Professor Sara Dolnicar
Sara Dolnicar
  • Bachelors and Masters Degree , Psychology (Universitaet Wien)
  • PhD, Business Administration / Marketing / Tourism (Wirtschaftsuniversitaet Wien)
  • Bachelors and Masters Degree, Business Administration (Wirtschaftsuniversitaet Wien)
+61 7 336 56702
Room 439, GP North Building, St. Lucia Campus

    Sara Dolnicar was born in Ljubljana (Slovenia), grew up in Vienna (Austria) and now lives and works in Brisbane (Australia). She holds a Masters and PhD degree from the Vienna University of Economics and Business and a Masters degree in Psychology at the University of Vienna. After completing her PhD she worked in the School of Tourism at the Vienna University of Economics and Business where she also served as the Secretary General of the Austrian Society for Applied Research in Tourism. In 2002 she moved to Australia to take up a position in the School of Management and Marketing at the University of Wollongong. Sold on a life in Australia, Sara moved to Brisbane in 2013 where she currently works as the Research Professor in Tourism at UQ Business School.

    Sara’s core research interests are the improvement of market segmentation methodology and the testing and refinement of measures used in social science research. Because her key research interests are not tied to any particular application area, Sara has had the luxury to investigate a range of different applied research areas, including sustainable tourism and tourism marketing, environmental volunteering, foster carer and public acceptance of water alternatives and water conservation measures.

    To date, Sara has (co-)authored more than 300 refereed papers, including more than 140 journal articles and led a total of twelve Australian Research Council (ARC) grants. In 2011 she took up a prestigious ARC Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship.

    Sara is the wife of a chemistry academic (who hates nothing more than anyone standing between him and his molecules) and the mother of eight year old Miles (who loves to dance) and five year old Dana (who has taken up jiu-jitsu).

    Research interests

    Attracting good foster carers
    About 24,000 children live in out-of-home care in Australia. Non-profit organisations devoted to finding good foster parents for children face two problems: (1) the number of parents willing to foster a child is decreasing, and (2) 50% of long-term foster parents “return the child” before the end of the intended term. This presents a typical marketing problem: how to identify the right “customers”, attract them and keep them loyal. We work with foster care agencies to (1) identify factors predictive of fostering success; (2) develop a test battery to support foster care agencies’ recruitment; (3) identify different segments of potential foster parents; and (4) identify effective communication channels to attract them.
    Market Segmentation Methodology
    Market segmentation is a key business strategy. Yet, many fundamental problems in segmentation analysis remain unresolved. For example, whether segmentation reveals true segments or constructs artificial ones, which technique recommends the ideal number of clusters, and which visualisation tool best conveys segmentation results to users. Despite half a century of segmentation research, these problems remain in the “too hard” basket. Meanwhile, users apply segmentation analysis without understanding the fundamentals, leading to serious misinterpretations of results. We develop tools for all stages of the segmentation process addressing these problems and thus increasing the validity and user friendliness of segmentation studies.
    Measurement in the Social Sciences
    Social science theories can be accepted or dismissed solely as a matter of which types of beliefs measure is used. Yet, the fundamental question of which is the most valid way to measure beliefs remains unanswered. We study alternative belief measures, and empirically compares the predictive validity of traditional and novel measures.
    Sustainable Tourism
    While the tourism industry strongly contributes to Australia's national revenue, it endangers Australia's natural resources. Profit maximization aims conflict with nature protection. We account for that industry-inherent conflict and aim at a solution that enables guarding resources within this profit-oriented context by (1) identifying market segments that are both profitable and interested in protecting Australia's environment, and (2) understanding them in sufficient detail to make them accessible targets. As a result qualitatively different tourists and not necessarily fewer tourists could be attracted, thus weakening the trade-off between revenue and nature protection to the long term benefit of Australia.
    Tourism crisis and disaster recovery
    We propose a way for the tourism industry to protect itself against unpredictable external shocks, such as 9/11 (which led to a drop in tourism arrivals to the USA of 7%), SARS (which reduced Japanese outbound tourism by 55%), and the GFC (which caused a 4% drop in international tourism arrivals). We identify people who are highly committed to tourism and less likely to cancel travel plans in response to disasters.
    Tourism marketing
    We study a wide range of tourism marketing topics, including how to best conduct market research to gather valid information about the market, how to best segment markets and select target segments, and how to efficiently mine big data available to tourism businesses in order to increase revenue.
    Water from alternative sources
    The use of alternative water sources is inevitable for Australia’s sustainable water future. However previous experience has shown that public resistance represents the biggest hurdle in the successful implementation of alternative water schemes. Sara’s research with colleagues aims to understand the mechanisms leading to public acceptance of alternative water sources, in particular the role of knowledge and information. This research contributes to public acceptance research by determining whether knowledge reduces fears about alternative water sources and by developing and testing alternative formats of public information campaigns.


    View full publications list


    • Elected Fellow of the International Academy for the Study of Tourism
    • Elected member of the International Association of Scientific Experts in Tourism (AIEST)


