRs in their FLC composition. As a quan-
titative study, the authors examine a sample size of
102 029, and it is the rst study to consider tourist behav-
iour across different ages in terms of a VFR context. It is
also the rst study that has used a large national dataset to
examine in what ways life cycle stages affect the proclivity
to travel. Key differences were found between VFRs and
non-VFRs across life cycle stages. Notably, non-VFRs rep-
resent a signicantly higher proportion of families com-
pared with VFRs.
CITATIONS
As mentioned earlier in this paper, these editors are posing a
question through this issue is VFR travel still
underestimated? According to Yousuf and Backer (2015),
there has been an underwhelming volume of VFR papers.
In their content analysis, which including conference papers,
book chapters and theses, a total of 129 VFR outputs were
calculated. Over a 25-year period, such a volume of outputs
is disappointing.
Another measure of interest in a eld is citations.
Backer and King (2015) considered citations and found
that only two VFR papers had more than 100 citations.
The highest number of citations was for Seaton and
Palmers (1997) paper, which was reported to have re-
ceived 140 citations. As those citations had accumulated
over a period of time that spanned almost two decades,
the volume was not impressive. Backer and King (2015)
had employed a method of using Google Scholar to locate
VFR papers and reported the citations of those papers that
were tourism papers and located in the rst four pages of
Google Scholar. VFR papers from medical journals were
not included. Using the same papers that Backer and King
(2015) had reported on, these editors have revisited the ci-
tations to ascertain whether there has been a recent surge
of interest in VFR.
As demonstrated in Table 1, there are still only two papers
that have earned more than 100 citations. However, the
proportionate increases in citations for all VFR papers since
Backer and Kings (2015) analysis reveal considerable
interest in the two-and-a-half year period spanning between
the dates of the analyses. There are nine papers that have
had increases of more than 100%, and two papers have had
increases that exceed 200%. This suggests that there has been
a belated growth of interest in VFR travel.
396 Editorial
Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Tourism Res.,19: 395399 (2017)
DOI: 10.1002/jtr
Table 1. A comparison of citations of VFR travel publications.
Author Year Article Journal
Citations
(18/11/14)
Citations
(5/6/17)
%
increase
Jackson, Richard (1990) VFR Tourism:
Is it underestimated?
Journal of
Tourism Studies
94 163 73.4
Paci, Enzo (1994) The major
international
VFR markets
Travel &
Tourism Analyst
45 70 55.6
Braunlich,
Carl Nadkarni,
Nandini
(1995) The importance
of the VFR market
to the hotel industry
Journal of
Tourism Studies
53 85 60.4
McKercher, Bob (1995) An examination
of host involvement
in VFR travel
CAUTHE
conference proceedings
10 21 110
Meis, Scott,
Joyal, Sophie
Trites, Anne
(1995) The US repeat
and VFR visitor
to Canada: Come
again, eh!
Journal of
Tourism Studies
50 82 64
Morrison, Alastair,
Hsieh, Sheauhsing
O0Leary, Joseph
(1995) Segmenting the
visiting friends and
relatives market by
holiday activity participation
Journal of
Tourism Studies
60 96 60
Yuan, Tsao-Fang,
Frigden, Joseph,
Hsieh, Sheauhsing,
&O
0Leary, Joseph
(1995) Visiting Friends
and Relatives Travel
Market: The Dutch Case
Journal of
Tourism Studies
51 80 56.9
McKercher, Bob (1996) Host involvement
in VFR Travel
Annals of
Tourism Studies
14 40 185.7
Seaton, Anthony
Palmer, Christine
(1997) Understanding VFR
tourism behaviour: the
rst ve years of the
United Kingdom
tourism survey
Tourism
Management
140 199 42.1
Morrison, Alastair
Woods, Barbara
Pearce, Philip
Moscardo,
Gianna Sung,
Heidi
(2000) Marketing to the
visiting friends and
relatives segment:
An international analysis
Journal of
Vacation Marketing
23 38 65.2
Moscardo,
Gianna, Pearce,
Philip, Morrison,
Alastair, Green,
David, O0Leary,
Joseph
(2000) Developing a
typology for understanding
visiting friends and
relatives markets
Journal of
Travel Research
102 166 62.7
Lehto, Xinran
Morrison, Alastair
O0Leary, Joseph
(2001) Does the visiting
friends and relatives
typology make a
difference? A study
of the international
VFR market to the
United States
Journal of
Travel Research
55 97 76.3
Hu, Bo Morrison,
Alastair
(2002) Tripography: Can
destination use
patterns enhance
understanding of
the VFR market?
Journal of
Vacation Marketing
40 68 70
Pennington-Gray,
Lori
(2003) Understanding the
domestic VFR drive
market in Florida
Journal of
Vacation Marketing
28 52 85.7
Lee, Gyehee,
Morrison, Alastair,
Lehto, Xinran
You, Webb,
Jonathan Reid,
Jerome
(2005) VFR: Is it really
marginal? A nancial
consideration of French
overseas travellers
Journal of
Vacation Marketing
26 54 107.7
(Continues)
Editorial 397
Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Tourism Res.,19: 395399 (2017)
DOI: 10.1002/jtr
FUTURE DIRECTION AND CONCLUSION
As previously mentioned, these editors posed a question
through this issue is VFR travel still underestimated? In
considering the ndings in the papers within this issue and
the level of interest from researchers across the globe to be
part of this issue, it is felt that there is denitely a shift in
interest. In addition, when the citations are examined, there
has been a notable increase in interest in the past 2 years.
Whilst citations are still low, particularly given that the eld
of VFR comprises such a large proportion of visitors (e.g.
Backer, 2012, found it represented 48%), the trend may have
started to give VFR travel the respect it deserves.
This issue contains seven unique and distinct papers that
show broadness in topics, countries and methods. Such
diversity also shows a maturing of the eld of VFR travel
in that it has been able to move beyond the stage of demon-
strating the size and value of the segment. The eld has also
been able to mature to be more than dening it and needing
to understand the proles and characteristics of the VFR
travellers. The papers in this issue have shown the depth
and diversity of the VFR research. It has important
dimensions with migration, tourism ows, spatial patterns,
destination recovery, travel for socio-economically disadvan-
taged individuals, FLCs, hosts as residents, the tourist gaze
and the texts we read and watch.
The annual migrationof people from major cities in
China at the Lunar New Year numbers in the hundreds of
millions, and it is almost all VFR-motivated. Although this
catches international media attention, mostly showing
overcrowded railway stations and trains, there is never a
mention of the VFR travel motivation that causes the mass
urban exodus (and return journey). The editors suggest that
this is more proof of the lack of sufcient status being
afforded to VFR travel, with Chinese scholars tending to es-
chew these travellers in favour of more high-proletourists
who are assumed to have more economic impact.
In 1995, the rst VFR special issue stated that VFR travel
is desperately seeking respect. These editors feel that whilst,
more than two decades later, it is still seeking more respect, it
has certainly gained much respect over those decades. And
whilst still underestimated to some degree, industry and
academe have learned much particularly in the last decade.
As such, VFR travel is better understood and has started to
be seen more often as a marketing campaign in industry. It
is hoped that within the not too distant future, VFR may even
be a chapter in core tourism textbooks and nd itself of earn-
ing a place in the teaching of tourism in higher education.
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Author Year Article Journal
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ELISA BACKER
Tourism and Management Federation Business School
(Ballarat) Federation University, Australia
ALASTAIR M. MORRISON
School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Purdue
University, Indiana, USA
Editorial 399
Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Tourism Res.,19: 395399 (2017)
DOI: 10.1002/jtr
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