Profiling four wheel drive tourism markets for desert Australia

Journal of Vacation Marketing
Volume 14 Number 1
Profiling four wheel drive tourism markets for
desert Australia
Andrew Taylor* and Bruce Prideaux
Received (in revised form): March 2007
Anonymously refereed paper
*School for Social Policy and Research, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, 0909 Australia
Tel: +61889466536; E-mail: [email protected]
Andrew Taylor is a researcher and lecturer
located with the School for Social Policy and
Research at Charles Darwin University. His research interests include tourism informatics, desert tourism, four wheel drive tourism and blogs
for tourism. He has published widely in Australia
and internationally on these topics.
Bruce Prideaux holds the Chair of Marketing
and Tourism Management at the Cairns campus
of James Cook University. In an academic career
spanning 14 years, Bruce has been an active
researcher publishing over 100 journal articles,
book chapters and conference papers. He has a
diverse range of research interests including tourism transport, heritage, destination development,
diffusion of research, seniors, drive tourism,
backpackers, desert tourism and, more recently,
futures research.
KEYWORDS: desert tourism, four wheel
drive tourism, segmentation, self-drive
Sales of four wheel drive (4WD) recreational
vehicles in Australia continue to grow at a faster
rate than for other vehicle types. Meanwhile
anecdotal reporting suggests there is a growing
demand for 4WD tourism experiences to Australia’s desert areas. To date there has been no
segmentation of 4WD tourism markets and this
has encouraged destination marketing organizations and product developers in desert areas to
adopt a broad-brushed approach for attracting
visitors. In this article we present findings from
focus groups and surveys of 4WD enthusiasts
conducted at large 4WD shows to propose a
segmentation of the market. The findings emphasize that the market is not homogeneous. For
desert areas, the Explorer-traveller segment expresses a high favourability for trips there; however, other segments are important. Those directly
and indirectly involved in 4WD tourism should
benefit from applying this understanding to develop products and experiences which reflect the
motivations and experiential aspirations of their
target segments.
A significant proportion of the Australian
land mass can be considered as desert. While
a range of definitions are possible, Geoscience Australia1 reports that land areas officially titled ‘desert’ account for 18 per cent
of the Australian continent and that around
70 per cent of the continent receives less
than 500 mm of rainfall per annum, classifying it as arid or semi-arid land. The environmental and landscape characteristics of
Australia’s deserts are varied along with the
flora and fauna they host. Amongst the
named deserts there are landscapes of shifting
red sand dunes, like the Simpson Desert
which traverses three state boundaries, extensive gibber (stones) plains (Sturt Stony
Desert) and massive saline lakes found in the
Gibson and Tirari Deserts. Even within individual deserts, flora and landscapes can be
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Journal of Vacation Marketing
Vol. 14 No. 1, 2008, pp. 71–86
& SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London, New Delhi
and Singapore.
DOI: 10.1177/1356766707084220
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Profiling four wheel drive tourism markets for desert Australia
highly varied in their types and distribution.
From a tourism perspective, imagery of desert landscapes and attractions are used by
marketers to evoke aspirations for ‘getting
away from it all’ and exploring, particularly
in international markets.2
Remoteness from major population areas
is another major feature of Australia’s deserts.
The Accessibility/Remoteness Index of
Australia3 is based on road distance measurements from 11,879 populated localities to
the nearest service centres. It reports that,
although less than three per cent of the
Australia’s population resides in remote or
very remote locations, these areas account
for around 70 per cent of the total land mass.
Distances to key source and product markets
mean that economic activity, outside of the
mining sector, is typically small and fragmented. Businesses are invariably less than 20
employees and the ability of these to influence broader economic outcomes is very
limited.4 Tourism has consequently been
widely viewed as an avenue for economic
development in desert regions in spite of the
marginal economic conditions found in
many of these.
