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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Motivation and Needs

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Needs, Motives and Motivations


During human history there has always existed the social element of wanting to escape from it all temporarily, leaving the home scene behind as a prime motive without being very much worried about where to go – but preferably to an environment more agreeable than the daily grind. In the case of tourism this motive forms the basis for the desire to travel and includes the generation of a need. In this article the different levels of holiday motives will be dealt with, as well as their interactions with and influences on tourism and its markets.


 Needs, motives and motivations are the engines of human conduct and they play a fundamental part in the mechanics of tourism. The motivation exists when a person is capable of creating an impulse that leads to a need, which in turn will give a feeling of dissatisfaction until this need has been satisfied. To satisfy a need there is energy with a corresponding direction. Hunger and thirst are good examples of needs (q47).

The reason for wanting to travel is an inner motive and it is related to the question of why, whereas more specific motivations determine the answers regarding where and type of holiday (q154, q29). Travel needs and motivations also underpin the first expectations and may influence the final outcome of a holiday: it turned out better or worse than expected compared to the level of satisfaction of the generated needs. Obviously once a travel need has been satisfied it ceases to exist.

 The subject of travel needs can be studied from different scientific angles, with psychology, social psychology and anthropology as the most important. Many theories have been developed and several models have been designed. The humanist-psychologist Abraham Maslow published his hierarchy of human needs asa pyramid-shaped model with five layers as follows, from bottom to top (in: q29: p141):

      1. Physiological needs (such as hunger or thirst),

      2. Safety and security, including shelter;

      3. Social needs, love and belonging;

      4. Esteem, the need to be accepted and valued by others;

      5. Self-actualization.

 Many theories on motivation and needs have used this model as a basic outline. Pearce (q156) applied it to the case of tourism and combined it with the tourist’s experience. He proposed five layers of holiday motivations (from the bottom to the top of the pyramid):

 relaxation (rest <> active)

stimulation (stronger emotions)

social needs (family, friends)

self esteem (self development through cultural, nature or other activities)

self-realization (search for happiness)

 Original travel needs and motives follow these different levels, the first two being the most common. It should be noted that this model is based on the Western world and in those parts where community life is especially valued, the ultimate goal is often not self realization but being able to serve the group, for example.

 Motives and motivations

 In the context of travel motives the concepts of push and pull factors are commonly used (q35). There are external motives in tourism that can influence tourists and pull them towards a certain motivation and subsequent decision. Tourism destinations often try to attract potential tourists and this pull factor can instigate a person to create a motive for travelling and to develop the corresponding motivation to visit this particular destination. This pull factor is also related to the search for travel motives tourists develop when selecting their holiday. At first pull factors evoke some kind of desire that can provoke a feeling of some sort of personal deficiency when this desire is not satisfied.

Apart from the pull factors, there are also impulses stemming from the inner person that push an individual toward a certain direction: the push factors. The element of escape is one example. Push factors are normally related to a lack (and not so much a deficiency) and if this lack is not satisfied it may cause harmful effects. A lack of rest (over-fatigue) may lead to a need and subsequent travel motive.

Different layers of motivation can be distinguished. The motives to travel are more generalized and year after year people from western societies generate motives to go on holidays, based on a given need. Then there is the motivation that is more defined and helps determine the type of holiday and destination (q154). The motive to travel stems from the inner person (push factor), but the more specific motivation that fills in the general travel motive often draws on external influences or pull factors. It is this vision of motives and motivations that is used throughout this website.

Additionally, most people are not led by just one motive, but rather a series of travel needs and motives may play out simultaneously, complicating matters even more. It may very well be the case that members of the same group doing the same activities may satisfy different personal needs or are pushed by different motives. Finally, the initial needs and motives may play a dominant role in tourism, but they are not the only springboards for human conduct, because social influences, cultural conceptions or religious views can play their part too (q33, q157), as indicated further on.

Escape, Search and Desire

 Profound changes in the way that place and time are experienced as a result of accelerated globalization have led to a new questioning of identity, the self and the place people take in this world (q36). Not only are ways of living leading to a sense of loss of identity, for many individuals computerized work conditions and everyday roles impose constraining and monotonous routines in which individuals find it difficult to pursue their self-realization (q110).

It is in this context that the development of travel needs is mirrored with fast growing consumerism, increasing insecurity about one’s own identity and the place people take in this world. The various motivations that (potential) tourists generate have a direct influence on the type of holiday they choose. Crompton (q33) based his theories of travel motives on two main lines: the need to escape (fleeing from the western stressful life or work environment) and the search for the new and the other. Although the gamut of travel motives is as broad as the number of people taking a holiday, in this article three main groups are used, with the element of desire in addition to the already mentioned search and escape concepts.


 Tourism can offer freedom from work and other time obligations, an escape from traditional social roles and the liberty to spend one’s time however one chooses. Indeed, tourism reflects the “anti-structure” of life, an escape from something, rather than a quest for something (q103). The travel motives originate from a lack of things needed for survival: a person can feel strongly that he is lacking something and cannot continue without satisfying it. In tourism terms this may sound harsh, but the fact is that for many a holiday is seen as a necessity for survival and to be elsewhere is seen as the only solution. The primary travel motive is wanting to escape from it all temporarily, leaving the home scene behind without being very much worried about where to go – preferably to an environment more agreeable than the daily grind. In this case the pyramid models designed by Maslow and Pearce relate to the lower layers of needs.

The first requirement of the concept of escape is gaining distance from one’s home environment. It is like living in between two realities: the home environment that has been left behind, and the destination where one is physically present but not as a part of it; this is a betwixt and between situation that is also referred to as liminality. The alienation of the home environment during the period of being a tourist refers to a space-related liminality, wherein places that themselves are liminal, such as beaches (between land and sea), are usually preferred. Temporarily abandoning the work environment seems to be one of the most important motives. For example, every year thousands of Italian tourists take charter flights to Cuba for a ten or more day stay at a luxury beach resort with Italian speaking staff, Italian food service, and Italian television and music. The element of escape refers to a space-related liminality and does not involve any alienation from their home society. There are other examples, whereby tourists do abandon their social status and with it they open up the opportunity to satisfy needs on the third or fourth levels of Pearce’s pyramid model. In that case it is about the individual tourist preferring bodily and spiritual wellness.


 Travel needs and motives may also stem from an inner feeling of wanting to learn about new things, further fuelled by external pull factors that promise just that. This type of tourist has a fairly clear idea where he wants to go and he is not travelling away from his home (such as it is the case with escape), he is travelling toward a fixed destination. His basic need springs from the feeling of a deficiency that he has encountered in his home environment. This deficiency (contrary to a lack) is subjective and a social construct. If the tourist is not capable of satisfying this deficiency (with its corresponding need), he has to look for other ways to continue.

Once at a destination this tourist abdicates from his social status and indulges himself in the liminal practice of being a tourist. The elements of wanting to learn new things, experience different cultures, discover oneself and probe one’s own body are all basic elements of this personal search. In the pyramid models of Maslow and Pearce, this is about the top three levels. The way tourists look around, unimpeded by social obligations and connections, translates itself into a free absorption of impressions and their respective processing into experiences. The element of search is about seeking psychological fulfilment through a journey to a destination that is different from the home environment (q157).

