Tourism As Consumption Precipitate: an Exploration and Example


Janeen Arnold Costa (1993) ,"Tourism As Consumption Precipitate: an Exploration and Example", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. W. Fred Van Raaij and Gary J. Bamossy, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 300-306.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1993      Pages 300-306


Janeen Arnold Costa, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, U.S.A.


Both hosts and guests engage in new consumption behaviors as a result of cross-cultural contact in the context of tourism. While tourism is a bi-directional force effecting consumption changes for both hosts and guests, the nature, intent and meaning of the resultant behaviors are different for the two societal groups. Drawing on social science theory concerning possessions as expressions of self, the paper compares and contrasts hosts' and guests' statements of "self" and "other" through the objects and services they consume; an illustrative example from Hungary is presented.

Tourism is an important domain of consumption experience and a powerful force in precipitating new or unusual consumption behaviors. When the tourist journey involves crossing cultural and societal boundaries, important consumption changes occur among both hosts and their guests. In the context of the consumption experiences which ensue, individuals make statements about the relationship between their personal self and the "other" they encounter. While tourism serves as a common consumption context, and the contact between the two cultures enables and effects an exchange of consumption objects and learned behaviors, the nature and intent of the statements of self and "other" are markedly different for host and guest. The most important implication of these opposing self-statements is the symbolic expression of differentiation from and lack of equality between the two groups engaging in the contact.


Cultural Construction of Meaning

The relevant theoretical area providing the framework for the study presented here emphasizes cultural construction of meaning and individual uses of that cultural construction. Assuming that "all human beings inhabit a cultural world of symbolic meanings and shared understanding," (Barrett 1984, p.12) the human consumption of goods takes on a special signficance within that context of symbolism and understanding. The focus of the work presented in this paper is on these person-object relations. This domain is a relatively new subfield within consumer behavior (see, for example, Arnould 1989; Costa 1989b; Costa and Belk 1990; Costa and Pavia 1991; Sherry 1990; Wallendorf and Arnould 1988) and deserves more thorough exploration.

Deriving important insights from social and cultural anthropology, consumer behaviorists have drawn upon theory expounded by Sahlins (1976) and Douglas and Isherwood (1979), who described the way in which consumer goods carry and transmit cultural meaning. In anthropology, "it is standard ethnographic practice to assume that all material possessions carry social meanings and to concentrate a main part of cultural analysis upon their use as communicators" (Douglas and Isherwood 1979, p. 59). An important perspective within the field of consumer behavior itself is provided by Grant McCracken, whose model (1988) concerning meaning construction and movements in consumer goods is particularly useful. McCracken indicates cultural meaning is located in three places: in a culturally constituted world, in consumer goods, and in the individual. The meaning is in transit from each of these places, moving from the world, to the good as it is produced and marketed, to the individual in the process of purchase and consumption. An apparent, rather than real, weakness in McCracken's model is that it is unilinealCthe feedback from individual to society or culturally constituted world is not clearly delineated in the model as diagrammed. Nevertheless, the model is useful for the study presented here, which describes tourism as a consumption context in which specific meanings are transferred from the world to the object, and from the object to the individual, who then generally expresses and reinforces cultural reality through the use of the object. McCracken's model is presented in Figure 1.

It is also important to realize that, while McCracken does not specify the feedback loop from individual to society in the diagram of his model, its existence is an assumption of the model and is more fully described by McCracken in his text. Thus, McCracken indicates "the members of a culture are constantly engaged in the construction, the constitution, of the world in which they live; " (1988, p.74) this activity involves both the apprehension of intended meaning and the creation, expansion and modification of already consituted cultural categories and principals.

Belk provides specific insights into the interaction of individual and society; his work in the area of possessions as an expression of extended self (1988) provides a concrete framework within which we can analyze the way in which the individual utilizes cultural constructions to impart meaning to and gain understanding of his/her own consumption behavior. According to Belk, "a key to understanding what possessions mean is recognizing that, knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, we regard our possessions as parts of ourselves" (1988, p. 139). Specifically with reference to the study here, the consumption of new products on the part of both hosts and guests is shown to have meaning when analyzed in the context of such consumption as involving statements about "self." This domain of analysis becomes even more fruitful when the statements about "self" are analyzed from the perspective of "self" versus "other." Rossel describes "other" as "all that which is missing in our urban and industrial world" (1988, p.4). However, a more general perspective, which allows us to incorporate statements about "self" made on the part of both hosts and guests, sees "other" as all that is in contrast to "self." This can occur on various levels, ranging from the individual to the community, the ethnic group, the national society, and beyond. In this context, then, statements of "self" imply that something exists which is perceived to be "not-self;" that something is referred to as "other."

