2013. Vol.2, No.1, 25-31
Published Online February 2013 in SciRes
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 25
Consumption Behaviours of Park Visitors and the Implications
for Tourism Marketing: A Case in China
The Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University, Alice Springs, Australia
Received November 9th, 2012; revised December 10th, 2012; accepted December 17th, 2012
A survey of tourists to the protected areas in the Taibai Mountain (太白山) Region of China reveals a lo-
cal domestic market, dominated by students and company employees. The market is attracted by the
natural beauty of the Region, but not yet focused on nature based activities in the many protected areas.
Given the Region’s assured tourism future based on its natural and cultural characteristics, the survey data
are used to discuss strategies for development. The fundamental issue is how to design tourism products
targeting different tourist market segments which have different consumption preferences and behaviours
and provide sustainable economic benefits to the local community while protecting the natural and cul-
tural assets of this region.
Keywords: China; Local Poor; Market Segments; Tourism Development; Tourist Behaviours
Tourists are the most important contributors to the world
economy, as well as socio-cultural and eco-environmental sys-
tems. Tourist expenditure is the most important source of fi-
nancial input to the tourism system. Tourist experiences within
the tourism system are influenced by, and also potentially
change, local social (including cultural) and ecological systems.
Different tourists behave in very different ways and have dif-
ferent impacts including different expenditure, and bring dif-
ferent changes to local communities.
Tourist typologies are useful in tourism planning only to the
extent that they realistically reflect tourist behaviour and the
level of perturbation they bring to the receiving tourism system.
That is, if different tourist types exert different levels of influ-
ence on the elements of the tourism experience and the change
process, then manipulating tourist types is an available man-
Mathieson and Wall (1982) propose nine types of criteria
that could be used to identify tourist types and be useful in
planning, consisting of 1) place of origin, 2) socio-economic
demographic variables, 3) purpose for trip, 4) expenditure, 5)
psychological characteristics, 6) length of stay, 7) accommoda-
tion preferences, 8) transportation style and 9) the level of use.
However, a “natural taxonomy” of tourists and tourism types
remains elusive. There appears little evidence to support uni-
versal application of many typologies in terms of tourist be-
haviour. They appear to be based more on characteristics of the
tourist product presented (supply), than on demand aspects of
tourists and their behaviour. Nevertheless, the influence of
idiosyncratic typologies (Smith, 1978) and simple demographic
segmentation of the tourist market has been profound (Pearce,
1982), although with some criticisms (such as Graf & Ossig,
The use of psychographic segmentation has provided greater
insight to tourist motivations, their underlying push-pull factors
and behaviours (Bieger & Laesser, 2000, 2002; Formica &
Uysal, 2002). This understanding has been applied to defining
marketing strategies (Chen, 2003; Eftichiadou, 2001; Ekinci &
Chen, 2002; McCaskey, 2002), as well as strategic develop-
ments (Horneman, Carter, Wei, & Ruys, 2002). While psycho-
graphic approaches appear to be the most useful way to seg-
ment tourist markets for strategic planning of tourism, it re-
quires in-depth study of tourists and their motivations and per-
haps becomes rapidly dated in a scenario of rapid change.
Tourist behaviour, like all human behaviour, is complex and
ultimately unpredictable, but it is influenced by factors, nor-
mally considered under the banner of tourist psychology (Raj,
2004). Many ties between the psyche of tourists and their be-
haviour are held subconsciously; others are easily retrieved
when thinking about a tourism-related activity. Commonly,
these dimensions of tourist psychology have been discussed in
terms of push-pull factors of tourist motivations (Uysal & Ju-
rowski, 1994; Yuan & McDonald, 1990). Strong psychological
factors that drive tourism behaviour include prior events and
thoughts, thick descriptions of tourism consumption systems,
and the consequences of tourists’ visits (e.g. perceived quality
of the visit experience, satisfaction with activities experienced;
intentions to return, post-experiences, word-of-mouth commu-
nications). Weak psychological ties stimulate or inhibit tourism
behaviour, although in most cases the presence of any one weak
tie is necessary but not sufficient to result in specific tourism
behaviours (Woodside, Caldwell, & Albers-Miller, 2004). Travel
activities and tourist demographics affect tourist consumption,
including choice of products, product attributes, and store at-
tributes. Swanson and Horridge (2004) found that the travel
activities of tourists had positive correlations with souvenir
consumption, while tourist demographics had no correlation.