Cultural tourism is based on the concept of search and it sometimes includes spiritual or religious experiences. Oneself and one’s own identity are important sources of traveller inspiration in a society, where people find it increasingly more difficult to develop themselves and their personal feelings of identity. The alienation of the home environment may also induce other types of effects. Once the original societal pressures have been released during a holiday, tourists may indulge themselves in practices to satisfy needs that are not allowed in their own country or region. Even the dark side of human nature may appear with sex and drug tourism as examples.


A totally different source of travel motives are the specific desires one may want to experience. It is about specialized themes that are more or less well defined. It may be about tangible matters, such as a specific interest (e.g. bird watching trip), a cultural interest (going to concerts of famous singers) or sports events. Another example is medical tourism. The importance lies in the travelling and not in being a tourist. Participants do not alienate themselves from social status and the idea of being in between two cultures does not play a part, nor does liminality. Tourists know what they want, assigning themselves a clear goal or mission and the source of motives and motivation is the desire that as such does not correspond directly to any urgent lack or deficiency.

Desire as a main travel motive may also concern intangibles, such as certain emotions or deep spiritual experiences. Ecstasy and anguish are examples. In the 21st century so-called dark tourism has experienced a rapid expansion, in which negative experiences based on disasters or perhaps concentration camps may give rise to living extreme emotions that have been selected previously and can be controlled.

 The body, the emotions and me

 The needs and motivations to travel are subject to the state of mind of each individual, the position in society and the social environment. This means that travel motives may change with shifts in society or in someone’s personal life. Changes in conduct and therefore in generated needs are being influenced by postmodern tendencies affecting not only the western societies, but also a large part of the so-called developing nations. One of the most important manifestations through fast and intensive transport and communications channels is the compression of time and space. Life seems to be faster and the resulting pressure is mostly felt on the level of the lack of self-realization and being oneself. Another consequence seems to be that rational factors have started to control the non-rational ones (emotion, bodily feelings or spontaneity) leaving too little space for the satisfaction of the latter (q110). This has increasingly prompted a shift from the need to escape from it all to a need to search for one’s true self, whereby a liminal environment is the most suitable condition.

One of the consequences is that the development of travel needs and related motives is an increasingly repetitive phenomenon. Several times during the year there is this impulse that requires attention and demands free time in order to satisfy these needs – leisure time is still increasing in the West compared to working time.

 During the 20th century potential tourists often depended on tourism markets, but from 2000 on we see a shift toward a more active role being played by tourists when defining the holiday. Motives and motivations are more geared towards the tourist desires and needs. The interaction between markets and users raises the question of whether the number of different tourist needs has increased and therefore the market has expanded its supply; or perhaps this can be turned around and one can imagine that precisely because of the increased variety in supply functioning as pull factor, the gamut of travel needs has broadened. The answer may be somewhere in the middle: in western societies consumerism has increased sharply and plays a dominating role (q151), generating a need to consume based on a supposed deficiency that did not exist before and this need is related to matters of what is fashionable at the time. In a consumerist society the question is not whether I drive a car, but the type of car I drive (q151). Consequently, travelling becomes more than just satisfying needs and it can be turned into a way to show the world a personal image and success. The social element of prestige can also influence travel motives. An increasing preoccupation with consumption could be said to make tourism the archetypal postmodern activity, as by its very nature it relies on the consumption of artefacts, natural and built environments, and culture (q62). However, this high degree of consumption may turn into an oppressive phenomenon for any buyer because, on the one hand the consumer cannot live without, but on the other he may dream of escaping it – though just for a while during the holiday.

In tourism the question of whether supply or demand drives the market is a complicated one. Shifts in markets have become visible through changes in tourist conduct. In practical terms this means that a slow change is occurring toward individual tourism to the detriment of mass and group travel. This last option is mainly related to the element of escape, since tourists today need more than that as a travel motive. Consequently when tourists search for personal authenticity, a complete rupture with the home ties is essential. Individual travel is accompanied by a wider supply of tourism options and a growing number of niche markets are emerging that cater to nearly every kind of human activity. In the 21st century tourism destinations are increasingly selected on the basis of the activities they can offer and the motivation for selecting a destination will depend more on these offers and pull factors than ever before. The image of a place in itself is often no longer enough to attract visitors. In other words the selection of holiday destinations is based more on activity-related experiences and tourists are interested in more than one specific activity. Nowadays tourists satisfy a series of needs, whereas before the start of the 21st century only a few needs were being satisfied.

The element of transformation under liminal circumstances in relation to the element of search with travel motives is increasingly related to the element of well being as a result of the physical limitations imposed by western work conditions. During the 20th century travel needs and motives were primarily directed at the physical distance from the home environment, but in the 21st century tourists are inclined to (re)discover their own body as an inseparable part of the ego. As a consequence, a growing need for increased luxury and comfort can be observed, which translates into the use of spa resorts, centres for well being and more luxurious hotel rooms (mainly 4 and 5-star ones). Another trend is taking shorter holidays more frequently and this must be related to reasons of deficiencies rather than a lack of something. Economic conditions in the West are still favourable and many people can afford to travel regularly.

Desire as the main motivating factor for a holiday has resulted in a growing number of theme group traveloptions that concentrate on certain specializations such as bird watching, orchids or nature photography. On a spiritual level there are now more opportunities for groups or individuals through courses in yoga or reiki, usually offered in a natural setting or in the countryside.

Final Remark

The explanations presented here about needs, motives and motivations serve as a basis for gaining insight not only into tourists’ conduct, but also into the changes to which they are subjected. The concepts of needs and motivations are complex because they include the reasoning behind conduct and attitudes in general. What has been proposed in this article is a simplified model that may serve very well in practice.

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10 Responses to “Motivation and Needs”

  1. Can I use your study for my essay? I’m a student at Vinh University, Vietnam
    Thank you

    • Dear Herry, with pleasure you can this the Motivation and Needs text, but please mention its source and my name.
      Good luck,

  2. Hi,I am a student at Lahti University, can I use part of your article to my thesis? I will mention the resource, thank you!

    • Sorry for the late answer – I missed it somehow.
      Feel free to use this article, but please mention its source (me). I appreciate a copy of your thesis once finished.
      Good luck,

  3. Hello, I am a post-graduate student from Bournemouth University. Can I use some information on your article to apply to my dissertation, please? I will mention a resource. Thank you in advance.

    • Hello perya_1234 – perhaps you can give me your name – at least. What is the subject of your dissertation?
      Marinus Gisolf

  4. Hi,

    I would like to reference this website for my essay. I’m a commerce student majoring in tourism management & international business at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

    Much appreciated

  5. Hi
    Interesante el blog – gracias por mencionar la fuente.
    marinus gisolf


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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 ).

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?

» 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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From normal person to responsible traveller

During the second half of the 20th century tourism changed from a social activity to a merely economic one . Many travellers from earlier days changed into modern tourists.