This contrast is heightened when the contact between "self" and "other" involves the crossing of societal/cultural boundaries. In the study presented here on the impact of tourism on consumer behavior, it will be shown that the tourists' consumption of new products encountered in the context of tourism are attempts to state primarily that they, the tourists, are unlike "other," the hosts. Conversely, hosts' consumption of products to which they have been exposed through the presence of tourists in their country involves self-statements of conformity with or similarity to "other;" that is, hosts are saying that they, the hosts, are like the tourists in many important ways. Thus, the intent of the self-statement contrasts markedly when we compare hosts and guests. This issue is examined in greater detail below.

Tourism and Consumption

Tourism is a powerful, influential force in consumption. A consumption event itself, it also stimulates further purchases of goods and services in the tourist point of destination. While engaging in travel, tourists to other countries often serve as a role model for new consumption behaviors among hosts. Thus, we can analyze tourism as a consumption precipitate, effecting and affecting consumer behavior in two directionsCboth among tourists and among those whom tourists visit.



Guests/Tourists. Tourism has been described as "prestige-seeking through the collection of unique, exotic, or unusual travel destinations and experiences" (Belk and Costa 1991, forthcoming). Traveling from place to place, perhaps from one continent to another (Dunbar 1977), the tourist may seek playful experience or adventure (Mergen 1978, Moore 1980, Vester 1987), education (Jager 1975), or contact with the exotic and authentic (Cohen 1990, Rossel 1988), for example.

Beyond the the consumption of the experience, however, the tourist often purchases what are referred to as souvenirs, validating the "acquisitive and boastful motivation" of tourism (Belk and Costa 1991, forthcoming; see also Bensen and Silberman 1987, Dunbar 1977, Morrow 1982). Hahn (1990) describes souvenirs as purchases which are meant to memorialize and authenticate the tourist experience. Since "the sacred space and time of the tour remain extraordinary; time out of time; mysterious, mythical, and ritualized," the purchase of a souvenir can be said to commemorate that sacred space and time (Belk and Costa 1991, forthcoming; see also Belk, Wallendorf and Sherry 1989, Graburn 1989, Juter 1975, Noronha 1979).

In addition, the souvenir is often displayed to othersCworn, placed on a livingroom mantle, used to decorate a wall; in a Goffmanesque way, to present self to others. Goffman sees "the a performed character" (1959, p.252); the use of material objects, the "goods we display" (Ibid, p.251) is a common tool utilized in the performance; the tourist purchases and displays souvenirs as part of the performance in which s/he presents self to others in his/her social domain. In the tourist's presentation of self, the purpose is to present self both as "world traveler" and as one who appreciates the "traditional" and "authentic."

The concepts of "traditional," "authentic," "exotic," and "romantic" are often interwoven in the tourist's experience. According to Cohen (1990), this quest for the authentic is part of the desire to flee "modern" society: "the impersonal nature of labor-intensive industrial productions creates a demand for so-called "traditional" or "authentic" crafts" (p.22; see also MacCannell 1976 and McKean 1989). Thus, the search for "traditional" validates self as one who is capable of appreciating that which is not modern; paradoxically, however, the tourist must return to the modern in order to engage in the appropriate performance or display which suggests his/her appreciation of the not-modern.

Hosts. Conversely, the consumption behavior of hosts is affected by the mere presence of tourists. As Gonseth notes, hosts develop "a fascination ...[for] the objects possessed by tourists" (1988, p. 41). Buck-Morss (1987) describes the situation in greater detail; she claims tourists:

are walking advertisements for commodity culture. Their very presence promotes Minolta cameras, Levi jeans, Nivea cream, Coca Cola, as agents of what might be called 'trademark imperialism.' The images they provide the villagers, reinforced by television advertisements, appear to be compelling the village into 'modernity' less by force than by seduction (Buck-Morss 1987, p. 225).

