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Tourists’ engagement in cultural attractions: an exploratory study of psychological and behavioural engagement in indigenous tourism


This research explores international tourists’ engagement with Māori indigenous tourist attractions in New Zealand. In-depth interviews with 18 international tourists were conducted after their visits to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in Northland, New Zealand. The findings revealed clear evidence of some general engagement behaviours such as spending time and enjoyment which led visitors into deeper levels of behavioural and psychological engagement. The behavioural engagement occurred in two primary forms which are taking photos for a range of personal and impersonal purposes as well as conversation with staff. Also, three forms of psychological engagement were found, including engagement with cultural aspects, imagination, and learning. The perception of the authenticity and uniqueness of the attraction were important precursors to tourist behavioural and psychological engagement.


Behaviour is a broad, complex and critical concept in tourism research (Cohen et al. 2014). Although many aspects of tourists’ behaviour have been researched, there is a need to pay more attention to new concepts related to behaviour, such as engagement (Chen and Rahman 2018). The indigenous tourism context has a range of unique issues, and a better understanding of tourists’ behaviour is needed in this sphere (Whitford and Ruhanen 2016).

This research suggests that the concept of customer engagement (Brodie et al. 2011) provides a useful lens for gaining better insights into tourist behaviours in general, and tourists’ interactions within indigenous sites in particular. Customer engagement has long been viewed as important in the business sector (Itani et al. 2019). Yet, it is a relatively new concept in most academic literature, especially in the tourism field (Chen and Rahman 2018).

Engagement has been conceptualised as having two main dimensions, behavioural and psychological (Prentice et al. 2019; Rasoolimanesh et al. 2019). These dimensions apply well in both general and indigenous tourism contexts. It has been suggested that a genuinely engaged tourist will have both a psychological connection with the tourism “brand” as well as an attachment based on physical participation (So et al. 2014, 2016a, b).

While marketing scholars have made good progress in conceptualising engagement, there is still insufficient empirical research to measure the concept accurately (Prentice et al. 2019). Engagement is currently treated as a context variable concept (Bryce et al. 2014) where the appropriate conceptualisation for engagement research should be chosen based on the context where the study is measured (Villamediana-Pedrosa et al. 2018). However, there is a significant gap in the literature that addresses this issue, particularly in the tourism domain (Harrigan et al. 2017). Thus, more research is necessary to develop a deeper understanding of the concept and how it operates in different contexts.

This study examines the engagement of international tourists with New Zealand Māori indigenous tourist attractions, with the aim of deepening our understanding of tourists’ behaviour and experiences in the indigenous tourism context. Indigenous tourism experiences are unique because they offer a “spiritual connection” to the land and culture, and are designed to promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of indigenous values and traditions (Ryan and Aicken 2005). Additionally, these experiences often involve “personalised interaction” with local communities, which requires a greater level of engagement from tourists compared to other types of tourism experiences (Buckley and Zhong 2021). Engagement in the indigenous tourism context is therefore an important and unique area of study, with limited existing literature. While previous studies have explored the concept of engagement in tourism, our study contributes to the literature by applying this concept specifically to the indigenous tourism context, which presents unique challenges and opportunities for engagement. While we acknowledge that engagement is not a new concept in tourism research, we believe that our study makes a valuable theoretical contribution by exploring how engagement operates in the indigenous tourism context. Our paper is structured as follows: first, we undertake a review of the literature concerning engagement and provide an overview of the research context, New Zealand Māori Tourism, placed within the indigenous tourism literature. We then proceed to describe the methodology, including a description of participants, interviewing processes and analysis procedures. Finally, we describe our specific findings relating to psychological and behavioural engagement, including specific themes found within these forms of engagement.

Literature review


Engagement research was born in psychology (Villamediana-Pedrosa et al. 2018) and the term engagement was initially used for employee engagement in organisations to measure their loyalty (Schaufeli et al. 2002). Engagement later expanded to other fields including marketing (Abdul-Ghani et al. 2019) with the terms “customer engagement (CE)” which has attracted increasing attention in the past few years (Brodie et al. 2013). However, even in marketing and consumer behaviour, engagement is still a relatively new topic of discussion (Huang and Choi 2019). Even though CE attracted much attention over the years, there has not been an agreement on a definition for conceptualisation (Bergel and Brock 2019; Alrawadieh et al. 2019).