However, under the influence of sustainable development principles and the urgency to conserve our environment there is a need to re-think the concept of tourism and especially the role the tourist plays in it.

By eliminating the economic separation of the tourist (client) on one hand and the tourism “industry” on the other and by joining these two forces into one major social activity called tourism, a basis can be laid for a gradual incorporation of tourists within the sustainable development process.

For sustainable tourism development to prosper we have to involve the most important actor: the tourist. However, the image of tourism as an economic activity and the tourist as Client hampers seriously any effort to get the social factors count: involving future generations.

Tourists have to start to understand that something is being expected from them. They have to fulfill a role in sustainable development and they have to be prepared for it. For us in the travel branch it is of utmost importance to push for a balanced sustainable tourist development, whereby the tourist has to be regarded as full fledged partner and not just another client.

The relationship between tourists and destination and the reflexivity that exists between them is our main focus of the reflexive approach to tourism.

The texts on this website have been developed to generate new concepts in tourism and, obviously, to arise one’s curiousity and to react to it.

Additionally, this website is not commercial and does not generate income; therefore for those who actively use its content we appreciate a voluntary contribution by pressing the DONATE button at the bottom of this page.


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Information and Tourism

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     The most important characteristic of a tourist attraction is that it is “consumed” at the destination, rather than at the tourists home. This means that in order to consume the product, the client must first travel to it, thus laying the foundation for what we call tourism: somebody moving to a site where there is a tourist attraction of some kind, such as a beach destination, indigenous pyramids, a concert, nature reserve or a special sports event. The tourist travels to the product to experience (consume) it.

     The sublime moment in tourism is the instant when a tourist starts to live an experience, in other words, when he starts to consume Impact Calories (ImpCal). The intake and the processing of ImpCal lead to an experience, and that is exactly what the tourist is looking for. The tourist wants to have an experience and that is only possible when he is using his own senses and absorbing ImpCal, later to be processed into an inner experience. In fact, the tourist pays for the possibility of consuming ImpCal and the processing of ImpCal starts at the beginning of his journey, when he closes his front door behind him. ImpCal can be taken in during the trip to the destination, upon arrival and finally, when he reaches the main attraction (the Main Impact Source or Impsource), which was the reason for his going there in the first place.

     Nearby there may be smaller tourist attractions developed for tourists, the so-called Side Impsources. Apart from these, there is the normal entourage involving local daily life – the Shared Impsources - that may also be interesting for the tourist. Another possible ImpCal intake can be produced by chance meetings or sudden occurrences, the Incidental Impsources (accidents also form part of incidental Impsources). In order to create opportunities for tourists to visit places and have ImpCal intake of some sort, many travel organizations deal with advertising and selling ‘possible experiences’ (also called tourist products). This may involve travel stores, tour operators or travel guides. In short, tourism consists of a large number of people, organizations, hotels or other types of buildings, means of transport and many other entities that form a complicated pattern of networks and relations. The tourist forms part of these networks, too.

     Tourism consists of a number of obligatory components, such as staying overnight (minimum one night, maximum one year) and mobility. The component of staying overnight is arbitrary, but generally accepted (World Tourism Organization). Mobility is inseparably connected with tourism, because to be a tourist you have to travel to a place that is not the home environment, otherwise you would not be a tourist. Travelling therefore forms an obligatory part of tourism. Apart from this, travelling in tourism is on a voluntary basis, which marks one of the differences between tourists and travellers in general.

     There is a third obligatory component: information supply also forms an inseparable part of tourism for exactly the same reason that a tourist travels to parts of the world that are largely or completely unknown to him. The tourist must become informed about the destination he or she wants to visit and even the decision itself about where to go is based on information. One may have heard enthusiastic stories from the neighbours or seen a beautiful nature film on television, which may have tipped the balance in favour of some specific holiday destination. Travel brochures, guide books, TV programmes or novels may all be sources for choosing holiday destinations and additional details about their infrastructure. Regardless of whether a tourist hops on his bike and starts travelling with nothing more than a backpack and a little tent, or he books a complete all-inclusive holiday arrangement with a travel organization, information supply is vital and as such it forms an inseparable part of tourism.


     The concept of information itself covers a lot of ground and is used in many scientific disciplines – each of them interpreting the term within its own field of action (e.g. computer science, philosophy or mathematics). In general, we can state that information contains data that makes some sense to someone; in other words, we are talking about meaningful data. The term data is another concept open to many interpretations, but we shall stick to the definition that states that data are putative facts regarding some difference or lack of continuity within the same context. A red little ball in a box ful of similar red little balls, does not form a datum, since it does not distinguish itself.

     Data alone are not information, but they become so, when they have special meaning for the receiver. A telephone number by itself is just a piece of data; it turns into information when the receiver knows that it is a telephone number, realizes whom he can contact with it and knows how to use a telephone. When someone does not have this knowledge, or has no access to telephones at all, the number just remains a datum.

     What we must realize is that anything surrounding or happening to us is a possible source of information. It all depends on whether we have a particular reason for extracting a certain happening or fact from its context to be presented on its own. This also means that in order to be called such, information has to be of interest to someone. When a tourist is startled because a Northern Harrier flies away right in front of him, this may be a source for a piece of information of great interest to a professional birder, while the average city dweller could not care less.

     Information may be further segmented into instructional and factual information. The first refers to the transfer of knowledge, while the second has to be subdivided into true information and false information. In the first case, this leads to real information while in the latter it leads to disinformation (intentionally false) or misinformation (unintentionally false).

     A collection of information transmitted with a specific goal can be called a ‘message’. This message can contain information on different levels. However, as long as we cannot give meaning to information, because it is presented in an unknown language for example, this information cannot be transferred and we cannot speak of information in this case. Information is therefore a subjective matter.

     Another problem we may find is the case of noise. External noise occurs when the transfer of information is disturbed by outside noise (a busy street, for example). Internal noise refers to the case where the receiver is not giving the information his or her full attention and is distracted by other thoughts. The concept of noise is not applied when the information is presented in a form the receiver does not understand. A case where we do use the term noise is when a piece of information passes through many recipients and senders before reaching its final destination – we are talking about third-hand information.

     To complete this section on information, we can distinguish four interdependent levels:

  1. Pragmatics is concerned with the purpose of the communication and links the issue of signswith intention.
  2. Semantics is concerned with the meaning of a message conveyed in a communicative act – in other words dealing with the meaning of the signs.
  3. Syntax is concerned with the formalism used to represent the message. The language that is used and its syntax is concerned with its correct and comprehensible use.
  4. Empirics is the study of signals used to carry the message; we are talking here about physical qualities (sound, light, electronics, etc.).

     Our last remark on this theme is that information is not simply a matter of humans. Among computers there now exists intense information exchange traffic (as long as systems are compatible) without any human interference. But in nature as well we can find many examples of information transfers, such as flowers giving information by smell and colour to bees. There are many more instances of information without any human intervention.

