The experience of hosting friends and relatives for immigrants
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A substantial amount of travel decisions are influenced to a varying degree by personal relationships between visitors and residents. Visiting friends and relatives (VFR) travel is a term commonly used to refer to this form of tourism, but it has received relatively little attention from academics compared with other forms of leisure and business travel, and has been generally disregarded by tourism practitioners who traditionally target ‘high yield’ visitors for their destinations. In addition, those studies that have considered VFR travel have typically focussed on visitors rather than hosts, reflecting the business centric tendency of the industry overall. VFR travel, therefore, is an under-considered phenomenon in general, especially in non-economic considerations, and particularly lacking in perspectives of resident hosts and communities. The potential benefits for a community who host VFR travellers are manifold. VFR visitors do spend in the local economy, and encourage resident touristic activity within the immediate community and regionally. Residents, as hosts, offer reason for repeat visitation, are a direct and influential communication channel to potential visitors, provide visitors with experiences perceived to be more authentic than other forms of tourism, encouraging the production of word-of-mouth marketing, and constructing more nuanced and layered understandings of the community as both a destination and a place to live. Immigration and VFR have substantial overlap, as immigration creates expanding social cross-border networks, affecting potential demand for tourism related activity for both the home country as immigrants return for temporary visits, but also in communities that receive immigrants. Tourism and immigration have some additional similarities; both are forms of human travel, and although different in several aspects, involve newcomers attempting to interpret and make sense of a new environment. This thesis is interested in the experiences of immigrants who host visiting friends and relatives. A narrative analysis of nine participants from six countries covers their immigration, settlement, and hosting experiences: the links between these experiences are presented as a whole to add context and further meaning that could otherwise be lost through thematic detachment. Narratives were co-constructed between participants and researcher in conversations that were video recorded and edited. The use of video served as an engaging medium to elicit stories, reflection and clarification in subsequent interviews, as participants reviewed their own narrative videos as well as those of others, generating a broader co-construction of knowledge around the experience of hosting stimulated by a greater variety and input of different voices. Participants explained how hosting friends and family in their new homes provided a distinct context. For recent newcomers unfamiliar with their surroundings the chance to host can provide reason and inspiration to engage with their new communities, shifting their role from outsider to guide and interpreter. Participants were also able to interact in culturally and personally familiar relationships that offered a mutuality of care, the type of co-presence often unavailable in the early days of settlement. Hosting often helped participants feel more stable, and was a positive influence on their ability to cope through the turbulence of settlement. The leisure context of many early hosting experiences facilitated participants’ engagement with the new community, its activities and places. Experiencing the new community in a leisure context with familiar guests who share a cultural and personal history provided a rich and valuable space for evocative co-constructions of meaning and knowledge. Places were experienced as a vacation, and attachments formed to places that are now the backdrop to a new routine. Participants also shared many examples of sharing places and activities that were important to them in their new community with their visitors, for example places of work or particular leisure activities. The typically positive reactions of visitors’ fresh eyes reified the value and significance of these spaces forging stronger attachments for participants. Memories were created between host and guest, feeding bonds and connections between distant friends and relatives, and helped to create a sense of home in a foreign community. As participants settled, the motivation for hosting experiences often shifted from leisure with implications for integration and attachment, to relationship maintenance between significant family members and friends. Sustaining connections with parents, siblings, and old friends, and establishing relationships with new nieces, nephews, and grandchildren often became the priority. What was once an exotic place becomes normal, for the participants as residents, but often for their guests as frequent repeat visitors, with trips solidifying the importance of relationships and demonstration of belonging. The absence of visits from significant relations was, for some participants, a cause for tension, perceived as a lack of desire and interest to know who they really are and how their environment has shaped their experiences and identities. There are implications for tourism practitioners and marketers, those who work with immigrant populations, and academia. Tourism practitioners should consider the influence and roles that immigrant residents (and all residents) have in affecting tourism volume and activity to their destinations. Participants caused many people to visit, participating in numerous activities, and acting as cultural brokers to their guests providing experiences tailored to their interests and values. For many participants their first times visiting regional destinations and neighbourhoods, attractions, and festivals were inspired by visiting friends and relatives, helping increase awareness and exposure to a resident base of what is available on an ongoing basis in their communities. In addition, participants often spent their own vacation with visiting friends and family within the region, keeping their tourism spending in the local economy, an activity that is ignored by all tourism economic measures. For professionals who work with immigrant groups, the appreciation of the value of hosting experiences in helping newcomers overcome a sense of isolation, especially in those early days, should be helpful. Of course not all immigrants are in a position to host, or have friends or relatives that are able to visit, but for those who do it is an interesting way to encourage a sense of belonging and raise confidence that has impacts beyond the trip itself. In addition, experiences of place shared with a familiar visitor help generate a sense of home, as old and new worlds are linked and merged through the co-construction of memories and the accruement of physical souvenirs form lasting attachments to places and activities. Methodologically this thesis offers an example of the use of video as a tool in the co-construction of narratives, a data collection method that is relatively unusual in the field, but has implications in the pursuit of integrating the multiple voices of those affected by a phenomenon into the public narrative production. Theoretically this thesis offers discussion on the role that hosting can play, drawing on leisure and tourism studies, and research on immigration and integration, to offer insight into the experiences facilitated by the distinct interactions between resident, visitor, and place, that only happen in a VFR travel context. The narrative arc of immigration, settlement, and hosting provides a useful and revealing framework for the understanding of hosting experiences, and their role in community integration, identity formation, relationship maintenance, and overall well-being for immigrants.