Virtual Conference Romance, Sex, Relationships in Travel & Tourism With Experts from Social Science & Tourism Scholars. 12 June 2024

Come and join our panel of international speakers who will shine a light on agendas not commonly considered in the context of travel and tourism.

This virtual conference aims to awaken curiosity and view romance, sex, and relationships from different perspectives. It is akin to a mini journey of touch points that highlight ways to contribute to healthy relationships, happiness, health, and well-being.

The presentations and discussions help us gain greater clarity of the interconnectedness of our inner landscapes and our outer worlds.

The speakers will share their views and understandings of how to strengthen romantic relationships, embrace the idea of inclusivity, and foster intimate connections that extend beyond the idea of sex.

Furthermore, gender and age perspectives will be presented that assist in demystifying stereotypes and biases that influence the interpretation and meaning of romance, sex, and relationships in travel and tourism, and society at large.

The sequence of the speakers will be as follows with a very short background as to their qualifications and research interests. Please visit their personal profile page on for their extended bios. 

Dr. Moji Shahvali

Lecturer, Academy for Leisure & Events, Leisure and Tourism Experiences

Breda University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands

Ph.D. in Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management from Penn State, USA.

Dr Moji Shahvali is a lecturer at the department of Leisure Studies at Breda University of Applied Sciences in The Netherlands. He is sometimes referred to as Dr Love on campus and researches the formation and maintenance of romantic relationships during various leisure activities. As a lecturer, he teaches research methods and statistics courses and is a partner on a number of international and EU education projects. His publications include Couples vacations and romantic passion and intimacy. and Human connection: a crucial ingredient in vacation experience.

Dr. Oscar Vorobjovas-Pinta 

Course Coordinator Masters of Tourism, Environment and Cultural Heritage

Senior Lecturer in Tourism and Society

School of Social Sciences, Sociology and Criminology, the University of Tasmania, Australia

Ph.D. in Tourism from the University of Tasmania

Oscar’s field of research includes impacts of tourism, tourist behaviour and visitor experience, tourism management and marketing, sexualities, and recreation, leisure and tourism geography. He is a leading expert on LGBTQI+ communities in the context of tourism, events, leisure, and hospitality. His publications include Gay tourism: New perspectives , The contemporary role of urban LGBTQI+ festivals and events and Resisting marginalisation and reconstituting space through LGBTQI+ events.

Dr. Xavier Matteucci

Independent Researcher, Consultant, Educator and Honorary Professor specialized in Tourism & Leisure

FH Wien der WKW (University of Applied Sciences in Management and Communication).

Ph.D. Tourism Management, Vienna University of Economics and Business (Austria) at FH Wien.

Dr. Xavier Matteucci is particularly interested in leisure and tourism’s contribution to human flourishing and collective wellbeing. His latest work has focused on creative tourism as a space of resistance against conservative politics. In addition, he has recently explored the themes of love and intimacy in various publications such as Dimensions of Friendship in Shared Travel Experiences (Leisure Sciences), Love in Tourist Motivation and Satisfaction (Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research), and Female Friends’ Holiday Experiences in Heterotopia (Journal of Qualitative Research in Tourism).

Dr. Julia Meszaros

Associate Professor and Graduate Coordinator for Sociology, Sociology and Criminal Justice, A&M University-Commerce, Dallas, Texas, USA

Ph.D., Global Sociocultural Studies, Florida International University, USA

Dr. Julia Meszaros’ research interests revolve around globalisation, gender, masculinity, and sexuality with publications that address the commodification of intimacy and sexuality, and race, space and agency in the international introduction industry. She is completing a book about the ‘mail-order bride’ industry. Her publications include Commodification of Intimacy and Sexuality and American Men and Romance Tourism: Searching for Traditional Trophy Wives as Status Symbols of Class Privilege.

Dr. Ieva Stončikaitė

Postdoctoral Researcher and Lecturer

Department of Humanities, Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, Spain

Ph.D. Cultural and Literary Gerontology, University of Lleida, Spain

Ieva Stončikaitė holds a PhD in Cultural & Literary Gerontology and English Studies. She is currently a Postdoc and English literature lecturer at the Dept. of Humanities at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF, Barcelona). Ieva is also a member of the research group CELCA (University of Lleida, Spain). Her areas of academic focus include literary and cultural representations of ageing, medical humanities, dementia and care, age-friendly higher education, travel writing, and leisure tourism. Her publications include:Venetian Travel Narratives in Erica Jong’s Work; Baby-boomers Hitting the Road: The Paradoxes of the Senior Leisure Tourism; and On the Hunt for Noble Savages: Romance Tourism and Ageing Femininities.

Dr. Liza Berdychevsky

Associate Professor, Recreation, Sport and Tourism

Associate Professor, Program in Jewish Culture and Society

Associate Professor, Health Care Engineering Systems Center, 

PhD. Health and Human Performance, University of Florida, USA

Dr. Liza Berdychevsky’s research revolves at the nexus of sexual health, positive sexuality, and wellbeing, adopting a gender-sensitive and a life course-grounded approach. She investigates sexual behaviour, attitudes, risk taking, and sexual education needs among young and older adults in various leisure and tourism contexts. Dr. Berdychevsky recently co-edited a special issue on innovation and impact of sex as leisure in research and practice in Leisure Sciences and the book entitled Sex in tourism: Exploring the light and the dark.

