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 are the only ones who can sense emotions; neither ‘society’ nor the tourism "industry" can. 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.


The Decision

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The Decision

The tourist has a holiday because he wants to and with this simple statement we get to the essence of tourism being all about voluntary choices. We pointed out earlier that information supply is inherent to tourism and to be able to make his holiday destination choice freely, the tourist needs quite a lot of information indeed. From the moment we are involving sustainable tourism development in the concept of the holiday, it must be clear that we really have to start from the very beginning: the moment when a tourist starts making up his mind about his choice of holiday type and destination. Below, we shall explain some of the main points of these choices and the information sources tourists will need.

Just establishing what a tourist wants to do with his holiday is a complicated matter and one of many decisions. First of all, he has to ask himself where he wants to go, what type of holiday he is envisaging and what kind of Impact Calories (Impcal) he is aiming for. Putting it in culinary terms, will it be Fast Food, Haute Cuisine, Thai or old-fashioned home cooking? In other words, is he thinking of a pretty beach, an expensive safari in Africa, group travel in Asia or a small cozy hotel in his own country? Is he going to make his decision on the basis of glossy travel brochures presented by Tour Operators? To what extent are tourists really persuaded by travel organisations? We assume that before a tourist gets in touch with a travel organisation, he knows more or less where he wants to go and if he wants to travel individually or with a group. In other words, we start off with the premise that for the basic decision on type of holiday and destination, travel organisations have little impact, although this would certainly be worth investigating.

The most important factors on which a tourist bases his choice of holiday can be divided into two. There are factors that are linked to the destination (Impsources) and the expected experiences. We are talking about questions such as whether to choose an adventure holiday or one in a group just to see some highlights. Does the tourist want to travel on his own haphazardly or does he want a more structured series of experiences? Before reaching the final decision on holiday type, the tourist has certain ideas and expectations around which he starts constructing a complete holiday image; in other words, expectation patterns are fuelled while he gets more and more information.

The second set of choice factors are related to the tourist’s home situation: how much does he have available to spend and how long can his holiday last? Is he booking on the Internet for lack of time? Another question is how much time he has available to prepare his trip or how important this preparation is to him with all possible information from travel guides, TV programmes or the Internet. Perhaps a special interest or hobby plays a role as well. The reason why he wants to have his holiday is another interesting point. Does he want to break away from his daily routine, or does he want to go shopping in Paris? Has life become so unbearable that a trip around the world seems to be the only way out, or does he want to tan at the beach? The tourist’s general attitude is an important factor. Is he the more idealistic type, wanting to make sure that poor people are helped by his visit, or is he the more egocentric type, only interested in enjoying himself and nothing more? Apart from all this, there is perhaps the most important question of all: with whom does he want to go for holidays?

Summarizing, we can set up a list of issues the tourist has to deal with before reaching his holiday decision. We start off with all considerations concerning the tourist’s home environment:

Economic considerations:

  • - How much to spend
  • - Pay everything in advance or pay locally as much as possible
  • - How many days
  • - Luxury levels (5-star or camping)

Advice and special interests:

  • - Considering advice from family, friends etc.
  • - How much time for surfing on the Internet, reading travel brochures etc.
  • - Possible specific interests, such as birding, orchids or wineries

Social or idealistic considerations:

  • - With whom to travel
  • - Travelling alone (or with a partner) or in a group
  • - How important is safety and security
  • - How important are ecological and sustainability considerations

Apart from these there are considerations concerning the destination and Impsources themselves:

Based on habits, attitudes and referential frameworks (basis of expectation patterns):

  • - Completely structured or travelling haphazardly
  • - Active or relaxed programme
  • - Only main Impsources and/or side Impsources
  • - Many shared Impsources and incidental ones (e.g. backpackers) or not
  • - Type of destination (city or beach, nature or theme park)
  • - Long haul (other continents) or short haul
  • - Interest in local population and culture or not
  • - Inclusion of idealistic (such as pro-poor tourism) or egocentric items.

A factor in consideration concerns the tourist’s attitude, fixed ideas and prejudices, which may lead to certain ‘automatic’ choices and decisions (referential frameworks). The tourist is always in a position to see for himself to what extent he lets his own ideas prevail rather than leaning on information from other sources. We should have a look at two types of tourists, first.