In recent years there has been a substantial
growth in four wheel drive (4WD) vehicle
ownership in Australia with sales of 4WD
vehicles exceeding general vehicle sales by a
magnitude of 2.5.5–6 Concurrently, anecdotal
reporting suggests there is a strong and growing demand for 4WD leisure-based experiences in a range of environments, and in
particular desert regions.7–8 The growth in
the source markets for 4WD travellers and
the opportunity for them to travel into Australia’s vast desert regions has created the
potential for desert communities to gain
economic benefits by developing new tourism experiences for this sector. However, to
date there has been little research into the
4WD market either in Australia or other
The relative importance of the 4WD sector to some destinations is apparent from the
finding that more than a third of all visitors
to the Northern Territory between 2000 and
2004 travelled in a 4WD vehicle on their
trip.9 The potential for continued growth is
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evident from growth in memberships to
4WD clubs. In Victoria, for example, memberships to 4WD clubs grew by around 90
per cent in the past five years but this may
represent as little as five to ten per cent of
the total 4WD ownership market in that
State.10 Carson and Taylor11 found that the
market for desert 4WD leisure trips may be
one area of particular importance and a
source of additional income for the marginalized economies of many desert areas. A
scan of 4WD consumer magazines by the
authors shows around half of the commercial
advertisements for 4WD vehicles, parts and
accessories leverage off desert images or
highlight the competency of the product in
these environments.12,13
In recent years there has been an intensification of public sector investment and collaborative initiatives to develop themed
touring routes and to promote iconic tracks
as part of a broader policy to develop selfdrive and 4WD tourism. Deserts and desert
‘tracks’ (historically significant and iconic
roads which are generally non-bituminized,
such as the Strzelecki Track) are increasingly
portrayed as destinations in their own right
and have gained widespread publicity in
travel magazines, 4WD magazines, on television travel shows and in tourism marketing
collateral.14 Numerous examples of collaborative activity around individual tracks
(and ‘ways’) exist in the context of desert
and remote areas including the Red Centre
Way15 (Northern Territory) and the Outback Way16 (traversing Queensland, the
Northern Territory and Western Australia).
In her examination of the requirements for
the successful development of themed touring routes Hardy17 emphasized the need for a
clear match between products and consumer
needs. Clearly, the lack of baseline consumer
research on the 4WD tourism market needs
to be addressed. For desert destinations key
research questions exist on how to identify
the markets for 4WD travel to desert areas,
what aspirations are inherent in these, and
how these translate to desired experiences
for trips.
Market segmentation is a commonly used
method for understanding tourism consumer
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Taylor and Prideaux
preferences and needs. The role of segmentation is to develop marketing, product positioning and product development strategies
according to identified target markets.18 Its
application extends to, amongst other things,
destination marketing, the development of
targeted products and the instigation of targeted tourism management strategies.19 Segmentation can highlight the types of
products consumers are seeking at the prices
they are prepared to pay. In the tourism
literature, segments are usually based on
idealistic views about the expectations of
rewards from certain experiences or activities
which express themselves as common behavioural characteristics.20 To be useful, segmentation must reveal groups which are
recognizable, can be quantified, and are of
sufficient size relative to the overall market
to warrant attention.21 This article will identify a number of specific desert 4WD segments based on findings from a mixed
methods research approach.
Diss-aggregation of the self-drive market
using segmentation approaches presents particular challenges. Part of the reason is that
distinguishing a relationship between a destination and the types of holiday experiences
self-drive tourists are seeking is becoming
increasingly difficult.22 Contributing to this
are changes in the processes self-drive travellers use to construct their overall holiday
experience. Where in the past, holiday experiences were largely built on the consumption of products and services at a destination,
self-drive tourists are increasingly using an
amalgam of destinations, drive routes and the
products offered along the way to create a
new form of holiday experience.23 The willingness of contemporary travellers to combine aspects of business and leisure on
individual trips is another complicating
Leisure travellers in 4WD vehicles are a
sub-set of the overall self-drive market,
which accounts for about 70 per cent of all
overnight leisure trips in Australia.25 It is
therefore surprising that relatively little research has been undertaken into the drivetourism market.26 While some research on
the identification of segments in the selfdrive market exists27 there has been no
equivalent research on 4WD travellers. Similarly, the influence of transport modes, nodes
and the organization of the transportation
system for the development of destinations
has been addressed,28 but not in the context
of 4WD self-drive tourism. Carson and
Taylor29 proposed that clear market insights,
such as those which might be provided by
segmentation, are a pre-requisite for establishing and sustaining the competitiveness of
destinations which attract or wish to attract
4WD travellers.
As a technical process, segmentation of
4WD markets requires a common definitional basis against which the preferences and
characteristics of individuals can be compared. Carson and Taylor30 suggested that a
rubbery and diverse relationship is observable between the 4WD vehicle, trip experiences and the consumption of product.
Because of its ability to transport tourists to
places where they can have 4WD-related
experiences, as well as experiences that are
otherwise generally available, a 4WD vehicle
can be seen as the conduit for trip experiences as well as potentially fulfilling the
primary motivations for the trip. This complicates the task of delineating the motivations and preferences of different segments of
the market. There is, for example no existing
research that suggests that particular groups
of 4WD travellers favour particular groupings of trip attributes.
