For long holiday tourism has been in the grip of economic thinking and sociological research. On this webpage a more balanced view is maintained on the focal centre of tourists' activities: tourists themselves and their encounter with their holiday destination. Tourists take what is given to them and then turn it into their own ends; it is these ends what is of our primary interest and more than 25 articles on this site are about just that: the tourists' tourism.

Under the heading "Tourism" a new article has been added on Climate Change (July, 2020)

and also under the heading "Tourism" I have added a new article about Phenomenology and Tourism (Feb. 2020).

The Tourist

Topic: The Tourist

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The Evaluation

All rights reserved. Complete or partial reproduction is prohibited without the permission of Marinus Gisolf and without mentioning the source


When arriving home after a holiday, one looks back with certain satisfaction on what was a beautiful and adventurous time. One nourishes certain memories, some incidents may provoke a smile and in one way or another one feels enriched by the holiday experience or at least that is what one presumes and why we took a holiday in the first place.

To see how successful a holiday really was we have to take a look at how we feel afterwards and at the same time to what extent our expectations were fulfilled. They may have turned out better than expected or our expectations may have been set too high. It may sound simple just to say you had a fantastic time, but the analysis of this particular feeling and the expectations behind it lead to complicated psychological and social considerations. Perhaps it is all a bit more complex than one imagines, and all the more so when we view things from the point of view of travel organizations. Holiday expectations are mental constructions, but this holds true for our memories just the same. At the moment of evaluating our holiday we compare our interpretations of information before with those afterwards about what happened during that holiday. Comparing mental constructions in our brain is a normal activity for any human being, but for an outsider – such as a tourism researcher – one engages oneself in a rather tricky activity, since the element of reality seems to have disappeared.

This is an interesting point. What was real during the holiday may have been experienced by the tourist just so, or perhaps not. What was kitsch, staged or especially made for tourists may have evoked different types of experiences, ranging from the deeply emotional to complete disappointment. We are talking here about the issue of authenticity, not just of the thing or phenomenon the tourist experienced but also of the resulting experience itself.

Apart from the issue of the relationship between the expectation and memories and to what extent authenticity plays a part in this, there is a third factor we have to deal with when evaluating a holiday: the influence of previous experiences. Obviously, part of this influence was already applied to the original expectations, but only partly, because the content of both – expectation and experience – is different. The first is based on a motivation to travel and with it there is a certain need that we develop. Beforehand we imagine how things may look and to what extent this may fulfil our need – that is the basis of an expectation. Apart from this we all have a certain amount of knowledge and we have had many experiences, which may be applied when we evaluate the expectations, but only partially, since we do not know beforehand what we shall encounter exactly and therefore we do not yet know which previous experiences we should apply.

Apart from the factors mentioned here regarding the holiday experience (viewed from the point of view of the researcher) we shall also have to look at a general characteristic of a holiday evaluation: the complaint. Depending on social strata and even nationalities we can distinguish differences regarding why, what about and how people complain – a topic worth a complete chapter in itself! (see: )

Finally we shall finish this article with a post-holiday condition we all suffer: the holiday hangover.

The influence of previous experiences

All tour leaders with group tours are familiar with the phenomenon of tourists who talk incessantly about how beautiful their previous holiday had been and that they had seen much more impressive sights and developed more interesting activities. For the tour leader with little experience it is often especially discouraging to have to constantly contend with the tourists’ previous holiday experiences. The reason for this behaviour is simple: reference material. When we experience something new, the first we do is to relate this to something we already know. Our memory handles this in two ways:

The influence of an experience by endowment:

we had a positive experience in a certain field and the current situation makes us feel that this will be the case again. In the case of a previous negative experience we are afraid that this may happen to us again.

The influence of an experience by contrast:

we had a bad experience in the past in a certain situation and we think therefore that we are now much better off (“it could have been worse”), while a positive experience in the past may evoke the feeling that we are worse off now (“in the old times everything was better”).

Too little research has been carried out to clarify which type of tourists can be put in either category and under which circumstances. The phenomenon is well defined and we mentioned above the tourists who start their holidays off comparing everything with the previous one is clear. The tourist who insists at the beginning of his holiday that the previous one was more impressive can be put in the second category, while the ones who find everything beautiful and similar to their previous holiday can be put in the category of influence by endowment. For any travel organization or tour leader it is important to make sure that by the end of the holiday the tourist has forgotten all about his previous one, because otherwise we may wonder if the holiday is a success.

There is also the idea that European tourists in particular are led more by the principle of contrast, while tourists from Asia or Latin America seem to fall under the influence of previous experiences by endowment. Tourists from the USA form a mixed bag, whereby those coming from northern regions may tend toward influences by contrast. However, too little research has been carried out to have a clear cut notion of this phenomenon.

The Evaluation and Expectations

How well expectations score on a holiday evaluation depends largely on how these expectations were set in the first place. Expectations may have been based on correct or wrong information, they may have been based on confused motivations or on well defined needs, and expectations may be broad without a clear cut notion what is coming or they may be narrow, whereby the tourist has a clear idea of what he thinks he is going to experience. In the latter case we can see that the narrower the expectations are, the greater the chance the tourist will be disillusioned. When a tourist is going on holidays with the main aim to see the Mona Lisa, his expectations are very narrow indeed. In this case there is little chance he will be disappointed, because there is so much information available and the tourist should know exactly what to expect. However, when we are dealing with nature, things can become tricky. When going on a safari in Kenya with the intention of seeing the Big Five game species and only one is spotted, the tourist will be disappointed.

Broad expectations can be divided into two types: those that are not based on a clear motivation or need form the first group. When people go on holidays just to be away from home and nothing else and they do not really care where they are going and their expectations are very broad indeed. The second group refers to tourists who know what they want, but needs may still be very broad: a beach holiday for example. The beach has to be really heavily overcrowded or the hotel many miles away from the beach to convert this holiday into a disappointment.

(see more about expectations at: )

Travel organizations have to be careful in this respect when providing target information to tourists: the expectations raised should not be too narrow so as to avoid possible disappointment, but they cannot be too broad either, since no real expectation may be evoked. Travel organizations present possible experiences that elicit an expectation, which in turn may create a need. The image of a volcano exploding with its reddish glowing streams of lava may provoke a need in a tourist: I have to see it! His original travel motivation may have been different (going to the beach for example), but the pre-tourist may be lured into going to see this volcano. When the volcano happens to be in the clouds on the day this tourist visits it, his disappointment counts twice: neither his expectations nor his needs are satisfied and at the same time his original motivation (going to the beach) is frustrated, too.

iguazu eng

Tentative images lur people into buying holiday arrangements. Too much “selling” beforehand may influence the final holiday evaluation negatively in the sense that people compare the real waterfall with the picture.

There is a complicated and intriguing interaction of motivations, needs and first expectations and their development (through target information among others) leading up to the final evaluation. The moment of experiencing may be subject to many internal and external influences, which also holds true for the experience itself. The evaluation is a process limited by time: a first evaluation during the holiday may interfere with the final evaluation afterwards (when memories are still fresh), but after a couple of months, when memories have found their final groupings in a tourist’s brain and he has reviewed all the photographs he took, the evaluation may then be different. This brings us to the point of the evaluation of experiences.

The Evaluation and the Experiences

What an experience really is within the framework of tourism is a matter of psychology. In general we can state that the holiday experience first concerns the moment of living an experience, whereby later certain personal values are added together with images, smells or other intake through the senses (ImpCal), forming a nucleus in our memory to be used subsequently for comparison with other experiences.

The experience has three functions in tourism:

  1. A recapitulation of the moment of living the experience in the form of images and emotions;

  2. A recording that enables us to compare the experience with expectations and for developing new travel plans;

  3. The comparison with the home environment, which may be viewed differently on the basis of these experiences; the result of this comparison may turn out to be positive or negative for our home environment.

In other words, when evaluating a holiday it is not just about the comparison with expectations, but also with the home environment and finally, this evaluation must also serve as a basis for choosing the next holiday destination. When arriving home a tourist may feel that his expectations were higher than the reality turned out to be and we can say that his holiday may have been slightly disappointing; when he feels that his own place where he lives is really much nicer than his holiday destination was, we may say that his holiday was no success at all. When this same tourist decides that his holiday experiences only served the purpose of showing him what he does not want to do next time, his holiday was a real failure indeed.

Apart from this, the tourist accumulates certain travel knowledge in accordance with the travel experiences he lives. This knowledge relates to concrete information with data, such as which screens to look at in an airport, what you are not allowed to take with you in your hand luggage, or how to get cash from an ATM machine in a foreign country. In tourism we call this travel knowledge and a tourist builds up a stock of information while living his experiences. The latter are more related to mental images and describing information rather than the factual information, which is typical for travel knowledge.