Engagement is the activity of the customers towards the firm (Pansari and Kumar 2017) and includes participation and involvement with a specific brand (Brodie et al. 2011). It involves experiences as well as two-way interactions (Jeong and Hyun 2019) and connections between customers and other customers, brands, products and/or services (Vivek et al. 2014). Engagement plays a crucial role in marketing activities (Cordina et al. 2019) by helping organisations to shape a long-term relationship with the customers (Brodie et al. 2011).

Despite general agreement on the importance of CE for brands (Fehrer et al. 2018), there are widely varying views on the kind of interactions that can effectively engage customers, and the way in which these interactions function. Prior CE studies can be divided into three main groups. Some scholars (Bowden 2009; Brodie 2011) believe that engagement is a psychological state that relates to the customers’ mental interaction (cognitive and affective) such as paying attention to or loving a brand. Others argue that engagement is a range of behavioural interactions such as making recommendations or blogging (van Doorn et al. 2010; Vivek et al. 2012). Finally, a third group of researchers suggest that engagement is a combination of both psychological and behavioural interactions (Alvarez-Milán et al. 2018). The importance of engagement has been acknowledged in tourism as well.

Tourism is an extremely competitive industry on the global stage and it is important for tourist destinations to provide more engaging experiences for their customers (Rather et al. 2019). Engagement is the quality of visitors’ experience which characterised by the depth of visitors’ behavioural and psychological investment (Flavián et al. 2019). In tourism, CE can be defined as a tourist’s interactive brand (here, operationalised as tourists’ destinations) experience (Paul and Roy 2023; Brodie et al. 2011).

Engagement has recently attracted more attention in tourism with several researchers developing scales to measure tourists’ engagement (Harrigan et al. 2017; So et al. 2014; Taheri et al. 2014). Tourists’ engagement can result in outcomes such as revisitation (Vittersø et al. 2017), satisfaction (Abror et al. 2019) and loyalty (Zhou and Yu 2022). To date, however, none of these studies has considered engagement in an indigenous tourism context.

The characteristics of tourism destinations vary substantially and indigenous tourism arguably provides a much different and unique set of experiences. These differences mean that an attraction can engage travellers at different levels, and in different ways: behaviourally, psychologically or both, depending on the nature of the offerings. For example, rafting or skiing will primarily behaviourally engage travellers, whereas visiting a museum is more likely to engage them psychologically in both affective and cognitive ways. This suggests that the research context (such as different types of tourist attractions) will have a material impact on the level and types of engagement that may occur. Therefore, engagement researchers in tourism should customise their approaches based on the context of their study (Bryce et al. 2014; Villamediana-Pedrosa et al. 2018).

For this study, the authors agree with the suggestion of (So et al. 2014) that a genuinely engaged tourist will have both a psychological connection with an attraction as well as different types of physical (behavioural) interactions. Therefore, we have focused on evidence of behavioural and psychological engagement among international tourists visiting Māori focused indigenous tourism offerings.

New Zealand Māori and tourism

The core of indigenous tourism is based on explaining different aspects of indigenous peoples’ culture including art (Volkman 1990), their relationship with land/nature (Strickland-munro and Moore 2013), unique environment (Blangy et al. 2012), and untouched culture (Wang 1999). Most of these experiences can potentially engage visitors with indigenous culture. For example, learning about other cultures (Chen and Rahman 2018), conversation with the host staff (Mijnheer and Gamble 2019) and authenticity (Bryce et al. 2014) were found to be engaging for visitors (in non-indigenous tourism).

Globally, indigenous tourism is seen as an opportunity to improve indigenous peoples’ socio-economic lives (Carret al. 2016). Indigenous tourism can connect indigenous people with the international community(Ranasinghe and Cheng 2017),bring political recognition (Bandyopadhyay and Yuwanond 2018), build economic independence (Buultjens and Gale 2013) and provide an opportunity to keep their unique culture alive (McIntoshand Zahra 2007).

Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand through trans-Pacific navigation in the Middle Ages, but only began to interact with Europeans more recently. While there have been many large negative effects from colonisation (Houkamau and Sibley 2017), Māori have arguably been able to retain a strong culture, including ownership of tribal lands, maintaining customs and traditions, preserving the language, and enforcing special statutory rights. Currently, about 17% of the New Zealand population (over 890,000 individuals) self-identify as New Zealand Māori (Statistics New Zealand 2022).

Like most indigenous people globally, Māori distinguish themselves from non-Māori by their culture (Ransfield and Reichenberger 2021), which is also the main focus of Māori tourism (Mcintosh et al. 2004). Māori tourism is predominantly centred in the North Island of New Zealand. This industry has been seen as a strong option for Māori to increase their societal participation (Mika and Scheyvens 2022), achieve economic and political recognition (Ryan and Crotts 1997) and reduce dependency (Bremner and Wikitera 2016). The uniqueness of Māori culture attracts international visitors’ attention and creates a competitive advantage for New Zealand tourism product (Amoamo 2011).


Study design

A semi-structured in-depth interview approach was applied to understand the types of engagement they experienced and the extent to which visitors engaged with the site and staff. The interview is a standard method of data collection for a phenomenological approach (Kvale 1983) and in-depth interviews help researchers to gain a deeper understanding of the interviewees’ opinions (Song and Parker 1995). Specifically, semi-structured interviews are suitable for understanding opinions about complex issues (Barriball and While 1994), offer more control over the topic (Kreisl 2012), allow flexibility on question-wording and allow probing of further information where required (Hutchinson and Wilson 1992).

This study specifically focused on a targeted population of English-speaking international tourists aged 18 years and above who visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in the Northland region of New Zealand. The sample was limited to free independent travellers who planned their trips themselves, while group travellers with pre-defined itineraries were excluded. This selection criterion was applied to ensure that the interviewees had a personal motivation to visit the Treaty Grounds and were not simply following a pre-determined tour schedule. As a result, the study was able to gain valuable insights into the behaviours and experiences of a specific segment of tourists who were likely to be more engaged with the indigenous culture and heritage of the site. The exclusion of group travellers also ensured that the sample was more homogenous and the findings were more representative of the targeted population.Tourists who visited the Treaty Grounds in the Northland region of New Zealand were approached for participation in the study and were interviewed at a nearby café. The interviews were conducted between December 2022 and January 2023, and the duration of each interview was not predetermined. Although interviews lasted between 25 and 40 min each, the length of time was determined by the flow of conversation, allowing participants to elaborate on their experiences and perceptions of engagement in indigenous tourism. The use of a convenience sampling method was appropriate in this research context, as it allowed for the inclusion of a diverse range of participants. This provided valuable insights into their perspectives on engagement in indigenous tourism, contributing to a deeper understanding of this complex issue.

The general engagement questions were derived from previous key papers (So et al. 2014, 2016a, b). After considering responses received, we determined that saturation was reached after 18 interviews including 8 female and 10 male participants from 9 different countries. The interviewees ranged in age from 24 to 71 and all names have been changed in the results section to pseudonyms to maintain confidentiality.

The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. The data were systematically coded with the assistance of NVivo 12 and thematic analysis. Thematic analysis was applied, which allows researchers to understand the pattern of the responses (Vaismoradi et al. 2013) and identifies the themes through the process of reading and coding the data (Fereday and Muir-Cochrane 2006). The themes were categorised into main and subthemes and the inductive method was applied to make the outcome as objective as possible (Braun and Clarke 2012). Also, the triangulation was employed where possible to check the accuracy of data (Decrop 1999).

About the Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds, in the Northland Region, is considered the most important historical site in New Zealand. Waitangi is seen as the birthplace of modern New Zealand where the Treaty of Waitangi, the founding document of New Zealand, was first signed on the 6th of February 1840 between Māori chiefs and the British government (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, n.d.). The outdoor site (Fig. 1) is large, approximately 12 hectares (30 acres), and is explored on foot in either guided or self-directed tours.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Waitangi Treaty Grounds (The Treaty Grounds 2023)

Visitors can view objects and exhibits, and can experience and participate in several activities and performances related to New Zealand history and Māori culture. Activities are self-paced and interspersed with a natural break that occurs between each activity as visitors walk from one area to another.