Information and Tourist Networks

     In the specific case of tourism we can distinguish many forms of information and in our case we shall concentrate on the tourist himself. First of all, the tourists-to-be must think about where they want to go to for their holidays and they must decide which type of holiday they want. The tourist will need information to make this choice. Once the destination has been selected, he will need information about all the details of the journey, the local infrastructure (hotels, attractions, restaurants, etc.), transportation, and in general, what can be done there. Upon arrival at the destination the tourist has the chance to explore local information sources and to arrange any trip or overnight stay if required. We cannot think of tourism without information exchange on many different levels, concerning not only the tourist but the tour operators as well, both of whom need information about hotels, flights, entry fees, etc.

     Many entities are active in tourism, including people (tourists, hotel staff, air traffic controllers, bus drivers, and so on) as well as things (hotels, airplanes, souvenirs or landscapes). The sheer fact that a tourist arrives at some place and enjoys something (an impressive glacier perhaps) means that many of these entities have been actively helping the tourist arrive at that particular place. These entities must work together, such as a tour operator who makes a hotel reservation for the tourist or a transport company that must know when the tourist has to be picked up. Cooperation among entities results in networks and the interplay within and among networks gives life to the concept of tourism. Obviously, this is not only the case in tourism, because life is full of networks on many different levels. Often we do not realize how many networks we are acting in. A sudden incident, such as losing your passport, makes us realize that an embassy is a network connected to many others, that a passport photograph has to be taken (another set of networks) or that a statement has to be made at the local police station, again tapping into completely different networks.

     Cooperation and communication among entities form the basic ingredients of a network. This may occur on many different levels and with both senders and receivers. In this sense, things are also active actors, although more as receivers than senders. What brings life to a network are the actions and input of the entities. A restaurant provides meals, the bar the booze and the hotel the room to rest. These are things or services that link entities with each other and crystallize the connections between entities and networks. These can be called intermediaries in a network, referring precisely to those services and things other entities are interested in. Other examples are credit cards, passports, tour guides, transport or money. It is all about things or people forming the link between entities and networks, which in turn are meant to help tourist get to the place to enjoy that magnificent glacier. By the way, one always has to realize that it was the tourist’s voluntary choice to form part of a network and to decide which intermediaries apply to his case or not.

     There is another intermediary we can mention: detailed information the tourist asks for specifically, such as the price of something, departure times, location, what type of shoes to wear or a signpost at a crossroads. This is information meant for everybody and not just for tourists, but it does have a specific target group. For a certain destination, tourists are not likely to be interested in possible tax advantages for small businesses, while the average investor will not care much about the number of tents the local campground can handle.


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A free parking sign made by the locals: factual information on one hand, but at the same time on a pragmatic level it is about an invitation for tourist to stop to buy something at the pottery stall.

     There are many entities dealing with just this: furnishing tourists with specific information based on simple data. We shall call this factual information.

The tourist also has to deal with other types of information. First of all, there is the information the tourist does not ask for specifically, but it is presented to him nonetheless: travel brochures, tour operators’ internet sites, ads in newspapers or magazines, etc. This information supply forms part of the entities that maintain network relations and that want to invite tourists to become part of their network; in other words they are offering their services. This information has a clear target and the message is directed to tourists only; it tries to give a certain image of a destination. This information does not form part of a network and it is not an intermediary. We call it target information.

     A Belgian tour operator describes the active Arenal volcano in Costa Rica as follows: “In the evening you see, from a safe distance, glowing pieces of lava thundering down the volcano. An unforgettable sight. Fireflies are dancing above the stream of lava, everybody is mouse-quiet. Far away you hear the volcano’s thundering and roaring under a sparkling sky.” Apart from the fact that half the time this volcano is in the clouds and one cannot observe anything, the content part is being sacrificed in favour of an attractive description of people watching a volcano (fireflies will not last very long dancing above glowing lava…).


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Target information as image: suggesting there is something to see and at the same time giving potential tourist the feeling that they could be there watching this rare bird.

     The third type of information concerns the atmosphere, colours and smells of a place. We think of the exchange of impressions friends or colleagues have had, impressions from nature films, novels or newspaper articles. These info-sources surround the tourist and he can make use of it or not. It may also deal with the background in some news item, or a fashion photo shoot may be taken in some country that may spark a tourist’s interest, who absorbs it and keeps images somewhere in his memory. The information that can be distilled from this type of information depends very much on the tourist’s referential framework and it also depends on what a tourist thinks of the source. A friend’s opinion may be quite valuable – or the opposite. This type of information is usually not geared towards tourism (although it may be) and it depends heavily on the tourist’s willingness to absorb it. We call this descriptive information.

     Each of the three information types mentioned here have their own starting points and their own reasons for existence. The factual information has to be gathered by the tourist himself, target information is directed to the tourist, while descriptive information just lingers around the tourist who can make use of it or not. Each of these three types of information are different, and among other things this means that when they are mixed up, the receiver may be misled.

     When a tourist has decided he wants to go to China for his next holiday, he may consider passing by the local travel store to get information about flights, package deals or hotels. At this point we are entering slightly turbulent waters, because although the case may sound simple, the information the tourist gets from the travel store has a complicated structure. The tourist wants to have some factual information and possibly some descriptive information, but what he gets as an answer instead is target information. The travel agent may indicate that on a given day there is only one possible flight to Peking for a certain price. This sounds like factual information. However, it could very well be the case that there are more flights going, on other airline carriers, but for commercial reasons it is not in the travel agent’s interest to offer them. It looks like factual information, but it is target information, dressed up differently. Obviously, one may not differ too much from another, since on the Internet nowadays it is easy to verify things. The three types of information are not the same and the tourist must try to differentiate them.

     Let’s take a look at another example: a tourist reads a scientific article about snakes on the Internet. We assume that this article is really interesting for biologists, but the average tourist may draw wrong conclusions, deciding not to risk taking holidays in tropical areas anymore. What is factual information for one person may be descriptive information for another, with all the consequences of the case.

     Travel guides like the Lonely Planet or others generally deliver reliable factual information. However, on the level of descriptive information we may wonder how good this information is. Almost without exception, these guide books have been written by people from the home countries of the tourists and not by people from the destination. The descriptive values (of impressions among others) are pictured through the eyes of someone from the same country as the tourist. The latter may pick up the ideas easily, since they are presented according to his own way of thinking, but this may stop a tourist from experiencing things independently and to be open to new impressions and other ways of viewing things. Apart from this, travel guidebooks may suffer from hidden target information, by recommending a certain area where a friend has a hotel, for example.

     The three cases mentioned here all show problems regarding the pragmatic level of information and its original intention. Too often it is difficult for a tourist to value information against the springs behind it. Misunderstandings can also occur on a semantic level. As often is the case, interpretations of information on the basis of what one expects may lead to communication problems, especially when we are dealing with cultural differences between the tourist’s home country and the holiday destination. There are cases of globalized terms, such as ‘green season’, ‘tropical beaches’ or‘Caribbean atmosphere’, whereby anyone can fill in whatever he or she thinks about these universal phrases and in one country that may be different from another. Another example is the notion of time, which may be different among countries. Expressions such as ‘in a minute’ or ‘in a little while’ (in Spanish ‘ahorita’) will be interpreted by most western tourists as a time span of 10 to 15 minutes, but in Central America this may mean two hours or more. Another point regards what is considered to be comfortable or luxurious. Standards between countries may vary considerably and tourists have to take this into account.