There are two ways we can evaluate a holiday:

Continuous evaluation

whereby each part and each moment of living an experience is evaluated against the expectations. This is quite a reliable way of evaluating, but it may quickly lead to disappointments, which in turn may influence later experiences. These types of tourists have a tendency to have lists of what they want to see and they cross off each item once they have experienced it, which may interfere with the act of simply enjoying the holiday and influence the ImpCal intake. Observation may change into a continuous evaluation whereby the tourist only spots what he expected and he will not easily go for further ImpCal intake. This is further strengthened by the fact that the tourist does not need to wait for the development of his photographs and he can see the photographic result straight away, which enhances the tendency to evaluate on the spot.

Final evaluation:

the comparison with the expectations is carried out after the holiday. It is important to note that in this case the comparison is done between the expectations and the memories and not the moment of living the experience itself. It deals more with a general evaluation whereby general impressions and memories are compared with general expectations – both are mental constructions (one a bit older than the other) so reality no longer plays a part.

In my view evaluating a holiday by means of a comparison with the expectations is not the same as comparing it with the original travel motivations. When expectations have been fulfilled, does that mean that all travel needs are satisfied? I do not think so. There are expectations that are based on our own material stored in our memories and our first motivation and travel needs are the cornerstones of them. Later however, we receive information from different sources that may further feed our expectations, but do not necessarily coincide with our first motivation. New information may generate new needs, which may distract the tourist’s attention from his original travel motivation. Target information as presented by travel organizations or travel boards is created exactly to tempt and convince the tourist to go to a certain destination. This may lead to friction between his original travel motivation on the one hand and new expectations on the other. This friction becomes clear at the moment of the holiday evaluation, whereby expectations may have been fulfilled according to the tourist, but nevertheless there remains that feeling that he had actually wanted something else.

One of the methods used by travel organizations is expectation-memory overlap in the case of group travel. By means of target information clear expectations are created and travel organizations try to execute the travel itinerary exactly according to programme. One way to achieve this is by using symbol related authenticity as much as possible, whereby the story which is told about the Impsource is more important than its reality. The story presented about the Impsource is later reinforced during the trip and visit to that Impsource by means of factual and target information as well as material images. The tourist will first see what he expects to see and what he has been prepared for by the travel organizations. Later, these expectations and matching experience get mixed up because they are quite similar. Expectations and memories then intermingle and start overlapping, whereby the tourist can no longer distinguish the difference between the two. A travel organization can only “guarantee” a successful holiday, when the tourist uses his expectations to feed his memory. The real intake of Impcal and resulting experience can simply be adapted to the expectation, since the difference between the two should not be too noticeable. This method I call the expectation-memory overlap (EMO), whereby well-defined (but not too narrow) expectations start partially overlapping with holiday memories and after the holiday the tourist remembers many things he already had in mind before his holiday.

When the first experience of an Impsource actually deviates from the expectation, this may come as a shock to the tourist and his evaluation will be negative. With the same type of group travel mentioned before we notice that when something turns out to be worse than expected, the tourists’ complaints are heavy and confidence in the travel organization may rapidly disappear. This means that expectations must not be too narrow so as to avoid disappointment, but they may not be set too broadly either, since then no real new motivation is evoked. Stressing the story behind an Impsource more than the Impsource itself is one way of achieving the right mix from the point of view of travel organizations.

The evaluation of what was not expected

As has been explained in previous articles, tourists have narrow or broad expectations of what they are going to experience. We are talking about the main and side Impsources. However, a tourist encounters many things along his way that are not labelled as tourist attractions and that form part of the local’s everyday life: the shared and incidental Impsources. Since we are dealing with encounters that were not planned beforehand and for which there are no clear images, such as a village fair, a religious gathering or a fire one happens to witness, a tourist cannot have any expectations either. During every holiday part of what we experience falls under this category and we may wonder to what extent this influences the final holiday evaluation.

file limon eng

Traffic jam on a sunny hot day in the tropics – the kind of unexpected fun which is difficult to incorporate in a holiday evaluation. Usually people forget about it once the traffic is moving again.

Many images in our memory that do not coincide with any expectations may be dragged together into one single image: the atmosphere of a place. This atmosphere is characterized by colours, smells, (superficial) encounters with locals or the noise of everyday city life and all together they form one big image a tourist may stick a value tag on. What is important for a tourist is how authentic these experiences are, how real he felt they were and to what extent he felt he formed part of it. A problem with the resulting experiences is that they are hard to convey to family or friends and even photographic material does not work in this case. Sharing the experience of a main Impsource is easier in this respect.

There is a growing number of tourists who value more the authentic and the local part at a destination in terms of experiences gained and holiday memories. Once at home, most tourists will usually talk about the main Impsources first, but later during the process of digestion of the overall holiday experience, tourists will start telling the stories about everything local, incidental and in general, everything that was different from their home environment.

One has to realize that we are dealing with authentic experiences and the question as to what extent something was real or authentic does not always matter anymore with the final holiday evaluation. There is an increasing number of tourists who understand that object related authenticity, i.e. how real the object or phenomenon is, cannot always be shown. Conservation not only of nature but also of culture implies limits on the number of tourists visiting an area. Many tourists accept the symbol related authenticity and are glad to just get a glimpse of what real life may look (or looked) like.

The evaluation of things that were not expected cannot be carried out on the level of value statements such as “better than expected”. There cannot be any evaluation, because nothing was expected. Nevertheless the tourist expects to get something from side and incidental Impsources and when this is not the case, the holiday may be described as being rather dull. Many tourists going to the all-inclusive resort hotels may not agree with this, but that is something they know beforehand.

With the experiencing of side Impsources the tourist’s own initiative plays an important part and with it his responsibility for his own holiday. The more responsibility a tourist takes on, the greater the chance he will look back at his holiday contentedly – an important observation. When a tourist thinks his holiday was a success and that this success had to be attributed in fact to his own (and partner’s) skills, then this must come as an ego boost. For many people a holiday is a challenge and the possible increase in self-esteem and self-realization may even form part of a personal need. Visiting a famous waterfall with organized group travel is not a real challenge in this sense and the satisfaction afterwards only concerns the experience of having seen it.

What I want to say with this is that the role of what is not expected and the unexpected depends very much on the tourist himself and on which inner levels he bases his motivations and needs. The tourist’s lifestyle may play an important part in this respect.

Holiday Evaluation and Sustainability

There is another element of great importance in tourism for which a tourist cannot create any image beforehand: sustainable development, nature conservation or the role of a local population in tourism. The influences and footprints a tourist leaves behind are not usually taken into account with this holiday evaluation and there are very few tourist interested in doing so. The reason is clear: no need will be satisfied. There is only a very small group of tourists (on the Tourist Lifestyle scale on the allocentric side) who may be concerned with sustainable issues during their holiday.

After their holiday, how many tourists sit down and run over in their minds how sustainable their trip was or wasn’t? Very few, I’m afraid. What happens is that tourists may notice things or circumstances that show a clear lack of ecological considerations. As part of the continuous evaluation a tourist may feel guilty when travelling for hours through a barren and dry landscape and then arriving at his hotel with lush gardens, swimming pools and sprinklers working everywhere. Even the most insensitive tourist will notice this. The contact between rich and poor is another point that a tourist may question spontaneously. We know that many tourists take pictures of poverty, since it enhances the adventure element of their holidays, but at the same time they may wonder whether or not there is some project they can contribute to for poverty alleviation. However, for most tourists that is the extent of their concern for sustainable considerations.

There are two ways this may change: The first one is making sure tourists create a need concerning their role in influencing the environment and mitigating their impact. To help save the planet may form a well defined need indeed. Experience has shown that the more tourists are confronted with sustainable practices, the more they become interested in them. When one hotel is clearly separating the rubbish and another is not, the tourist may question this. To be honest, the number of tourists who really try to find out how sustainable an Impsource or hotel is, is still very small indeed. Few tourists show interest in how a hotel heats the water, treats the sewage or if it hires local people. Construction materials are another point, where tourists first demand comfort before questioning whether ecological motives were applied. On the other hand, tourists like to be critical and they usually enjoy being asked for their opinion. Better preparation may help tourists be more critical, which in turn can create a need to be satisfied by means of opinion polls, for example.

The second option is not to wait for tourists to get motivated or not, but simply to implement a series of obligatory codes of conduct the tourist has to study beforehand (on the Internet) and the tourist must show that he understands them. In 2001 after the twin tower disaster, airport controls became extremely strict in the name of national security for the USA. There is no reason not to exert strict measures in the name of the salvation of the planet.

