A new study shows that people are increasing turning to vacations and leisure activities as an outlet for their emotions, confronting problems, grief, and feelings.
“Whereas previous studies tell us that consuming something for therapeutic reasons is associated with escaping emotional suffering, our research shows that consumers are actively choosing to visit certain places in order to confront their feelings, grief or worries,” said Dr. Kathy Hamilton from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. “These environments are seen as safe spaces.”
The researchers refer to these safe spaces as “Therapeutic Servicescapes,” where expressing emotion and appearing vulnerable is completely accepted, meaning visitors leave with a much-improved sense of well-being.
The three-year study investigated the Catholic pilgrimage site of Lourdes, in France, which celebrated its 160th anniversary last year under theme of “160 Years of Emotion.” The study sought to understand why pilgrimage is one of the fastest growing motivations for travel.
Multiple field trips to Lourdes and in-depth interviews with pilgrims revealed that they seek not only religious fulfillment, but also the opportunity to “break down” in a safe place away from the judgment of modern-day society.
“One of our participants referred to their home environment of Scotland as being ’emotionally straight-jacketed,’ where people don’t express emotion in public,” said Dr. Leighanne Higgins from Lancaster University. “In everyday life, society tells us to keep going, with consumers constantly under pressure to be the perfect partner, parent, and employee. We are witnessing unprecedented levels of mental health issues and our research uncovers consumers dealing with emotional suffering beyond traditional and private therapy sessions.”
The marketplace of Lourdes, made up of more than 200 hotels, 100 restaurants and 200 souvenir shops, is often perceived as detracting from the religious setting, the researchers note. However, the study uncovered the marketplace to be an important part of the therapeutic process, they say.
The interaction and engagement with the religious rituals, as well as the secular pursuits of eating, having a coffee or glass of wine, and talking to like-minded others were all pivotal in creating a therapeutic setting for participants, according to the researchers.
“Religious landscapes have a unique foothold in the market, and it is likely that we will see demand for pilgrimages continue to increase,” Higgins said.
“However, if consumers are looking for a sense of community and a sense of safety in order to unleash their emotions, further studies into secular locations is important. This could potentially offer certain festivals or conventions, for example, the opportunity to capitalize on the therapeutic experience that consumers desire and, ultimately, improve well-being.”
The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
Source: Lancaster University