The relationship between tourism and well-being

For a long time the subjective value has been assumed, but little research has investigated if various types of tourist experiences indeed lead to greater subjective well-being and what such fulfilling tourist experience may look like. An exploration of the relationship between happiness and the tourist can be found in Filep and Deery’s (2010) article. More specifically, in a study of Finnish tourists, tourist motivations were examined through the well-established push and pull motivation framework (Konu and Laukkanen, 2010). Authors’ findings revealed pull factors like ‘water park and/or spa’, and push factors such as ‘refreshing myself’, highlighting the importance of spa and wellness products in the pursuit of well-being. The topic of well-being is equally of interest to tourism policy makers and practitioners, especially those interested in destination marketing. There are also clear linkages between tourists’ subjective well-being and mental and physical health, the topic of much relevance to medical practitioners, like the travel medicine community. Correlational studies point to positive associations between diverse optimal tourism activities and short-term health gains (such as improved sleep quality and stress reduction), as well as long-term, cardiovascular health achievements but further research is much needed (Gump and Matthews, 2000). Building on the rise of scholarship and research in this area, the two papers presented here, deal with the topic of subjective well-being of tourists. 

The paper by McCabe and Johnson (2012) explores subjective well-being of social tourists, that is, low-income individuals who had received financial support to access a holiday break. The authors showcase the linkage between social tourism and increased subjective well-being. Social tourism has been defined as participation of disadvantaged groups in tourism activities, facilitated by financial and social measures (Haulot, 1982). While there is a growing body of literature on social tourism (Minnaert and Schapmans, 2009), no previous research explored subjective well-being of social tourists.  A particularly innovative aspect of this paper is authors’ discussion of their study which aimed to explore SWB in a social tourism context in United Kingdom using a new measure of SWB. Through a total of 168 pre-holiday surveys and 127 post-holiday surveys with the same cohort of respondents, the study demonstrated that holidays for disadvantaged groups produced improvements in aspects of well-being. The results confirm that these types of tourist experiences offer more value than fleeting, short-term, momentary hedonic experiences and that they also can contribute to longer-term life satisfaction. Overall the paper extends debates into tourism’s effects on and the relationships between SWB, quality of life, health and happiness (De Bloom et al., 2012) by introducing fresh insights on the subjective value of social tourist experiences.

Continuing on in the theoretical tradition that conceptualises well-being in terms of subjective well-being theory, the paper by Chen, Lehto and Chai (2013) examined Chinese tourists’ SWB patterns over the course of a holiday-taking event. The study followed a two-stage procedure of sample development and experimental study. A total of 108 responses were collected. Through a nonrandomized control group pretest-posttest design, tourists were compared with a non-tourist group during a period of three months. The specific aim was to study the effect of a holiday experience on different aspects of subjective well-being. Measurements distinguished between occasion-specific SWB (OSWB) and the chronic SWB (CSWB), the latter type reflecting a wider category of well-being. The investigation showed differing patterns of change for the two sub-domains of SWB as a result of holiday-taking. The results demonstrated that Chinese tourists’ CSWB did not change after their holiday. Their occasion-specific subjective well-being however, showed a pattern where their sense of well-being was boosted immediately after the holiday experience and then faded two months later. The results therefore attest to the immediate positive effects and fadeout effects of holidays on OSWB. Theoretical implications and practical contributions for Chinese public policy makers, practitioners and tourists were highlighted.

By Sebastian Filep, PhD; University of Otago and Victoria University, Melbourne. Editorial Board member of Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management.


Chen, Y., Lehto, X. and Cai, L. (2013). Vacation and Well-being: A Study of Chinese Tourists. Annals of Tourism Research, 42: 284-310.

Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E. and Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three
decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125: 276-302.

Filep, S., and  Deery, M. (2010). Towards a picture of tourists' happiness. Tourism Analysis, 15(4), 399-410.

Gump, B. and Matthews, K. (2000). Are vacations good for your health? The 9 year mortality experience after the multiple risk factor intervention trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62: 608–612.

Haulot, A. (1982). Social tourism: Current dimensions of future developments. Journal of Travel Research, 20(3): 207–212.

Konu, H. and Laukkanen, T. (2010). Predictors of tourists’ wellbeing holiday intentions in Finland [Special section]. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 17, 144–149.

McCabe, S., and S. Johnson. (2013). The Happiness Factor in Tourism: Subjective Well-Being and Social Tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 41(April): 42-65.

Minnaert,L and Schapmans, M. (2009).Tourism as a form of social intervention: The holiday participation centre in Flanders.  Journal of Social Intervention: Theory and Practice, 18(3): 42–61.

Nawijn, J. (2011). Determinants of Daily Happiness on Vacation. Journal of Travel Research, 50(5): 559-566.

Veenhoven, R. (2000).The four qualities of life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1: 1–3.