Like much indigenous tourism, this site incorporates multiple narratives. The Treaty Grounds are inherently cross-cultural, mixing British architecture and colonial history with Māori staff, performers and culture. The site itself is a mixture of highly authentic aspects (including the land itself, and original historic buildings) as well as “staged authenticity” (MacCannell 1973). The staging has been done carefully, and will only be apparent to visitors with a high degree of prior knowledge. For example, the Carved Meeting House (built 1940) uses the traditional architectural style of the main meeting house (wharenui) commonly seen on marae (Marae grounds) in New Zealand, and asks visitors to follow the traditional custom and remove their shoes. However, at the request of the government, the Carved Meeting House incorporates the carving and weaving of multiple tribes, which is not an authentic design, and the local tribes may have different opinions on this.

In order to understand visitors’ perceptions of Māori tourism and to investigate their behavioural and psychological engagement, a qualitative approach was applied to realise participants’ engagement with the activities at Waitangi.

Findings and discussion

Evidence from the interviews shows clear evidence of general engagement factors such as spending time, enjoyment and liking the activity. These general engagement behaviours have the effect of encouraging visitors into deeper levels of engagement. We also find, consistent with the prior literature, clear evidence of behavioural and psychological engagement. Behavioural engagement occurred in two primary forms: taking photos (for four distinct purposes) and talking with staff. Three forms of psychological engagement were found, including engagement with cultural aspects, imagination, and learning. These are detailed in the next sections below.

Behavioural engagement

Taking photos

The primary behavioural engagement among tourists in Waitangi was taking photos for a range of purposes. Photo taking is a key part of modern tourists’ behaviour (Gretzel 2017) which is encouraged by new technologies (Yim et al. 2021), especially smartphones (Mang et al. 2016). Some scholars described the outcome of taking photos by explaining how it can influence engagement. Barasch et al. (2018) suggested that taking photos, especially self-portraits, could reduce engagement because it increases the self-presentation attention of the photo taker (and consequently reduces attention to the attraction). Conversely, Diehl and Zauberman (2016) proposed that photo-taking could increase engagement and bring a more positive experience. However, no study has addressed the antecedents of such behaviours by analysing factors that encourage tourists to take photos while visiting an attraction.

This study has found that tourists take photos for purposes which have not been described previously in the literature review. Some of these purposes are related explicitly to indigenous tourism and Māori culture, while others appear to be more generalisable to all forms of tourism. These purposes can be classified into four main categories: (1) documentation, (2) informing relatives, (3) prestige sharing, and (4) educating the public. These are described in more detail below.

Purpose 1: documentation

For some visitors, photography is a private process of recording a moment for future recollection. Russell is one of these tourists:

"[I take photos] for recording the moment really. I wish I had more photos and videos from my childhood. You can review your life by just looking at these photos. Let’s say in five or ten years, I can come back to them and just recall the good times that I have had with my loved ones in Waitangi."

Photographs are seen as self-made souvenirs (Belk and Yeh 2011), which can freeze time and help people to recall the past (Sather-Wagstaff 2008) by documenting the current moment (Sun et al. 2014). The commonly-used language, “taking photos,” also suggests an act of appropriation: tourists take photos away from a place, in the same way they might collect and keep a souvenir like a seashell or stone. Based on what has been said by visitors to Waitangi, it can be argued that the probability of engaging in photo-taking behaviour will be higher if someone is enjoying their time at a location. Therefore, the overall quality of the experiences in Waitangi (e.g. friendliness of the staff, services or performance) can play a significant role in whether a tourist takes photos or not.

Purpose 2: informing relatives

Some tourists take photos primarily to send to their close relatives (family and friends). This group of visitors takes photos wherever they visit. Sarah explains why she takes photos while visiting Waitangi:

"I want to send some of them to my parents, just to tell them where I am, what I am doing and I am having fun. I usually use WhatsApp to send photos."

Photographs can now be transferred easily via cellular or Internet-based applications. Photos can prove a visitor’s presence in a specific location and at a particular time (Prideaux and Coghlan 2010). In Waitangi, some tourists take photos and send them to their families and friends through private platforms like WhatsApp to keep them updated about themselves and their trips. This activity was used just to inform others, and there was no intention to recommend by sharing photos with relatives.