However, Suh and Gartner (2004) found that preference for a
specific activity does not directly correlate with expenditure on
the activity. This is typical of tourist psychology and behaviour
studies that tend to be, at least, seemingly contradictory if gen-
ZENG B. X.
eralizations are sought.
Tourist profile affects tourism behaviour to some extent. Suh
and Gartner (2004) suggested that, for both pleasure and busi-
ness travellers, those from nearby homes tended to give most
consideration to the “tangible” attributes (shopping), while the
travellers from distant origins gave more consideration to “in-
tangible” attributes (local culture). Regardless of origin, busi-
ness travellers spent significantly more than pleasure travellers.
In many cases, it is difficult to distinguish tourist behaviour by
analysing market segments based on tourist profile (e.g. back-
packers and holidaymakers), because the market is not solely
comprised of “life change” or “rite of passage” holidaymakers,
and differences are found between different groupings even in
travellers with similar tourist profiles (Mohsin & Ryan, 2003).
In protected areas in China, the numbers of tourists have
been increasing rapidly in recent years. Developing suitable
tourism products and targeting different tourism markets is
important for sustainable tourism development. Understanding
tourist behaviour and converting it into desired products is a
crucial aspect of this endeavour. Of particular importance for
China, is the development of products that are sustainable, that
give tourism development a solid base for future growth and
ultimately benefit local communities. This paper reports the
results of a study that surveyed tourists from different origins
and backgrounds to explore the effects of tourist behaviour on
the local community. It identifies options for strategies of tour-
ism development based on the findings.
Case Study Area
The study was conducted in a group of protected areas in the
Taibai Mountain Region in Shaanxi, a western province of
China. This is an area where tourism development has been
increasing rapidly, and addressing widespread poverty is a ma-
Shaanxi is one of the less developed provinces in China. The
annual net income per rural resident was a mere RMB 3438 (in
2009) (US $503.26, i.e. US $1.38 per day) (Bureau of Statistics
of Shaanxi, 2010). This is much lower than the average national
level of RMB5153 (US $754.31, i.e. US $2.07 per day) (Na-
tional Bureau of Statistics of China, 2010). Local communities
in the case study area had an even lower per capita annual net
income for rural residents and per capita Gross Domestic Pro-
duction (GDP) than the provincial average (Zeng 2008).
Being one of the most important habitats for Giant Panda,
Gold Monkey and Golden Takin, three endangered species
listed on the IUCN Red Book (IUCN, 2004), Taibai Mountain
Region is presently undergoing rapid development to cater for
the increasing number of tourists.
A survey of tourists was conducted in July to August 2003 at
tourist attraction entrances in the Taibai Mountain Region. A
total of 500 tourists were surveyed with 271 used in the analy-
sis. Demographic data were collected along with perspectives
on tourism effects and tourism preferences, as well as spending
details during the trip. The resultant combination of profile,
expenditure data, preferences and perspectives permits triangu-
lation of results by matching the contribution to the local
economy and community (in quantitative terms) with perspec-
tives (in qualitative terms). This permits derivation of recom-
mendations for strategic action for developing tourism in the
In this research, elements of the first five criteria types have
been used. These were selected based on ease of collection
through interview survey, knowledge of the existing market and
the underlying basis of the study to track expenditure pattern
and flow to, and through the community.
Tourists were divided into those coming from: local counties,
other counties of Shanxi Province, other provinces in China,
and overseas. Most tourists visiting the Taibai Mountain Re-
gion are from the local (Shanxi) province, with 3.0% from local
counties and 49.8% from other parts (mainly Xi’An City, Baoji
City (宝鸡市) and Xianyang City (咸阳市)). Other provinces
(mainly the neighbouring provinces) contribute 46.1% of visi-
tors, and only 1.1% comes from overseas. Thus, the current
tourism market for Taibai Mountain Region is highly localised
with considerable room for expansion, domestically and inter-
nationally, given appropriate marketing and an effective trans-
portation system. For Taibai Mountain Nature Reserve (太白山
自然保护区), the percentage of external visitors, other than
from Shanxi province, is much higher than that for Taibai
Mountain Forest Park (太白山森林公园). Tourists visiting the
Nature Reserve are typical “park” visitors seeking nature-based
experiences rather than general holidays in a natural setting.