Even if the number of tourists is relatively small, "tourism appears as a transforming force which reproduces an imported model" of consumption behavior (Rossell 1988, p.10) And, as the number of tourists increases, the rate of culture change is likely to escalate as well. Bovenkerk (1974) indicates consumption behavior will be affected markedly by an increase in the number and frequency of visits by those who serve as consumption role models, for example. While his research focused primarily on returning migrants (see also Gmelch 1979, 1980; Kenny 1972), a similar situation may be said to exist for tourism-related changes in consumer behavior. As hosts are exposed to various individuals, including tourists, who act as consumption role models, consumer behavior changes; "those with numerous and intimate contacts...are more amenable to changes associated with expanded consumption" (Costa 1989a, p. 239).


The specific case study presented here for illustration relies on the anthropological qualitative methods of participant-observation and informal interviewing, along with archival research. Both directed and non-directed interviewing were utilized; I recorded my observations in field notes, videotapes and photos. Archival research focused on scholarly works concerning Hungarian folk customs, peasant lifestyles, gender roles and costume, as well as general and recent Hungarian history and political economy, including available demographic and economic data sources.

The author visited Hungary as part of preliminary research in September 1990, at which time the framework for the current study was formed. Anthropological field research in Hungary was undertaken for several weeks in the Fall of 1991. The process was iterative, referring here to use of the constant comparative method involving data and theory in an emergent design (e.g., Glaser and Strauss 1976; Lincoln and Guba 1985; Miles and Huberman 1984). In addition to time spent in Hungary, research on the same subject was undertaken in Czechoslovakia for the purpose of comparison. Finally, data from both countries were compared with earlier work undertaken on tourism and consumer culture in general and on tourism and its effects in Greece in particular. Anthropologists have traditionally emphasized the use of cross-cultural data in order to arrive at a greater understanding of human behavior. Through comparisons among Greece, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and other countries, characteristics specific to tourism-precipitated consumption behavior in Hungary were highlighted, validating the cross-cultural method and providing insights into the behavior which might have been overlooked otherwise.

It is important to recognize that the purpose of the research was not to produce an ethnography, as is often the case with researchers using anthropological methods. The approach, instead, was ethnological, emphasizes both the use of the concept of culture in the analysis and the understandings gained through cross-cultural comparisons; "ethnology is the comparative study of cultures" (Hunter and Whitten 1976, p. 149, emphasis added).


Tourism in Hungary is an important economic phenomenon, comprising approximately 8-9% of Hungarian GDP (Tourism Revenue... 1991). This should be contrasted with the world average of approximately 6% contribution to GDP, and the EC average of less than 2% (Panorama of EC Industry 1990, 24-1). In the first six months of 1991, the National Tourism Office of Hungary estimated 12.7 million foreigners came into the country for the purpose of tourism (Tourism Revenue... 1991). In comparison with the same time period in 1990, this figure actually represents a decrease in the total number of tourists; at the same time, receipts from tourism increased by approximately 30%. So, even though the number and frequency of contacts have decreased recently, the increase in tourism-generated receipts has contributed to a rising per capita income in Hungary, further enabling expansion of consumption. It is also important to remember that Hungary is estimated to have a population of approximately 11 million. Thus, the population more than doubled due to the influx of tourists during the first half of 1991.

The example presented in this paper focuses on specific parts of the Hungarian tourist industry and its bi-directional effects on consumption behavior. In these early years following the move from communist control in Hungary, both tourist and host may be seen as induced to consume the unusual or the "exotic." For the guest in Hungary, the "exotic" generally refers to ethnic productsCpeasant clothing, embroidered and/or cut-out tapestries and tablecloths, certain forms of pottery, decorated wooden eggs, and dolls in costumes. As the tourist consumes the Hungarian experience, s/he often purchases what may be referred to as Hungarian ethnic art. While the specific art forms vary, I have chosen to emphasize "authentic" peasant clothing, a popular souvenir purchase, and one which is amenable to understanding the role of particular purchases in statements about self through clothing.

For the host, conversely, the tourist-precipitated consumption of "exotic" involves virtually all consumer goods. However, certain products, discussed in greater detail below, are purchased before others in the Hungarian pattern of consumption, and particular segments of the population are affected in different ways. Specifically, young adults and teenagers in Hungary are most affected by changes in the availability of products considered to be "Western" and fashionable. Interestingly, even as the tourist buys the "traditional" peasant outfit, the "modern" clothing worn by the tourist becomes a coveted product on the part of some Hungarian hosts. In effect, an exchange of costumes takes place.