Both options may lead to positive holiday experiences and both need much more attention from all parties involved.

The Holiday Hangover

After the holiday a tourist may suffer from depression when returning to his daily routine. During the holiday all his adaptability is called upon, but once at home his abilities in this field remain idle. Higher energy levels have to be adjusted, especially after a period whereby activity levels, thoughts and emotions were completely distinct from the home environment.

Upon arriving home there is a moment when we compare our home environment with the holiday destination and we can see to what extent our own little place stands up to the comparison. When a holiday is a success we are often disillusioned with our own place and additionally people are weary about having to start the daily routine again, the one they wanted to escape before the holiday. The holiday hangover often consists of restlessness (sometimes aggravated by jetlag), some depression and tiredness, in spite of the fact that one had a rest during the holiday and new energies could be found. The depression lasts a couple of days often followed by feelings of melancholy.

On the other hand, a tourist may notice things at home in a new and different way. In that sense the tourist may have learned things and he can see things differently. The feeling of “Home Sweet Home” is an experience in itself and perhaps something a tourist can learn from, although we may wonder how successful his holiday was. There are people who use their holidays just to prove that their home environment is superior and for some tourists this may be a motivation indeed. On the other hand there are those tourists about whom we may wonder why they didn’t just stay home….

Whatever motivation or need to travel we may have, the urge to change our daily environment temporarily for a different one is very old in the history of man.

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All rights reserved. Complete or partial reproduction is prohibited without the permission of Marinus Gisolf and without mentioning the source

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All rights reserved. Complete or partial reproduction is prohibited without the permission of Marinus Gisolf and without mentioning the source


Many travellers and surely all tourists are very much interested in finding things and phenomena at their destinations that are authentic for that area. We may even consider this as one of the basic conditions of a holiday, because the tourist finds himself in an area that is different from his home environment and he wants to experience things that are typical for that area.

The search for something different or something distinct may even reach the level of dreams or imaginary images. Authenticity may evoke images of honest people, working the earth honestly to produce honest products single-handedly. Within this image there is no room for nuclear reactors, trade unions or traffic jams. The tourist looks for this one unique spot where this alliance between present and past can be found. When we connect this image with journeys to other continents, it may be mixed with images of primitivism, exotic tribes and historical stagnation; an image whereby the underdeveloped has to remain underdeveloped and the poor have to stay poor. It is this image of authenticity that is still very much alive among Western societies. Obviously, reality is quite different and never forget that authenticity is something seen through the eyes of humans, while things and phenomenon simply are as they are with or without authenticity.

Things that were original and real in a certain area were tied for place, depending on the geological and geographical characteristics of the region. Not only in Western societies, but nearly all over the world social and economic changes affect the structure of societies themselves and what is typical for an area is increasingly more difficult to define. The notion of tied to place has made way for the idea of tied to time. We have a notion of what was authentic during the 1930s, but it is quite possible that future generations may have a distinct view of this. Additionally, there is a tendency for ties to fade. Under the influence of globalizing tendencies among others, many things tend to look more or less the same. The authentic must have a historical element and something unique at the same time, but when these are incorporated into the larger mass of things, there is nothing unique about them and we should not call them authentic anymore.

Authenticity should unite cultural-history with identity elements. There may be cultural-historical elements that are so removed from our perceptions that they do not belong to our identity anymore. On the other hand things or phenomena may be formed in recent time, so they do not yet form part of our cultural-history. We can find authenticity therefore on the border line between cultural-history and identity.

We see tourism as an activity where the tourist takes a central spot and his living an experience is the specific focal point of what we call tourism. It is all about the intake of ImpCal on a voluntary basis in an area that is different from the tourist’s home environment and the tourist has to stay there overnight. That is called tourism. This means that the question of what is authentic in tourism has to be linked to the question of whether a tourist can get ImpCal out of it and whether this leads to a unique and authentic experience or not. The link between authenticity and experiencing is for us a fact and we even consider that authenticity is a means to the goal of experiencing.

In this respect we can distinguish three approaches in tourism:

Object related authenticity:

objective authenticity relates to the original, which means that an authentic experience depends on whether the original is genuine or not. An example: a folkloric dance may be considered real, but when the dancers happen to be from a different region, it is not.

Symbol related authenticity:

refers to the authenticity being projected on objects or phenomena through the tourists themselves or travel organizations on the basis of expectations, preferences, fantasies, beliefs, etc. There are different versions of authenticity for the same object. This type of authenticity is symbolic and how real an object is is directly related to how real the tourist’s experience is.

Activity related authenticity:

Existentialist authenticity relates to the authentic state of being as a person. This may be enhanced by tourist activities. This type of authenticity may have something to do with the authenticity of an object, but not necessarily. For example, by going fishing you can relax your own Being, thus converting the experience into something authentic for the inner-person.

How complicated the authenticity issue is shows that within an object or phenomenon there are also different layers of authenticity:

Material authenticity – conserves the object itself

Conceptual authenticity – conserves its intention

Contextual authenticity – conserves its environment

Functional authenticity – conserves its functioning

These four layers cannot all be applied at the same time. To have an antique car running on the road means functional authenticity, but engine parts will have to be replaced some day, so material authenticity cannot be guaranteed. One may put the car in a museum, but obviously the contextual authenticity cannot be fulfilled. In other words we see a break with the past, whereby a thing or phenomenon cannot be exactly the same in the present as it was in the past.


Guate eng

In Guatemala people dress as they have always done with or without tourists around; it is part of their cultural heritage.

A local population may put on traditional costumes for when tourists arrive and in this case we do not call this authentic; the locals convert themselves into a tourist attraction – a side Impsource to be precise. Nevertheless, if tourists still feel they have some sort of authentic experience, we may call this dressing up symbol related authenticity. However, if the locals wear these dresses anyway, with or without the tourists, obviously we can call this object related authenticity and even part of a heritage.

Authenticity and Impsources

The act of experiencing, or the intake and processing of ImpCal, is only possible when there is a reason for a tourist to consume this intake. Therefore we introduced the concept of Impsources, which we divided into four different types. Two of them, the main Impsource and the side Impsource, are specifically intended for tourists. They have been developed specifically for tourists or they already existed and have been provided with the necessary infrastructure, such as roads, hotels or souvenir shops. Impsources that are especially made for tourists with the aim of creating authentic experiences for them often make use of what we call ‘staged authenticity’, meaning that a tourist attraction has been staged just for the tourist experience. This is often difficult to avoid, and we have to realize that the focal point is the possibility that the tourist’s experience is authentic (symbol related authenticity). A Canopy Tour (side Impsource) is sold as a way to get closer to nature and especially to have a chance to see the flora and fauna at treetop level. In practice, however, the tourists experience it more as a funfair attraction good for a healthy dose of adrenalin, rather than a way to observe nature. Other types of attractions that are either main or side Impsources are called ‘recycled history’, such as historic shows at an old castle. When well executed, these can produce tremendous experiences for tourists and therefore we can call these authentic, but obviously they are about symbol related authenticity as well. Another case is that of an old church. Nowadays many churches or cathedrals are attractions, having become sources for ImpCal intake of a history related experience, while their original function as place of prayer has disappeared. How authentic is this? The church is still a church but it is used for other purposes. The cultural-historic element is still there but the identity probably not, since the church is put at the same level as a shopping centre. The conceptual authenticity is no longer there. However, there are many people insisting that as long as the tourist has the feeling of having an authentic experience, we should regard it as such. Whether the experience will really touch the inner-person or how deeply rooted the resulting experience will be remains doubtful.

Another example is that of impressive natural phenomena – a volcano or waterfall for example. These concern the real wow!-moments a tourist is immersed in. The confrontation with an impressive natural phenomenon and the resulting feeling of how insignificant we are may really touch our inner-person. Imperishable memories and unforgettable experiences are the result. The historical element, the uniqueness, the symbolic value and the identity the phenomenon has within a region, together with the experiences tourists can have indicate that we are dealing with real authentic phenomena, which usually are labelled as main Impsources. Although we are talking in this case about object related authenticity, what sometimes happens is that many travel organizations, guide books or information on the Internet give target information about the phenomenon, creating a picture that is directed at the possible authenticity of the tourist’s experience and not directly at the authenticity of the Impsource itself. A high level of expectation my hamper the direct processing of the ImpCal intake in the sense that the tourist does not value the waterfall as a phenomenon on its own, but it is measured according to the expectation the tourist had. We have a genuine (object related) authentic waterfall but the tourist treats it as if it were symbol related authenticity. With the expectations and subsequent experiences of main and side Impsources we think of material images. The tourist usually has more or less formed an idea of what he is going to see and experience and at the big moment of confrontation with reality of the waterfall, things may turn out to be better or worse and the resulting experiences may be more or less authentic.