This suggests, certainly supported by Taibai Mountain Nature
Reserve’s outstanding natural qualities, that the Reserve has the
potentials to attract more external visitors interested in nature.
Tourist occupation was divided into eight categories: student,
business staff, factory worker, farmer, business person, public
servant, retired senior and others. Students and company em-
ployees accounted for well over 50% of visitors to the Taibai
Region (Figure 1). In contrast with developed nations (Horne-
man, Carter, Wei, & Ruys, 2002), retired seniors accounted for
Fa rme r
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
ZENG B. X.
only 3.8% of visitors. Farmers (2.7%), the poorest demographic
group, were the least represented. Therefore, the current market
appears to be characterised by visitors with low levels of dis-
posable income or minimal income.
Destination Selection and Tourist Motivation
Nature as the Attraction
Interviewees were asked to rank the reasons for visiting the
Taibai Mountain Region from a given list. Nature was consis-
tently ranked highest, followed by price, services and culture
(Table 1). The importance of price reflects the employment
status of the majority of visitors.
The importance of nature, especially the protected areas, was
highlighted when interviewees were asked would they visit if
the nature reserve/forest park did not exist. Most (55.0%) an-
swered “No”, with 22.9% answering “Yes” (22.1% did not
answer this question). These data suggest that, provided pricing
levels can be maintained and services increased and improved,
nature-based tourism will continue to be an important niche
market for the Region, with considerable potential for expan-
sion. While the tourism sector might be able to respond to
growing tourist numbers, concern remains for the capacity of
the Park management sector to respond to increased demand.
Given that the Taibai Mountain Region has a unique tradi-
tional country lifestyle and an amazing religious amalgamation
of Taoism and Buddhism, it was expected that culture would be
ranked higher as an attraction. The result probably reflects the
interests of the localised market, but may be the result of the
destination not marketing its cultural dimensions and the ab-
sence of culture-related tourism product. Certainly, culture
based tourism is complementary to nature-based tourism, and
strategic development of both would expand the market inter-
ested in visiting the Region, including international visitors.
However, given the iconic status of the endangered and charis-
matic wildlife species, there is the danger that emphasis will be
given to developing tourism product to exploit these attractions,
without considering the inherent interest an external market
would have for local culture. Any action to target a greater
proportion of non-local visitors will need to consider the poten-
tial impact on local culture. This is particularly so given world-
wide experience of the dangers of local cultures commodifying
their way of living to enter the tourism system.
Occupation and Destination Selection
While all tourist occupation groups rank nature highly or the
most important factor motivating a visit to the region, occupa-
tions have significant differences (p < 0.05) in how they ranked
the provided list of pull factors (Table 2).
Public servants ranked nature the highest, followed by com-
pany employees, students, farmers and business people, while
factory workers and retired seniors give nature the lowest av-
erage ranking. In contrast, they are most sensitive to price. It
appears that with education and higher incomes comes a greater
interest in nature. For low-income tourists, there is a need to
balance attractions and costs. This is evident in the high ranking
price is given by factory workers and retired seniors, but also
Tourists from local counties rank nature the highest rank,
followed by Shanxi tourists, China tourists and finally over-
seas tourists (Table 3). However, overseas tourists rank culture
first in their priorities, while all domestic groups rank it lowest.
Similarly, the overseas tourists appear not to be price sensitive,
ranking price lowest of the factors influencing destination
choice. While domestic tourists tend to rank nature first and
culture last, there is no statistical significance (significance >
0.05) between groups’ rank order. This is possibly a result of
the variability given to ranking price and service.
