Uncharted territory: Tourism academia’s blind spot in grasping industry realities for vulnerable tourists with health conditions

"Despite early achievements, we recognize the difficulties of grasping tourism industry realities for these types of tourist segments," writes Fangli Hu, Jun Wen, and Tianyu Ying, in this exclusive research-based commentary.

Vulnerable people with health conditions constitute a substantial proportion of the world’s population. The magnitude of this demographic is growing, especially as aging increases (Chen et al., 2022). Many of these individuals possess a keen desire to travel and are able to do so yet are frequently overlooked as tourists (Hu et al., 2023b). Our interdisciplinary research team comprises international experts from tourism, marketing, and health science. We strive to innovatively explore tourism among neglected and vulnerable groups.

We focus on individuals with health conditions, especially disorders such as dementia. These populations often encounter travel constraints attributed to physical or psychological impairments. Their travel behaviors tend to be distinct from those of general tourists (Hu et al., 2023c). We endeavor to gain insights into these activities and help stakeholders ensure that these populations can enjoy traveling (United Nations, n.d.). Our team initially outlined methodological challenges and solutions for studies involving vulnerable groups (Zheng et al., 2023). We then sought to identify their travel eligibility in light of specific disorders (i.e., major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, dementia). This research laid the groundwork for subsequent empirical investigations (Hu et al., 2023a). We also explored perceptions of travel-eligible people with dementia as hotel guests (Wen et al., 2023). We have additionally introduced and conceptualized the interdisciplinary notion of “travel therapy,” aiming to provide healthcare alternatives (i.e., non-pharmacological treatment options) for travelers with health conditions (Wen et al., 2022a, b).

Despite early achievements, we recognize the difficulties of grasping tourism industry realities for these types of tourist segments. Gaps indeed exist between tourism research and practical application. Our team has fielded emails from people with health conditions (e.g., dementia patients), caregivers (e.g., family members), healthcare practitioners, and medical specialists seeking advice on travel provisions and tourism engagement. We are always thrilled to receive such requests, as interested parties’ feedback exemplifies the impact of our work for populations that have traditionally been excluded from global tourism planning. Unfortunately, though, relevant services remain quite limited (Buckley, 2023; Connell & Page, 2019).

We plan to intensify our efforts by collaborating with industry players, government actors, and other stakeholders to better accommodate vulnerable tourist groups. Our goal is to offer direct, feasible solutions to these populations’ travel concerns. We hope to receive support from key parties, such as destination operators and government entities, as we work together to establish more inclusive, accessible, and vulnerability-friendly environments. We are especially eager to track this effort; its evolution will surely shed light on obstacles, opportunities, and other issues to ultimately help vulnerable populations derive pleasure from tourism. As we continue conducting meaningful research to answer age-old questions, we encourage industry collaboration to reap mutual rewards and amply contribute to society.



Buckley, R. (2023). Tourism and mental health: Foundations, frameworks, and futures. Journal of Travel Research, 62(1), 3-20.

Chen, X., Giles, J., Yao, Y., Yip, W., Meng, Q., Berkman, L., … & Zhao, Y. (2022). The path to healthy ageing in China: A Peking University–Lancet Commission. The Lancet, 400(10367), 1967-2006.

Connell, J., & Page, S. (2019). Case study: Destination readiness for dementia-friendly visitor experiences: A scoping study. Tourism Management, 70, 29-41.

Hu, F., Wen, J., Lim, W., Hou, H., & Wang, W. (2023a). Mental health on the go: Navigating travel and travel eligibility. Journal of Travel Research, 00472875231197989.

Hu, F., Wen, J., Phau, I., Ying, T., Aston, J., & Wang, W. (2023b). The role of tourism in healthy aging: An interdisciplinary literature review and conceptual model. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 56, 356-366.

Hu, F., Wen, J., Zheng, D., & Wang, W. (2023c). Travel medicine in hospitality: An interdisciplinary perspective. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 35(9), 3134-3153.

United Nations. (n.d.). Promoting accessible tourism for all.

Wen, J., Kozak, M., & Jiang, Y. (2022a). Beyond sightseeing: How can tourism affect public/global health in modern society? Journal of Global Health, 12, 03035.

Wen, J., Zheng, D., Hou, H., Phau, I., & Wang, W. (2022b). Tourism as a dementia treatment based on positive psychology. Tourism Management, 92, 104556.

Wen, J., Zheng, D., Jiang, Y., Hou, H., Phau, I., & Wang, W. (2023). Exploring perceptions of travel-eligible individuals with dementia and hotel operators. Anatolia, 1-13.

Zheng, D., Wen, J., Kozak, M., Phau, I., Hou, H., & Wang, W. (2023). Vulnerable populations with psychological disorders in tourism: Methodological challenges and recommended solutions for empirical research. Tourism Management, 98, 104760.


Jun Wen is a Lecturer in Tourism and Service Marketing at the School of Business and Law, Edith Cowan University. His current research interests lie in global health, tourism marketing, and travel medicine.
Fangli Hu is a PhD candidate in the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University. Her interests include vulnerable tourists, travel medicine, travel therapy, tourism marketing, and suboptimal health.
Tianyu Ying is an associate professor in the Department of Tourism and Hotel Management, Zhejiang University, China. His research interests revolve around the Chinese outbound tourist market, information elements on the demand and supply sides of the tourism system, and tourism-related sustainability issues from a social perspective.

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