Purpose 3: prestige sharing

A third group takes photos primarily to share via social media and show themselves in a way they want others to see them. Harnam explains why he shares some of his photos from Waitangi on his Instagram:

"[I take photos] just show where I am. I am enjoying myself and just show what is going on here. So, sharing photos is like an update, like updating events in your life."

When these participants were asked if they intended to recommend Waitangi by sharing these photos, most of them said no. However, they did accept that what they share might convey an indirect recommendation. Harnam adds:

"No, I am not recommending a destination to anyone. I might share my opinion, it might motivate them to come and visit Waitangi. But I am not doing that on purpose."

Sharing photos gives people an opportunity to manage their desired self-image (Keshelashvili and Trammell 2005) and convey the impression they want (Lo and McKercher 2015). Tourist photographs are therefore an essential element of online self-presentation (Lo et al. 2011).

Prestige sharing visitors want to show others that they are in Waitangi and experiencing Māori culture and New Zealand history. It gives them a sense of prestige and increases photo-taking engagement behaviour.

Purpose 4: educating the public

Finally, the last group of visitors takes photos specifically to share online. This has an altruistic purpose, to help others know more about Māori culture and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Munar and Jacobsen (2014) found that helping others is one of the main reasons for those who share photos and experiences online. At the same time, this photo-sharing helps build the reputation of the person uploading the photos and suggests they have particular expertise. Throughout our interviews, we encountered fewer of these visitors whom we call “educators.” However, those that we did interview were more willing explicitly to recommend Waitangi. One of these visitors is Andrew, who comments:

"New Zealand is a country at the bottom of the world and people do not know much about it. I will write about Māori and Waitangi and the history behind it on social media. This will help other people to have some information and, if it is interesting enough, it will attract them to this location."

Educators use social media like Instagram and Facebook to share the photos which can directly benefit the indigenous tourism operator. The information on social media about a tourist destination is typically perceived as being trustable and can increase the incidence of staying at the location overnight (Van der Zee and Bertocchi 2018).

There are two more differences between the photo-sharing behaviour of the educators with the prestige sharing group. Firstly, these educators do not merely want to show where they were and what they did. They write about the attraction and answer any questions in order to educate and inform others. This increases their impact, as sharing experiences can be more effective if it includes both photos and text (Mazzali-Lurati et al. 2018; Xiang and Gretzel 2010). Secondly, the educators (unlike the prestige-sharing group) prefer to remain in the background of their communications: their posts are about the destination, not about the traveller’s experience. Educators are more likely to share photos of the attraction only, without appearing in them.

Recommendation is a recognised form of behavioural engagement in tourism ((So et al. 2016a, b), and it is a key objective for the educators’ segment. This group of visitors share their experiences and photos specifically to recommend Waitangi both online and offline through word of mouth (Nguyen 2014). They seek to increase others’ knowledge and to grow the public’s intention to visit the site.

Behavioural engagement through conversation

In addition to four types of photo taking engagement, “conversation” is another form of behavioural engagement which was revealed during the interviews. This concept centred on speaking with staff members of Māori descent. This includes talking with the Haka performers, tour guide or the carver in the carving studio that is located in the Treaty Grounds. Cassie explains this:

"I talked with one of the dancers because I wanted to know what kind of dance was that. I also met the man in the carving studio. He explained how they make things [sculptures], what kind of material it is made from and things like that. Then we took the tour which was really cool because it was a Māori guy [the tour guide]. It was actually interactive, and we could ask questions. I liked it when he taught us how to pronounce some Māori words."

So et al. described the interaction of tourists with a brand (e.g. a tourist destination) as a type of behavioural engagement (2014). Huang and Choi have also suggested that visitors can engage in an attraction by interacting with the employees (2019). Being able to converse directly with Māori has clearly engaged some visitors. The main reason for that was learning more about Māori traditions like dance and architecture. Visitors appeared more likely to start a conversation and ask questions if they had access to an indigenous tour guide. Therefore, the authors argue that those visitors who are more willing to learn about indigenous culture are also more desirous of starting a conversation with them which can deepen their level of engagement (Mijnheer and Gamble 2019).