While the number of overseas tourists interviewed was low,
the relative importance given to culture and not to price is sig-
nificant from a strategic planning perspective. It gives weight to
the argument that developing cultural tourism products is cru-
cial for the international market, and that, at least service and
pricing may be almost incidental. Care must be taken with this
interpretation of the results, because the sampled overseas tour-
ists may be from one or more of Smith’s (1978) “Explorer”,
“Elite”, “Off-beat” or “Unusual” tourist types, which may not
be service (and price) sensitive. If a tourism development strat-
egy seeks to attract “Incipient mass”, “Mass” or “Charter” types
(see Smith 1978), then attention to service (and price) may be
Reason for Travelling and Satisfaction with the Taibai
Irrespective of place of origin and occupation, respondents
indicated satisfaction with the tourism experience (75.6% satis-
fied, 10.3% not satisfied and 14.0% did not answer). More than
three-quarters of tourists interviewed were on holidays, al-
though there were a relatively high number of tourists visiting
to attend a convention (Figure 2). Convention attendees were
public servants, company staff and professionals.
Tourist Consumption Preferences
Tourists Prefer Comfortable Quality Hotels
Different forms of accommodation can have different eco-
Factors affecting destination selection.
Factors affecting tourism destination selection Average ranking
3.7% No answer
Tourist visit motivation.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 27
ZENG B. X.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Factors affecting tourism destination selection by tourist occupation.
Occupation category Nature ranking
(average rank order)
(average rank order)
(average rank order)
(average rank order)
Others 1.09 (1) 3.25 (4) 2.36 (2) 3.09 (3)
Public servant 1.23 (1) 2.86 (2) 2.43 (3) 3.41 (4)
Company employee 1.62 (1) 2.37 (3) 2.27 (2) 3.49 (4)
Student 1.67 (1) 2.18 (2) 2.84 (3) 3.17 (4)
Farmer 1.70 (1) 2.76 (3) 2.08 (2) 3.22 (4)
Business person 1.75 (1) 2.29 (2) 2.46 (3) 3.50 (4)
Factory worker 2.20 (2) 2.00 (1) 3.00 (4) 2.80 (3)
Retired senior 2.22 (1) 2.22 (1) 2.22 (1) 3.00 (4)
Not indicated 2.33 (2) 2.33 (2) 1.83 (1) 3.50 (4)
Total 1.64 (1) 2.43 (2) 2.47 (3) 3.31 (4)
Ranking factors affecting tourism destination selection by different tourist origin.
Origin category Nature ranking
(average rank order)
(average rank order)
(average rank order)
(average rank order)
Local 1.37 (1) 2.67 (3) 2.43 (2) 2.83 (4)
Shanxi 1.57 (1) 2.41 (2) 2.58 (3) 3.31 (4)
China 1.72 (1) 2.42 (3) 2.35 (2) 3.34 (4)
Overseas 2.00 (2) 4.00 (4) 2.00 (2) 1.00 (1)
Total 1.64 (1) 2.43 (2) 2.47 (3) 3.31 (4)
ac c ommodation
hotel (2-3 star)
Frie nd ho me
Nice hotel (<= 1
nomic effects on the local economy. Vaughan, Farr and Slee
(2000) considered agro-tourism (farm-based) and non-agro-
tourism (hotels) forms of accommodation in Exmoor National
Park, UK. They found that both forms of accommodation cre-
ated similar levels of employment and income per unit of visi-
tor spending; although non-agro tourism generally created
higher levels of income per unit of visitor spending, while agro
tourism created more employment per unit of visitor spending.
This study found that tourists generally prefer comfortable,
quality (government rated) accommodations irrespective of
their occupation and hence income level (Figure 3).
While the number of hotels in the Taibai Region appears to
match demand, only 55.3% of respondents reported being ac-
commodated at the standard of hotel desired. Thus, in the Tai-
bai Mountain Region, given the low importance given to ser-
vice standard in tourist destination choice, there appears to be
some misalignment of hotel diversity and tourist expectations;
or there are tourist density and facility level problems. While
data were not collected to clarify the issue here, the impression
gained from undertaking the work was that tourists would ap-
preciate delivery of a higher service and quality standard for all
accommodation forms. Clearly, this is a matter to be address at
an early time if tourism is to grow and be sustainable in the
Tourist preference in accommodation selection.
restaurants), rather than in informal restaurants, including road-
side food services run by local people (Figure 4).
However, many tourists indicated a desire to experience the
local cuisine but were reticent because of concern for hygiene.
If local cuisine is to be developed as a tourism product then
input is needed to assure visitors that hygiene and sanitation
meet minimum standards. This will probably require govern-
Tourist Preference for Restaurants
Nearly 70% of tourists indicated they preferred to dine in
formal restaurants (hotel and quality (government regulated)
ZENG B. X.