This paper analyzes the most popular and obvious forms of clothing exchange in the context of Hungarian tourism. While the consumption of "other" is common to both host and guest, the tourist makes purchases that become a part of `special function' consumption. The clothing is worn on very specific occasions; it is not worn every day. The Hungarian, on the other hand, generally purchases clothing for everyday wear, albeit primarily, perhaps only, to be worn in the public rather than private sphere. Thus, the tourist continues to view the Hungarian peasant clothing as "exotic" and "other," while the Hungarian incorporates the western-style fashionable clothing into his/her self-identity on a daily basis. The self statements made through the consumption choices of hosts and guests are thus quite different from one another. (See Figures 2 and 3 for diagrammatic representations of these opposing behaviors).

Worn frequently, the clothing donned by young Hungarian women makes a statement along the lines of: "I am young, I am modern, I am Western, I am marketized." The counterpart to the positively framed self-statements listed above are further understood when viewed against an historical backdrop of the move away from strict communist control. Thus, the young Hungarian consumer is also saying: "I am not old or conservative; I am not of the past; I am not communist or, by implication, Eastern or Soviet-infuenced; I am like the Westerners I mimic." Verdery (1991) suggests that, with the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, a new foundation for statements of self must be found to replace former Communist rhetoric about "self" and "other." I argue that, in the search for meaning and self in a newly politicized, disintegrating social system, the statements represent a negation of the past Soviet/Eastern domination and an affirmation of current affiliation with the West.



The tourist who purchases an embroidered vest, traditional pleated skirt, or beaded jacket, on the other hand, also makes a statement about self. Yet, because the outfit or portion of the outfit is not likely to be worn frequently, the statement made is not "I am like the Hungarians." Rather, it is "I travel; I purchase interesting and unusual products; I am a consumer of the exotic." Counterpoised against one another, the intent and meaning of these two self-statements are clearly opposed to one another. For the Hungarian, the statement is one of belonging, of similarity, of industrial modernism, of desire to become like "other." For the tourist, the statement is one of separation, of romanticism, of desire for the exotic while maintaining position and place firmly in the comfortable affluent world of the modern Western consumer.

While merchants in Budapest and outlying tourist centers are relatively unsophisticated in terms of product design and modifaction, they recognize and monitor sales trends which indicate certain items are more favored by tourists. They then focus on acquiring more samples of the favored product to offer to their potential customers. Individual artists and artisan coops in those specific regions producing the desired costume benefit from the tradition-seeking tourist. Thus, it is primarily the colored vests from Kalocsa or Szakmar, the pleated skirts found in Bujak or Boldog, and the embroidered Transylvanian "gypsy" vests which are to be found and purchased in Hungarian tourist shops and on the streets of Budapest.

Even these products are modified, however. The traditional peasant outfit of Bujak, for example, calls for numerous skirts, piled one on top of another, emphasizing fullness or roundness of the hips (Gaborjan 1988). The consumer from the West seeks no such added dimensions; one skirt, slimming in its intricate pleating, suffices and conforms to Western standards for feminine beauty and weight. Similarly, the peasant vest in Hungary is traditionally an important and integrated part of a complete peasant outfit, each piece of which is carefully chosen and worn to convey specific meanings. The parts work together to make a whole. The vest is to be worn over blouses, skirts and petticoats, with aprons, belts, headresses, veils, bags, and jewelry. Yet the typical tourist does not buy a complete outfit composed of these numerous elements. Rather, the consumer intends a purchased vest to be coordinated with Western clothing. The tourist is not purchasing the peasant identity, symbolized by the entire peasant costume. The purchase, instead, is an example of consumption of the exotic. The effect, again, is to proclaim oneself as traveler, as capable of partaking of the romantic, as conspicuous consumer, as admirer of tradition. The statement is not one of ethnic identification with the Hungarian.

The effect of Western fashion demands on the tourist industry is further illustrated in examining the specific peasant costume forms which are found and purchased most often. It should not be surprising that the sensation-seeking Western consumer desires brightly colored and patterned clothing; the intricacy of the embroidered patterns speaks of the romantic, the quaint, the authentic, despite the tourists' typical failure to purchase all parts of the costume for display. Wearing the entire costume would be 'too much;' it might even suggest to the observer that the wearer of the clothing is not, in fact, Western,. Since the function of the clothing is to suggest affluence and travel experience, wearing the full costume as would a 'true' peasant, would be inappropriate. Instead, the article of ethnic clothing is an accessory to fine Western fashionCthe embroidered vest is to be worn with a full silk skirt, the beaded jacket will be thrown over cashmere sweaters or satin slacks.

