Travelling for pleasure, research, and a living

12 November 2018

Jun Wen with one of his research aids.

University of Waikato tourism researcher Jun Wen’s area of expertise is special interest tourism; he is travelling the world to find out why people go places.

Jun grew up in China and has always wanted to do research from a Chinese perspective in order to bring that viewpoint to the Western world. He also wants to gain a better understanding of the Chinese outbound tourism sector. His research interests were inspired by his own encounters in the tourism and hospitality industry; he ran a café in China for 2 years before coming to Waikato to pursue an academic career.

From a tourism perspective, Jun says the Netherlands is an interesting place, having first discovered it while conducting drug research. “You can do a lot of things there that are illegal in China - gambling, paying for sexual services, and buying cannabis for recreational use. So Chinese tourists want to go there to find a different way to relax that’s not traditional.” These are novelty-seeking activities - a form of adventure tourism - and such pastimes are inherently sensitive; so people are reluctant to discuss them. To facilitate data collection, Jun persuaded several café owners to get on board. He approached many potential participants, but only some were willing to open up about their cannabis-related experiences. Their revelations inspired Jun to devise a six-factor motivation scale: spiritual and emotional healing; social prestige; relaxation and escape; cannabis authenticity; commercial cannabis availability; and cannabis experimentation. And yes, the drug-oriented tourists will travel again to use cannabis legally.

In his food research, Jun came up with a new way to describe people who travel to consume local food as a way of experiencing places. His subsequent cigar research took him to Cuba. Jun’s not afraid to admit he loves cigars and hopes to become a cigar aficionado, so this wasn’t an onerous task. He points out that a growing number of Chinese tourists are drawn to cigars and cigar-producing regions and events, and he identified a major motivating factor as social prestige: travelling to cigar brands’ country of origin could satisfy Chinese tourists’ desire to display their social status.

Now, he’s looking at elderly (gerontological) Chinese tourists from their 60s to 90s who have travelled to one of three markets: New Zealand, Israel, and Argentina. A strange mix, perhaps, but Jun says these nations are popular for a reason. New Zealand is a thriving market because of its enticing natural environment. “The fresh air and healthy environment makes New Zealand a kind of health/wellness tourism destination.” And the others? “Despite Israel being highly volatile, the research shows that the Chinese see it as being safe to travel in, and the local people are extremely friendly, so it’s a really rewarding experience. For Argentina, it’s more a push from the country to open its market to China.”

Tourism research may seem like a dream job, but Jun says it is expensive and time consuming. “It is very difficult to collect empirical data, especially in terms of some emerging markets. But because of my travel experiences and good relationships with travel agencies and other organizations, we often collaborate. I want to make sure I share my academic knowledge with the industry. It helps to have a better understanding of the impact research can have.”

Jun Wen is currently a research associate working with Professor Chris Ryan and gained his PhD in 2018 supervised by Anne Zahra and Tim Lockyer. They are part of the Waikato UNWTO Tourism Monitoring Observatory. He will join Edith Cowan University as a lecturer around early 2019. He is also working with Professor Songshan (Sam) Huang on research projects to provide new insights regarding Chinese outbound tourism development and Chinese tourist behaviours.

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