Rest aurants i n
restaura n ts
Tourist preference in restaurant selection.
ment investment in the training of local residents, especially
roadside food outlets. The benefits of such investments lie in
the fact that purchases from informal food outlets means in-
come goes directly to the local community and may be a major
factor in poverty alleviation. For quality and hotel restaurants,
this result suggests that it would be good business practice to
serve tourists with local special traditional food.
Tourist Spending Behaviours
The structure of tourist spending affects the degree to which
economic benefit of tourism flows to a community. Equally,
different tourist types have different spending behaviours,
leading to different effects on the local economy and house-
holds. In a study in the North West Province of South Africa,
Saayman, Saayman and Rhodes (2001) found that most tourist
expenditure is on accommodation (33%), followed by shopping
and souvenirs (21%) and entertainment (18%). They concluded
that tourism has a positive impact on a country’s balance of
payments, foreign exchange earnings, gross domestic product
and employment. The magnitude of this favourable impact
depends, however, on the multiplier effect, which in turn de-
pends on the extent of leakages from the economy.
Structure of Tourist Spe nding
Tourists to the Taibai Mountain Region spend an average of
US $49.12 during a visit. The structure of tourist expenditure
shows that travel, food, accommodation and entry fees are the
major items and account for nearly 65% of total expenditure
(Figure 5). In contrast, local products and souvenir consump-
tion is small, 5.9% and 4.6% respectively. Expenditure on en-
tertainment (2.9%), carriers and guides (2.0%) are even lower
(Figure 5). These latter items are often suggested as areas
where local communities can gain financially from increased
tourist activity. While this result might reflect the purchasing
preferences of the largely local Chinese visitor, it might also
suggest a shortage of local tourist product, including local pro-
duce, distinctive souvenirs and entertainment events that dis-
play local traditional culture, guided tours and destination in-
terpretation services. It suggests that the development of such
products probably lags behind tourism development, yet these
are areas where local unskilled people might gain from tourism
Accom moda tion
Trav el agent
Ca rrier an d gui de
Tourist spending structure in the Taibai Mountain Region, China.
Tourist Origin and Occupation and Spending Patter ns
The differences in expenditure for various tourist profiles are
significant. This was found to be the case in the Taibai Moun-
tain Region where tourist expenditure varied considerably,
depending on the origin of the tourist. Total spending by Chi-
nese tourists from outside Shanxi is US $62.21, significantly
higher than the US $38.35 spent by tourists from Shanxi Prov-
ince and the US $14.78 spent by tourists originating locally
(Table 4). In addition, expenditure on local products follows a
similar trend. A Pearson Correlation statistic between spending
on local products and total tourist expenditure reveals a highly
significant correlation (n = 173, χ2 = 0.745, p = 0.000 (<0.01)).
That is, the further a tourist has to travel to reach the Region,
the greater will be their total expenditure as well as their ex-
penditure on local products. Thus, developing external markets
(other provinces in China and from overseas) is likely to pro-
vide higher tourist receipts than attracting the local market and
will probably result in financial benefits flowing further down
the household income brackets.
Occupation also affects spending pattern. Farmers spend an
average of US $94.73 (n = 18) on a visit to the Taibai Mountain
Region, followed by public servants (US $56.08, n = 19) and
business employees (US $54.28, n = 41). Those that spend the
least are retired seniors (US $36.09, n = 8), students (US $34.50,
n = 51) and factory workers (US $27.59, n = 4) (Table 5). Ex-
penditure on local products follows a similar trend.
It is not surprising that low-income groups spend less during
their trip and less on local products than higher income visitors.
However, it is really surprising that farmer tourists spend the
most money both in total and on local products. This can be
explained by only farmers who are wealthy can travel. This is
supported by considering the origin of this group. Most come
from relative developed areas (27.8% are from Baoji and Xi’an
which are the two largest cities in Shanxi, and 66.7% are from
the developed provinces of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong).
Conclusions and Discussion
Strategically and from an economic benefit to the region
perspective, the target tourist groups for tourism development
in the Taibai Mountain Region need to be selected based on
both per capita expenditure and tourist number. Based on the
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 29
ZENG B. X.