Some psychometrically based classifications of 4WD vehicle owners have been
developed31 but not on the basis of their
leisure-based requirements for trips. This,
and other similar reports, have lacked academic rigour since the thrust of their arguments have tended towards supporting a
particular viewpoint such 4WD vehicles and
their drivers as detrimental to society and, in
particular, to the physical environment. Research of this nature has compared the attitudes and characteristics of 4WD vehicle
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Profiling four wheel drive tourism markets for desert Australia
owners to other vehicle owners, rather than
looking for differences in the attributes and
preferences of 4WD owners themselves.
In addition to the absence of a common
definition of 4WD tourism32 there are methodological issues surrounding the definition
of a 4WD vehicle itself and what constitutes
a 4WD trip. State and Territory authorities
with responsibility for the registration of
vehicles do not do so based on the capacity
for off-road handling. For example, popular
models such as the Toyota Land Cruiser,
Nissan Patrol and Mitsubishi Pajero are classified as light vehicles (i.e. weighing less than
the prescribed tonnage for trucks) when they
are registered in Victoria.33–34 Exacerbating
the problem manufacturers provide consumers with a choice of options for individual
models. The latest model of the Ford Territory, for example, is described by the company as a ‘recreational 4WD’ but is also
available as a rear wheel drive (i.e. two wheel
drive) only model.35
Overlaying these issues with the situational contexts in which 4WD trips occur
highlights the complexity of developing an
accurate definition of a 4WD trip for the
purpose of market segmentation. Attributes
for consideration in defining the scope of
4WD trips include those related to the vehicle and where it is taken, as well as those
which describe the presence and importance
of 4WD driving (where all four wheels are
engaged by the drive train) segments of the
overall trip. In relation to the former, aspects
such as traversing particular road surfaces,
driving on particular roads or tracks, the use
of particular vehicle features, use of recovery
equipment, engaging certain gear ratios, or a
combination of these may be considered. In
relation to the prominence of 4WD driving
on the overall trip, considerations include
describing the main purpose of the trip, main
form of transport, the travel party type, the
proportion of the trip spent 4WD driving,
whether the vehicle was driven off the bitumen, and participation in 4WD driving
What evolves from this discussion is that it
may be entirely feasible to suggest there are
several ‘types’ of 4WD trips. These are likely
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to incorporate multitudes of combinations of
activities, experiences, levels of organization
around itineraries, travel parties and vehicle
types. Hence, a segmentation based on trip
characteristics alone may be deficient. Considering this, a starting point might be a
bi-variable typology placing trips on a continuum based on combinations of the trip
party and attributes of the vehicle. It can be
established through promotional materials,
for example, that tours on 4WD tour buses
are relatively organized (i.e. maintaining a
predictable and consistent itinerary) and are
largely based around products or attractions,
rather than experiences. Conversely, independent 4WD travellers on single-vehicle
trips are likely to pursue a less formal itinerary and place greater importance on obtaining desired experiences and undertaking
preferred activities during the trip.
On this basis, it may be possible to map
the most common types of trips taken by
4WD travellers as illustrated in Figure 1
using formal/informal and experience based/
product based scales.
However, while the trip typology illustrated in Figure 1 is useful for understanding
interrelationships between some of the attributes of 4WD trips and their itineraries, it
does not facilitate the holistic understanding
of common characteristics and the desires of
the 4WD traveller necessary for segmentation. For the purposes of this research the
following definitions were adopted:
4WD vehicle – A vehicle with drive train
components and user functionality enabling
all four wheels to be engaged (can include
All Wheel Drive (AWD) or 4WD vehicles).
4WD driving – a) Operation of the vehicle
during which all four wheels are engaged
through the drive train. b) Operation of an
AWD vehicle on terrain which would be
inaccessible to two wheel drive vehicles.
4WD traveller – A person who has been or
is on a trip where the primary motivation is
for leisure or leisure-related activities and
where the trip includes segments of travel in
a 4WD vehicle.
4WD trip – A leisure trip where at least one
segment was in a 4WD vehicle irrespective
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Taylor and Prideaux
A trip party/vehicle based typology of 4WD trips
of whether that vehicle was driven off bituminized roads or whether 4WD driving was
4WD tourism – the aggregation of 4WD
trips and their attributes as well as the economic, social and environmental interactions
and impacts attributable to these.
Outback – This is a term commonly used
to describe regions of Australia that are located away from the coast and inland of
dividing mountain ranges. Deserts fall within
this definition.
With this in mind, this article reports
research to establish a segmentation of 4WD
travel markets.
Given the lack of previous research on 4WD
tourism the researchers required a mixed
methods research approach. In the initial
phase two focus group sessions with 4WD
enthusiasts were conducted. In the second
phase quantitative research was conducted
using interviewer based surveys at three major 4WD shows. Figure 2 summarizes the
Figure 1
research framework which underpinned the
segmentation work. The findings of the
focus group discussions were used to build
the bank of questions used in the second
phase surveys.