In addition to the behavioural factors, three forms of psychological engagement have been found: (1) engagement with cultural aspects, (2) imagination and (3) learning. These are described in details below.

Psychological engagement

Cultural aspects

Visitors look at different aspects of Māori culture as a “unique” phenomenon that makes them pay more attention during the visit. The war dance known as a haka was a key engagement factor within tourists’ experience at Waitangi. Sarah explains why the haka was engaging:

"Haka is a quite interesting sort of thing to watch. Obviously, I had not known about the haka outside of New Zealand. I probably enjoyed that the most. Because these [performers] are the actual Māori, who are doing it. The intense facial expressions that they would stick to for several minutes were fantastic."

For visitors like Sarah, the haka is interesting because it is unique and is performed enthusiastically by the Māori performers. So et al. (2014) mentioned that “attention” is a type of engagement that people can have towards a brand. In Waitangi, different aspects of Māori culture capture visitors’ attention because they cannot experience them anywhere else. The main objects that were mentioned include the meeting house (wharenui), hāngī (a Māori cooking style), Māori songs, language, dance and clothes. The novelty around this experience helps tourists in Waitangi to engage more.


Some visitors mentioned that the general atmosphere that they experienced in Waitangi helped them to imagine the historical scenes in the past. Adrianna explains:

"I was trying to have visual representations of what I was seeing. They [the authorities in Waitangi] have done a good job, I suppose, trying to preserve things as they were. I think everything is real and can be felt when you walk around. I tried to take everything in and create a visualized micro mental movies of what had happened. Whenever you read something about history, you just imagine what might have looked like in the past. I think it helps you to understand the story better and probably remember it longer."

As noted, Waitangi Treaty Grounds is an important historical site, and some of the attractions such as Treaty House have remained relatively intact since 1840 when the treaty was signed between Māori and British. This perceived authentic atmosphere, along with the relevant information that visitors receive in different parts of the site like the museum and one-hour Māori tour guide, creates an environment in which visitors can engage psychologically and start imagining the past. This is consistent with findings from Bryce et al. (2014). They found that authenticity increases visitors’ engagement in Japanese cultural tourism.

Adrianna further explains some of her imaginings:

"I was just trying to imagine — you know — like the guy in this house [Treaty House], working on this [treaty], he could have seen maybe like some Māori chiefs were walking in front of the house. I could also imagine you know when they were talking about the treaty. So, in this huge playground and area, you can just immerse yourself and imagine what has happened over there."

In Waitangi, some offerings explicitly remind visitors of the past. In particular, visitors mentioned a 25-minute documentary film about the Treaty as well as the photos of those who played significant roles during the Treaty negotiations. Moreover, tourism activities such as experiencing haka, old flags, the wharenui (meeting house) and waka (canoe) were also mentioned as useful and authentic objects, encouraging people to visualising the past.

So et al. (2014) suggested “absorption” as a psychological engagement factor which means a tourist is fully concentrated on a tourism brand. Based on what was found in Waitangi, it could be argued that the perceived authenticity also helps visitors to focus more which results in “imagination.” Authenticity is about originality (Beverland and Farrelly 2010) and whether something is real or fake (Aghakhani et al. 2019). Tourists in Waitangi visualise the past because they see Waitangi as a reasonably realistic experience. Levitt (1986) argued that imagination involves picturing what is or is not present. He further adds that imagination is the primary driver for progress and the engine to receive new ideas. Our participants imagined the past because they want to have a better insight into what occurred. Further, those who showed significant interest in imagining the past have also shown much interest in learning. Therefore, we suggest that those tourists who are enthusiastic to learn may also be more willing to imagine the past.


The third major psychological engagement theme is “learning.” Four concepts emerged under this theme: “New Zealand history,” “Māori culture,” “Māori art” and “story.” Learning about history was by far the most frequently mentioned code under this theme. Andrew explains his experience:

"Learning about how the treaty came into being and the whole background of that. Because my knowledge of New Zealand history is very limited. So, that was the incentive for me to go and kind of see what was going on. So, I thought the whole Waitangi was quite informative. I really enjoyed it for what it was. Especially, it was quite interesting that the tour guide was able to explain all the stories that came out and obviously the follow up from the Treaty, and things like that"

Learning about history engaged almost all participants in Waitangi. However, the majority of them did not distinguish between Māori culture and history with the broader colonial history and culture of New Zealand. When participants mentioned that they learned about the history of New Zealand, they perceived that learning about Māori culture is also a part of this.