Tourist origin and tourist spending.
Tourist origin Total spending
(A) (US $)
Spending on local
products (B) (US $) B/A (%)
Local 14.78 0.35 2.4
Shanxi 38.35 1.72 4.5
China 62.21 4.20 6.8
Tourist occupation and tourist spending.
Tourist occupation Total spending
(A) (US $)
Spending on local
products (B) (US $)B/A (%)
Factory worker 27.58 0.30 1.1
Student 34.50 1.20 3.5
Retired senior 36.09 1.48 4.1
Merchant 38.50 2.93 6.0
Others 49.25 1.61 3.3
Not indicated 53.94 2.42 4.5
Company employee 54.28 3.77 6.9
Public servant 56.08 3.68 6.6
Farmer 94.73 6.43 6.8
existing market, farmers, public servants and business employ-
ees outside of the region are the most important target groups,
because they have the highest expenditure patterns and moder-
ate tourist numbers. Of the groups with the lowest per capita
spending, students must be considered as an important eco-
nomic contributor to local economy and local households be-
cause of their large number. Greater attention to this group is
also warranted given their relatively low demand for infra-
structure and services and hence, represent a “soft option” for
manageable tourism development where the local community
can gain experience with tourism, but working with a market
that is less demanding than others. However, if rapid economic
growth is the sole rationale for tourism development then the
travel agency business perception that “both the current per-
ceived significance of student markets and the potential sig-
nificance of this market in the future is very low” (Shanka &
Taylor, 2002) may well be true. However, there has been little
research undertaken to understand the motivations and needs of
this group (Dosen & Prebezac, 2003), and, for example, student
study tours may be a form of sustainable tourism that can make
a substantial economic impact on host countries (Fleenor, Toh,
& Arnesen, 2003).
The Taibai Mountain Region is currently a nature-based
tourism attraction; however, its future may lie in developing
both nature and culture based products and related marketing
images, especially if the international market is a target. Do-
mestic tourists from other provinces and international tourists
spend more money both in total and on local products. Given
that these markets are currently largely untapped, they are im-
portant targets for marketing and product development to suit
their expectations and holiday behaviours. Given suitable edu-
cation of local entrepreneurs then the benefit to the local
economy and local community development is likely to be
significant if even a modest penetration into these markets is
Existing tourists prefer quality hotels and restaurants and the
current level and range of facilities appears not to match de-
mand. Therefore, irrespective of the potential to attract overseas
and the distant domestic market, it appears necessary to develop
a greater diversity of quality hotels and food services, and up-
grade quality generally. At the same time, if increasing tourism
benefits to the poorer members of the local community is an
objective, then the informal accommodation and food & bev-
erage sectors must be strengthened and improved to be quality
and at a reliable standard of quality.
Holiday makers are the main component of tourists in the
Taibai Mountain Region. However, to attend a convention is
becoming more and more important motivation for visitors to
the region. Convention attendees have relatively high expendi-
ture patterns both in total and on local products during their trip.
Considering their relatively higher consumption ability, target-
ing and expanding this market seems to be another soft option
for increasing tourism revenues, although economic benefits to
local poor people is likely to be less than strategies that focus
on alternative markets. However, to grow the share of this
market will require investment in quality convention products
such centres, accommodation and ancillary products such as
special study day tours, convention souvenirs and local cultural
The Taibai Mountain Region faces an assured tourism future
based on its natural and cultural qualities. The issue for tourism
development planning is how fast should tourism grow, what
should be the marketing image, who should be the target mar-
kets and what level of impact is acceptable if a sustainable fu-
ture is the ultimate tourism goal. The study of tourist behav-
iours and their effect on the local community reported here
provides insight to the implications of various strategies. A
rapid growth, economic maximisation approach requires re-
sponding to the existing markets and expanding into the inter-
national and distant domestic markets. The danger is that the
local community will be left behind and economic benefits will
not filter down. The alternative of slower growth and maximi-
sation of benefits to the local community does not exclude the
former. The region is fortunate in not being tourism resource
poor, rather it is tourism product poor, with a deficit of both
economic and social capital to ensure benefits truly accrue to
the local community. It seems that strategic (government) in-
terventions are needed realise both tourism futures.
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