A completely different story is the case of shared and incidental Impsources. The tourist crossing a country in his (rental) car sees local life everywhere around him. The sheer fact that we are talking about everyday normal life indicates that this is not unique and therefore it is not authentic. A mother with her daughter going shopping in a supermarket – how authentic is this? It is not. A tourist may like to see how other people and societies live their daily routines, but the resulting experiences we do not call authentic. However, there are other factors at work, too. Every village anywhere in the world has in some way its own colours, smells and noises; it breathes a certain atmosphere and has something unique as a community, although the individual components of the total picture may not be authentic at all. What makes a village in France so different from one in Chile? The intake of sets of ImpCal during a certain period of time gives the tourist the chance to reach further than just processing individual ‘pictures’, and he may be able to construct a total picture, which will enter his memory as the cultural-historic and unique atmosphere of a place. What makes the French so typically French and the Chileans so Chilean? In this case it is all about the shared Impsources and the sets of ImpCal intake that may lead to much longer lasting experiences, because of the longer time span and the higher degree of difficulty in processing the ImpCal. Obviously the old men with Basque berets playing ‘jeu de boules’ at a local market square in France, or the ‘Guasos’ in Chile acting in their ‘media luna’ are authentic, but at the same time they are part of a bigger picture, too.

Now we are talking about the atmosphere of a place and the total picture of it, it must be clear that we are referring to mental images, which had been fed by the so-called descriptive information the tourist received. Mental images play a much bigger part with tourists when they travel individually or in small groups through a country than in the case of big groups or resort tourism. It is understandable that not every tourist is susceptible to this and that every tourist “reads” and interprets the atmosphere of a place in his own way. How well a tourist can observe (ImpCal intake), how expectations patterns are set and to what extent a tourist tries to smell new flavours or eat different dishes depend on each tourist individually. There are many tourists who go somewhere to see a main Impsource and simply do not (or cannot) see anything else around them. An example is when tourists enter a forest to spot the famous Quetzal bird and being so keen on seeing it, they do not look for anything else – no ImpCal intake therefore. By the end of the day there is the point of who spotted the bird and who could not. The unfortunate ones who did not have the chance to see this bird are thoroughly disappointed and had a lost day, in spite of the fact they hiked through one of the most beautiful cloud forests in the world. Apart from the expectations based on mental images, a tourist usually knows little beforehand of this special atmosphere or the typical character of a certain place. Most main and side Impsources are being visited on the basis of material images and expectations, but for shared and incidental Impsources things are different. There is only one group of tourists that goes for mental images and shared or incidental Impsources alone, without paying any attention at all to main or side Impsources: the backpackers. They go for the atmosphere or how ‘cool’ a place is and move according to incidental meetings or fortuitous circumstances.

This may be the case with travellers in general, too. We had already mentioned that travellers have a compulsory element as reason for travelling. The grandmother travelling to another country to see her newborn grandchild is likely to want to see something of the surroundings amidst all the help and support she gives her daughter’s household. She may become a tourist for a few days, like the invited scholar who wants to visit some recommended places between the various lectures or workshops he has to impart. This type of traveller may be open to enjoying cultural and historical local life, but he differs from tourists in that he has little material or mental expectation patterns and hardly knows what to expect therefore. In this sense he does not claim or insist on certain tourist treatment and does not behave like a typical ‘client’. With tourists visiting the same area and coming from the psychocentric side of the TL-scale, there is quite a big difference! (see )

This psychocentric side of the scale has little chance to get experiences from shared Impsources because these tourists’ choice of holiday shows a clear lack of interest in anything authentic. The more idealistic tourist does have interest in the atmosphere of a place, which in turn is related to the mirroring of their own values, norms and habits. Self-realization may be an important factor when deciding on the type of holiday or selecting a certain destination, at the same level of social interest or the will to learn and teach. This search for contact with locals, which may be reciprocal, underlines the importance of shared Impsources in tourism. It is worth looking schematically at the different tourism consequences between main and side Impsources on the one hand and shared and incidental Impsources on the other:

Main/side Impsources

Shared/Incidental Imps.

Information sources

Target Information

Descriptive information

Expectations patterns

Material Images

Mental Images

Tourists’ expectations



Tourist Idealism Scale

Low on the allocentric part and high on the psychocentric one

High on the allocentric side and low on the psychocentrid side

Travel Organizations

Controlled experiences

No control



Objective / Existentialist

Tourist objective

Feeling, doing

Learning, being

The above separation into two groups shows extremes and like any human activity the majority of cases can be found somewhere in the middle. The scheme above helps give us a clearer view of how tourists confront and experience the different sources of their ImpCal, from the first information they receive until the authenticity of the experience gained.

Authenticity is anchored in society. Normal daily life cannot be considered authentic because it is not unique (every day the same…), but there is an argument that asserts that everything a tourist experiences as authentic must be considered as such. The discussion does not stop there. One has to realize all the time that what may be authentic in the eyes of a tourist may be daily routine for a local. The opposite holds true, too: things that local people feel are special and authentic in their society may be ignored completely by tourists. Two visions and two realities play their parts at the same moment with reference to the same objects or phenomena. In my book “Tourists and Sustainability” I painted the image of a woman in a small village in a developing country carrying a water bucket on her head, walking with a gently swinging pace. A passing tourist flashes his camera; she startles for a moment, but quickly she resumes her pace. The tourist turns around contently and is happy with his authentic photograph. Will he ever realize how water shortage influences one’s life?


wateremmer eng

For tourists this is an authentic photograph, but for the woman it is her daily life solving the problems of water shortage. Two worlds and two realities.

Authenticity and Travel Organizations

The concept of tourism as it is used here puts the tourist in the central spot and goes even one step further by stating that the moment of experiencing – the wow!-moment – forms the core of the tourist activity. We have to realize therefore that travel organizations do their best to get a tourist to a certain place so he can get his desired ImpCal intake and that most of these travel organizations stop there as far as services are concerned, but in fact this is where tourism begins: ImpCal intake and processing into experiences. The whole holiday process can be divided into four parts in the case of tourists:

  1. The informative stage – in the country or origin of the tourist;

  2. The stage of filling in information gaps, making travel arrangements and possible reservations – country of origin of the tourist;

  3. Travelling to the destination; second round of information gathering and/or making reservations, first intake of ImpCal;

  4. Use of infrastructure (hotels, transport, etc.), then Impsources and experiencing things and phenomena; finally travelling back home.

When arriving home we go back to the beginning again in two ways: first as information provider to future travellers to that same destination and, secondly, most people will start the whole process all over again for their next vacation.

See about this subject

The role travel organizations play refer to only a part of this cycle and there are many cases (even more than half) whereby travel organizations are not used at all in the country of the tourist’s origin or destination. During their holidays tourists want to see everything that is worth seeing and that includes anything authentic. Travel organizations in the country of origin of the tourists play an important role by making clear to tourists what is worth seeing and by offering the possibility of getting to those places. This holds true specifically for the psychopcentric side of the TL-scale. The supply offered by the various travel branches is based on what the destinations have to offer in terms of main and side Impsources; additionally, travel agents and tour operators try to find out what tourists want to be able to adjust their supply according to tourism tastes and fashions.

There are travel organizations in the country of origin of the tourists (travel stores, tour operators or Internet tourism companies), and at the destination you can also find local agents, small local operators and, obviously, the hotels and tourist attractions that try to contact the public directly. This complete sector of tourism suppliers takes the line that as far as authenticity is concerned they go for the symbol related one and they concentrate on those things and phenomena that may lead to an authentic experience for a tourist. The travel organization can either make use of already existing Impsources or they have to be created. In both cases this may refer to main or side Impsources. Most Impsources offered are usually described as being authentic, mainly to capture the tourist’s interest in the first place. Travel organizations appoint a certain symbolic value to an attraction, or in other words, they make a nice story about it that sheds light on its cultural-history and uniqueness. It is not about whether the attraction is real or if the tourist may get a real profound inner emotion from it. From the point of view of the travel organization, we can describe a main or side Impsource as the relation between its visitors, the object or phenomenon itself and the image that is presented of it. It is important, therefore, to see that the tourist attractions as offered through travel organizations only provide an opportunity for tourists to have ImpCal intake and, secondly, that this possibility is about the relation between humans, things and the symbolic value of the latter. This relation, which may lead to ImpCal intake by tourists and their subsequent experiences, is partly controlled by travel organizations.