Two focus groups were held in Melbourne in February 2006 with members of
4WD clubs. As a research method, focus
groups were appropriate for both obtaining
insights into the motivations, attitudes and
expectations of 4WD travellers and for directing the content and structure of the
questionnaires subsequently administered at
4WD shows.36 Focus group attendees were
sourced by 4WD Victoria and participated in
two separate groups comprised of nine and
seven participants. A mix of ages and living
arrangements were represented in the
groups, although mature couples were the
most prominent. Participants were asked to
provide a written answer to each question
and were then led through a facilitated discussion based on their answers. Discussion
on individual questions followed with participants giving written responses. The aims of
this approach were twofold; to report baseline data on the characteristics, motivations,
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Profiling four wheel drive tourism markets for desert Australia
Figure 2
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Segmentation research framework
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Taylor and Prideaux
trip preferences, planning activities and attitudes of 4WD travellers and; to help test the
following hypothesis:
H1: That segments of 4WD travellers can
be identified based on combinations of
variables relating to:
• Demographics
• Trip motivations;
• Trip preferences and characteristics; and
• The relative importance of 4WD driving as an activity.
Content analysis was used to identify recurring themes such as motivations in the written and recorded records of the meetings.
In the second stage of the research, survey
instruments were developed from information obtained from the focus groups. A pilot
questionnaire was developed and tested for
appropriate discourse, internal consistency
and sequencing. The resultant questionnaires
were administered by trained interviewers at
the Victorian 4WD Show (February 2006 at
Wandin, Victoria), the National 4X4 Show
in Brisbane (April 2006) and the National
4X4 Show in Sydney (June 2006). The
survey instruments consisted of single and
multiple-response multiple-choice questions.
Questions which related to 4WD trips,
4WD driving and 4WD vehicles were left to
the respondent to interpret definitionally,
although some questions provided specific
definitional frames including those about
trips where the respondent went off the
bitumen and engaged 4WD.
Interviewers were briefed by researchers
and provided with a set of interviewer instructions. No more than three interviewers
operated at any one time and these were
based at the 4WD Victoria stall (for the
Wandin show) or the Hema Maps stall (Brisbane and Sydney). Show attendees who
visited these stalls were approached on an
opportunistic basis without reference to any
visibly distinguishing attributes such as age,
gender, or general appearance. Interviewers
were required to read out a pre-interview
introductory statement and obtain verbal
permission to conduct an interview. Once
verbal permission was obtained to proceed,
the formal interview commenced. If verbal
permission was not obtained, no data was
recorded. This sampling approach yielded
640 completed interviews, with respondents
ranging from their late teens to eighty years
of age.
As one of the aims of the survey was to
generate baseline information for analysis
and segmentation, the focus of the research
topics (domains) was on understanding the
characteristics, motivations and trip preferences of 4WD travellers to identify segments.
A set of core questions was therefore maintained across the surveys; however, the opportunities to address different research areas
were also taken. For example, at the Sydney
show, questions were included on respondent attitudes towards 4WD vehicle ownership and the extent to which the owner is
prepared to take their vehicle off bituminized road surfaces. Table 1 outlines the
research domains for each study.
Data was scanned into statistical databases
using proprietary survey automating software
and then analysed and data-mined using
SPSS. The results of low-level quantitative
analysis of the datasets from interviews at the
three shows were triangulated with the
author’s meta-analysis of the focus groups.
Firstly, analysis of the socio-demographic
profile of respondents demonstrates that segmentation on this basis alone is not possible.
Subsequent analysis of the motivations for
4WD trips and the common trip attributes is
provided. Based on variables relating to these
domains, the authors were able to interrelate
these on a continuum matrix to propose
4WD traveller segments. The identified segments were tested by interrogating the entire
dataset with combinations of variables considered to be appropriate for delineating
whether sufficient groupings of respondents
(segments) exist.
Profiling of the demographic characteristics
of respondents at the shows suggests homogeneity amongst 4WD enthusiasts. More
than 95 per cent were aged within two
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Profiling four wheel drive tourism markets for desert Australia
Table 1: Research domains for segmentation research
Research Domain
Travel party types
Motivations for 4WD trips
Preferred/ideal 4WD trip experiences
Activities undertaken on 4WD trips
Negative aspects of 4WD driving &
perceptions of remedial actions required
Destination selection and accommodation
used on 4WD trips
Interactions with Indigenous communities
and individuals
Frequency and types of 4WD trips
Length of last trip
Preference for environments
Trip planning and information sources
Vehicle modification
4WD training and level of off-road
Attitude to outback off-road 4WD driving
Factors to encourage outback off-road 4WD
Focus groups 4WD show
National 4X4
show Brisbane
National 4X4
show Sydney
Note: * Includes age, postcode, gender, living arrangements
standard deviations of the mean age of 46
and most clustered in the 45–65 age groups.