Dr. Birgit Trauer

Independent Social Scientist, Educator, and Consultant, The Cultural Angle

Ph.D. Tourism Management, The University of Queensland, Australia

Birgit’s work continues to centre around the concepts of physical, cognitive, and emotional involvement. Her publications include The Way of the Peaceful Traveller – Dare to Care and Connect, Conceptualizing special interest tourism – Frameworks for analysis, and Destination image, romance, and place experience—an application of intimacy theory in tourism. Her present work is dedicated to foster skills and competence development for navigating the modern landscape of love, relationships, and intimacy for greater happiness and well-being, not only in travel and tourism but daily life.

Touch Points for Building Meaningful Connections by Dr. Birgit Trauer

Travel always has been a human pursuit in search of fulfilling our human needs and desires, of seeking what nourishes us in body, mind, and soul. The experience of the COVID time of captivity has brought our human needs and desires for romance, sex, intimate connections, and healthy relationships out into the open.

While social media and online dating sites might suggest a sense of connection and intimacy, most of the times this remains an illusion. The renewed demand for travel is a sign that people are longing to explore the world out there and feel real human energy.

No matter who we are, where we live, what age, gender, or sexual orientation, we are all longing for a sense of being intimately connected in healthy romantic and non-romantic relationships on our journey through life.

Travelling solo, or in the company of our significant others as in our romantic partner, family or friends, our travels are our personal projects in seeking happiness. Our hopes and dreams of visiting places that capture our sense of comfort, awe, and excitement pull at our heart strings. Just like in our relationships, we seek a warm welcome and a real sense of safety on one hand and a sense of freedom to explore and be adventurous on the other, something that requires attunement and calibration.

While travel for leisure might be of relatively short duration and in many ways a liminal experience, it is important to remember that our travel experiences do not exist in isolation from our daily lives. Our travels are part of our life narratives, the stories we tell ourselves and others.

Travel carries the potential for personal growth and gaining relational wisdom by immersing ourselves in the physical world around us and exploring the wider socio-cultural context. Importantly, travel also affords us means to explore our human needs and desires, our unchallenged beliefs and attitudes, and our automatic unquestioned behaviour patterns in all our relationships.

Tourism has specialised in commodifying and commercialising our human needs and desires, which include romance and sex, and the idea of intimacy. Tourism in many ways has institutionalised romanticism by marketing a desire for passion, a time without normality, a time away from home, and no need for responsibility, if only for a limited time.

Tourism continues to diversify what is referred to as their product range that embrace body, mind, and soul recovery, having now entered the burgeoning world of wellness, well-being, and therapy. At a time of rising isolation, loneliness, and discontent tourism is acting like a ‘psychological couch’. In many ways tourism can be seen to be part of the happiness industry and relationship economy, where romance and love are overt sales magnets while passion and sex travel mostly incognito.

No matter what labels are placed on our travel experiences, whether they are categorised as romance tourism, sex tourism, adventure tourism, cultural tourism, or wellness tourism, whether they are viewed as niche tourism or special interest tourism. Our travels are about encounters with strangers, people close to us, and importantly, about meeting ourselves and seeing ourselves through different lenses. Our travels are about experiences and co-creation, filled with emotional episodes of all kinds.

Travel suggests a sense of freedom, of joy, pleasure, and happiness. Yet, there is also the reality of unexpected experiences of sadness and pain.

Changing cultural and personal value systems along with shifting societal norms and individual behaviour can be observed in this highly interconnected world of ours. A rising sense of individualism, entitlement, romantic consumerism, and a global emotional recession are now recognised global phenomena.

It is hard to ignore that we live in a highly romanticised, sexualised, and biased culture embedded in various power structures in our daily lives and in travel and tourism. Most of the time we are not aware of these dynamics, or choose to ignore them. As Edward T. Hall points out:

Culture hides much more than it reveals, and strangely enough what it hides, it hides most effectively from its participants.

The notions of romance and sex, of intimacy and indeed love are reflective of cultural influences and subjective personal experiences. It is the exploration of our intimately connected external and internal world experiences that open the windows to greater insight into all our relationships at micro, mezzo, and macro levels.

The benefits of leisure and the potential cathartic, therapeutic, and transformative power of travel have been validated by interdisciplinary research and are recognised as part of positive tourism grounded in positive psychology. Similarly, the need for education, in tourism and beyond, that incorporates insight, tools, and skill development for safe sexual behaviour, romantic competence, and relational wisdom have been highlighted by studies across the social sciences.

As pointed out by philosophers and scientists in the past and present, our quality of life is dependent on healthy relationships. They are important for our individual and societal physical and psychological health and well-being.