As far as main and side Impsources are concerned, these observations are sufficient for now. Travel organizations obviously fulfill many other functions as well. Let us have a look at the case of shared and incidental Impsources.


ossewagen eng

Symbolic authenticity: the story that is told about former means of transport have to generate an authentic experience.

In the case of travel organizations, making use of shared Impsources is a different cup of tea, since they have no specific owners and are often difficult to define or even pinpoint. How travel organizations can use these sources – creating mental images potential tourists can associate with – is not an easy task. Earlier we had mentioned that we are dealing mainly with the allocentric part of the TL-scale and issues such as self-realization may play a part. There are a growing number of tour operators who really try to incorporate these kinds of Impsources into the programmes and arrangements they offer. There are some obvious examples, such as big cities, whereby the shared Impsources are easier to “sell”. Paris has a certain atmosphere and many people have seen or heard something about it. The same holds true of many cities and it is this kind of mental image a place evokes that travel organizations want to convey to potential tourists. The shared Impsources in this case form an attraction in their own right and are easier to explain to tourists than in the case the shared Impsources are mixed with main or side Impsources. Another example of shared Impsources in their own right is the case of rural tourism.

Under the pressure of sustainable tourism development in a country or region, there is an increasing tendency to incorporate more local tourism projects with the aim of giving a local population a better chance to incorporate into tourism development. Depending on the circumstances, this may refer to day trips only or it encompasses overnight stays for tourists, too. It gives the tourist a chance to walk in the shoes of the locals for a few days, to share meals with them and to learn about their daily troubles and how they solve them. In this case we are dealing with object related authenticity (“it is really authentic you know”) and to a certain extent with activity related authenticity, whereby the ego of the tourist is enriched and he gets a good dose of self-realization. The allocentric side of the TL-scale is interested in these types of experiences. These experiences are firstly of a social nature and are based on two-way communication with local people. Many tourists may have selected this type of holiday arrangement on this basis. Secondly, there is the level of mental image framing and the assimilation of short impressions to form the total picture, which may be fed by more impressions afterwards. The experience a tourist seeks also has to do with the local lifestyle from which he may copy elements. It is about the type of experience whereby the tourist stops feeling like a tourist for a moment; he ceases being ‘the client’ for a while and has to make his own bed. It is important for tourists to experience many new things, but not too many, because when there is a lack of referential materials the tourist may get scared. Rural tourism usually does not form a complete holiday on its own, but is mixed with the more traditional tourism of visiting main Impsources. Travel organizations try to find a diplomatic way of highlighting the exotic and different parts of rural tourism on one hand, but make the recognizable differences clear by means of images among others. General advertising slogans may be “you’ll come back as a Peruvian” in the case of a tour operator offering rural community tourism packages in Peru, or “you cannot leave a country without having made friends.” Most tour operators nowadays also stress the fact that local communities prosper from this kind of rural tourism.

Authenticity and Local Tourists

What we have mentioned so far about tourists mostly referred to international and intercontinental tourists. However, travellers within their own country may also be labelled as tourists. The difference between local travellers or tourists is not clear cut and there is quite a large grey area between the two. In this case and with the topic of authenticity in mind, we must distinguish between the travellers/tourists that go to another part of their own country that is more or less similar and the case of people travelling to zones in their country that are quite different in cultural and linguistic respects, as in the case with different indigenous or tribal population groups within many African, Asian or Latin American states. The first group is the larger one and we can think of the drift of city dwellers to nearby beaches or to the countryside during summertime. These kinds of local tourists know what to expect and they know the destination. The majority goes there to enjoy themselves and only few will go for learning or self-realization purposes. As far as authenticity is concerned, this depends heavily on the type of destination. When adjusted to mass tourism (beach destination) there usually is very little left of authentic objects or phenomena and the tourist does not ask for this either. In the case of small villages, where authentic elements can usually be encountered, this may enhance the tourist’s holiday experience. A local population in general is more prone to share local customs with fellow countrymen than with foreigners. Anyway, authenticity does not play a dominant role with this type of local tourism.

The case is different for the second type of Impsources, the shared and incidental ones whereby people travel within their own country to regions with a different culture and often a different language. There are many similarities with international tourism but there are some differences, too.

Information supply when travelling in your own country is easier to access and is more varied. There are more possibilities for arranging things yourself or just going and seeing what happens. Communication systems within one’s own country are usually cheaper and easier to use. The reason why one travels to those regions within the home country that are completely different from the home environment is more or less the same as for an international tourist. For the same reason we assume that as far as authenticity is concerned, the local tourist is interested in it, but this interest has to be seen against the backdrop of his own culture (from the same country). One stays within the borders of one’s own country and therefore has an interest in exploring these specific cultures and getting to know the cultural history and identity of fellow countrymen. Authenticity plays a fundamental part in this case and often forms the main reason for travelling to those areas. In this case, too, we may put this local tourist on the left-hand side of the TL-scale. However, the extent to which self-realization or existential authenticity play a part is not yet clear. With this type of local tourism, the impression is that there is a strong learning element and the will to make contact with fellow citizens. Possible aid to poorer parts of the population may be a motive for travelling to those regions or it may be an effort to help preserve the cultural heritage threatened by the globalizing steam roller. In other words, it is not just the authentic experience local tourists are after, but also about the conservation of this authenticity, without that traditional view that the poor have to remain poor to be authentic. This issue shows a clear difference with international tourism. Obviously this distinction is not clear-cut and international tourists may also be very much interested in the conservation of the socio-cultural heritage of a place.

Another grey area in terms of the differences between international and national tourism is the case of tourism from neighbouring countries. Because of the physical closeness, tourists from neighbouring countries may resemble local tourists more than international ones, especially when there is no clear language barrier.


To finish this article about authenticity we should also mention what we consider to be more or less the opposite of authenticity. There are places in this world that have no cultural-historical ties or any fixed identity. They are also called non-places and represent a phenomenon that started to spread around the world from the 1970s on; they are often seen as a beacon for modern globalization and include airports, shopping malls, road restaurants and international chain hotels. These are designed and built so that anyone from any culture can feel comfortable and have something they can recognize; places that are inseparably linked with consumption and trade and have an air of luxuriousness; places where people – tourists among them – will have little ImpCal intake and will be left with hardly any memories, other than their encounters with fellow human beings.

The interesting aspect of these kinds of places is that they exist in contrast to what we have talked about so far: cultural and historical ties linked to places and/or time, own identity, typical colours and smells, people’s customs, the connection with the earth, the meaning of the sun and moon and the more profound beliefs that go with this. In earlier days railway stations were real architectural landmarks worth visiting in their own right, while today’s modern stations are indistinguishable steel and glass structures.

Perhaps we need not digress more on this matter of anti-authenticity or why it developed at the same time mass tourism assumed enormous proportions, becoming a mere economic activity. It is enough to simply mention the existence of these black voids in the cultural universe.

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All rights reserved. Complete or partial reproduction is prohibited without the permission of Marinus Gisolf and without mentioning the source


The Expectation

For tourists expectations form a very important part of their holiday. Expectations exist from the first moment a tourist starts thinking of his holiday and those first expectations are based on images and information he has already stored in his memory. Internal sources can be drawn from parts of the memory. When a tourist thinks of going to Patagonia in Argentina, images of penguins or glaciers may come to mind, some may have read Paul Theroux’s The Patagonia Express’, while others may have seen a car rally on TV. Many parts of our memory have stored images or information and when trying to compile all one knows about a destination, the memory drags all the info to one place. We are talking about the initial phase of forming expectations for a particular holiday.

Expectations are then being fed nearly continuously with new information and images and this process continues until the holiday starts. Even then the brain keeps on storing material which serves to adjust expectations for the rest of the trip. Finally at the end of the holiday expectations still play a part, although a slightly different one: weighing expectations against the final result of the holiday. We may wonder therefore, if a tourist without expectations really is a tourist. Here we assume that a tourist always nurses some expectations.


Perito Moreno expectations

An impressive picture can fuel a need to travel and some expectations at the same time.


What an expectation really is can be best explained by psychologists and I am not, but Wikipedia says the following on this subject: “in the case of uncertainty expectation is what is considered the most likely to happen. An expectation, which is a belief that is centered on the future, may or may not be realistic. A less advantageous result gives rise to the emotion of disappointment. If something happens that is not at all expected it is a surprise.”

