Factors affecting personal participation

By Matt Burdett, 6 November 2017

On this page, we look at the factors affecting personal participation in sports and tourism, including affluence, gender, stage in lifecycle, personality, and place of residence. These factors vary from a person’s individual perspective rather than the national and international context.

  • Between Qena and Hurghada, Egypt: Crossing the desert in a convoy under armed guard due to the threat of terrorism. Allocentrics embrace such activity; psychocentrics avoid it.

What are the main factors affecting individual participation levels?

The proportion of a population taking part in an activity is called the participation rate. There are several factors affecting the participation rate of any given leisure activity. The table below identifies how factors affecting participation fit into geographical study areas. Those in bold are explored more fully in this page.

Geographical area of study

Examples of specific factor affecting leisure participation



Gender norms


Cultural factors such as religion

Social structures (clubs, organisations)


Personal affluence

Cost of living


Place of residence


Terrain and altitude


Government policy

Government spending




Stage in family life cycle

Factors affecting participation in tourism


“Where were you last summer?”

“In Majorca.”

“Where’s that?”

“I don’t know, I flew there.”

  • Conversation between two girls, reprinted in Cohen (1972)

In 1972 Erik Cohen published an article called “Towards a sociology of international tourism” (Cohen, 1972) in which he identified two broad types of tourist, called ‘institutionalised tourist roles’ and ‘non-institutionalised tourist roles’. These were based on the personality characteristics of people. The main differences are that people who fit an institutionalised tourist role are dealt with routinely by the tourism industry including travel agents, hotel chains and so on, while the non-institutionalised are people whose travel experience is only loosely linked to the tourism industry.

Cohen further categorised types of tourist within these two broad areas as the table below shows (after Cohen, 1972):

Tourist role

Tourist type

Typical features of tourist type


Organised mass tourist

Participates in package holiday.

Stays within the ‘bubble’ of the tour bus and hotel.

Very little decision making.

Tends to stay within ‘safe’ areas with homely reminders such as familiar food.


Individual mass tourist

Similar to organised mass tourist with transport and accommodation booked in advance through a travel agency.

May explore a little beyond the ‘bubble’ such as visiting a local museum.



Arranges the trip themselves.

Usually aims to visit something specific, i.e. it is planned in advance.

Uses local transport, rather than tour buses.

Willing to stay in a variety of accommodation but tends to stay in reasonably comfortable places.



No fixed itinerary or goals of travel.

Shuns the tourist industry entirely.

Lives with the locals, doing what they do including eating and sleeping.

In 1974, Stanley Plog contributed further by linking the type of traveller to types of destinations. His ‘Destination Model of Tourism Preferences’ helps to explain why destinations rise and fall in popularity. He identified a sliding scale between people who are highly adventurous, called ‘allocentrics’ and people who rarely leave their home environment, called ‘psychocentrics’. He linked these ideas to places that people would travel (from the United States), as shown in the diagram below (Plog, 2001).

  • Plog, S., 2001. Why destination areas rise and fall in popularity: An update of a Cornell Quarterly classic. The Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 42(3), pp.13-24.

Plog’s ideas suggest that people who participate in tourist activities outside of their ‘comfort zone’ do so because of their personality characteristics.

Personal affluence

The level of income of a person is a key factor affecting that person’s participation in tourist activities. In general, the cost-distance-duration relationship is a positive correlation – the further and longer the trip, the higher the cost. In addition, time off work means a loss of earnings, so the more affluent the person, the longer the holiday they are likely to afford.

However, it must be remembered that the cost of trips is not just about duration or distance. It is also about the type of activity and the style in which people travel and sleep. Even people on low incomes may be able to afford a foreign holiday thanks to the rise of budget airlines and the regrowth in package holidays.

Stage in family life cycle

The family life cycle is a model that describes how people’s lives change as they grow older, starting with their experiences as young people and eventually leaving them as an elderly person whose partner has died, called a ‘solitary survivor’, as shown below.

At each stage of the family life cycle, people have different requirements for their vacation time. For example, young couples with no children might have high levels of disposable income, so they can afford to travel for longer and have more flexibility with their destination. Once they have school-age children, they are restricted in terms of when they can travel (they are limited to school holidays), and are likely to have less disposable income as they spend money on their families. People with young families are therefore more likely to go on a package holiday than when they were childless.

At different stages of life, people want different things from their holidays.

Factors affecting participation in sports

Gender norms

Sports are often separated into participation for males and females, primarily because of the more muscular and height advantages of the average man over the average woman. Over time this has led some sports to be identified with women and some with men. The graphics below show the level of interest between men and women in sports and other leisure activities.

The gender gap of interest is similar in countries worldwide, with men generally being more interested in live sports and TV sports than women.

Overall participation amongst women has historically been lower than men. A good example of this is the United Kingdom. In 2014, less than 7 million women reported doing sport and regular physical activity compared to over 9 million men. (The gender balance of the United Kingdom is that there are slightly more females.) However by 2016, in part thanks to the “This Girl Can” campaign, more women reported doing sports and the gender gap narrowed from 2 million to 1.55 million (Sport England, 2016).

Perhaps one reason for this global gender gap in sports participation and interest is that women’s sports are generally given less attention by the media, and has lower rewards. While some sports such as tennis have recognised the equal value of male and female participation, many sports continue to lag behind (see diagram below), not least because of the lower advertising revenue generated by women’s sports.

