Last Updated: December 7, 2020

How does a vacation sound right about now? How would you like to soak up the sun on a tropical beach, or embark on a journey of self discovery while backpacking through a foreign country?

Vacations and travel allow people a brief respite from their everyday lives, putting fun, new memories, and excitement ahead of work and other responsibilities. By traveling to distant countries, new cities, and exploring new areas, people enhance close relationships, make new ones, and satisfy their urges for escape.

These urges and motivations for travel are highly researched by tourism managers and marketers, who seek to attract new visitors to their destinations. Consider this: there are dozens of tropical destinations around the world, each with sandy beaches, friendly natives, and relaxing atmospheres. Which one do you choose, and why?

Much of that choice rests on your personal motivations for travel. By taking into account the psychological research of motivation and emotional experiences surrounding travel and tourism, marketers are able to present their destinations as the more attractive choice to consumers.

Psychology of Tourism Commercials

Brand and CommercialExplanation of AdvertisementDemographicsPsychological Response Elicited
Las Vegas “What happens here, stays here”Two women are shown in various Vegas settings meeting multiple men. Each time the woman introduces herself to a man, she uses a different name.Females, ages 21-35Danger, Sensuality: Vegas is a destination where you can temporarily be anyone you want. The commercial elicits feelings of a safely dangerous location, where you can let lose and be “bad” for a short time.
Barbados “Authentic”A woman is shown browsing through potential tropical locations, while a voiceover notes that it seems like every Caribbean island is the same. The narrator then notes that there’s still one truly authentic island: Barbados.Males, ages 21-45, Females, ages 21-45, Families with children, CouplesSelf Esteem boost: You’re a smart traveler, and understand that most Caribbean islands are heavily commercialized. However, Barbados is free of fast food and private resorts, offering “true travelers,” like you, authentic island experiences.
Colorado “Once”Stunning Colorado landscapes are featured as a voiceover explains that some things can only be seen once. Friends or family members are shown hiking through gorgeous mountain locations throughout Colorado, in awe of its natural beauty.Males, ages 18-35, Females 18-35Awe and Urgency: Some things can only be seen “once” and you don’t want to miss out on them. Visit Colorado for a once in a lifetime experience.

The psychological need for travel

The psychological concept of motivation is a mixture of needs, wants, and goals that creates an unbearable desire in the minds of individuals. For travel, these internal needs, wants, and goals usually relate to five reasons:

  • Knowledge (cultural or educational motives)
  • Punishment Minimization (the need to escape)
  • Reward Maximization (pleasure or sensation-seeking)
  • Self Esteem (Social Prestige)
  • Ego Enhancement (Social Prestige)

According to “Tourism Information and Pleasure Motivation” by researcher Cees Goossens, tourism marketing directors must examine how motivation factors into why consumers choose a particular destination – in addition to exploring ways that intensify those motivations.

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The study, published in The Annals of Tourism Research, split these main psychological factors into both “push” and “pull” motivators.

Push factors reside inside an individual, and intrinsically motivate them to seek leisure and relaxation. These factors are dormant characteristics that rise when work and other responsibilities become overwhelming for an individual. Typical push motivators include:

  • Need to Escape from Routine
  • Relaxation
  • Enhancing Close Relationships

By taking into account the typical push motivations of tourists, marketing managers are able to enhance the motivational factors on their end in more effective ways. These “pull” motivators are factors directly controlled by marketing efforts from cities, resorts, and leisure destinations, “pulling” consumers to a destination. Typical pull motivators include:

  • Pleasant Accommodations
  • Climate, Environment
  • Fun Activities

In the marketing mix, both push and pull motivators meld together in a consumer’s mind to create the desire to travel to a specific destination. The trick for tourism marketers is how to enhance the effects of their pull motivators on the consumer through clever advertising techniques.

Goossens’s research notes that these motivational factors are greatly dictated by emotions, suggesting that tourism marketers must develop more emotionally-based advertising campaigns directed toward tourists.