With an expectation we think, that we know beforehand what something looks like or how an experience will be and what we consider the most probable something may be like. Expectations are based for most part on images and only for a smaller part on verbal expressions or simple facts. These images and information may be stored in our memory as from childhood onwards and they may have arrived from many different sources. It is important to realize, that a tourist to be considered such has to travel to an area which is different from his own environment, which means there is an element of uncertainty, which in turn sparks off the expectation.

Expectations feed on what we have already stored in our memory, which includes previous experiences; then there are the external sources, such as travel guides, books, films or television programmes. There are the verbal sources by means of family members, friends or colleagues and finally there are the background images, associations or our fixed ideas, which may form and influence our expectations. Apart from the first source mentioned, the others receive new information and images continuously.

Apart from existing material in the brain, there is another internal source feeding our expectations: our imagination. Imagination as a projection of possibilities can bring people to the point where they go in search for sensory experiences that have been consigned in every day life to the margins or rejected altogether. Several uses of the imagination can be distinguished:

    • calling up things that are not present but which exist elsewhere;

    • creating images in the mind of things that do not exist;

    • bringing about representations to replace things (e.g. paintings, diagrams);

    • representing things that are not present or do not exist, but which create the belief in the subject of their empirical observable existence: the domain of the illusion.

The imagination may lead to metaphors, and the latter is crucial for the theory of imagination. Existing notions can be given new interpretations and their significance and value be extended. In tourism many types of metaphors and narratives can be found, which in turn can be considered as a metaphorical re-description of reality. The connections which are created between tourists and their destinations in this way simplify the temporary holiday context, of which it is difficult to gain a comprehensive view of the nature and complexity. The perceptions of the senses are placed in a context and concepts are provided with new contexts and meaning.

Expectations therefore are often based on metaphors helping us to grasp more easily the unknown of a situation to confront. Some possible holiday destinations may strike the imagination, while others evoke fixed ideas, such as it is the case of the idea of romanticism in Paris during springtime. “Caribbean atmosphere”, “green season” or “cloud forest” are all metaphorical utterances so commonly used in marketing, fuelling the imagination and possibly the expectations.

With expectations we distinguish two extremes on a scale: there are the broad expectations and the narrow ones. The first ones are not clearly defined, are based on some general information and images, and one can expect a wide range of experiences. People mention sometimes the expression of “low expectations”, but this is more related to the experience than to the expectation itself. If one does not expect to have a great experience, we may call the expectation low, but not necessarily wide.

The narrow expectations are more clearly defined, coincide with a certain wish (which may be even take idealistic forms) and are based on specific information and images. Usually one can see at the end of the holiday how broad or narrow the expectations were. It should be obvious that with broad experiences there is less chance that things are worse than expected, while with narrow expectations there is certainly a chance, that this may be the case. We can distinguish a special case, which is called the “self fulfilling prophecy”, a clear cut phenomenon among expectations. A person puts a tremendous amount of expectations (narrow, obviously) on a specific part of his holiday. To make sure that he will have indeed the incredible experience he thinks and wishes to have, the tourist applies certain tricks: he reduces the ImpCal value of possible alternatives in his holiday programme, then he puts even more emphasis on the experience-to-be and finally he will spend all possible time and money to show that his choice for that particular item of his holiday programme is the most interesting and best of all. In other words, when a tourist indicates that the great wish in his life is to visit the Galapagos, then this tourist will do everything possible consciously and even more so unconsciously, to be able to say afterwards, that it was indeed the experience of a lifetime.

Motivation and Needs

From the point of view of psychology we may wonder, when an image in our memory serves for an expectation or when it is just a memory. This has to do with the motivation of a person as basis for his choice to travel, which in turn generates a need. Before we have any expectation there is the motivation interacting with the need to travel.

Therefore the connection between motivation and needs is clear and these form the basis of what we call expectations. The tourist must have a certain direction in the sense of motivation and needs, before the brain starts dragging material to one place and the first expectations grow. For more on travel needs see

Sources for expectations

The way an expectation is formed and the images and information it is based on depend on the tourist himself in the first place and on the available material in his memory and later expectation will be fed by outside sources. The latter deals with simple factual information (although for expectations of lesser interest), then the target information is of importance, the more so because this type of information (usually stemming from tour operators or tourist boards) is provided exactly to fuel the tourists’ expectations and finally there is the descriptive information that may help a tourist to get a more general idea or overall picture of what he may expect. Information is often supported by images, of which material images are an important part of the forming of expectations (usually based on photographs, film clips or the like). Mental images, just as the descriptive information, help tourists to imagine the atmosphere of a place and to have a general idea of how life is going on at a certain destination.

The places a tourist tends to visit can be divided in principle tourist attractions or main Impsources, the smaller secondary Impsources and furthermore there is everything what belongs to the population of a place and tourists may get some experiences from that through the intake of ImpCal. Main Impsources usually form a motivation on their own for tourists to visit them and expectations are usually narrow, therefore. A tourist will know quite a lot about that main Impsource, otherwise he would not have chosen that particular destination. We assume with main Impsource tourists have clear cut expectations, obviously with the serious risk, that things may turn out worse than expected. Side Impsources have usually been well documented and most tourists will know beforehand of their existence and will have some expectations. When white water rafting is offered at a certain destination (which is famous for another Impsource), then most tourists will have some expectations and usually somewhere in the middle between narrow and broad.

Things are different for the shared Impsources. Tourists travelling through a country will see all day long the local houses, landscapes, little churches or temples or some agricultural activity. To have well defined narrow expectations is impossible and even in many cases tourists will have very broad expectations or even none at all by lack of information or corresponding images. Villages in India, France or Chile are all so different and although we may see photographs of them, it is hard to imagine how a place smells, what the colours really look like and not even talking about the different noises each place has. Tourists on the left had side of the idealist and motivation scales will tend to get more experiences from shared and incidental Impsources and will have, therefore, dominantly broad expectation patterns, while tourists who can be placed on the right hand side of this scale, will have a tendency of visiting more the main and secondary Impsources and have narrower expectations, often primarily fuelled by travel organizations, tourist boards or direct factual information from friends or family. Information and images received before the trip depend therefore on the type of Impsources a tourist plans to visit and influence the type of expectations he will develop.

Real expectations

There still is another level regarding the tourists’ expectations. It is about the concepts of genuinity and authenticity the tourist expects or not. When a tourist has the expectation to visit an authentic indigenous tribe and once there he discovers that there is very little authentic about it and even less typical indigenous, then the tourist will be disappointed because of an unfulfilled expectation and corresponding need. With expectations tourists assume that it is always about objects or phenomena that are real – at least that is what one imagines. In case the tourist suspects it is not, then there is a good chance the tourist will not visit that particular Impsource. Thinking “that is not worth it” means in most cases a tourist will not visit this place or phenomenon. That is what we call negative expectations. But there is a possibility that notwithstanding the fact a tourist realizes that the indigenous people are just dressed up for tourists, he still may find it interesting to see, how those people used to live and part of the expectations can still be fulfilled. In other words the story about the indigenous people has to make up for the lack of real object related authenticity. This type of authenticity-with-a-story about Impsources we call symbolic related authenticity. In the case of this type of authenticity travel organizations or tourist boards can manipulate to a certain extent the tourists’ expectations and experiences he will have. Main and side Impsources receive through target information and material imaging a symbolic value, with which the tourist can have a clearer picture about what he is going to experience and can be better prepared on how real or authentic it is, what he is going to experience.

Real expectations have to lead to authentic experiences, whether being object related of symbolic authenticity. In that sense all own memory material a tourist has is supposed to be authentic for him and the very first expectations a tourists develops are real, because they are based on his own memory. Once information and images turn up from outside there arises the chance of corrupted expectations, because of the fact a tourist may not understand or misinterpret the information and images he receives.

The negative side of expectations

First of all we saw above that expectations not necessarily are all positive. A tourist can have a certain feeling that a particular Impsource or holiday arrangement in general is not for him. The expectation is that he is not going to like it, and therefore he will not go. This is mostly the case with target information, that is to say the type of information that tries to reach the tourist in an effort to persuade him to book a certain holiday arrangement or specific Impsource. Expectations stemming from the original motivation and need are positive by definition. It is therefore in a later stage that expectations are raised, found negative to be discarded consequently.

Apart from this phenomenon, there is a completely other problem. In the case of narrow expectations, the tourist may be focused on a particular intake of expected ImpCal to such extent, that he may not really enjoy an Impsource as it is, too much involved to proof if his own expectations were right – or wrong. People expect to see something and obviously the first they see is what they expect to see. This hinders a tourist to really observe, to let his senses absorb all possible ImpCal and to have an independent experience, which is based in first place on own observations and not on own expectations. It is a common phenomenon. Only when something turns out to be a disappointment, a tourist may start to really observe and to spot, first of all, why he is disappointed and, secondly, if there are other elements which can be enjoyed instead. Expected ImpCal intake is used too often to prove one’s being in the right.