Image result for uk sports by women and men graph


Ethnic diversity in many sports remains minimal. However, this doesn’t mean that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are not playing sports. In the UK, people from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds reported 37.5% participation in weekly sports, compared to 35.9% of white British people (Sports England, 2016).

The situation is similar in other countries such as the USA. The figure below shows that non-white ethnic groups are more likely to engage in several types of park exercise including sports, biking and running.


  • Carlson SA, Brooks JD, Brown DR, Buchner DM., 2010. Racial/ethnic differences in perceived access, environmental barriers to use, and use of community parks. Prev Chronic Dis 2010;7(3). http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2010/may/09_0150.htm Accessed 2nd November 2017

However, for elite (professional) sports, the ethnic diversity within sports is often minimal. For example, in the United States, major sports leagues are often dominated by players from one ethnic group while the managers and owners are overwhelmingly white, as shown in the graphics below.




Place of residence

Place of residence can refer to many things, including the type of housing, how it is paid for (such as owner occupation, renting or squatting), and whether it is urban or rural. This is sometimes known as ‘rurality’.

Urban dwellers usually have much better access to sports facilities than rural dwellers. This is because of the population threshold required for facilities to be built. The threshold population is the number of people needed for a facility to be built.

There are no specific population requirements for any particular sporting facility to be built. However, there is no doubt that in rural areas there are fewer facilities because there are too few people to use them and to pay for them. As a result, people living in these areas may have few or no facilities, which reduces their opportunity to participate in sports. The graph below shows how the increased distance to a gym had an impact on German girls’ participation in sports activities.


Carlson SA, Brooks JD, Brown DR, Buchner DM., 2010. Racial/ethnic differences in perceived access, environmental barriers to use, and use of community parks. Prev Chronic Dis 2010;7(3). http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2010/may/09_0150.htm Accessed 2nd November 2017.

Chalabi, M. 2014. Three Leagues, 92 Teams And One Black Principal Owner. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/diversity-in-the-nba-the-nfl-and-mlb/ Accessed 2nd November 2017.

Cohen, E., 1972. Toward a sociology of international tourism. Social research, pp.164-182.

Gains, C. 2016. Equal pay for men’s and women’s tennis players is something that benefits both sides. http://www.businessinsider.com/tennis-players-men-women-equal-pay-2016-3 Accessed 2nd November 2017.

Plog, S.C., 1974. “Why Destination Areas Rise and Fall in Popularity,” Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly 14, no. 4.

Plog, S., 2001. Why destination areas rise and fall in popularity: An update of a Cornell Quarterly classic. The Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 42(3), pp.13-24.

Reimers, Anne K. et al. 2014. Proximity to Sports Facilities and Sports Participation for Adolescents in Germany. Ed. Reury F. P. Bacurau. PLoS ONE 9.3 (2014): e93059. PMC. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3968093/ Accessed 2nd November 2017.

Repucom, 2015. Women And Sport: Insights Into The Growing Rise And Importance Of Female Fans And Female Athletes. http://nielsensports.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Women-and-Sport-Repucom.pdf Accessed 2nd November 2017.

Sport England, 2016. Record Number Of Women Get Active. https://www.sportengland.org/news-and-features/news/2016/december/8/record-numbers-of-women-getting-active/ Accessed 2nd November 2017.

Weaver, D. and Lawton, L. (2010) Tourism Management (4th edition). Milton: Wiley. http://what-when-how.com/Tutorial/topic-1215bvi82/Family-Tourism-178.html Accessed 2nd November 2017.

Factors affecting personal participation in leisure activities: Learning activities


  1. What does ‘participation’ in leisure activities mean? [1]
  2. How is participation usually measured? (Think back to your answer to question 1 for guidance.) [2]
  3. What are the main factors that affect participation in sports and tourism? [3]
  4. Outline Cohen’s ideas about tourists. [3]
  5. What kind of a tourist are you? Explain your answer and give evidence, such as the types of holidays you usually take. [4]
  6. Explain what is meant by a ‘psychocentric’ and ‘allocentric’ tourist. [2]
  7. What is the link between Cohen’s work and Plog’s? [2]
  8. Explain how a person’s feelings about the following vacations might be affected by their affluence and their stage in the family life cycle:
    1. A package holiday to a country within two hours of their home [2]
    2. An offer to fly ‘super budget’, with toilet trips being charged at US$2 per visit on the plane [2]
    3. A discount of 10% for a five star city hotel [2]
  9. Why do you think men are more interested in sports than women? [2]
  10. Describe the gender gap in sports. [3]
  11. Describe the ethnic diversity in one major sports league. [3]
  12. Suggest how the location of your home is likely to contribute to your physical health. [4]

Other tasks

Imagine you are going on holiday. You must plan your trip. Identify your own geographical characteristics (e.g. age, gender, affluence, personality) and put together your ideal holiday. Explain each of your choices for:

  • Distance travelled
  • Destination
  • Duration
  • Cost
  • Activities you plan to do

© Matthew Burdett, 2018. All rights reserved.

All secondary material on this site is clearly referenced and may be subject to copyright restrictions by the original authors. All original material on this page is subject to copyright.