One of the most important issues in destination management is quality of life. Quality of life is the variable most tourism professionals, researchers, and tourists themselves arrive at when asking “why?” Why do people travel, why must destinations be managed, what is the added value of a tourism industry? Underneath the myriad reasons for these phenomena is the belief that if people can travel in their leisure, somehow the world is a better place. It is possibly better for the residents of destinations, who may make money or gain external perspective (Nawijn & Mitas, 2012), and apparently better for tourists themselves, who enjoy a break in routine (Drewery et al., 2016), seeing something new (Cohen, 1972), and getting a fresh perspective on new or existing relationships (Mitas, Yarnal & Chick, 2012).
However, real evidence of how tourism contributes to people’s quality of life––and here I will focus on tourists’, rather than local residents’, quality of life––is surprisingly thin in the tourism research literature. This is not surprising, given that quality of life is a broad construct and quite difficult to measure. However, governments of the world increasingly operationalize quality of life subjectively, using constructs such as happiness or its more precise, psychological incarnation, subjective well-being. Tourism is known to influence subjective well-being (Kim, Woo & Uysal, 2015), especially its short-lived emotional component (Ondrej). In the words of organizational psychologist Jessica de Bloom, it seems that tourism’s contribution to tourists’ quality of life is “lots of fun, quickly gone” (de Bloom et al., 2010, p. 196). However, more general measures of quality of life, as well as the arguably broader, longer-term well-being component of life satisfaction, does not consistently improve in the days and weeks after a vacation.
While this may be seen as a disappointing finding, I see it as a methodological fault in previous research of tourism and quality of life. Tourism does contribute to quality of life, but not in a way that people’s life satisfaction is necessarily higher after they get back from a holiday. Rather, anticipating, enjoying, and reflecting on a holiday become one of the things people reflect on when they think about their life. This obviously doesn’t change day to day and month to month, but may well change year to year, if people get granted an extra holiday or, conversely, have to skip a holiday for health or financial reasons. Thus, to appreciate the contribution of tourism to individuals’ quality of life, a multi-year analysis is needed. No such analysis occurred until 2014.
In that year, TU Delft researcher Maarten Kroesen blew the tourism-quality of life question wide open with his groundbreaking time-lagged analysis of LISS Panel data collected by the University of Tilburg (Kroesen & Handy, 2014). These data afforded 4 years of quality of life and tourism behavior measures. The analysis showed that indeed, skipping a holiday negatively affected quality of life the year after. The shortcomings of this analysis have to do with measurement of quality of life, which doesn’t include a good measure of emotions, and with the measurement of tourism behavior, which is very basic.
Thus, I would like to introduce here our initiative at NHTV to start a panel of our own oriented precisely at tracking quality of life development over a multi-year time span. We collect participants for the NHTV Tourism Panel through channels including a first-year e-marketing course as well as, hopefully, this column. The panel has existed for about a year and a half now and comprises about 100 participants, mostly living in the Netherlands, who fill out a questionnaire about their tourism behavior and quality of life every six months. With each round of questionnaires, we give away 2 x 100€ of vouchers as an incentive, but the main reason to participate, we hope, is people’s feeling that they are contributing their experiences and opinions to help address this important scientific and societal questions.
Thus, the findings from this panel will also regularly be featured in educational materials, scientific articles, and a regular column here in TDMI. I look forward to reporting new insights to you about tourism and quality of life here. In the meantime, if you would like to join the panel to share your experiences, please send me your email address to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will put you on the list.