There is a third problem that often is encountered dealing with one’s expectations: wrong information. This can occur because of misinformation, which means that somewhere along the line a direct error or misinterpretation has sneaked in, or the problem may be that of disinformation, which means that someone gave out wrong information on purpose. So far we have assumed that all information and images feeding the development of expectations were true, but obviously this does not need to be the case. Travel organizations may ‘stretch’ the symbolic load of an Impsource to a point, that there is little direct relationship with objective reality anymore, which may finally lead to a disappointment for the tourist. “Overselling” is a practice that a product is presented in a by far superior way than it really is. When an “incredible bird safari” turns out to be a 40 minute boat right up and down a straight canal, whereby perhaps a few birds may be spotted, it is in sales terms an overkill, producing very narrow expectations for incredible experiences, which in reality turn out to be false.

Another reason why wrong information influences expectations concerns the tourist himself. When the (pre-) tourist gets motivated and develops a need to go on holidays, he will first of all rely on his own knowledge and experiences to build up some expectations. Later he will further feed the expectations with external images and information which either come to him or he selects. This selecting depends entirely on the tourist himself and furthermore it is about the interpretation of what he picks up. The tourist “reads” in certain pictures or stories certain ideas or information he then uses for his expectations. However this process of interpreting using one’s own referential frameworks may lead to misunderstandings. When a description in a travel brochure (target information) talks about a place with such typical Caribbean atmosphere, a potential tourist who does not know what kind of atmosphere that is and therefore cannot relate to this concept, has no other choice then to interpret the information as factual information, thinking that this particular place has to be located on the Caribbean coast, otherwise it would be wrong. We all compare new information with things we have already stored in our memory, and when there is hardly any material in our memory to relate to, we shall find it difficult to handle the information.

Another problem that can be encountered is, when a tourist misinterpret his own feelings or way of being. Pressurized by heavy stress in a busy job, someone may decide that he needs some rest and organizes a holiday to a remote mountain cabin far away from the madding crowd. He feels this need. However, once arrived at his lonely retreat, the silence may drive him crazy, being used to having loads of people around him all day long. This tourist may decide after a couple of days to get down from his mountain and spend the rest of his holiday in a city, where he feels more at ease. This tourist did not know himself well enough to generate the right need. A holiday still depends on the person experiencing it and on the way a tourist tackles the confrontation with himself. Many people think, they want to do sturdy adventures and wild activities, while once on the spot where the adventure begins, they back off, show uncertainty and may suffer of lack of self-confidence. Regularly this can be noticed with heavy trekking or that type of holidays, when one or more participants are not ready for that type of adventure and have to return early. Additionally this behaviour is fuelled by what is fashionable at that moment, which may lure potential tourist into choosing the wrong type of holiday with confused expectation patterns.

Sometimes, another problem area with expectations is the lack of them. When we do not expect something we may get a surprise and depending the circumstances this may work out positive or not. The so-called sIncidental Impsources are exactly about that: surprise happenings, sudden incidents or chance meetings. Actually, a fair part of a holiday consists of incidental Impsources, although the tourist who has booked a complete holiday arrangement with everything included will be less prone to this than a backpacker. One of the reasons many tourists want to be well informed beforehand is exactly to avoid surprises, especially since the tourist has no expectations in that case and may be afraid to lose control in a situation. Expectations play therefore the role, too, of reassurance. However, when expectations were based on wrong information, then we may have a surprise, which usually is found to be a negative one. When something unexpected happens, anybody will react according to his own personality and always try to remain in control. However, when we expected something, but something completely different happens, a tourist may be in shock and before reacting he has to unblock his expectation so he can start to observe freely (ImpCal intake) and experience what is going on and react to it.

The last problem area with expectations is, that at the moment of truth there may be a series of external factors hampering proper ImpCal intake resulting into a disappointment for the tourist, although expectations were set correctly. ImpCal intake refers to the attentional mechanism and depends on internal as well as external factors.

We have the narrow ImpCal intake, whereby a tourist concentrates on just one item (studying a particular painting in a museum, for example) and at that moment he does not pay attention to what is happening around him. Then there is the broad intake, whereby the tourist is confronted with a series of different impulses, such as it is the case when arriving at a busy airport or railway station, whereby a tourist has to be alert where to go, he has to read signs and screens, has to look after his luggage and at the same time has to listen what the loudspeaker is saying. Concentrating on many things at the same time may mean, that there is little ImpCal intake that may be converted into experiences. Although many people have the expectation that it is so exciting and interesting to travel, many people are far too stressed to experience anything. Other internal factors that influence ImpCal intake are the mood a tourist is in, being tired or angry about something. Expectations never count with this kind of negative influences.

There are many external influences and the simplest example is the rain that may spoil possible experiences, leaving needs and expectations hanging in the air. “We looked forward so much to see the active Arenal volcano erupting, but it started to rain and we could not even see where the volcano was!” Bad luck we call that and a disappointment for a tourist, though expectations were set correctly.

Expectations form an indispensable part of a tourist and travelling without them sounds very dull indeed. When we stop expecting we better stay where we are and search our soul for some motivation to have a new need or urge to start travelling again.

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All rights reserved. Complete or partial reproduction is prohibited without the permission of Marinus Gisolf and without mentioning the source

6 Responses to “Expectations”

  1. Hello, I’m Mariam, Master’s student in International Communications. At this time, I’m working on my master’s thesis about “cultural expectations and destination choice while travelling in the European Union in comparison of Non-EU country. “Reviewed countries are Italy and France for the EU and from Non-EU Georgia. I wanted to ask if I can use your source in explaining expectations part, and if yes can you give me the authors name and more information?
    Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Mariam, Thanks for your mail. Please feel free to use the content of my websit, but always mention its source and my name as author: Marinus C. Gisolf
      Good luck,

  2. Hi Marinus, thank you very much for the highly informative and interesting article. I am currently writing an article for my own marketing blog about the promotion of holiday destinations on Instagram and whether it is sustainable. I think that your article is quite suitable to explain tourists’ raised expectations towards a destination due to Instagram promotions. Would you mind if I use your article? I will include the source as well as the direct link to this article.

    My blog page is at in case you want to verify it. Thank you very much!

    • Hi LinhPham,
      With pleasure you may use the content of the Expectations article and please mention its source. I would also appreciate if you could send me the link once you have finished to:
      Stay safe,

  3. Hi Marinus,

    What a brilliant article! Hey, my name is Julia, I am a masters in tourism management student in NZ. Currently I am gathering resources for my presentation and literature review on tourists expectations and the reflection on online reviews. Would it be OK if I use your article? I will make sure to add the source to the reference list. Thank you very much.

    Kind regards,

    • Hi Julia, with pleasure you can use this material and please mention its source and my name.
      I would appreciate a copy once you have finished your project.
      Good luck!

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The Experience in tourism

The Experience

     The intake and processing of ImpCal produces an experience. This processing does not take place within seconds; to the contrary, it may take up to weeks to assimilate impressions, to sort out data in one’s memory and to apply criteria through one’s referential framework. One of the reasons is that a person absorbs impulses (ImpCal) using many senses simultaneously. To sort out the material and forge it into an experience simply takes some time, because our two brain hemispheres work differently.

     What an experience really is within the framework of tourism is a matter of psychology. In general we can state that the holiday experience first concerns the moment of living an experience, whereby later certain personal values are added together with images, smells or other intake through the senses (ImpCal), forming a nucleus in our memory to be used subsequently for comparison with other experiences.

     The experience has three functions in tourism:

  1. A recapitulation of the moment of living the experience in the form of images and emotions;

  2. A recording that enables us to compare the experience with expectations and for developing new travel plans;

  3. The comparison with the home environment, which may be viewed differently on the basis of these experiences; the result of this comparison may turn out to be positive or negative for our home environment.

     Based on the ways ImpCal enter the body as described above, we can distinguish a series of experiences resulting from them:

social experiences

spiritual experiences

physical experiences

aesthetic experiences

emotional experiences

audiovisual experiences

gastronomic experiences

cultural experiences

     To what extent do these experiences differ from other experiences in life? To answer this question we can apply two conditions to tourism: in order to “consume” the tourist must first travel to a destination that is different from his home environment and secondly, the consumption has to be based on the voluntary choice of the tourist to live a certain experience. This voluntary choice may be based on the desire for leisure, biological interest, education, anthropological curiosity or any other reason why this person may want to have a holiday, including sports events or wine tasting.