Similarly, there was limited diversity in the
living arrangements of 4WD enthusiasts as
more than 80 per cent lived in coupled and
partnered households with children (41.3 per
cent) or without children (42.1 per cent).
Clearly, purposeful segmentation on the basis
of the demographic profile alone cannot be
achieved. Instead these must be considered
collectively with variables relating to trip
motivations, trip characteristics and preferences, and vehicle-use attributes.
In terms of motivations for 4WD trips and
the experiences which they provide, a number of psychological aspects were apparent
from the focus groups and these included:
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Socializing with like-minded people;
Personal discovery;
Getting away from it all or from the city;
Facing challenges; and
Developing or maintaining friendships.
The desert featured prominently in the
explanations about the motivations for 4WD
travel, mostly expressed through imagery of
the types of experiences desert areas provide.
The imagery associated with these areas was
particularly strong in relation to its solitude,
its open spaces with few inhabitants, its
natural beauty, and the physical challenges
they present. Coupled with the socially based
experiences, club members indicated that
they viewed deserts as highly desirable
‘places’ for members to undertake extended
4WD trips.
The notion of 4WD trips providing an
escape from city life and its associated routines was supported by survey results from
the shows. Here, respondents were asked:
‘To me, the important aspects of owning a
4WD are:’ Almost two-thirds identified ‘it
allows me to drive in challenging places off
the bitumen by engaging 4WD’ as an important factor. For these travellers, this suggests that the vehicle is a means of satisfying
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Taylor and Prideaux
the motivation for a challenge and for getting off the bitumen, which, as an amalgam,
is likely to represent an escape from the
mundane aspects of every day city life. This
psychological phenomenon would certainly
benefit from further research, which, other
than acknowledging its existence, is beyond
the scope of this discussion.
A further motivational realm emerging
from the research was for experiences providing a challenge to both the driver and the
vehicle. At the focus groups and in the
results from the Wandin survey, the High
Country (which includes alpine areas and
cool-climate hinterland areas) was seen to
provide for experiences around shorter (generally weekend) trips in terrain (generally
muddy or rocky surfaces) where the capabilities of the vehicle and the skills of the driver
were likely to be tested. Interestingly, one of
the aims of travelling in these types of conditions is to experience the challenge of recovering the vehicle by using specialized
equipment in conjunction with skills generally obtained through formal training. Unsurprisingly this is a core activity of 4WD
clubs and associations. Nearly three quarters
of Wandin respondents indicated a strong
preference for High Country environments
suggesting there is a prominent segment of
4WD travellers who are motivated by challenging terrain to undertake short and challenging trips.
A more directly observable motivational
driver for 4WD trips emerged from the
Brisbane show. More than half (52 per cent)
of the respondents said that, more than anything, 4WD driving is about getting to places
to undertake other activities. In South-East
Queensland, proximity to the ocean means
that fishing was a commonly nominated
activity, although formal recording of this
was not undertaken and is based on the
author’s observations during interviewing.
Around 70 per cent of these respondents said
they always or usually take 4WD trips when
they travel, indicating that the activity driven
use of the 4WD vehicle is prominent in their
overall travel itineraries and preferences. This
group was far more likely to always try a
new 4WD trip (region, track or destination)
at 68 per cent compared to adventure seekers
at Wandin (39 per cent). The significant
proportion (44 per cent) of Brisbane respondents who stated that 4WD driving is about
‘getting out and about’ also suggests the
presence of a psychologically driven segment, similar to that which emerged from
the focus groups. At the individual level,
respondents may cross between these segments over time.
Summarizing the motivational drivers for
4WD trips and for the activity of 4WD
driving, the research has uncovered, at the
broadest level, three main push factors:
1. Psychological – where the promise of
‘getting away from it all’, self-discovery,
socializing, making friends and facing challenges motivates the trip.
2. Thrill seeking – where the traveller
desires adventure-based experiences associated with testing the 4WD vehicle and
their own capabilities including applying a
range of formal and informally obtained
3. Activity driven – where the primary
motivation is to use the 4WD vehicle to
facilitate access to locations where favoured
activities can be undertaken. Here, the trip
evolves from the primary desire to undertake
favoured activities.
Trip preferences and characteristics
Olsen37 has reported on several possible
drive-market segmentations based on characteristics of the trip. These include; trip length
to describe types of holidays (e.g. ‘shortbreak); number and location of stopovers to
identify trip patterns; and distance travelled.
