|Abstract: ||Tourists have increasingly been interested in savouring gastronomy while travelling. It can be said that foods not only satiate tourists' hunger but also fulfil their experiential needs. However, the contribution of travel dining experience to tourist satisfaction has been overlooked in previous literature. On the other hand, there is a scarcity of research examining the influence of culture on travel eating behaviour, and how tourists with different cultural backgrounds evaluate travel dining experience. In order to close this gap, this study aims to investigate the impact of Chinese food culture on Chinese tourists' eating behaviour, to explore their dining out experience in Australia, and to scrutinise the contribution of travel dining experience towards tourist satisfaction. By following the phenomenological research philosophy, the inductive approach has been chosen as the research tool because existing theories are inadequate and incomplete, and this study attempts to uncover new theoretical insights into the tourists' dining experiences. Due to the exploratory nature of this study, focus group interviews and participate observation were employed to gather the primary data. The target samples of this study are group tourists from three selected regions, namely, Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, who were travelling to Australia. A computerised tool (NUD.IST) was utilised in order to synthesise data, prepare descriptive accounts, identify key dimensions and map the range and diversity of each phenomenon. Narrative analysis was adopted in contextualising the connections between categories and themes.
Findings revealed that Chinese tourists' food preferences can be conceptualised into three predominate themes, namely, 'Chinese food', 'indigenous food', and 'non-fastidiousness of food'. In addition, healthy eating behaviour and family influence are the two aspects that were found to have significant influence on Chinese tourists' dining behaviour. A number of attributes that would affect Chinese tourists' travel dining experience were also identified, which included food cultural value, contextual factor, variety of food selection, perceptions about destination, intercultural service encounter, and tour guide's performance. Most importantly, findings indicated that dining out experience at a destination would significantly influence visitor satisfaction as tourists have regarded it more as a 'peak touristic experience' than merely as a 'supporting experience'. Furthermore, this study categorises Chinese tourists' eating behaviour into three typologies, namely, observer, browser, and participator. Based on the research findings, twelve propositions are postulated, thereby achieving the research objectives of this study. This study has contributed new knowledge about the interplay between food and tourism, as well as the characteristics of travel eating behaviour for Chinese tourists. Several suggestions are proposed for further research in extending the knowledge pertaining to the realm of travel dining experience. Recommendations are also suggested for destination marketers in developing their gastronomy products, and for travel agencies in facilitating optimal meal arrangements for group tourists.