Throwing Back Travel Memories to Boost Creativity

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A new study cast light on work and leisure conflict, revealing that tapping into a nostalgic trip can boost creativity

After weathering years of crippling travel restrictions, the tourism industry is finally on the road to recovery with travellers eagerly rushing to book flights and hotels. According to a recent Travel Pulse 2023 survey by travel platform Klook, one in three millennials and Gen Z across the Asia Pacific are ready to spend at least US$2,000 for their next holidays, which is more than double the average monthly income in Asia.

While both work and travel are two essential aspects of modern life, there are inconsistent views on whether they are opposing domains. Some research found that leisure and travel may be positively associated with one’s work efficiency through stress recovery and self-development. In contrast, other studies found that leisure activities may negatively influence work performance due to the consumption of time and energy.

We demonstrate that merely recalling one’s tourism memory, even from a long time ago, can increase creativity.

Prof. Lisa Wan

A new study titled How tourism memory boosts creativity? The role of openness to experience conducted by Lisa Wan, Associate Professor and Acting Director of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School, and her PhD student Hu Jihao, have solved this riddle.

Prof. Wan and Hu investigated whether tourism memory has positive influences on individuals’ work performance, as well as the mechanisms behind it. They found that recalling tourism-related memories can promote creativity.

“The spillover effect of tourism memory retrieval on creativity suggests that the mere recall of one’s tourism memory can momentarily activate a higher level of state openness, which would, in turn, spillover to individuals’ changes in creativity performance,” says Prof. Wan.

Uniqueness of Tourism Memory

Travel memories have unique qualities, such as social nature and vividness.

Many psychological studies have shown that memory plays a significant role in leveraging creativity, as impaired memory function can lead to poor creative performance. On the other hand, while many other studies have explored the negative effects of work-leisure conflict, they tend to predominantly examine the immediate consequences of travel rather than its long-term implications. Building on these theoretical foundations, Prof. Wan and her collaborator proposed that tourism memory retrieval facilitates creativity.

While various types of memories exist, why is tourism memory particularly important in this context? The uniqueness and unpredictability of tourism memory allow it to differentiate from other routine memories. Prof. Wan notes that travel memories have unique qualities, which makes individuals more open-minded compared to ordinary memories, or other affectively positive memories.

“Tourism memory is in fact a type of autobiographical memory about one’s tourism experiences, while it possesses two unique characteristics differentiated from other autobiographical memories in general – social nature and vividness,” says Prof. Wan.

The researchers then proposed their second hypothesis, suggesting that the effect of tourism memory retrieval on creativity is mediated by increased openness to experience.

Effects of Tourism Memory Retrieval

To examine the causal relationship between tourism memory retrieval and creativity, the team randomly assigned the participants to either tourism, ordinary, or an affectively positive memory group. In this experiment, participants were asked to finish a writing task to describe the details of their past tourism, ordinary, or luck memory. After that, they needed to answer questions that were designed to measure their level of openness to experiences at that moment.

The participants were then required to finish a creative task in which they had to devise innovative solutions for a new business idea in a cafeteria setting. After completion, the researchers recruited two independent coders to the experiment to rate each response.

The study shows that tourism memory retrieval facilitates creativity.

Consistent with their hypotheses, the results showed that participants in the tourism memory recall group displayed a higher creativity score than those in either the ordinary or affectively positive memory group, thus ruling out the positive affect as the alternative account. Additionally, the result of the openness test also indicated that participants in the tourism memory group exhibited a higher level of openness than their counterparts in either the ordinary or affectively positive memory group.

“We demonstrated that the effect of tourism memory, compared to the ordinary or affectively positive memory, retrieval on individuals’ creativity is derived from the social nature and vividness that tourism memories feature,” says Prof. Wan. “Theoretically speaking, in this regard, tourism experiences with a higher level of social interactions, social sharing, and vividness may exert a stronger reminiscence effect than others.”

Moderating Role of Trait Openness

The team took a step further to test the moderating role of trait openness. Compared to a state of openness, which is temporary, the trait of openness refers to an individual’s personality that is inclined to explore new ideas and engage in novel experiences. Openness is one of the “Big Five” personality traits and is connected to qualities such as curiosity and imagination. These attributes are crucial in shaping creativity.

Most of the steps in this experiment were the same as the previous one, but instead of measuring openness at a particular moment, researchers focused on the enduring characteristics. More specifically, participants were asked to rate their trait openness using the Big Five personality measure after finishing the creativity task.

The result replicated the positive effect of tourism memory retrieval on participants’ creativity, but the more important thing is that the researchers identified the boundary condition.


Job Crafting: How Much Is Too Much?

“The impact of tourism memory retrieval on creativity was stronger among those with lower trait openness than those with higher trait openness,” says Prof. Wan. “This is because as people with higher trait openness are already substantially associated with better creativity performance, recalling tourism memories may then exert less incremental influence.”

Leveraging Tourism Memory in the Workplace

While travel may have some short-term side effects on work performance, the researchers argue that it can contribute to individual and organisational success in the longer post-trip stage.

“We demonstrate that merely recalling one’s tourism memory, even from a long time ago, can increase creativity,” says Prof. Wan.

Organisations can promote work-leisure integration by encouraging employees to bring vacation souvenirs or crafts to the workplace.

As creativity is highly associated with organisational functioning and efficiency and employees’ problem-solving skills, these findings provide practical implications for individuals, organisational managers, and even marketers.

“At the individual level, creativity can augment people’s well-being, including their mental health and happiness,” says Prof. Wan. “At the organisational level, creativity can improve employees’ job performance and organisational success.”

Given the positive impact of retrieving tourism memories on individuals’ creativity, Prof. Wan suggests that organisations may promote work-leisure integration by encouraging employees to bring souvenirs or crafts from their vacations into the workplace or organise company travel activities. Similarly, employees can keep travel photos in the office, while travel companies can emphasise the benefits of travel memories when promoting travel packages.

Prof. Wan concludes that this new research provides novel insights into the discussion of work-leisure conflict. However, whether an increase in creativity in the experimental context could translate into creativity in actual job performance warrants more attention in future studies.

“Future researchers could conduct a field experiment in a real organisational setting, where leaders assess employees’ creativity performance and compare their differences,” she adds.