Similarly, Tourism Queensland38 proposed
three distinct types of travellers based on the
trip characteristics and stopovers: meandering travellers (suggested to be 54 per cent of
the market), stoppers (37 per cent) and
point-to-point drivers (9 per cent). Variables
such as trip frequency, length, lifecycle and
travel party were analysed to identify possible
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Profiling four wheel drive tourism markets for desert Australia
Trip frequency and length
The median number of trips for respondents
who had taken at least one 4WD trip in the
past three years was eight, crudely averaging
to 2.66 trips per annum. There appears to be
a large group who take trips relatively infrequently with the 10th percentile at just one
trip in the past three years and the first
quintile at four trips. The fourth percentile at
20 trips suggests a group of 4WD travellers
who take trips relatively frequently, averaging at least six trips per year.
The median trip length for the single
longest 4WD trip taken during the past three
years was twelve days. Correlating trip frequency with length of trip provided mixed
results. Of those whose longest trip in the
past three years was less than five days, a
substantial proportion fell within the 2nd
percentile of less than nine trips. However,
around a quarter (23 per cent) of those who
took less than five trips and a just under a
third (30 per cent) who took five to eight
trips, had a trip whose length was greater
than four weeks. The distribution of long
trips is comparatively even amongst percentile groups for numbers of trips, indicting
that there is a core group who take relatively
long trips independent to the frequency of
all their 4WD trips.
Lifecycle effects
While comments from the focus groups and
in the literature suggest age is positively
related to the affinity for drive holidays, our
results suggest that there may be a cluster of
relatively young 4WD enthusiasts who take
4WD trips relatively more frequently. Age
correlation of 4WD trip frequencies and
lengths shows the median age of those who
took more than seven trips in the past three
years to be substantially lower (43 years) than
those who took seven or less at 50 years.
However, the median age for those taking
relatively long trips (more than 12 days) was
markedly higher (50 years) compared to
those who took relatively short trips of
twelve days or less at 42 years.
Travel parties and vehicle selection
Respondents were asked to indicate the
relative frequency of trips with common
types of drive-tourism travel parties (see
Table 2). Relatively high proportions said
they never take 4WD tours or trips with
clubs or associations, highlighting the dominance of trips with friends or relatives and
single vehicle trips. Two thirds of those who
travel with friends or relatives always or
mostly do so. The domestic 4WD tourism
market is seemingly dominated by trips in
the owners’ vehicle with 96 per cent of
respondents stating they mostly travel in
their own vehicle. However, the appeal of
4WD shows to vehicle owners presents as an
obvious bias for this result.
Trip environments
The distribution of relative preferences for
particular environments is quite uniform;
however, trips to the outback, rainforest and
alpine areas are most highly favoured (Table
3). It is likely that there is at least some
interchange between desert and outback
areas since, as indicated by some of the
discourse observed in the focus groups, trips
to these areas are seen to provide similar
Table 2: Travel parties for 4WD trips (%)
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Trips with 4WD
tour company
Club or association
Trips with friends/
Single vehicle trips
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Taylor and Prideaux
Table 3: Environments type preferences for 4WD trips (%)
Strong preference for
this environment
Sometimes like to travel 32.9
in this environment
Prefer not to travel in
this environment
Other outback
types of experiences. On this basis, it is
possible to argue that, based on the more
colloquial definition of ‘outback’ as encompassing desert areas, such environments are
highly preferred by around 90 per cent of
travellers. Environment preferences were
highly dependent on interview location with
60 per cent of Brisbane respondents stating a
strong preference for (regionally accessible)
beach environments and 73 per cent of
Wandin respondents stating a strong preference for (locally accessible) alpine areas.
Triangulation of the results here demonstrates the value of some variables for differentiating the preferences, motivations and
attributes of 4WD enthusiasts. Specifically, it
was proposed from the results that a multivariate analysis of the variables for age, trip
frequency, trip length, travel party type and
environment preference would be most
likely to identify like groupings of respondents. This supposition was reached through
analysis of the focus group data. Consequently, three segments were proposed and
then tested to establish the relevance of the
lise a 4WD vehicle primarily for its ability
to transport them to places where they
can conduct other recreational activities
including fishing, bushwalking and fossicking. They tend to repeat visits to
destinations and take relatively short trips.
They are motivated by the desire to
undertake the activity.
• Adventure-thrill seekers: This segment undertakes relatively frequent and short excursions to nearby environments which
provide challenging experiences and/or
test the capability of the vehicle and the
skills of the driver and passengers. Modifying the vehicle is accordingly considered relatively important. This group is
primarily motivated by the challenges
associated with the interaction of the
terrain and vehicle as well as the opportunity to apply learnt skills.