    2016 Charles R. Goeldner Article of Excellence Award (best paper in the Journal of Travel Research in 2015)
    2016 Emerald Best Contribution Award for the best conference paper at the Annual Conference of the Association of International Scientific Experts in Tourism (AIEST)
    2015 Peter Keller Best Paper Award for the contribution that best integrated theoretical contribution and practical relevance at the Annual Conference of the Association of International Scientific Experts in Tourism (AIEST)
    2014 Tony Wheeler Award for Best Paper at the Annual Australian Market and Social Research Society Conference
    2014 Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA) Service Partnership Award
    2014 Finalist, Australian Water Association Research Innovation Award
    2014 Best Paper Award at the Annual Conference of the Association of International Scientific Experts in Tourism (AIEST)
    2011 Research Excellence Award for Senior Researcher (University of Wollongong)
    2011 Nominated for Supervisor of the Year (University of Wollongong)
    2011 Outstanding Researcher of the Year Award (Faculty of Commerce, University of Wollongong)
    2010 Research Publication Excellence Award (Faculty of Commerce, University of Wollongong)
    2010 Research Grant Excellence Award (Faculty of Commerce, University of Wollongong)
    2009 Commendation for Outstanding Supervision (University of Wollongong)
    2008 Emerald Literati Highly Commended Award for Excellence
    2007 Researcher of the Year (Faculty of Commerce, University of Wollongong)
    2007 Most Downloaded Paper Award (First Place) (Faculty of Commerce, University of Wollongong)
    2006 Commendation for Outstanding Supervision (University of Wollongong)
    2006 Most Downloaded Paper Award (Second Place) (Faculty of Commerce, University of Wollongong)
    2006 Best Paper Award, “Marketing Research and Research Methodology” track at the Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy Conference
    2006 European Journal of Marketing Best Paper Award at the Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy Conference
    2005 Paper of the Year Award (Australasian Marketing Journal)
    2004 Charles R. Goeldner Article of Excellence Award (Journal of Travel Research)
    1996 Best Ph.D. thesis award (Wirtschaftsuniversitaet Wien)
    1996 Doctoral performance award (Wirtschaftsuniversitaet Wien)
    1994 Graduation performance award (Wirtschaftsuniversitaet Wien)

    Major research grants

    Title Agency Year Amount
    Consumer value and disability services: The impact of increased autonomy
    (Randle, M., Miller, L. Dolnicar, S., Connor-Brown, G. & Maunsell, D.)
    ARC Linkage Grant LP150100476 2015-2019 $326,506
    Encouraging voluntary purchasing of carbon offsets ARC Linkage 2015-2018 $175,000
    Better destination image data through lower cognitive load measures (with Gruen, B., Puleston, J., Brosnon, K., Harris, P., Molloy, E., Kirk, K., Lee, L.T., Robbie, L.E. & Mawn, C.) ARC Linkage Grant 2013 $150,000
    Reducing the Australian tourism industry’s vulnerability to external shocks - identifying and understanding disaster-resilient tourists (with Gretzel, U.) ARC Discovery Grant, 2011 2011 $200,000
    Market segmentation methodology: attacking the 'Too Hard' basket (with Leisch, F. & Gruen, B.) ARC Discovery Grant, 2011-2015 including a QEII Fellowship 2010 $1,460,000
    Succession planning at universities: program for preparing early leaders (PROPEL) (with Vialle, W. & Castle, R.) Australian Learning and Teaching Council Grant 2009 $220,000
    The role of community connectedness in retaining skilled migrant women in Australia (with Lyons, L.T. & Ville, S.) ARC Linkage Grant 2007-2010 2007 $76,880
    Identifying, attracting and retaining successful foster parents (with Rossiter, J.R., Ciarrochi, J., Munro, A.B., Gunasekara, M.S. & Neveling, D.J.) ARC Linkage Grant 2007- 2012 2007 $480,000
    Response style heterogeneity in empirical marketing research (with Leisch, F.) ARC Linkage International Grant 2007 $40,404
    A cognitive model for identifying optimal measures of belief (with Rossiter, J.R.) ARC Discovery Grant 2007 $219,000
    Water for Australia’s future – reducing fears and increasing acceptance of alternative water sources through public information (with Hurlimann, A.) ARC Discovery Grant 2007 $350,000
    Social Innovation Network (with Wright, J.) University of Wollongong, Research Networks, 2007 2007 $150,000
    Critical Assessment of Implementing Desalination Technology (with Xu, P., Drewes, J.E., Cath, T., Schaefer, A., Ruetten, J. & Howe, C.) American Water Works Association 2006 $200,000
    Advanced issues in market segmentation research (with Leisch, F. ) ARC Linkage International Grant 2005-2007 2004 $22,460
    Harnessing Eco-Friendly Markets to Protect our Natural Resources - Towards A Demand-Driven Paradigm of Sustainable Tourism (with Crouch, G.I. & Mazanec, J.A.) ARC Discovery Grant 2005-2007 2004 $160,000
    Is brand image instability a measurement artifact? (with Rossiter, J.R.) ARC Discovery Grant 2005-2007 2004 $350,000
    University of Wollongong University, Internationalisation Committee Grant Scheme World Expeditions and the University of Wollongong, URC New Partnership Grant Scheme 2004 $8,000
    Modelling and Exploring Tourism Consumer Choice: Strengthening the Knowledge Base for Improved Strategic Decision Making in the Australian Tourism Industry (with Crouch, G., Devinney, T., Huybers, T., Louviere, J. & Oppewal, H.) CRC for Sustainable Tourism 2003 $45,000
    Attracting Bushcare volunteers - managing heterogeneity of volunteering motivations in a multicultural region by integrated market structure analysis (with Formosa, P.) ARC Linkage Grant in Cooperation with Wollongong City Council 2003 $97,000
    Tourism research knowledge network Austrian Federal Ministry for Economy and Labour. This project was applied for within the framework 2002 $350,000
    Evaluating geographical target markets for Lower Austria as tourism destination – an aggregated portfolio approach
    (with Grabler, K.)
    Niederösterreich Werbung, the regional tourism organization of Lower Austria 2002 $12,500
    Evaluation criteria for non-profit organization – how to operationalise the achievements of the Austrian National Tourism Organisation (with Wöber, K.) Austrian Federal Ministry for Economy and Labour 2000 $25,000
    Market research for a new market driven hotel star grading system in Austria (with Otter, T.) Austrian Federal Ministry for Economy and Labour and Austrian Economic Chamber 2000 $50,000