     There are many types of experiences and there are many ways to achieve them. For example, there are the gastronomic experiences. The need for daily food may be a simple one, but in tourism this issue is more complicated than it looks, since the tourist wants to eat something different from what he is used to eating at home. The tourist wants to have something typical from the area, but it shouldn’t be too unusual; the meal must still appeal to what the tourist is used to, otherwise he may lose his appetite. A gastronomic experience therefore contains a cultural element. Not only does the palate need to be satisfied, the same holds true for the ear: the rumbling of a volcano, the pandemonium of a tropical forest, bird songs or a concert are all ImpCal sources, leading to beautiful, impressive or scary experiences.

bus india eng

Public transport – on the photograph in India – is a sure way of having social experiences with the locals.


     Another story involves socio-cultural experiences. On one hand we are talking about contact with a local population, and on the other hand about the observation of that population’s cultural expressions. The latter has to be interpreted in a broad sense: it is about local architecture, the colour of houses, the layout of a village or town, the shops and what they sell, and how people are dressed. It also concerns religious expressions in churches or temples, and even in the streets. It is about the cultural heritage made visible through museums, in homes, on the street, via books or photographs, and so on. Simply observing how other people live and have lived may be a source of ImpCal intake through a number of senses during a certain period, which may be forged together into one single experience. It may refer to simple things: the image of a woman carrying a bucket of water on her head walking at a gently swinging pace; it may concern complex matters, such as the mystique of a Buddhist ceremony. The sensation of absorbing a certain atmosphere is therefore one that involves all the senses during a certain lapse of time in forming a complete picture, often referred to as the atmosphere of a place.

     In the area of spiritual experiences, a tourist may gain more than he thinks; simply seeing nature in all its grandiosity may give us a feeling of how small we are. In general, confrontations with things that are different may be a good motive for the tourist to become more self-aware.

     On a cultural level, the most dominating experiences are visual ones, although social experiences run a close second and tend to dominate as well. However, it should be appreciated that a tourist’s social experiences are usually with other tourists. In other words, ImpCal are taken in as a result of these contacts and this may lead to a series of social experiences. It seems that the destination only serves as decor in these cases and we may have to ask to what extent this behaviour falls within the limits of what we call tourism. People have holidays to be away from their home environment. Most fellow travellers have the same intention, so they all have something in common. The other tourists are often from areas or countries different than the tourist himself or they may be from distinct social strata. In other words, tourists meet people from their own or neighbouring countries who they otherwise might never have met and in this case the holiday destination country serves merely as a vehicle for tourists to meet up. We find the most striking examples of this in the world of group travel; backpackers are another case. The question of to what extent tourists select a holiday just to meet fellow travellers is difficult to answer. In any case, these kinds of social experiences do play an important part in modern tourism. Apart from this we can also mention the phenomenon of a group of tourist living a wild adventure together (either planned or as the result of a mishap); in this case, a strong feeling of solidarity may grow within the group, obviously enhancing social ImpCal intake.

     It is difficult to measure the amount of ImpCal consumed. What we can see is to what extent a certain quantity of ImpCal influences an experience. We cannot talk about ‘big’ or ‘small’ experiences, but perhaps there are ‘profound’ and ‘superficial’ ones, although these refer more to emotional values. A deep and unforgettable impression is the one that pushes aside others and becomes dominating. “When we arrived at the Iguazu falls, I shall never forget the moment we saw the water thundering down …” Those are the events that cause us to exclaim “Wow!”, hence we call them the wow-moments. With those commanding experiences, one thinks of impressive things that form an unforgettable spectacle and remain stamped in the memory for ever. However, we are not necessarily talking about deeply emotional experiences.

poas eng

Looking into the chimney of an active vulcano is a real wow-moment for anybody, usually leading to an unforgettable experience.

     This brings us to the point that a certain quantity of potential ImpCal may lead to more dominating experiences with one tourist, but not with another. Sometimes the word soundboard is used: some portions of ImpCal intake may resonate more with one person than another, because of differences in their respective referential frameworks and memories.

We generally assume that the experiences gathered by a tourist are positive in nature – pure enjoyment. The idea of enjoying something is ImpCal intake combined with attitude, which leads to a positive experience; so all we see is presumed to be wonderful beforehand. Obviously, different types of experiences exist and a tourist can also have bad experiences, connected with concepts such as anger or indignation, or even fear. A bad experience at a certain moment – a fall, an illness, a mugging, etc. – may produce a long term aversion to certain circumstances. Then there may be fears in the tourist himself that impede proper ImpCal intake, leading to negative experiences when absorbed; we are referring to cases such as acrophobia, hydrophobia and claustrophobia.

     Another expression we may encounter among tourists is that of boredom, which indicates that a tourist wishes to absorb ImpCal but none are available. For lack of potential ImpCal, the tourist may start to look around for something to do somewhere, which often results in finding social contacts. However, these kinds of social experiences should not be confused with those of people who are looking for contact on the basis of a certain fear of the environment they find themselves in.

     If a tourist has attempted to take in ImpCal but feels that he has had no experiences at all, there is a good chance he will be disappointed and may even start to complain. The disappointment occurs when expectations do not coincide with what one actually experiences. In other words, we are talking about a lack of ImpCal intake.

     The value of an experience may be measured by its cost and there are people who have their holidays spoiled when they think about how much they spent. This is a social problem rather than an element that influences ImpCal intake. If a certain tourist product (ImpCal source) happens to be expensive, the tourist expects a good number of quality experiences. Thinking of the Galapagos and the steep prices charged for the tourist packages there, tourists obviously expect to have ‘the experience of a lifetime.’

     How many experiences does a tourist want to have? Does he really want to walk around all day looking for some ImpCal intake? Usually not. And sometimes the opposite is true: tourists entering a forest to spot birds like the famous Quetzal become so keen on seeing it they do not look around at all, missing out on a lot of ImpCal intake. By the end of the day, there are those who spotted the bird and those who did not. The unfortunate ones who did not see it are thoroughly disappointed and had a lost day, in spite of the fact they hiked through one of the most beautiful cloud forests in the world. Obviously, during beach stays ImpCal intake is more limited and this is a conscious decision made by the tourist.

     Does ImpCal intake change the tourist? During his trip the tourist will gain a number of experiences and he will be a bit poorer financially afterwards – as is the case with any economic transaction. The intake of ImpCal from a ImpCal source enriches the body and the mind. We assume the tourist will also have some moments of relaxation. The tourist needs some time to process all the ImpCal taken in, but not that alone. An important part of the concept of a holiday is that a tourist is far away from his home environment and physically speaking, in a different place. This creates an opportunity for a tourist to ruminate on his worries and the problems of his daily life back home. A holiday may allow him to distance himself from his daily troubles and gain perspective. Additionally, holidays may contain some physical and sports elements that are an excellent counterbalance to boring, sedentary office work in the home country. ImpCal intake may be the main item of a holiday; the element of mentally refreshing oneself is a certain kind of an experience and may enrich the quality of a person’s life. There is another possibility, as well; some tourists return home with the feeling that nothing is more beautiful than their own country – this home-sweet-home feeling is yet another type of experience.

     Having an experience is one thing, but how to ventilate or talk about it is a completely different story. We are talking about remembering and the capability of expressing oneself. While ImpCal intake and its processing is a complex matter, recounting experiences is just as complicated and it can often be clouded by factors such as to who one is telling the experiences. It may happen that two people live the same adventure more or less, but each one has a different ImpCal intake; or perhaps they will have consumed roughly the same ImpCal, but they process them differently. Two people live the same adventure, but back at home each one tells a different story about it. Additionally, it is quite likely that when they tell their holiday experiences at work, the stories may sound quite different, ‘tall tales’ if you will. Another example is that of the shy or introverted tourist who, after a gripping holiday adventure, responds that “it wasn’t too bad.” Quite possibly this tourist consumed lots of ImpCal and processed them accordingly, but he simply does not master the skills needed to express himself regarding his experiences and he may also be affected by the person to whom he is talking. In other words, in talking about his holiday experiences, there are the elements of a tourist’s personal expression skills as well as the influence of the person to whom he is speaking. There is a third factor at work, and that is time. Having an experience fresh in mind may make it of great importance to the tourist, but as time passes there is a tendency for experiences to submerge, meld with others, or be approached from another angle. Experiences are not static and one must always take into account that one tourist may tell different stories on different days to different people.

» This website is not commercial and does not generate income; therefore for those who actively use its content we appreciate a voluntary contribution, small or symbolic as it may be, by pressing the DONATE button (Paypal system) at the bottom of this page «

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