Navigating uncertainty
: tourists' perceptions of risk in ocean cruising

  • Jennifer Holland

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Social understanding of risk has become increasingly prominent in the last two decades, reflecting a growing concern with societal and global uncertainty. Understanding how tourists feel about risk is crucial because the presence of risk, whether real or perceived, has the potential to change tourist decision-making. However, risk is not well understood in travel, and particularly limited in relation to cruise holidays. The aim of this thesis is to examine how the perception of risk is conceptualized in ocean cruising and how this may potentially influence tourist decision-making.

    Drawing on a constructivist ontology, the qualitative research employed focus groups and semi-structured interviews with cruisers and non-cruisers. Data was gathered using image elicitation, which illuminated thoughts and feelings about cruising and revealed how risk may be interpreted in the cruise context. This study recognizes the positionality of the researcher, and applying reflexivity, acknowledges the researcher’s own experience, sense of identity with cruises, and passion for the research topic. The complexities of positionality revealed specific methodological challenges and opportunities.

    Thematic analysis revealed tourists’ interpretation of risk in ocean cruising is complex, and current conceptualizations of risk are inadequate to explain risk perceptions in cruising. The findings revealed valuable insight into the way in which self-congruity potentially influences a cruise as a holiday choice for both cruisers and non-cruisers. While some cruisers perceive cruising as an opportunity for self-expression and to mitigate time and financial risk, this study illuminates how some non-cruisers perceive the familiarity of a cruise as a risk to their self-concept. Findings highlight the significance of trust and familiarity in understanding and interpreting perceptions of risk in ocean cruising.

    This exploratory study contributes knowledge in three areas by reconceptualizing how risk is understood in relation to cruise holidays. Firstly, this thesis has deconstructed the concept of risk, and in doing so has highlighted the role and significance of risk in ocean cruise decision-making. The qualitative nature of the study has added depth to an existing, largely quantitative understanding of risk in ocean cruise decisions. Secondly, this thesis specifically illuminates how social and psychological anxieties influence perceptions of risk in ocean cruise decisions. Thirdly, the study amplifies the relationship between trust, familiarity and risk in cruise decision-making. These contributions have implications for future research into cruise decision-making and also for how risk may be conceptualized further in tourism.
    Date of AwardMay 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorClare Weeden (Supervisor), Jo-Anne Lester (Supervisor) & Catherine Palmer (Supervisor)


    • Perception of risk
    • cruise decision-making
    • familiarity
    • self-congruity
    • positionality

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