Two female travelers with a skyline of  Prague behind them
Research by Petrick and his lab delves into tourist behaviors and the impact of travel on human health. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Understanding the effects of travel on the health of travelers could have a profound impact on the tourism industry and behaviors of tourists, according to Jim Petrick, Ph.D., professor, Research Fellow and graduate program chair, Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences at Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Bryan-College Station. 

“While research suggests travel can relieve stress and improve one’s overall well-being, a scant amount of it uses physiological data to examine the effects of travel on health,” Petrick said.

Petrick created the Tourism Marketing Lab when he began his career at Texas A&M in 1999. The lab’s research focuses on applying marketing and psychology principles in the context of tourism services.

“Our research has been concentrated on understanding tourists’ purchase behaviors to assist in properly marketing to them, as well as the physiological effects travel has on the tourist,” he said.

Researching the tourism/health connection

In November 2020, the study “Stress for Success: Potential Benefits of Perceived and Actual Stress While Cruising” was published in the Journal of Travel Research.

The study, for which Petrick was principal investigator, used a combination of psychological principles and physiological data in its approach. It incorporated the cognitive activation theory of stress and made comparisons of self-reported diaries and physiological data, including data from heart-rate monitors, to examine the effects cruising had on both perceived and actual stress.

“The results of the study empirically validated the use of cognitive activation theory as a theoretical framework for understanding travelers’ perceived and actual stress,” Petrick said. “The findings can be used to inform specific guidance to cruise management on how to engineer cruise experiences based on stress. It will also provide insights to individuals on how to experience positive stress while traveling.”

Petrick said applying psychological principles with empirical physiological data can help bring travel research to a new level and provide a more precise understanding of the entire tourist experience.    

A leading tourism industry research initiative

The Tourism Marketing Lab, led by Petrick, currently includes one post-doctoral student, eight doctoral students and two master’s students. It is considered one the largest and most productive labs of its type in the world.  

Over the past 22 years, Petrick and the lab have been awarded more than $3 million in research grants. Some of the more recent research projects include:

— A strategic marketing plan for the National Park Service.

— Comprehensive work on the benefits of travel for the U.S. Travel Association.

— National visitor studies for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

— Various accountability and advertising effectiveness studies.

— Tourism website evaluations for 22 states and 18 cities.

— Visitor and non-visitor studies for more than 25 cities and nine national cruise ship passenger studies, including six panel studies.

“Much of my research and the research at the lab has been concentrated on understanding tourists’ purchase behaviors to assist in properly marketing to them, as well as learning more about the specific physiological effects travel has on the tourist,” Petrick said.  

The primary goals of the lab are to advance theory related to the social sciences and

provide practical solutions to managerial problems at tourism destinations and attractions.

Petrick prolific in tourism research

A man in a red shirt, Dr. James Petrick
Jim Petrick, Ph.D., is a professor, Research Fellow and graduate program chair, Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences. He also heads the Tourism Marketing Lab in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Studies conducted in 2014 and 2011 identified Petrick as the second-most prolific tourism researcher in the world and No. 1 in the U.S. He was also ranked the world’s No. 1 tourism marketing researcher and cruise tourism researcher. He was also acknowledged as being in the top 1% of cited scientists in 2021.

Petrick served as president of the Texas Travel and Tourism Research Association Chapter as well as on the board of directors for various local, state and international tourism associations.

Prior to his work at Texas A&M, he spent six years working onboard cruise ships for Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Viking Line, working in positions ranging from youth coordinator to cruise director.

Petrick published more than 120 peer-reviewed journal articles and received multiple awards for his research abilities. He has also served on the editorial board for travel and tourism’s top three research-oriented journals.

Due to his expertise, Petrick was recently asked to be co-editor of the Journal of Travel Research, which many experts consider the premiere peer-reviewed academic journal in the field of tourism.

“I am honored to be taking over as co-editor of the Journal of Travel Research, which currently has our field’s highest impact factor,” he said. “It will be quite a challenge to maintain the level of excellence the prior editors have obtained.”

Petrick said he and co-editor Nancy McGehee, a professor in the Howard Feiertag Department of Hospitality and Tourism at Virginia Tech, aspire to further progress the journal’s scope and the field’s relevance.

“We hope to do this by publishing manuscripts of the highest quality and working to increase the number of people who access them,” he said.      

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