It is important to note that Hungarian consumers also choose and focus on specific components of the Western consumption repertoire. Since 1989, the availability and range of consumer goods of virtually all types in Hungary has increased dramatically. Yet clothing is favored as a common first or early purchase of Western consumer goods. And, within this particular consumption sphere, certain products are favored over others. While tight-fitting slacks are consistently worn by Hungarian teenage and young adult women, for example, the popular stretch pant is more prevalent than are denim jeans. The reason for this may lie in the high price of the jeans (approximately 500 to 700% that of the stretch pants). It is also clear that European/Western tourists wear either stretch pants or denim regularly. Thus, to the emerging fashion consumer in Hungary, the stretch pants may be seen as nearly as desirable as the Western-style jeans, and they are certainly more accessible in monetary terms.

Unlike the tourist who purchases parts of an outfit, the young Hungarian woman aspires to own and wear a complete ensemble. A long sweater or over-sized blouse is appropriate with stretch slacks, accessorized with a belt and sparkling costume jewelry. As part of emulation of tourists, particularly from Italy and France, Hungarian women place berets, clips and other accessories in their hair, nearly completing the outfitCexcept for the shoes. Leather shoes, particular the highly desirable boot, are both rare and expensive in Hungary. Boots bring flattering, perhaps envious, stares to the wearer. This item of clothing, which would requiry fully half of the typical Hungarian monthly wage of $200, is simply not an object within the purchasing power of most Hungarians.

The retailer who sells clothing desired by young Hungarians seems well aware ofCand stimulates furtherCthe association of the clothing with 'the West,' both in terms of Europe as 'West' and the United States as 'the American West.' Examples of innovative displays intended to communicate the message of "modern" or "Western" are the use of maps attached to merchandise in store windows, free-floating Coke cans surrounding clothing exhibits, and a placard for Levi's 501 jeans which read:

"501 Jeans - Worn by Prospectors, Cowboys, Movie Stars, Heroes"

In addition to clothing, the Hungarian consumer seeks to acquire other goods coming from or representative of the West. Electronic goods are sought, and crowds of potential customers surround store windows displaying these products in downtown Budapest. Household appliances are also desired, but penetration of the market in both of these product categories is less significant than in clothing. Furniture retailers and suppliers are experiencing increased demand. Given the low average wage and the comparatively high prices of their products, however, fewer purchases are made in this category than in clothing. In addition, it is clear from the designs of furniture sold in Hungary that such products are less influenced by Western style and use than are either clothing or electronic products. In addition, it is important to remember that a strong stimulus to demand for all the products considered may be through media such as television and magazines, rather than through contact with tourists using and displaying the products.


This paper has attempted to explore the reasons why and circumstances under which tourism serves as a precipitate to consumption behavior. Stimulating new and increased desires and demands on the part of both hosts and guests, tourism is a bi-directional consumption propellant. The character of the changed consumer behaviors differs in intent, content and implication when host and guest are compared, however.

It is interesting to note both the opposing nature of the statements made about self through the goods consumed and the relational power implications of the two diversified tourism-stimulated behaviors. Thus, as the tourist consumes the peasant costume or other Hungarian art, s/he makes a statement of affluence and of "unique" interest in the "exotic." As the host acquires and uses Western clothing, on the other hand, s/he makes a statement of aspiration to affluence and to similarity with Western, European society.

The opposing meanings of these symbolic statements of self point to the uneven politico-economic positions of the societies involved. While the tourist may wish to compliment the host through purchase of a product which represents the host's ethnicity, the tourist is making a purchase which is comparatively less draining on his/her total income, is more likely to be a 'special function' purchase for the purpose of infrequent wear or mere display, and which does not clearly identify "self" with "other." All of these intended statements through consumption also attribute inequality or dissimilarity to the two partners in the exchangeCtourist and host. The purchases of the host have precisely the opposite effect and intention, thereby paradoxically further proclaiming the lack of equality between the two partners. The percentage of the typical Hungarian's income required for purchasing fashionable Western clothing is high, and the statement of "self" is one of desire to be similar to "other." But, by virtue of that desire, the host consumer reaffirms his/her society's subordinate economic position and cultural status as "other." The expressions of self on the part of both host and tourist are thus opposed, with different intentions, meanings and outcomes. In reality, then, the exchange of costumes is not reciprocal, direct and equal; rather it reaffirms social inequality and economic and social differentiation.


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Janeen Arnold Costa, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, U.S.A.


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1993

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