|The presence of spouses, i.e., those who accompany their spouses to a conference, is a common phenomenon within the conference travel sector. It has been evident in trade journals that accompanying spouses yield social and economic benefits as a potential market for the conference industry. Moreover, accompanying spouses’ participation in conference travel, which has been alluded to in trade journals, appears to be understood as the opportunity to travel with their spouses. However, the accompanying spouses’ phenomenon has been less noticed and under-appreciated in academic research, specifically in tourism studies. To present new knowledge about the phenomenon, the research for this thesis investigates the conference travel experience for accompanying spouses by providing information on how accompanying spouses make sense of their conference travel experience, and the meanings that they ascribe to their experience. Therefore, later research can build on its findings to improve knowledge, experience and practice in this area.
Given the originality of the research topic, the thesis adopts a phenomenological approach, primarily grounded in the accompanying spouses’ voices of their subjective experience, rather than testing certain hypotheses. At the same time, the thesis is interpretative in which the researcher seeks to make sense of what the participants try to make sense of their experiences, using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). Within this approach, it can be possible to gain new insight into the accompanying spouses’ phenomenon. The nature of this thesis, thus, is qualitative, inductive and draws on multidisciplinary knowledge. The data were collected from multiple in-depth interviews with fifteen accompanying spouses. The initial interviews present the nature of accompanying spouses’ experiences from their perspectives. Concurrently, separate interviews with the fifteen conference attendees who have previously brought their spouses along to conferences were conducted to get a deeper understanding of the phenomenon.
Based on the IPA approach, therefore, the thesis research revealed that the accompanying spouses’ phenomenon reflected a mix of subjective experiences within the context of time for the self, with their spouse, and with the conference society. Three key emergent themes were evident in the accompanying spouses’ accounts: ‘the experience of providing individual autonomy’, ‘the experience of creating positive emotions for the relationship’ and ‘the experience of social inclusion and exclusion’. Firstly, the majority of accompanying spouses described ‘the experience of providing individual autonomy’ based on a sense of freedom, serendipitous moments and the issues of social engagement. The participants also reflected on the relational aspect of conference travel which emerged from ‘the experience of creating positive emotions for the relationship’ through a genuine sense of connectedness, the experience of caregiver and a sense of strengthened spousal bond. Thirdly, when involved in the social activities of the conference, accompanying spouses were found to negotiate their professional identity on the basis of common ‘experiences of social inclusion and exclusion.'
These findings contribute to developments in tourism studies knowledge in such areas as the tourist experience, family travel, conference travel and couples’ travel leisure. The thesis highlights the need for further critical thought on the nature of travel and relationships. Specifically, in this thesis, the experiences of serendipity, intimacy and exclusion in the accompanied conference travel experience raise the need for further examination of the embodied and lived experiences of couples travelling together and its associated meaning.