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Extraordinary journeys: motivations behind frontier travel experiences and implications for tourism marketing

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posted on 2023-01-11, 13:55 authored by Jennifer H. Laing
Abstract: Tourists are now visiting some of the most remote and amazing places on Earth, travelling to ‘frontiers' on journeys that are psychological and emotional as well as geographical or physical. These extraordinary journeys to the Poles, the peaks of the highest mountains in the world, harsh deserts and even outer space test both physical and mental endurance and can be characterised as ‘unique' even in the current era. Travelling largely without the aid of a commercial tour operator or guide, the frontier traveller usually invests a great deal of time and resources in their travel experience, often with the assistance of sponsorship, and generally takes part in an extensive and arduous preparation period in their quest for the extraordinary. While the search for new and unique tourism destinations and experiences appears to be relentless in this post-modern era, the frontier traveller appears to be searching for the ‘authentic' beyond the ‘tourist bubble,' both in relation to self and setting. These frontier ‘trailblazers' are already being followed by guided adventure tourists and some of the former are supplementing their incomes and funding their own travel by leading tours or guiding others to the frontier. Studying the extraordinary experiences of the frontier traveller could therefore provide us with a glimpse of the future of travel, although likely to occur in a more structured and less risky guise. Uncovering the motivations for this form of travel will also assist with future marketing of these experiences, including elements of the marketing mix such as product development and promotion. This thesis examines the motivations behind frontier travel and considers the implications of the findings for tourism marketing. Unstructured, long interviews with 37 individuals were used to uncover the motivations behind these experiences, supplemented by content analysis of narratives produced by frontier travellers, encompassing 50 autobiographies, two online diaries and online interviews with two individuals. The interview participants were largely selected through purposive sampling, in that they were screened as fitting the criteria of a past or potential frontier traveller before being interviewed. They were predominantly born and living in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, and 29 of the 37 individuals were male. Ages of participants ranged from 24 to 60 years of age. Interviews continued until saturation of categories of motivation had been reached. Texts were mainly located through searches of bookshops and libraries, including the author's personal library. A qualitative methodological approach was chosen in order to provide rich data and allow the researcher to enter the world of the frontier traveller. An interpretive paradigm based on a constructivist paradigm underpinned this study, with an ontological stance based on multiple realities and an epistemological position where participants and myself as the researcher created understandings. The methodology outlined above was consistent with this position and was designed to identify different constructions of the data and seek consensus, where possible. The literature on motivations provides a complex plethora of theories and models, many of which contradict each other, so a principal objective of this study was to work from first principles, grounding a theory of motivations pertaining to frontier travel experiences in the data, rather than seeking to test out a pre-existing model or theory. Overall, the research findings show that motivations for frontier travel can be analysed under the broad heading of ‘adventure,' which is composed of a variety of sub-motives such as achievement and competence, challenge, thrill-seeking and sensation, ego, dreams or fantasies, self-actualisation, cognizance (exploration/discovery), freedom/escape motives (autonomy), isolation and solitude, spirituality, camaraderie and communitas, authenticity, prestige (external rewards), pro-social motives and a love of nature and wilderness. Risk or danger is an element of these experiences and feeds into many of the motivations identified in this study. A theory of motivations behind frontier travel experiences has been developed, covering intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, as well as achievement-motivated behaviour. Pre-travel influences and inspirations such as literature, cinema, visual stimuli, childhood games, heroes and mentors, family influences and educative influences are also considered with respect to their effect on motivational behaviour. An exploratory typology was then developed for frontier travellers, based on common motivations, which might be used to segment the market. Four basic types have been identified and labelled or categorised as ‘Seekers of Truth,' ‘Enlightened Explorers,' ‘Concerned Elitists,' and ‘Freedom Seekers.' Key motivations behind specific frontier travel experiences have also been identified. Each frontier traveller will exhibit some, but not all, of the motivations highlighted in this study. Segmenting the market on the basis of motivations may therefore be a difficult, if not impossible task. However, marketers could use the information unearthed during this study in the marketing mix to develop new products aimed at satisfying some of the key motivations and use the findings as themes to be highlighted in promotional literature such as brochures and websites. This thesis also argues that the study of travel motivations in the future would be better served by considering motivations behind market niches such as frontier travel, rather than attempting to develop a comprehensive theory of motivations covering the whole travel industry.

Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfilment for the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy [to the School of Business], Faculty of Law and Management, La Trobe University, Bundoora.

Originally part of the Australasian Digital Theses (ADT) database.


Center or Department

School of Business. Faculty of Law and Management.

Thesis type

  • Ph. D.

Awarding institution

La Trobe University

Year Awarded


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This thesis contained third party copyright material which has been removed. The thesis author retains all proprietary rights (such as copyright and patent rights) over all other content of this thesis, and has granted La Trobe University permission to reproduce and communicate this version of the thesis.

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