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Doctoral defence of Daumantas Bočkus, M.Sc., 7.6.: Culturally specific customer needs should be taken account more deeply in wellness tourism business

The doctoral dissertation in the field of Tourism Marketing and Management will be examined at the faculty of Business and Social Sciences at Joensuu.

What is the topic of your doctoral research? Why is it important to study the topic?

This dissertation delves into the different market perspectives of wellness tourism, shedding light on cross-cultural differences in the conception of wellness, wellness tourists' motivations, and service preferences. In addition, the existing knowledge on wellness tourism was expanded by revealing the differences in the inter-connections of these factors in the source markets. The research focused on wellness tourism in Finland, Lithuania, and Russian Karelia.

The importance and relevance of the study is justified with the following reasons. First, due to the inconsistent use of terms related to wellness tourism and the lack of agreement on its definition, as well as the lack of knowledge on different regional approaches to the provision of wellness tourism services, the development of scientific knowledge and wellness tourism industry development may be hindered. Second, there is a lack of cross-cultural studies about wellness tourists’ motivations, with most previous studies being destination-specific and not including a comparison of different nationality groups. The competitive wellness tourism market with growing customer awareness, more destinations positioning themselves as wellness destinations, and increased demand for wellness services requires a deeper understanding of wellness tourists' needs and motivations. Third, there is a lack of cross-cultural studies analyzing wellness tourism services as a pull factor and the connection between service preferences and tourists' motivations, with businesses often not meeting customers' demands and international customers presenting more challenges due to different needs and motivations.

What are the key findings or observations of your doctoral research?

The results of this study revealed existing differences in the wellness concept, tourists' motivations, and service provisions among the examined case areas, which are attributed to the influence of natural surroundings, natural resources, regulatory frameworks, and culture and traditions of the destinations. The demand-side analysis identified six factors that motivate wellness tourists, namely rest and relaxation, status, beauty and appearance, personal development, nature and outdoors, and socialization with the desire for rest and relaxation being the most dominant. Nevertheless, there are noteworthy variations in these motivating factors across source markets. Additionally, nationality groups demonstrate divergent service preferences, which may be influenced by cultural background. Even when different nationality groups exhibit similar service preferences, their motivation for selecting these services may vary. Finally, the study argued that tourists' conception of wellness and their prior experience of wellness tourism consumption within domestic destinations impact their needs, motivations, and preferred ways of fulfilment while traveling abroad.

The findings of this study underscore that the wellness market is heterogeneous and that different nationalities possess distinct concepts of wellness, which impact their service preferences and motivations. This implies that, businesses must gain a deeper understanding of these differences to remain competitive and should diversify and adjust their service offerings, positioning, and communication strategies to cater to these culturally specific customer needs.

How can the results of your doctoral research be utilised in practice?

This study offers valuable managerial insights specific to the wellness tourism sector, based on findings from cross-cultural analysis conducted from the perspective of both wellness tourism businesses and tourists. These insights have important implications for both wellness tourism entrepreneurs and DMOs (Destination Management Organizations). Cross-cultural understanding can improve service offerings and communication strategies for international tourists. This, in turn, can enhance the promotion, competitiveness, and sustainable development of wellness tourism businesses and destinations.

This study emphasized the importance of distinctive and unique attributes of the destination, that form the ‘sense of place’ of a destination and can be utilized in destination marketing to effectively communicate its authentic features to source markets for a competitive advantage. Additionally, study suggested segmenting heterogeneous groups of wellness tourists into homogeneous sub-groups based on their shared traits and developing tailor-made offerings to increase the effectiveness of marketing activities towards desired target groups. Furthermore, study revealed that despite the growing importance of eudaemonic experiences, core wellness tourism services such as massage, saunas, and swimming pool preferences still dominate the market. This has significant implications for the communication and development of services in the wellness tourism industry.

What are the key research methods and materials used in your doctoral research?

To obtain an in-depth understanding of the phenomena being analyzed and to gain multiple viewpoints and perspectives, a mixed-methods approach was employed in this multiple case study. Qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted with service providers to gather their perspectives on wellness, and thematic content analysis was performed as it is applicable across various theoretical and epistemological approaches. In addition, secondary data such as legislation, state standards, certification programmes, and development plans were gathered to investigate the influence of regulatory mechanisms on wellness concept and wellness tourism service offerings in the destination. Content analysis was employed to analyze the data.

To reveal the demand-side perspective, the motivational factors and service preferences of wellness tourists were investigated, and the connection between these factors in different source markets was compared. A survey was chosen as a method of data collection where in total 1,562 responses were collected. First, descriptive statistics including the Kruskal-Wallis H Test and the Mann-Whitney U test was performed. Second, an exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was used to determine the motivation dimensions and construct sum variables. Third, a Seemingly Unrelated Regression analysis (SUR) and slope analysis were conducted to analyze whether nationality moderates the effect between service preferences and motivational factors.

The doctoral dissertation of Daumantas Bočkus, M.Sc., entitled The market perspectives of wellness tourism: A multiple case study, will be examined at the faculty of Business and Social Sciences on 7.6.2023 at 12 noon in the Carelia Building, Auditorium C2 and online. The Opponent will be Associate Professor Eleni Michopoulou, University Derby, and the Custos will be Professor Raija Komppula, University of Eastern Finland. Language of the dissertation event is English. Public examination will be streamed live.

For further information, please contact: daumantas_b(at)