Researchers generally agree that learning is a motivation for those who participate in indigenous tourism. However, it is not clear if the intention to learn actually keeps visitors engaged during their visit. This difference of opinion is visible in previous research as well. Romero (2018) found that learning does not play a significant role in visitors’ engagement and Chen and Rahman (2018) findings suggest that visitors will be interested more in learning if the cultural attraction provides an engaging environment. This study suggests that interest in learning does keep tourists engaged during their visit. It encourages them to pay more attention to details and spend more time on-site to receive information. It can also be argued that learning and imagination as two psychological engagement factors are interrelated. Those who learn more, imagine more and vice versa.

Conclusions and implications

This study examined tourists’ participation in indigenous tourism and considered their levels of engagement, and the antecedents of that engagement. The findings provide better insights into tourists’ behaviour in several ways.

The results of this study indicate that participants were significantly engaged with the indigenous tourist attraction, displaying various forms of behavioural and psychological engagement. The level of engagement was found to be influenced by the opportunities and atmosphere provided for visitors. Similar findings have been reported in previous studies, such as the work of Su (2016), who found that the quality of the tourist experience and the overall atmosphere of the destination significantly impacted engagement levels. In the case of Waitangi Treaty Grounds, taking photos was found to be a prevalent form of behavioural engagement, serving multiple purposes ranging from personal documentation to public education. Previous studies have also explored the reasons for travelers’ taking photos, and Wang (2011) revealed that capturing memories and sharing experiences with others were common motivations. Additionally, the study uncovered that imagination engagement was an exciting finding, which was significantly influenced by the willingness to learn and to perceive authenticity. These findings are consistent with previous research by Chang (2012), who found that perceived authenticity positively impacted visitors’ emotional and cognitive engagement. Huang (2019) proposed that tourists are co-creating engagement during their visit and in an attraction. This study supports with this suggestion and argues that visitors engage with offerings if the environment which has been created for them is engaging. In other words, engagement can be created on site and by the direct involvement of visitors as well as service providers (Williams et al. 2019).

The study has significant implications for both the private and public sectors in the tourism industry. Authenticity has been found to be a crucial factor in both behavioural and psychological engagement (Huang 2019; Williams et al. 2019). Therefore, indigenous tourism attractions should strive to offer an authentic experience rather than modernizing their activities or facilities to enhance visitors’ engagement levels. Moreover, the study found that many visitors had limited knowledge of the indigenous culture before their visit. Thus, destination management organizations (DMOs) should consider promoting and representing the indigenous culture more prominently in their marketing activities, particularly at the international level (Hall 2021). By doing so, they can increase tourists’ awareness and interest in the indigenous culture, which can lead to greater engagement and cultural understanding.

Limitations and future research

The data for this study were collected at a highly authentic site which is important both historically and for indigenous culture in New Zealand. The findings of this study might not be generalisable to those indigenous tourist attractions that are more commercialised than authentic. Also, different indigenous tourism destinations involve visitors in various ways. Therefore, there may be some types of engagement, in particular, different forms of behavioural engagement that were not addressed in this study.

Authenticity and learning were found to be significant contributors to the visitors’ engagement. More studies are needed to investigate how these factors and level of engagement affect tourists’ future behaviours such as recommendation. Also, these factors should be examined in less authentic destinations to find out how commercialised indigenous tourist attractions impact visitors’ behavioural and psychological engagement. Finally, the relationship between the quality of the visitors’ experience in a destination and taking photos is another topic that needs further investigation.

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Jay Kheiri designed the research, conducted the interviews, wrote the paper. The author read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jay Kheiri.

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All names were replaced with pseudonyms in the paper to protect the anonymity of the research participants.

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Kheiri, J. Tourists’ engagement in cultural attractions: an exploratory study of psychological and behavioural engagement in indigenous tourism. Int. j. anthropol. ethnol. 7, 8 (2023).

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