Two types of tourists

Does the tourist regard himself as the type of person who just insists on his own enjoyment, such as tanning at the beach, eating good food or enjoying high comfort, without thinking twice about what the influence on the local environment might be? Or does he see himself more as a person who wants to have an active involvement at the tourist destination he has selected? We labelled the former group egocentric tourists (also called psychocentric tourists) while the latter are called idealistic tourists (or allocentric tourists). The concept ‘idealistic’ is a bit too narrow, because we are thinking of all those travellers who make clear that they are aware of the positive and negative influences their presence can have and accept the consequences of their actions. There are also the real idealists who go one step further and want to be an ally of a local population and want to give their support to local tourism projects. We can set up a scale, where we find on the extreme left-hand side the idealist tourist and on the right-hand extreme the egocentric one. We call the the Tourist Lifestyle Scale or TL-scale (see also the article about this scale at http://www.tourismtheories.org/?cat=104 ).

Dividing tourists into these two groups – arbitrary as they may be – will help us when we analyze some of the abovementioned choices. Are all the factors only being weighed against their own expectations (the egocentric case) or does the tourist test the various options with regard to sustainable practices and ecological considerations?

Looking at the list of choices we can separate the issue of paying everything in advance (usually to travel organisations in the home country) or buying locally at the destination as much as possible for hotels, local operators, etc. Paying directly at the destination for infrastructure (hotels, restaurants etc.) or Impsources may provide extra economic support to local projects and should therefore be more sustainable.

The comfort level is another point where more idealistic tourists may think twice and check things out to see how damaging they may be. Here it is worth noting that a common misunderstanding is that an ecologically-sound hotel would be less comfortable or more expensive. The fact that a hotel room is spacious or a bed comfortable has nothing to do with sustainability considerations. However, the type of soap used in the bathroom, the way water has been heated and the numbers of times the sheets are washed do have an influence on ecological considerations, as does the amount of chlorine used in the swimming pool or the amount of water sprinkled on lush gardens.

Getting information on various holiday destinations from the Internet or travel brochures takes time, and the extent the tourist bothers with this can depend greatly on the time he has available: the more idealistic tourist will have to spend more time at this than the egocentric one. For example, a very busy person may prefer that everything will be arranged for him and will call a travel organisation to do this without worrying about the sustainable quality of what is offered.

As far as destination choices themselves are concerned, the more idealistic tourist will try to get much more background information about the various Impsources regarding possible damaging effects (i.e. four-wheel motorcycles or water-skiing) and to what extent his own presence may be harmful (in the case of nature areas or similar).

Apart from environmental considerations we must think about the socio-cultural part of tourism, too. In the case that a tourist selects a single beach destination (Torremolinos or Cancun) he will probably dream about the relaxation time he will have, while others may be worried about the harmful impacts of construction at these sites or the fact that the local population endures more harm than good from the tourist resosrts.

And finally there is the point of to what extent a tourist is really interested in the local people and their culture at a destination. When going on holiday to Rome we presume that there exists a certain interest in Italian history and culture; with other destinations this may not be at all clear. How many people going to the beaches of Turkey do so on the grounds of a great interest in the Turkish people and their culture? Culture is one thing, but socio-political attitudes are another matter. Deliberately spending a part of your holiday to help locals at the holiday destination is one example, as is any action during the holiday to help the poor; even the selection of the holiday destination may be led by “pro-poor tourism” principles.

So far we have been talking about the long list of decisions a tourist has to make before selecting his type of holiday and destination. Then we pointed out that there are two main types of tourists – egocentric tourists and idealistic ones – and most tourists fall somewhere between these two extremes. The choices a tourist has to make are based on information supply and there are different types of Info sources. Once the tourist has reached his decision on where to go for his holiday, all the different actors in tourism come into play. Of great interest to us is how Impsources react to the issue of sustainability, independent of the tourist’s attitude, expectations or arguments. Additionally, if an idealistic tourist does consider sustainability issues, the question remains whether what was promised is actually carried out in practice. Obviously, Impsources and tourism infrastructure are concerned about sustainability issues independent of whether tourists ask for this or not: sustainability is a matter that concerns us all. What can a tourist expect in the field of sustainability, to what level can he be informed about it and what part is tangible enough to help him select a holiday destination?

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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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