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Title: An exploratory study into the meaning of phantasmal destination and the phenomenon of phantasmal tourism through the grounded theory method : the case of Shangri-la of Yunnan, China
Authors: Gao, Bo Wendy
Degree: Ph.D.
Issue Date: 2011
Abstract: Shangri-la is a destination created and reshaped after a totally imagined place by the British writer James Hilton in his novel Lost Horizon, published in 1933. Despite its fictional origins, Shangri-la has become synonymous in Western cultures with the idea of a heavenly place on earth. The name, which is an invented word without any meaning in any known language, has subsequently entered into English. The Collins English Dictionary defines it as "a remote or imaginary utopia". It is currently being presented as an actual place located in Yunnan province, China. In December 2001, Zhongdian County, the capital county of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, was renamed by the County Government, and the State Council officially announced it as Shangri-la County in May 2002. On 30th November 2007 Peter Ford published an article in the South China Morning Post, raising the alarm that "Shangri-la", which claimed to have inspired mythical accounts of heaven on earth, was becoming a "paradise lost" as a result of the hordes of tourists visiting the region. Previous tourist destination studies have focused mainly on tourist behavior, such as travel motivation, perception, and experiences, in specific physical places, including countries, cities, and rural areas. Although a number of tourism studies have described the creation of myths about tourist destinations, there is little research concerned with the reasons why people visit such imaginary places. How do tourists perceive fictional destinations and what are those perceptions based on? How do they identify the location? In this thesis, this type of locale is referred to as a 'phantasmal destination' and Shangri-la is taken as a typical illustration of such a phantasmal destination. The hypothesis of this argument is that in the mind of this specific type of visitor, the myth becomes actual history; the fiction that first served it is accepted, either as a documentary or, at least, a revelation that points to a more significant knowledge than their own. These places are presented as reality or reality mythologized through films and books, which, in turn influence the reality. In the first instance, myth becomes reality. In the second instance, a mythologized (illusory) version of the reality replaces it. Often, the resulting somewhat 'structured' site (place or attraction) is presented openly or implicitly as a heritage site. Phantasmal destination is defined here as an imaginary place embedded in a physical space. This type of imaginary place represents an essential component in a complex system of beliefs. In the context of travel, the tourist turns geographic locations into 'destinations' by mentally contriving and re-imagining landscapes. The main purpose of this exploratory study is to investigate how a phantasmal destination interacts with the realistic 'lived-in' world. The research aims to take a micro-perspective, supported by imaginative geographies, and a postmodern theoretical framework to examine of the traveler process in visiting the phantasmal destination, Shangri-La in the Yunnan province of China. In particular, travel inspiration, expectations, perception of the destination, personal psychology, and travel experience are explored. Four research questions are proposed with regards to understanding the phenomenon of visiting a phantasmal destination and how the attributes of the destination meets those phantasmal tourists' expectations. Following the constructivism paradigm, an inductive qualitative research approach is chosen, and grounded theory approach is adopted for the exploratory research. This method is characterized by constant comparative data analysis, theoretical sampling, and theoretical coding. This study consists of three stages. At stage one, the secondary data of eight published travelogues and 55 online travel blogs on Shangri-la, Yunnan province, were collected and email interviews with those bloggers were conducted. Subsequently, on site observation and informal interviews with the travelers were carried out. Based on the results of data analysis of travelogues, travel blogs and observations, semi-structured in-depth interview questions were prepared. At the final stage, 47 individual travelers were interviewed in Shangri-la and surrounding areas such as Meili Mountains and Yubeng village, as the participants recognized these places as being close to the description of the fictional Shangri-la. Six out of 47 interviews were deleted because of the poor quality of digital voice recording. Finally 41 interviews were analyzed using the constant comparative process. Constant comparative data analysis, the core method to establish analytic distinctions, consists of four steps: comparing incidents applicable to each category, integrating categories and their properties, delimiting the theory, and writing the theory.
The findings show that media promotion incited tourists' inspiration to discover an idealized authentic world. The chaos of the modern world and rapid development of globalization stimulated some people's desire to escape from their crowded lives and seek a peaceful, simple lifestyle. They wanted to explore authentic destinations before these locations were irrevocably changed and modernized. Those participants perceived Shangri-la as challenging but accessible; with a sense of a natural air of mystery; a place that incites spirituality; with particularly endearing remoteness and primitive aspects; a landscape unspoiled by development, and a simple peaceful lifestyle present in a small village. The travelers that evaluated their experience of Shangri-la were more concerned with intangible attributes, rather than tangible attributes. Their travel experiences in Shangri-la were categorized into four properties: feeling the mythical Shangri-la atmosphere, the authentic feeling of Shangri-la, scenic natural attractions, and social reality. Guided by the overall findings and informed by the data analysis paradigm, a theoretical framework was developed. This framework illustrated the tourist process when searching out a phantasmal destination, marked by their travel inspirations, perceptions, expectations, and experience, and factors influencing the searching process were identified. These factors included societal change and the significance of media, word of mouth, and personality. This framework suggests that the phenomenon of phantasmal tourism is affected by both external stimuli (such as urbanization and commercialization), and personality. In addition, travel motives, perception, and expectation interactively affect each other and together influence the overall travel experience. The most important contribution of this study is the discovery and identification of a new type of tourist destination, named 'phantasmal destination'. This type of destination has similarities to other tourist attractions that have been classified before, such as, film tourism, literature tourism, cultural tourism, and pilgrimage tourism. However, although it has similarities to those typologies, phantasmal tourism differs significantly in that, regardless of the source of the myth, whether book, film or folk mythology, it is taken to be real by its potential visitors. The phantasmal destination is more a creation of its potential visitors than its modern or historical origins. Destinations and attractions that are based on myth (stories or fables) are distinguished by the fact that visitors to those places know that they are coming to a physical destination that might have served as the location for a fiction, but they have no illusion about the event having actually occurred. However, in the case of phantasmal destination, the myth becomes a reality that, in turn, leads to a reimagining of the myth. This leads to the second contribution of this study. The findings of the research strongly suggest common personality traits that phantasmal tourists share. Although the scope of this current study does not investigate this possible phenomenon in detail, it serves to raise foundations for future studies. If correlations between personality traits and travel motivations can be established through research, the implications of such findings will be significant both for the advancement of knowledge in the field and for innovation in managerial practices. The third important question that arises is whether it is at all possible to satisfy the expectations of a phantasmal tourist. This study shows that whilst it is possible to satisfy the expectations of a phantasmal tourist, there are significant challenges. Challenges that should be met by destination managers, as phantasmal tourists are more likely to revisit the phantasmal destination once their expectations are validated. Furthermore, this study shows that destination managers can take advantage of this phenomenon by carefully designing and marketing suitable destinations once their phantasmal attributes are confirmed. Diligent design and marketing, informed by sound research, will also lead to better-designed and managed destinations that neither insist on the acceptance of the myth nor attempt to contradict it. Such destinations will also be appealing to visitors other than phantasmal, carrying a degree of interest to other types of tourists.
Subjects: Tourism -- China -- Yunnan Sheng.
Tourism -- Psychological aspects.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Pages: xx, 348 p. : ill. ; 30 cm.
Appears in Collections:Thesis

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