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Cultural Curiosity is Driven by the Pleasure Principle

For U.S. destination marketers, it pays to showcase diversity. But to capitalize on the opportunity, it’s important to understand what motivates travelers to seek out multicultural experiences in the first place. Are culturally curious visitors driven by altruism, or is there some other motivator at work?

iolite research shows visitors from mature markets who favor multicultural activities during their trip have a higher average spend per person per night – an effect known as The Multicultural Multiplier. When presented with a choice of activities to engage in during travel to a specified U.S. destination, these travelers choose a majority of multicultural activities to add to their itinerary. To understand what drives these travelers to prefer multicultural experiences over other, more iconic options, it is useful to borrow from Sigmund Freud’s framework of personality.

In an effort to understand human behavior, Freud created the concepts of the id, ego and super ego. As popularly understood, the id is the devil on your shoulder, encouraging you to make decisions based on pleasure or gut impulse. The superego is the angel on your shoulder, pushing you to do what is morally correct. Caught in the middle is the ego: the conscious decision-maker choosing between these competing impulses.

Valuing cultural diversity is broadly seen as the morally correct thing to do – the type of activity that one’s superego might endorse. But multicultural travelers aren’t focused on being altruistic. Instead, cultural curiosity is primarily about the id, the pleasure principle. These travelers simply enjoy engaging in more intimate, culturally diverse experiences. Visiting local shops and sampling cuisine from different cultures is not a sacrifice they are making for the greater good. These travelers are indulging themselves in authentic – and authentically delicious – local experiences.

To understand the motivation underlying traveler engagement in multicultural activities, iolite explored how travelers think about their local impact when traveling (see Figure 2). In most of the studied markets, less than half of travelers consider their environmental footprint or intentionally set out to learn about local customs or support local businesses. If multicultural travelers were driven by their superegos and a moral imperative to embrace cultural diversity, the group would be more likely than others to seek out locally owned shops and restaurants in their destination.

To the contrary, when asked if they make an effort to support locals when traveling, multicultural travelers were not significantly more likely to do so (see Figure 1). In fact, in the U.S., for example, multicultural travelers were less likely than other travelers to intentionally seek out local businesses. Forty-three percent of multicultural travelers indicated they try to support locals, compared to 49% of others.

Instead of choosing in-destination activities based on ethical or political beliefs, culturally curious travelers choose multicultural experiences, including local shops and restaurants, because those are the types of experiences that are most appealing. These traveler motivations are essential to consider when planning multicultural marketing.

When showcasing a destination’s multicultural offerings, destination marketers shouldn’t be framing the message like a public service announcement (PSA). To inspire multicultural travelers, marketers don’t need to appeal to their altruism, and travelers don’t need to be convinced. The desire and demand for culturally diverse experiences already exist. Multicultural marketing simply needs to highlight local opportunities to indulge their interests. Though these travelers might be pleased to know that a business is minority-owned, it will not be the primary draw. Local relevance, uniqueness and overall quality are what make these experiences compelling to the culturally curious traveler.

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