From the beginning of 2020 up to now, most of the world has been struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. Rigorous restrictions, like entry bans and quarantines, and preventive measures are imposed throughout the world to halt the spread of the coronavirus, causing a downturn in economic activity and sapping the economic momentum of countries. There is no exception for the tourism industry with regard to such a recession. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a 70% fall in international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) during first eight months of 2020 compared to the same period of the previous year. Particularly, international arrivals declined 81% in July and 79% in August, which would usually be the peak season of the year, the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) indicates [1
Considering the quality of life and residents’ well-being, our lives have been dramatically changed by the pandemic. Waves of strict lockdowns are “inevitable” and social distancing is required by governments and organizations to prevent virus transmission, which, to some extent, induce negative effects on the mental health and well-being of residents and the effects will extend beyond those who have been directly affected by the virus [2
]. Ma and Yang found that the onset of the coronavirus epidemic led to a 74% drop in overall emotional well-being which is an important constituent of subjective well-being (SWB) [3
]. Given the importance of SWB to residents’ lives, it is time to take reasonable precautions to help us bring health and well-being to the forefront. Recommendations that could contribute to an alteration in residents’ well-being, including the promotion of physical activity and sleep hygiene etc. are contained in the relevant literature [4
]. The improvement of the well-being of humankind has been an object of many public policies [5
]. On the individual level, experiences during travel and satisfaction with travel contribute to improving well-being [5
]. Given the risk of increasing the opportunities for spreading the virus and getting infected, it would be better to find an alternative way to travel without physical movement when travels are postponed on a large scale and staying at home is advocated.
In the current world, which has been filled with artificial intelligence, we are becoming increasingly reliant on technology. For example, virtual reality (VR) is expected to be one of the significant technology products in the tourism industry. By providing accessible tourism for all and enhancing tourist experience, immersion, and visualization, VR may be an invaluable resource for transforming traditional tourism with intangible and experiential essence into a product [6
]. Therefore, it seems that VR tourism has the potential to provide residents with the access to experience tourist sites in VR and can play a vital role in improving residents’ well-being [8
The subject of this study, Quanjingke (QJK) provides 360-degree and ultra-high-definition panoramic images and guided tours and its language is Chinese only. According to the latest report from one of the most authoritative websites in China, QJK is the largest tourism-related VR website in China and it has around 1.5 billion active users and provides over 60,000 panoramic pictures and VR videos all over the whole country [9
]. The large amounts of users of QJK and rich VR resources make it reliable for collecting meaningful data for the current study. At the early stage of the pandemic, it is noteworthy that an article page published on QJK’s official account of WeChat induced the number of 67 million page views, leading to over 40 million unique visitors and 150 million page views for its website and its popular app, “Beautiful China” [9
]. Many Chinese accepted the new idea of “take it home”, which means to encourage potential tourists to “carry” tourist resorts to their home by using laptops and smart phones via which the interesting photos or videos and intelligent tour guides can be attained during the pandemic. With rich VR tourism resources and large amounts users, QJK enables us to access high quality data for empirical research related to VR tourism in the context of the pandemic.
The subjective evaluation of well-being is frequently referred to as SWB, and the subjective appraisal of well-being is the measure of well-being achieved when answering questions, which means that SWB can be measured by questionnaire in a self-reported way [10
]. The adoption of VR associated with enhancing subject well-being has been examined in various contexts. For example, Li et al. investigated the effectiveness of using virtual reality computer games in promoting the subjective well-being of children with cancer [11
]. In spite of this, exploring the role of VR tourism on enhancing residents’ subjective well-being remains in its infancy, as an integrated model of VR tourism has not been established [12
]. To be concrete, researchers emphasize certain facets of VR tourist behavior (e.g., perception of authenticity and attitude) for the purpose of tourism marketing [12
]. In addition, a handful of the literature employing theoretically integrated model remains on too broad scope rather than concentrating on a specific VR tourism product, leading to potentially diverse conclusions. Focusing on the VR tourists of QJK, we strive to fill the aforementioned research gaps by establishing an integrated model. In this study, structural equation modeling (SEM) was employed to test the proposed model and hence the relationship between VR tourism and residents’ subjective well-being was explicated clearly on both theoretical and empirical level.
Incorporating the constructs of PCP attributes, presence, perceived values, and satisfaction into an integrated model, the current study aims to explore how the VR tourism promote residents’ subjective well-being by delving into its mechanisms. The model incorporates constructs frequently used in the consumer behavior domain, encompassing PCP attributes (i.e., peripheral attribute, core attribute and pivotal attribute), perceived value (i.e., functional value and emotional value), and satisfaction, with the construct unique to VR tourism research (i.e., presence). Consequently, the theoretical and practical implications are summarized based on the results of empirical analysis. Thus, the policy makers, residents, tourist destinations and VR tourism operators will all benefit from the research findings.