     Problems at the level of syntax may have to do with language, which can be different from the one spoken in the tourist’s home country, leading to information that is almost incomprehensible to the tourist. When describing a beach holiday in Spain, one may read: “…and today we can spend the afternoon at the lovely ‘playa’…” (picturing some atmosphere as part of target information). If a tourist does not know that ‘playa’ is the Spanish word for beach, he may wonder whether he has to play some kind of game there. Other common problems at the level of syntax can occur when information is stated in miles or kilometres, Fahrenheit or Centigrade, in Euros or in Dollars.

     Finally, a tourist may encounter problems on the empirical level; the main problem really is whether a tourist has access to the Internet or not; during his holiday this may be a problem because of bad connections or no connections at all. We have to mention here that bad connections in general (including with cell phones) may lead to the problem of noise with consequently misleading or incomplete information.

     For tourists, ImpCal sources and the three different types of information can be applied differently, depending on the type of holiday they have chosen. They may go for travelling in a group, individually, on wild adventures or just a relaxing holiday. Let’s examine four examples:

Resort Tourism:

     The main ImpSource is the resort hotel itself. There are some simple and easily recognizable side Impsources (spa, horseback riding on the beach, golf course, big swimming pools, just to mention a few). These make it difficult for tourists to leave the premises, which means that tourists will hardly have any local impressions (shared Impsources) and no contact with the local population. Incidental ImpSources are unlikely to present themselves in such a controlled environment. The hotel staff will not help much in this sense either, since in most cases they are not from the local area either. This type of holiday is usually booked via a travel agent, which means that the tourist forms part of a series of active tourism networks that must ensure his quiet holiday at this resort hotel.

     The information the tourist will use for this type of holiday will consist of some basic factual information, such as flight details, local currency, voltage, any additional costs, the climate, etc. The target information forms the bulk of information the tourist gets and usually is the main reason why the tourist selected this particular holiday. This target information is dealing with concepts of relaxation, comfort, good food, many activities for children, swimming pools and an emphasis on side Impsources that ensure light-hearted entertainment. The social element with the other guests is also an argument used. The descriptive information has to complete the dream-picture of paradisiacal beaches, tropical gardens and a perfect climate. The same holds true, by the way, for holidays on Cruise ships.

Group Travel:

     This type of journey usually involves some well known main Impsources (highlights) and provides for possible visits to side Impsources. Hotels are quite comfortable, which often means there is a fair number of hotel staff from outside the region. The number of shared Impsources is limited. Every day the group drives through the country, enjoying the views, landscapes and villages. There is a new tendency to visit local schools or even visit local people at home in an attempt to increase ImpCal intake from shared Impsources.

     Factual information the average tourist will ask for is pretty basic, especially since the tourists are travelling in a group with an experienced tour guide who can provide any factual information needed.

     In this case too, target information plays a very important role, because this way of travelling is nearly always organized by a tour operator. These organisations form part of series of networks with local agents, hotels and transport companies. The descriptive information will have played its part at the time the tourist made up his mind about which holiday destination to choose and it may have come from many different sources. Nevertheless the influence from this type of information will probably be limited, because the decision to travel in a group means that the tourist has a certain interest in his fellow passengers, and he does not choose this type of holiday because of the typical local atmosphere he wants to experience. In the latter case he would have selected the following type of travelling.

Travelling individually (comfort):

     Depending on what the tourist wants, his holiday will consist of a series of main and side Impsources. Besides, there are the shared Impsources that are important because he is travelling through the countryside every day. The incidental Impsources (just the positive ones, we hope….) may also form an important part, but this always depends on the extent tourists are open to them.

     Factual information plays an important role since the tourist must find his way on his own. He therefore needs not only the standard factual information of the country, but also the specific details inherent to travelling in that country on his own. Target information depends to what extent the tourist has booked things in advance. It is often the case that a tourist studies target information but does not make use of the services offered by the providers (the tourist doesn’t hook into their network). Descriptive information is important for this type of tourist or holiday, because it can steer the tourist who has selected where to go while issues such as the atmosphere of a place will be taken into account.


     This is a totally different type of tourism whereby main and side Impsources are completely ignored, as a rule. First of all, backpackers depend on incidental Impsources and obviously they will have a fair share of shared Impsources. Factual information plays an important part and will be gathered mostly at the destination. Target information is nearly zero while the descriptive information will be important when the backpacker is deciding where to go, especially information stemming from fellow backpackers. The character of a certain place is important for this type of tourist, as is social contact with fellow travellers or locals.

Information and Expectations

     When thinking about what to do for his next holiday, the potential tourist will start to build up his expectation patterns little-by-little, which will then be fed along the way with more information. It is about developing ideas about possible destinations, what there is to do (Impsources), hotel options or different means of transport (infrastructure). Depending on the amount of time one has for holiday preparation, the potential tourist starts to build a picture of what he wants to do or to see, and what he expects. Additionally, most tourists want to make sure they get to see what there is to be seen. The tourist does not arrive at a holiday destination as a blank sheet of paper; to the contrary. Not only are his own referential frameworks and cultural and social behaviour patterns being taken to the holiday destination, his mind has been fed to a certain extent (some tourists more than others) with the fruits of factual, target and descriptive information. The blank page was already filled out with remarks, opinions, images, facts or views.

     Studying available tourist information will help the tourist set certain expectation patterns. Expectations are based on images and in turn an image is a simplification of reality. The latter is complex and cannot be caught in just one image. In the case of target information, specific selected images are used in an effort to give an idea of reality. In this image, something (an Impsource for example) is being reduced to its most important characteristics. This selection must have a purpose or direction and must connect with a target group. However, the image should not deviate too much from reality, because that could create expectations that would have to be fulfilled in order to avoid possible disappointment with the tourists.

     Images can be divided into material images, such as photographs, films or Web pages, and mental images, which are related to a person’s referential frameworks and earlier experiences. Target information uses material images primarily, while descriptive information relates more to mental images. Tourists build up particular knowledge of a destination (material images, target information) and on the other hand they have certain associations with the place (mental images, descriptive information).


Ganghes eng

Descriptive information through an image: life in India near the Ganghes River as a perfect setting for creating a mental image.

     Internal sources a person has 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 may 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.

     One interesting phenomenon is the interaction between what a tourist wants to see, what is shown to him that he should see, and what reality can offer. In this sense the concept of ‘tourist gaze’ has been developed (Urry, 1990). This is about the way an Impsource (for example) is illustrated (selection and simplification of images) in combination with the way the tourist looks at it. A tourist gaze can latch onto globalizing concepts such as the Caribbean atmosphere, or choose a completely different line of approach using a cultural or historical angle.

