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Racialised risks, sexual dimorphism, and the collectivist societal constraints: A day in the life of a female Asian solo traveller.

Racialised risks, sexual dimorphism, and the collectivist societal constraints: A day in the life of a female Asian solo traveller.
Author: Rebecca Cardell
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Abstract: The conference paper discusses the constraints and risks that are inflicted upon the female ASEAN solo traveller, additional to gender constraints that extensive female solo travel research has highlighted. The discussion will incorporate primary and secondary research conducted with a Singaporean Chinese national who identified their cultural norms as collectivist, Confucianism influenced society which presented additional vulnerabilities and risks to that of a western female solo traveller.

Keywords: Female Asian solo traveller, Constraints, Risk perception, Asian gender ideologies, Globalisation, Cultural norms.

Following the rise of Tourism, a growing solo travel market has been observed in the world, with the predicted number of solo travellers to rise 400% by 2030 (eGlobal Travel Media, 2014). Academic literature highlights that females are increasingly deciding to travel abroad alone, with the egotistic motivations of finding a sense of autonomy, self-fulfilment and gaining cultural knowledge. Literature acknowledges that the concept of gender is a known constraint, with the main findings resulting in vulnerability, misinterpretation of aloneness and the sexualised gaze of females to males (Yang et al, 2017). Although this is also present within Asian female solo travellers, a gap is identified within limited research on the additional constraints and risks perceived for those whose cultural norms are intertwined with a collectivist, Confucianism society. Understanding the Asian traveller is of interest due to the influx of solo travel within this area, and the Women’s Travel Survey (2006) indicating that 60 per cent of women from Asia travel solo, and therefore such issues of gender and ethnicity need to be addressed. The cultural norms and values of Asian travellers are seen to shape their travel experience negatively, with various research highlighting sexual stigmatisation of an Asian female is prevalent, and the strict permission needed to fulfil personal growth and goals of travelling presenting a constraint (Wantanoo and Merkercher, 2019). The perceptions of social norms from peers and home societies present barriers to travelling solo and alongside this, additional barriers such as stigma with singleness in Asia, the collectivist Asian identity, the expectation of marriage and domestication play a crucial barrier to such travel.

To explore and testify such challenges, and to enhance the limited research within the issue of representation in Tourism and the impact of gender and ethnicity interlinked, the researcher used a convenience sampling technique to interview a highly experienced Singaporean Chinese female solo traveller via a method of a semi-structured interview on Skype. The main findings presented were shaped by Hofstede’s cultural dimension theory (1991) of a collectivist high uncertainty avoidance dimension; thus, presenting an underlying ideology of why Asian female solo travellers avoid going to unknown spaces due to pervasive sense of fear. Additional to this, the risks identified was that of sexual dimorphism; whereby the individual felt smaller and weaker than western counterparts, and racial discrimination in light of requesting additional security checks at hotels, and favouring western travellers, which correlates with Wilson and Little’s (2008) research. The main constraint identified was that of Asian gender ideologies, which presented barriers in retrospect of expectation of family members of domestication, marriage, and education. Although the risks and constraints were identified, mitigation techniques such as dressing conservatively to avoid unwanted attention and selecting all-female dormitories to preserve the Asian values of conservativeness were acknowledged, thus similar to the mitigation techniques identified in literature by female solo travellers in general.

Due to a globalised world that is modified by Western concepts (Yang et al, 2017), the increase of Asian solo travellers will be prevalent and the understanding of the social constructs that shape our realities should be increasingly tested. It is recommended, after extensive research that the travel industry should identify and address such constraints and risks, with the recommendation of destination management organisations adapting marketing techniques to collectivist societies. This should incorporate the educational and personal growth of female solo travel, and in doing so will challenge gender power relations, and disfigure the ‘cultural bubble’ (Wantanoo and Merkercher,2019) that should be eradicated within a globalised, interconnected society.


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Wilson, E. and Little, D.E. (2008) The Solo Female Travel Experience: Exploring the 'Geography of Women's Fear.' Current Issues in Tourism, 11(2) 167-186. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2167/cit342.0 [Accessed 01/05/2020].

Yang, E, Lattimore, C and Arcodia, C (2017) A narrative review of Asian female travellers: looking into the future through the past. Current Issues in Tourism. 20 (10) 1008-1027. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13683500.2016.1208741?src=recsys&journalCode=rcit20 [Accessed 22/03/2020].