On the Way to Transformation: Identity Transition During a Holistic Wellness Retreat Experience
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The global trend towards healthy lifestyles presents opportunities for the tourism industry. An increasing number of consumers display interest in holistic self-care and engagement in activities that facilitate self-exploration. Wellness tourism offers opportunities for the consumer to explore self while focusing on self-care. Generally, tourism can promote a sense of liminality, while self-exploration may result in new self-discoveries. These components in return might lead to identity transitions. How exactly these identity transitions occur, however, represents a theoretical gap that needs further exploration. To address this gap, it is important to study identity transition through the lens of liminality and determine how liminality and other factors might promote identity transition. The focus of this study is the wellness retreat. The study utilised qualitative methodology, including interviews and observations, to illuminate the process of identity transition when undertaking a wellness retreat, that is, how the holistic wellness retreat experience illuminates changes in the perception of self and the meaning of wellness for participants. The study answers two research questions: (1) What are participants’ (a) meanings of wellness and the holistic wellness retreat experience and (b) perceptions of self, prior to and following attendance at a holistic wellness retreat?; and (2) What forces shape and influence identity transition while at the holistic wellness retreat and how does such change occur? Findings show a re-construction of self-perception towards self-acceptance and evolvement of the meaning of wellness into an achievable state. Identity transition is facilitated by the liminal place of the holistic wellness retreat and by the self-work during the retreat stay. In order for self-work to occur, people need to have a high level of self-commitment and self-motivation. The self-work and identity transition are driven by motives of self-exploration, learning and participation in different activities as well as by shared experiences and by socialising with like-minded people while at a holistic wellness retreat. On a holistic wellness retreat, participants gain new knowledge on the self and an opportunity to re-evaluate themselves, learn new skills and tools, become more trusting, and start living ‘consciously’. As a result, they gain a sense of vision, clarity, and direction to a new self, wherein identity transition is a starting point and a process of change rather than an end goal. The contributions of this study are threefold. First, the study extends research on consumer behaviour in tourism by introducing the notion of identity transition to explain how wellness tourists attempt self-roles and reconstruct identity in the liminal place and space of a holistic wellness retreat. Second, the study extends the consumer behaviour and tourism literature by showing the process of identity transition and presenting new mechanisms of identity transition through identity work and play. While past research states that tourism activities are mainly ‘play’, this thesis argues that holistic wellness retreats are perceived as both play and work. The study illustrates how people transit from identity play to work and elaborates on what makes these two constructs effective in the identity transition experience. The study shows how identity work and play serve as mechanisms of identity transition within the holistic wellness retreat experience. Third, the empirical contribution includes the exploration of tourists’ behaviour in a new market hitherto unexplored in the domain of the tourism marketing literature. This study addresses the complexity of identity transition at a holistic wellness retreat. In doing so, the findings add to the growing body of knowledge of consumer behaviour in tourism studies through its focus on identity work, liminality, and identity transition, and demonstration of the stages of knowing self and ritual creation. The study proffers methodological, managerial and practical implications.