HOTELS & TOURISM | Staff Reporter, Hong Kong

Leading tourists closer to locals may reduce misbehaviour: study

Closing the “psychological distance” between the locals and tourists could prompt visitors to follow rules abroad.

The tourism industry has taken a hard hit during the pandemic as Hong Kong has closed its borders to contain spread of COVID-19. The prospects for tourism remain dim, nevertheless, the industry hopes for a surge of tourists to arrive once restrictions have been lifted.

In light of this, a study looked into how tourism enterprises that want to capture tourist dollars whilst lessening instances of bad behaviour amongst visitors as seen in the past.

"It is essential for cities and destination organisations that rely heavily on tourism sector but suffer from the influx of tourists to grasp the underlying reasons or even the motivations for tourists' misbehaviour," said Lisa Wan, author of the study and an associate professor at the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School. She also worked with University of Macau Professor Michaul Hui and Yao Qiu of CUHK Business School for this study.

The study, Tourist Misbehaviour: Psychological Closeness to Fellow Consumer and Informal Social Control, has examined the psychological closeness between the tourists and locals and how the “psychological distance” affects how tourists control their behaviour. It has defined psychological closeness as the connection toward people, noting that individuals are inclined to feel psychologically closer to someone they consider as one of them. People in the same group are also more likely to abide by social and cultural rules, which is not usually the case in the tourism context, when out-group members join them.

“They feel less connected to locals than they would at home. In other words, tourists feel psychologically distant from locals,” the study found.

“Since they do not perceive themselves as belong to the same 'group', it is less likely for them to comply with local norms because they are less concerned about the consequences of their behaviour and they do not expect their actions to invoke informal social control from locals,” it added.

In a series of experiments, the study has revealed Hongkongers are more likely to follow rules in Tokyo than in Bangkok, which may be linked to the closeness of Hong Kong people to the Japanese culture as it is known to be the “most Japanese City” outside Japan.

The research recommended that marketers and local authorities in tourist destinations remind tourists of the implications of misbehaviour, no matter how small.

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