A thorough review of the literature concerning the related constructs and topics was undertaken before the original measurement items were developed. To ensure an appropriate questionnaire with good readability and effectiveness, two experts, and Mr. Ma, the chief executive of QJK, were asked to assess the content validity of the questionnaire and some obscure expressions in it were removed or modified. A 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1= “strongly disagree “to 5= “strongly agree” was applied to measure questionnaire items (see Appendix A
). Built on the implication of PCP model and variables of VR tourism attributes in prior research, multiple items used to measure peripheral, core, and pivotal attributes were adopted [21
]. In specific, the peripheral attribute was assessed using a 5-item scale including “operating system compatibility and applicability” and “interface design”. The core attribute was determined by a 4-item scale comprising “ease of use”, and “privacy and security”. The pivotal attribute was measured by a 5-item scale involving “fulfillment and advantage of VR tourism to users”. The 4-item scale of presence (e.g., “In the VR tourist world, I had a sense of being there”) was adapted from Bogicevic et al. and Schuemie et al. [25
]. Based on suggestions from prior studies, two dimensions of perceived value (i.e., functional value and emotional value) were measured with four items respectively for each one (e.g., “The VR tour on QJK has a consistent level of quality” for functional value; “Using QJK for VR travel gives me a feeling of happiness” for emotional value) [33
]. Satisfaction was operationalized with three items which were recommended by Lee et al. and Song et al. [40
]. Finally, subjective well-being was assessed with four items, as suggested by Kim and Hall [8
With the assistance of QJK, researchers contacted with VR tourists from the top four metropolises in China (i.e., Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen) via a Group Chat created by QJK. WeChat and QQ are the most prevalent social media platforms whose users are active. The Group Chats on WeChat and QQ were established as channels for QJK users’ to communicate with and give feedback to us. It was much easier to conduct the survey in the four cities which have a significant number of QJK’s users from various areas of China. Compared with an offline survey, it was more suitable to perform the research online in this study because the most of the users of QJK are active online and they registered with their real names. Based on this, an online anonymous survey was conducted among residents who have used QJK for VR travel during the COVID-19 pandemic (from February to November in 2020). The data were collected online from 19 November to 11 December 2020 by employing convenience sampling. The researchers sent friend requests to the potential respondents via WeChat or QQ in the first instance. Next, we described the purpose of survey, the time when responses were due, and compensation. After accepting our invitation on WeChat or QQ, each of respondents was asked to fill in the self-administered questionnaire online. 589 questionnaires were distributed and a total of 542 respondents completed the questionnaire. After excluding invalid questionnaires that were completed hastily or in repetitive response patterns, the remaining 490 completed questionnaires were finally used for the empirical analysis.
The data were analyzed using R and descriptive statistics was performed at first. Based on Anderson and Gerbing’s suggestions, the current study conducted structural equation modelling (SEM) with a two-step approach [56
]. In order to ensure internal consistency together with construct validity and reliability, confirmatory factor analysis was firstly implemented to examine the measurement model for all variables. Moreover, SEM was performed to examine the proposed research model and hypotheses. Figure 2
is the proposed conceptual model.
In the landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism industry has been struggling due to the recession and the postponement of trips to tourist destinations. Residents’ well-being, to some extent, has been impacted directly or indirectly due to the spread of the coronavirus. VR tourism, as a form of leisure activity in daily life, provides an effective coping strategy to enhance residents’ levels of well-being and destination recovery. In such a context, an investigation was conducted among residents who used QJK, the largest tourism-related VR website in China, during the pandemic. The aim of this paper is to provide empirical evidence to prove the effectiveness of VR tourism in promoting residents’ subjective well-being. Hence, an integrated model with the constructs of PCP attributes, presence, perceived value, satisfaction, and subjective well-being was proposed and tested. The results indicate that the PCP attributes of VR tourism have a positive effect on presence during VR experience, which positively influences perceived value. The value of VR tourism as perceived by VR tourists results in their satisfaction. Eventually, residents’ subjective well-being is improved due to their satisfaction with VR tourism. Based on our findings, suggestions for policy makers, residents and tourism operators are offered as follows:
Policy makers should make constructive use of leisure activities associated with a high level of residents’ well-being such as VR tourism while they are striving for economic development and social stability. The local government may collect applicable information and data via big data about VR tourism to make the city more livable, workable and sustainable. In particular, VR tourism can facilitate the disabled with access to destinations in VR, which will, to some degree, contribute to realizing government’s goal for social equity. Meanwhile, we recommend that local residents accept and enjoy virtual travel as VR tourism has great potential to improve their well-being, provides all sorts of travel related information to help them pursue their interests, saves time and money, and allows them to connect with friends while traveling in VR. For destination suppliers, VR tourism is capable of retaining the demands of future tourists and thereby provides practical solutions for destination recovery after the pandemic because VR tourism is associated with real visitation and intention to travel [6
]. Therefore, it is suggested that destination suppliers cooperate with VR tourism developers. VR tourists favor the VR tourism products and services that present them with a high degree of presence. Thus, developers should highlight core and pivotal attributes when they design VR projects. Subsequently, VR tourists could achieve intensive presence and perceived positive values that will result in their satisfaction with the destination and VR tourism. All in all, VR tourism is supposed to be applied in multiple sectors for various purposes.