     The gaze invites tourists to look at things in a certain way and it therefore deals with the symbolic framing of an object or phenomenon with a clear target. Those who are inviting the tourists are the actors involved in one or more tourist networks. They may be tour operators or agents in a government tourist information office. Entities that want to incorporate tourists into their networks invite potential tourists to look at an Impsource from a certain angle, assuming that this way of looking coincides with what the tourist is looking for. The tourist is shown an image that contains recognizable elements that he can mirror himself in. This symbolic framing as part of the tourist gaze is mainly handled by the countries of origin of western tourists.

     In the case of the city of Granada in Nicaragua, the idea is to emphasize its cultural and historical background (as the oldest Spanish town in Latin America). Images of old churches and other edifices give life to this particular gaze. One tour operator describes a stay in Granada as follows: “A lovely place to hang around lazily, wooed by a refreshing breeze and to absorb the colourful local life and the charming colonial architecture.” Costa Rica adopted the idea of being nature-minded (as far as the tourist gaze is concerned) supported by the campaign slogan of “No Artificial Ingredients” with images of pristine rivers, empty beaches and green forests. Even though we are dealing here with general abstract concepts, this is still all about target information and the formation of images. These symbolic transformations of reality are generally directed at the western tourist. It should be clear that with the presentation of a limited number of images there are many things and phenomena at a destination that are not mentioned. In Costa Rica, the ways of life of the indigenous populations or the beauty of the geological landscape are not presented and will therefore hardly be noticed by tourists.

     The selection and simplification of images must answer questions regarding what things or phenomena they refer to, what can be said about them, and how this information is being presented.

A tourist attraction can be viewed as the relationship with its visitors, the object of phenomenon itself and the image presented of it.

     This holds true for main and side Impsources only because shared Impsources do not have a directedness or image, since they form part of the locals’ daily life. If the locals were to dress up just for tourists, they would become a tourist attraction in their own right, but when locals walk around in the same clothing as always, this might still be interesting for tourists (Guatemala!) but there is a lack of direction toward tourists and the local population remains authentic.

     Travel books may indicate that a certain village is quite picturesque (descriptive information – picturesque from the tourist’s point of view) or that on Saturdays there is such a colourful market. It is up to the tourist to use this information. However, most shared Impsources and obviously all incidental Impsources were not expected by the tourist beforehand. The tourist staying at an all-inclusive resort hotel will hardly experience any shared or incidental Impsources. The tourist cruising the country in his rental car will have contact with the local population every day and will experience things unknown to him beforehand. It may be clear that this depends to what extent a tourist is keen on encounters and is open to things that are new to him or different. Sometimes it is not always clear what ImpCal the tourists absorb or how this is processed. Poor huts may be seen by tourist as “typical little houses of the area” or the mist in a cloud forest may receive a comment about the amount of smog.

     At the receiving end of a message there may be another type of problem. Not all tourists have travelled a lot and there still are many of them who have never been on an airplane. There are even more tourists who have never strolled through a tropical forest or canoed in wild rivers. There are many experiences we may have read about or seen on TV, but we still can hardly imagine what they are like. There are countries or regions, landscapes or types of people that do not mean anything to us, due to our lack of referential frameworks or images in our memory. The only thing we can do in those cases is to take the presented images and promised experiences (target information) as factual information. If an area is presented as a paradise for birders but we lack references for what this means, we may expect to see hundreds of birds at any moment of the day and we complain if this is not the case. The material images (a simplification of reality) are taken as facts (reality). The same holds true for mental images. The Caribbean atmosphere may mean something to many of us, but those who do not know anything about the tropics will draw the logical conclusion that this atmosphere can only be found near the Caribbean Sea, otherwise this would be incorrect. Many tourists do not possess the necessary referential material to relate to certain images or have a gaze, in which case the image of the Caribbean atmosphere does not receive a response and cannot be mirrored with existing images in our memory. The tourist gaze taken literally does not work.

     This is a well known problem among travel organisations: descriptive information may be taken literally, mental images may be confused with material ones, and the message is not received on a pragmatic or semantic level. The direct result is translated into complaining tourists and the question of who is to blame: the travel organisation, who assumes that most tourists have sufficient referential material to mirror internally the images presented or the potential tourist who, by lack of experience, does not know how to handle target information. This raises the question whether it is a good idea for these tourists to go to destinations they know nothing about while travel organizations may wonder how to target their public more accurately.

Social Information

     Three types of information have been introduced that are most useful in tourism: factual information, target information and descriptive information. However, in light of the aforementioned tendencies, there is a fourth type of information of growing interest to tourism: social information as a result of Social Information Seeking (SIS). In recent years there have been a fast growing number of sites where people can ask questions and they are answered by groups of people or communities. One of the early examples is the site ‘Answerbag’ and since then more have sprung up – Yahoo!Answer being one of the most popular, so it seems.

     The basic idea is quite similar to the Wiki concept, of which Wikipedia is the most famous. Generally, a site consists of 4 parts: a mechanism whereby people can submit questions, a venue for submitting answers, the community built around this information exchange, and finally answers are indexed for search engines, thus enabling web users to find answers given to previously asked questions in response to new queries. This can be on world level or limited to specific groups of people with a common interest (communities). The term community is used here in the broadest sense of the word and those sites are called cQA sites. These kinds of sites began to appear on the Internet in 2003 and they have been a growing phenomenon ever since. Apart from this, there was already a tendency for people to ask for information via the Internet, rather than trying to find it themselves. An ever increasing number of people seem to think “why bother seeking an answer when the Internet can connect me with the people who have it?” On forums and similar communication platforms the habit of asking questions is also growing quickly.

     The possibilities for those interested in tourism are enormous and cQA sites may provide a necessary link between (pre-) tourists and the people from a destination or local community. Due to the fast-growing influences of the various Internet applications that provide people with information and the tools for acquiring specific data such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques, potential tourists can find a lot more information directly on the Internet and the additional cQA sites carry the concepts even further along a new route of social information exchange. Obviously this refers not only to tourism, but to the world in general.

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Holiday Complaints

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

Do holidays without complaints exist? Not even minor remarks such as “the rice was cold” or similar? It seems nearly impossible because this would mean our expectations were set perfectly and that is only possible when we know precisely what is coming, as in the case with repeat destinations.

There is always a difference between what we expect and our travel experiences and when this difference turns out to be worse than expected, we may be disappointed; the next step may be that we file a complaint. In other words a complaint is the result of a disappointment with something that turned out worse than we could reasonably expect – at least this is our premise.

The most clear-cut case occurs when a contracted service was not rendered. When a tourist reserves and pays for a stay at a 4-star hotel and ends up in a little boarding house, then he is right in complaining and wanting his money back. When a tourist was supposed to be picked up from the airport but the driver did not turn up, then the company that sold the service is at fault and the tourist will undoubtedly complain about it. How he complains and with how much fuss depends on the tourist himself and the reaction of the travel organization concerned.