• Explorer-travellers: This segment tends to
go on relatively infrequent and extended
trips, with a particular emphasis on desert
areas. Trips are mostly with friends, relatives or club members to places decided
by the group or new trips and places. We
would expect Explorer-travellers to be
above the median age. Their motivations
are likely to include getting away, socializing and personal discovery.
• Activity seekers: Recreationalists who uti-
Two ways of looking at the findings are
worthwhile: 1) assessing the proportion of
the entire sample which was categorized to a
particular segment; and 2) based on the distribution of respondents across individual
segments. For example, only the Wandin
and Brisbane shows can be analysed for the
Explorer-traveller variables listed in Table 4.
Hence, the latter process takes the outcomes
of the source population analysis and exam-
To test for representation of the proposed
segments in the sample population, selected
variables were scripted then interrogated
using SPSS as described in Table 4.
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Profiling four wheel drive tourism markets for desert Australia
Table 4: Variable selections and rules applied to test for segments
Variable description
Trip frequency
Longest trip length
Club membership
, median (8 trips)
. 4 days
Yes (optional – i.e. OR
Friends/relatives or club
members (sometimes,
mostly or always)
Go wherever group
decides or always a new
. 45
Travel party
Trip places
Vehicle ownership
Adventure-thrill seekers
, median (12 days)
, median (12 days)
Not members
Never do tours
Always the same place or
have favourite trip but
sometimes try new ones
Own a 4WD to get to
places for activities
Not important or
somewhat important
Wandin, Brisbane and
Sydney shows (n¼640)
Vehicle modification
Source population
Activity seekers
Wandin and Brisbane
shows (n¼411)
ines the representation in segments according
to the segmentable population.
The source population results provide for
an interesting observation that the proportional size of each segment identifiable in the
data is relatively consistent. Adventure-thrill
seekers are most represented at 17 per cent
of all respondents (Table 5). Meanwhile, it
can be seen that the sum of the proportions
of respondents who were allocated to a segment is less than half. The ideal segmentation
process would yield close to complete coverage; however, there are several factors which
may have contributed to the results here
• The ‘hardness’ of rules applying to the
construction of segments meaning that
Wandin and Brisbane
shows (n¼411)
people with a mix of characteristics could
not be directly placed into a segment;
• The use of recall variables to encapsulate
a 3-year period. It is likely that in-time
recoding of trip information would have
resulted in at least some respondents who
could not be allocated to a segment being
allocated; and
• A fourth segment, which is not captured
using the research approaches above, may
exist. These are destination-focused travellers who transit from destination A to
B and whose attributes and trip preferences are not sufficiently common or
consistent to place them within our proposed segments. They are likely to exhibit a mix of attributes from all three
segments. Olsen39 has suggested that this
Table 5: Distribution of 4WD segments (%)
Proportion of source
Representation within
segmentable population
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Explorer-travellers Activity seekers
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Taylor and Prideaux
segment might account for around 9 per
cent of the self-drive market for Queensland. Currently there is no information
available which can accurately quantifying this segment of 4WD travellers.
Despite this, it can be expected that testing
of the supposition against populations of
4WD enthusiasts in different contexts would
yield similar results to the research here. Like
groupings are evident and the attributes associated with these are supported, particularly
in light of the absolute nature of interrogation rules applied to individual variables.
Returning to the contention of a growing
4WD tourism market for desert Australia,
the immediate question is which segments if
any express a preference for desert trips? It
was suggested in formulating the segments
that Explorer-travellers might particularly favour desert trips. The results support this
finding them to be motivated to ‘get away’
and favouring trips to desert environments
with more than half having a strong preference for trips there. Only a relatively small
proportion of Explorer-travellers (14 per
cent) do not like to travel in the desert (see
Table 6). Augmenting this finding, more
than 80 per cent of respondents at the National 4X4 Show in Sydney who stated that
4WD driving was about ‘just getting out and
about’ had either been on a desert trip or said
they would like to do 4WD driving off the
bitumen there.
While the desert is strongly favoured by
Explorer-travellers, it would not be unreasonable to suggest, with important consequences for desert destinations, that the
desert is an attractive environment for trips
by all three segments. This is because around
a third of travellers in the other two segments
indicated a liking for travel there and especially amongst those aged less than 45 years
as illustrated in Table 7.
