Texas Tech University

Research, The Science Behind Our Favorite Travel Stories

Lucy Greenberg

June 2, 2021


Jessica Yuan specializes in a new kind of travel that is reshaping the tourism industry.

It's easy to recall our favorite vacation.

The sights, smells and sounds that make up our favorite moments. Warm sand under foot, the smell of new foods, or the sound of our children laughing with friends.

There is a science behind why these moments remain fixed in our memories.

Jessica Yuan, an associate professor of Restaurant, Hotel and Institutional Management (RHIM) in Texas Tech University's College of Human Sciences, is conducting research on experiential tourism, a growing phenomenon in the world of travel.

Jessica Yuan
Jessica Yuan

“Ever increasingly, tourists of all generations, ethnicities, and incomes seek enriching travel opportunities that include meaningful interactions with local hosts and other like-minded travelers,” Yuan said.

Travelers are trading in all-inclusive resorts for more immersive, local and authentic adventures.

“This approach is becoming a new imperative in tourism research and practice worldwide,” she said. Tourism professionals must provide experiences rather than merely provide tourism facilities and opportunities.”

Experiential tourism can look like anything from wine-tourism, to movie-culture tourism, all the way to animal tourism where you can paddleboard with a Corgi or jungle trek with wild orangutans.

Yuan calls moments like these, memorable tourists' experiences (MTEs).

“Unique individuality and authentic experiential moments define the phenomenon of the MTEs,” Yuan said. “Specifically, personal travel motivation, interests and idiosyncrasies, memorable triggers, and emotions are critical elements that comprise MTEs.”

“I became interested in researching this phenomenon because I have always been fascinated by people's stories regarding their life experiences, their memories about events, and how these events changed or formed their beings.”


It is not uncommon to hear people repeatedly refer to stories from their travels or explain how being in another culture changed part of their worldview. But the fascination with stories wasn't the only thing that interested Yuan in experiential tourism. Her own experiences have also created a curiosity around the topic.

“The best trip I remember going on was a solo trip to Paris and the Burgundy Region during Thanksgiving of 2017,” she recalled. “I knew nothing in French, but that did not stop me from savoring the culture and history of the country. It was late November in France, so the weather was perfect – not too cold, but it drizzled often, and the air was filled with tranquility.”

One particular stop stood out.

“I had no other choice while in Paris than to stop at the Louvre,” she said. “I am an amateur fan of Leonardo da Vinci. Standing so close to his paintings, all more than 500 years old, I feel I became alive, though just for one moment, in that particular era of human history.”

Although the Louvre is a staple for tourists, one facet that qualified this as experiential tourism was that it was a solo trip. Many tourists are beginning to opt out of guided group tours and professionally planned itineraries to embrace a more individual and spontaneous approach.

Whether traveling solo or booking all of their experiences locally – fewer people than ever are using travel agencies.

To better understand this phenomenon, Yuan created The Center of Global Understanding of Sustainable and Experiential Tourism (GUEST). The research facility is housed within the Department of Hospitality and Retail Management at Texas Tech.

“Our GUEST Center and our Experiential Tourism Research Initiative are taking a leading position in bringing together prominent tourism researchers to shape the new research domain in experiential tourism,” Yuan said.

They anticipate becoming international platforms for continual robust research on this phenomenon.