However, unfulfilled expectations are not the only reason for complaints. A tourist may get frustrated by the end of his holiday for completely different reasons (a quarrel with the partner, continuously bad weather or money problems), whereby a tourist may accuse everybody around him for the possible failure of the holiday when in fact this was not the case. Then there are the people who always complain in order to satisfy a need for this and their attitude that they “not get their leg pulled” can often be noticed among those travelling alone. There are also those who hope to get some money back somehow by complaining. In many countries nowadays there are government councils or boards dealing with just that: the holiday complaint, and as long as a tourist can show that in some way a travel organization may have failed in some detail, they will try to obtain a refund – an ever more popular pastime among tourists so it seems.

When the travel brochure for a certain hotel claims that hundreds of parakeets fly by every morning, a tourist staying there who spots only a few may file a complaint, not so much against the parakeets, but demanding some recompense from the travel organization where he booked the holiday arrangement. Whether he gets some money back depends on whether the information in the travel brochure was presented as factual or simply descriptive information.

Let us have a look at the tourist’s general disposition concerning the holiday evaluation. We can distinguish two groups concerning the direct result of the holiday:

1. The result was caused by internal factors, such as being poorly (or very well) informed, or the motivations were wrong in which case the tourists take a large part of the responsibility for the success or failure of the holiday;

2. The result was caused by external factors, such as the attitude of the local population or the weather, which means that tourists shift the blame from themselves.

Then there are the influences on the consequences:

A. Consequences can be controlled through the experiences and observations of tourists themselves;

B. Consequences cannot be controlled due to certain conditions at the destinations or because of fellow travellers for example.

When a tourist blames the failure of his holiday on bad weather (raining every day) and moreover he reproaches the tour leaders for not having organized any alternative activities (points 2 and B) we are dealing with external and uncontrollable consequences at the same time and with it this type of tourist avoids any type of personal responsibility, personal involvement or interest. This type of tourist complains most of the time and the failure of the holiday does not even affect him that much, precisely because of his lack of involvement. His expectations were broad from the beginning onwards, although he may suddenly claim the opposite: “I was so keen on seeing that botanical garden, that is why I booked the trip” although this tourist had never alluded to this before.

The opposite case (points 1 and A) concern tourists that make their decisions consciously, assume responsibility, are usually well informed and not conflictive by nature. This type of tourist likes to learn and his expectations are narrow as far as information permits. When his suitcase does not arrive with him on the flight, he will take care of the issue himself and may even buy some clothes without bothering the travel organization involved (if that were the case).

Obviously, most tourists are somewhere in between. An important issue is to what extent the tourist takes some responsibility and the tourists according to group 1 are the ones with the fewest complaints, unless a travel organization really fails. Another example, however, is when a tourist complains about a service or a hotel, but continues using the service or simply stays in the hotel. One of the points when dealing with complaints from a tourist about a service he contracted concerns whether he took steps to solve the problem (looking for another hotel) or continued staying at the hotel without saying anything. In the latter case we are dealing with case 2B and the customer service department of any travel organization will be reluctant to reimburse any money. In other words, when dealing with complaints the point is whether the case is 2B or not 2B – that is the question.

There are also tourists that are quiet conformists and do not feel like complaining. They take responsibility for the failure, even when there might not have been one and they will say that “they have had interesting experiences anyway and you can learn from bad experiences too,” trying to upgrade their travel evaluation a little. In this case we are dealing with tourists who deny what is really going on, because they do not want to have any negative experience. This type of tourist (1B) does not usually file complaints.

Internal causes

Internal causes for a holiday failure can first of all be attributed to a lack of travel preparation, which encompasses wrong travel motivation, a wrong selection of information sources or the misinterpretation of information in general. When a travel brochure announces a jungle safari tour by boat through small inner canals and a tourist asks whether his cabin on the boat is a seaside or an inner one, this tourist did not understand the travel organization’s proposal and there is confusion between target and factual information perhaps, or this tourist really wanted to go on a cruise, but picked up a jungle safari brochure by mistake.

On a different level, internal causes concern a tourist’s mood and physical condition, possible problems with fellow travellers or bad timing of the travel programme.

External causes

External causes may obviously concern the weather, not having the right type of shoes, wrong (factual) information, or safety or security problems within a region or crime. With these kinds of factors in particular we can more clearly distinguish which tourists are able to make decisions and take responsibilities. A holiday with setbacks and some bad luck in which the tourist himself manages to get positive travel experiences is even more satisfying than one that goes exactly as planned. Furthermore, tourists like to come home with some tall stories to tell and holiday mishaps (boat motor breakdown, closed bridges, etc.) are often later remembered as great adventures.

Another phenomenon is when a tourist suddenly has a bad day, especially in the case of the more intensive holiday experience. This can be on a mental as well as a physical level. The adaptability a tourist must show all day long (most things are different from home) can simply run out and the tourist stops adapting. It is not uncommon to see some aggressive behaviour, or the exact opposite: the tourist wants to stay in bed all day. Fellow travellers find it difficult to react to this but the tourist is usually fine again the next day. On this one bad day he may start openly complaining about everything around him to the point of getting angry with everyone.

There are several other mechanisms at work. With group travel there are tourists who use complaining as form of behaviour to assure them a particular role within the group. This tourist may be negative about everything, telling other travellers they should not let themselves be fooled, that everything is bogus, and that they should ask for their money back.

The form of the complaint is a different story. The Internet has opened up many new ways to air any criticisms or complaints through forums, blogs or other means and there are many ways tourists can spit their venom. The first step consists of sending a letter to the travel organization (hotel, tour operator etc.) concerned and this letter contains a certain threat, apart from the rather exaggerated story of what happened. This threat may involve the use of lawyers, filing complaints at government entities or tell the story “for the whole world to see” on the Internet. Then the tourist will ask for a certain reimbursement – better said he demands his money back – and additional hardship compensation. The tone of the letter is aggressive and wrathful. To what extent he really feels like this remains unclear and we have to realize that we are talking about emotions after a holiday which are interpretations of what happened. The moment of anger may have influenced the Impcal intake and differences from what was expected may lead to disappointments; afterwards it may turn out that he made a drama out of a small incident. In these cases we are dealing with tourists who are avoiding a great deal of responsibility and have a tendency to blame others. Obviously, the exception is when the travel organization did make a big mistake and does not want to deal with the consequences. Even the most responsible tourist will have to complain and possibly take legal steps; in the latter case he will not show anger but will instead present hard facts and proof.


To what extent the tourist’s nationality plays a part in his complaint behaviour is not clear, because of a lack of research. Many tourists from outside Europe are impressed with its old culture and will therefore complain little. But when a Spaniard travels to Latin America he may feel superior and will find everything below par, which may lead to complaints. Asia is still associated with poor populations, so possible complaints will be limited to the 5-star hotels and the food. An Englishman will nearly always be polite when complaining (also in written form), while tourists from Belgium can be very rude indeed.

We are dealing here with the phenomenon of how well a population is organized with respect to outside threat. I refer to the publications of Dr. Geert Hofstede (see about cultural dimensions, wherein he explains that each nationality has a certain “Uncertainty Avoidance Index”, meaning that each society has its own way of handling uncertainties. It involves the extent to which a society prepares its members to feel comfortable in uncertain circumstances. Societies that try to avoid uncertainties impose strict rules and regulations as well as many security measures; on philosophical and religious levels they believe in absolute truth: there is only one truth and they’ve got it. These types of societies are emotional as far as character is concerned and they are motivated by inner nervous energy. The opposite case, whereby uncertainties are more easily accepted, people are more tolerant to opinions that differ from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible and on a philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side. People within these cultures are more phlegmatic and contemplative and are not expected to express emotions in their environment.