However, for the Activity seekers and
Adventure-thrill seekers segments a substantial proportion also prefers not to travel to
the desert (at 39 per cent and 32 per cent
respectively). This group is comprised of
younger 4WD enthusiasts who are aged less
than 45 (69 per cent), the vast majority of
whom are not club members (86 per cent)
and who have a strong partiality for alpine
The living arrangements for desert enthusiasts are most likely to be with a spouse or
partner and no children at home (45 per
cent) for those with a strong desert preference compared to 38 per cent of the remain-
Table 6: Desert preferences for segments (%)
Strong preference for this environment
Sometimes like to travel in this environment
Prefer not to travel in this environment
Activity seekers
Table 7: Desert enthusiasts by age for selected segments (%)
Activity seekers
Adventure-thrill seekers
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Profiling four wheel drive tourism markets for desert Australia
der. It was pointed out by several respondents in the focus groups that desert trips
become more viable financially and timewise when siblings have left the home. Conversely, Activity seekers are more likely to
have children living at home.
Like groupings of 4WD enthusiasts have
been identified through this research. Three
segments have been proposed and testing of
these to determine their prevalence supports
the hypothesis that segmentation of this
market is possible. With exploratory research which differentiates markets for
4WD tourism lacking, these findings will
assist destination marketing organizations
with an interest in the sector to efficiently
position themselves according to the research here.
Desert communities and businesses will be
pleased to learn that the research leaves little
doubt that the allure of the desert is pervasive
across all segments, particularly for Explorertravellers. This segment is motivated primarily by the incorporation of social activities
and meeting their psychologically based aspirations. The majority of participants in the
focus groups indicated that touring deserts
and remote areas on relatively long multiplevehicle trips was a motivation in its own
right for 4WD trips. Seemingly for Explorer-travellers the role of the desert in this
respect is related as much to its natural and
cultural assets as it is to the types of trips
commonly taken to these areas. Moreover,
some participants suggested that their reason
for joining a 4WD club was to obtain the
necessary information and skills to safely
explore desert areas in the company of
others. This presents an interesting contradiction whereby the desert is desired for its
solitude but at the same time is a catalyst for
developing friendships and enjoying the
company of others.
Importantly, with around a third of each
segment having a strong preference for desert
environments, Activity seekers and Adventure-thrill seekers cannot be discounted as
source markets for desert tourism. Of course,
Page 84
the impact of required travel distances on the
frequency of desert trips for these groups
cannot be ignored. Despite this, the stereotypical image of the desert as singularly
attractive to meandering ‘grey nomads’ (an
Australian term for retired drive tourists) is
challenged. A different approach to attracting
and delivering product and experiences to
the segments identified is likely to be required. Activity seekers, for example, are
likely to build their itinerary around iconic
attractions and destinations as well as groups
of desirable activities. Opportunities may exist to leverage product from their motivation
to do new or challenging activities in a desert
environment, such as cattle herding. Meanwhile, attracting Adventure-thrill seekers
might require approaches which provide
them with the opportunity to safely and
responsibly challenge themselves and their
vehicles in the desert. Designated 4WD adventure areas (or ‘adventure playgrounds’)
are worth considering in this respect.
While the pool of potential desert 4WD
travellers may be growing, the research is
only now beginning to identify and describe
their motivations, trip preferences and 4WD
preferences. The segmentation process presented in this article is a first step. The more
difficult task of developing and marketing
specific desert experiences and tourism products which meet the current and future
needs of the various segments is apparent,
requiring carefully considered research.
While three segments have been proposed, we have suggested that a fourth may
exist (point to point travellers) and further
research into this group is necessary. In light
of the embryonic nature of global knowledge on and understanding about desert
4WD travellers the implications of the segmentation work presented here should be
seen as independent of discussions on the
number, and even characteristics of segments. That is, the former identifies that
differences exist and that the market is far
from homogenous. This is unlikely to
change. The latter identifies that, regardless
of how many and what types of segments are
identified, a dynamic range of experiences
and product groupings are required to attract
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Taylor and Prideaux
people from the pool of desert ‘potentials’ to
becoming desert 4WD tourists.
The authors would like to acknowledge and
thank the many people who assisted in this
research. In particular we acknowledge direct funding from the Desert Knowledge
Cooperative Research Centre and Tourism
NT through the project On Track; Hema
Maps for their enthusiastic support and for
allowing interviewers to be base at their stall;
4WD Victoria for the generous time and
efforts of their Researcher Officer and other
staff; focus group participants; volunteer interviewers; the Land Rover Owners Club of
Victoria; and of course our interviewees
themselves. We hope that the research is of
benefit to all who are involved in 4WD
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‘Outback’, URL (consulted November
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Profiling four wheel drive tourism markets for desert Australia
(23) Buhalis, D. (2000) ‘Marketing the Competitive Destination of the Future’, Tourism
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Page 86
ment 21(1): 53–63.
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(30) Carson and Taylor, ref. 11 above.
(31) Hamilton, C. and Barbato, C. (2005)
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