Pulling in more travelers

Many destinations around the world showcase their features in similar ways – centering imagery around stunning vistas, tropical beaches, and exciting nightlife. While sometimes spectacular, this imagery is also generic and is featured in a large number of tourism advertisements.

While motivation to travel typically centers on the need to escape, this motivation at its most basic level is dictated by emotional experience. General marketing principles note that the more emotionally involved a consumer is with a product or brand, the more likely they are to purchase that product or brand.

To enhance emotional attachment with a destination, tourism marketers attempt to frame the location as a means of creating unforgettable experiences with friends, family members, and loved ones. Instead of focusing solely on the physical attributes of a destination, tourism commercials should show individuals creating those special, emotional experiences in that destination.

These could include images of a romantic dinner for two on a tropical island, or a family of four skiing down a mountain while laughing. When marketing campaigns begin to emphasize the emotional experiences of visiting a destination, marketers expect tourism in that area to increase.

Psychological Needs Gratified by Leisure

Researchers H.E.A. Tinsley and B.D. Eldridge conducted a 15-year study exploring some of the psychology needs satisfied by leisure activities, such as tourism and travel. Some of these include:

  • Novelty
  • Belongingness
  • Sensual Enjoyment
  • Service
  • Cognitive Stimulation
  • Creativity
  • Self Expression
  • Relaxation

Source: “Psychological Benefits of Leisure Participation: A Taxonomy of Leisure Activities Based on their Need-gratifying Properties” The Journal of Counseling Psychology

In “Branding a Memorable Destination Experience: The Case of ‘Brand Canada,’” researchers Simon Hudson and J.R. Brent Richie explore how certain destinations have turned their tourism industries around with effective branding and advertising initiatives. Some of the tourism campaigns they observed include:

  • Las Vegas
    Advertising campaigns emphasized the location as exciting, sexy, and safely dangerous. “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
  • Ireland
    Ireland is portrayed as a rich, colorful and unspoiled environment full of intriguing and engaging people for you to meet.
  • New Zealand
    Marketing efforts focus on New Zealand as a land of personal discovery surrounded by stunning landscapes.
  • India
    India is a country destined for those seeking physical invigoration, mental rejuvenation, and cultural enrichment.

Hudson’s and Richie’s study, published in The International Journal of Tourism Research, focused specifically on how Canada sought to re-brand its image from a destination focused strictly on wildlife and exploration, to a more emotionally-engaging location.

Unfortunately, Canada’s marketing efforts had focused solely on its nature-based image for nearly 40 years. In fact, researchers found that most tourists could not articulate Canada as a destination beyond its physical attributes.

To solve this crisis in tourism, marketing experts engaged in a new advertising campaign that sought to create an “emotional bond between Canada and the rewards of travel by offering emotional explanations of experiences.

The new Canada tag line, “Canada. Keep Exploring” launched with new advertisements that focused on presenting the country as a place worth exploring, in part because of its amazing nature and wildlife, but also because of its progressive, welcoming society. Instead of showing sweeping landscapes, new commercials featured more cozy scenes of families and individuals enjoying a vacation in Canada, adding an emotional and humanistic quality to advertising efforts.

Canada’s re-branding efforts followed similar efforts as Las Vegas, which saw huge tourism gains after launching its “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” campaign. Much like Canada’s efforts, Las Vegas decided to refocus consumer attention from the environment (of neon lights and showgirls), to the exciting emotional experiences one could create in the location.

As tourism professionals continue to dissect exactly what motivates consumers to visit new destinations, their reach with these individuals will expand. With a greater understanding of the psychology behind travel, tourism, and leisure, marketing professionals are better able to craft effective campaigns.

Psychology and marketing

If you’re interested in learning more about how marketers mix psychological understanding and knowledge of consumer behavior to enhance the images of the brands and destinations, research and contact schools offering degrees in marketing.