Countries with high UAI (risk avoiding) are Argentina and Chile, both with 86. In Europe, Spain and France have UAIs of 90, Italy’s is 82 and Belgium’s is the highest with 94. However, India has an index of 40, England 41, USA 46 and Holland 53. The Scandinavian countries score 35. The world average is 64.

We can see a certain resemblance to the number and type of complaints we observe in tourism, although no research has been directed at this issue and any resemblance does not imply that there is a connection between the two. The strong and often emotional complaints from Belgian tourists coincide with their very high UAI, while the British tourist is more flexible. Spanish and Italian tourists complain easily while this is not the case with the Dutch. Practice shows that nationality has something to do with the number and types of complaints and the UAI as proposed by Dr. Hofstede may help us understand this so that travel organizations can take it into account on international level.

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One Response to “Holiday Complaints”

  1. I find your article very interesting and I encourage you to write a similar one from the side of the tourism services suppliers. I am a tour guide (you can read reviews about my work on trip advisor or tours by locals, last one under Hector B) and we have our own story to tell, sometimes very negative experiences from travellers. I just had a group of 3 Chinese-Canadian travellers and to tour them was a nightmare. Do you know of a blog or web site where service suppliers could review and rank travellers? Because we are at the mercy of travellers reviews and whatever careful you response is, your reputation is hurt.
    Thank you and congratulations for your article.
    Best regards.

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The pre-tourist stage

Before people go on holidays there is first of all a motivation, leading to a need, which in turn will set the first expectations for a destination. The basic assumption here is that tourists, once they have decided on their holiday destination, not only develop the corresponding expectations, they also form a direct interest in a destination with a certain amount of involvement at the same time. Once selected, a destination is seen in a different light – it has become THEIR destination.

Generally speaking motivation, need and interest are related to a certain holiday destination, whereby a certain feeling of economic involvement is developed (e.g. leaving as much money as possible at the destination itself and not with travel organizations); secondly they may have a feeling of solidarity specifically with future generations (their own and those of the people at the destination); thirdly there should be a commitment to protecting biodiversity; fourth, there is social responsibility; and fifth, there must be respect for other cultures. We mention here five different levels of showing interest, notions that should be shared by most tourists. These in turn can be translated into a uniform behaviour pattern among tourists at a destination

The same five components refer to the three pillars on which the concepts of sustainable development are based: planet, people and profit. In the case of economic involvement this is obvious; then there are the elements of solidarity and commitment referring to the planet, while social responsibility and cultural respect refer to people. In this case interest and involvement in a destination relate to a fairly recent tendency among people to communicate actively with groups or individual people from other cultures. The growing interest people show in other peoples’ ways of living or in the environment in general seems to be closely linked to many Internet developments, of which the social networks (such as Facebook and Twitter) are the most noteworthy.

On this webpage you can find various articles on the pre-tourist stage, concerning motivation, expectations and the decision taking process.

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Tourists and Travellers

Tourists and Travellers

The difference between Tourists and Travellers

The travellers of earlier days set out on a journey for many different reasons, such as family visits, health reasons (Spa resorts), to learn languages, to get practical experience (painting, cooking, etc.), to give lectures, for temporary employment or to gain knowledge and experience in general. Depending on the circumstances, these travellers were passengers, guests, diners, visitors, pupils or participants. The concept of a holiday did exist, but it did not yet have this compulsory tendency of being away from home as an urgent need.

A more recent phenomenon is travelling to do nothing (beach holiday) or to travel without having a clear idea of what to do. The concept of “tourism” was developed fully from the 1950s onwards – before, people were travelling. Some hundred years ago one would stay for a couple of days with friends in the countryside or go to a local beach, but during the twentieth century the concept of tourism started to develop and nowadays in the Western world, people go for holidays at least 3 or 4 weeks per year. As a result of a growing population and better economic conditions in the Western world, millions of people take long holidays and in the twenty-first century the holiday has become something sacred, nobody seems to be able to do without it anymore, in great contrast to the developing world. From the West enormous transport networks were set up for buses, trains and planes and in order to confront these fast growing tendencies, series of big resort hotels were erected. A pattern of big investments was developed, hand in hand with huge international travel organizations and advertising machinery and people started to talk about the tourist industry. The people who were travellers before became clients of this industry (tourists) and while in earlier days travelling was a social activity, from the 1960s on it became an economic matter of supply and demand. While in earlier days the travellers accepted how other places were, the modern tourist insists more and more that his destination be adapted to his taste and interests.

Tourists are travellers, but it must be clear that most travelling people are not tourists. The tourist travels voluntarily, while other travellers have a specific, cogent reason why they must travel. The tourist feels he is a client and wants to be treated as such, while the average traveller sees the different parts of his journey as single elements he himself has selected and therefore he more easily accepts the way things are at a destination.

Changes of the concept of “tourist”

While the number of tourists may have increased enormously during the last twenty years, the same holds true for travellers. People travel more than ever as a result of globalizing tendencies, easy connections by plane and growing communications via the Internet. Airplanes travel full of passengers, but how many among them are real tourists is increasingly difficult to establish and there is less need to make this separation. In a hotel you have guests and whether they are business people, sportsmen or lecturers does not really interest the hotel owner.

Tour operators or travel organizations in general also show the tendency to offer travel arrangements for people that are not necessarily labelled as tourists. Sports events are a good example: to what extent soccer supporters are tourists is questionable, but the players themselves definitely do not fall into this category. The result, however, is the same: transfer to the airport – flight – transfer to a hotel – overnight stay. This arrangement is the foundation of most journeys, while the airport may be exchanged for a bus or railway station.

Apart from the fact that the difference between tourists and travellers has become blurred, there are other reasons, too, why we should re-conceptualize the notion of who is a tourist. From the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st it has become clear that economic growth is levying a heavy toll on nature and that people are taking more from the Earth than she can spare for us. It has become urgent to impose measures for protecting the Earth and setting up development visions directed at future generations is one of the answers. It is clear by now that imposing these sustainability measures has to be carried out on all levels, which means that the tourist himself has to be involved, too. However, the image of the client being king interferes with this. This client insists on his rights and is guided by temporary fashionable trends; this client wants more and more luxury and still has a tendency to do things during his holiday he is not allowed to do at home. It is becoming clear that this image of the tourist as client and the tourist industry as just an economic activity is no longer in tune with the reality of a planet that needs urgent rescuing.

There are millions of travellers in the world every day and all carry the same responsibility for the environment, at the same level as airlines, hotels, transport companies or tourist attractions. However, it seems to be clear, too, that most people are not aware of doing any harm. The professional soccer player of the Champions League does not bother about environmental issues, although those soccer players travel thousands of miles yearly. People usually hold the airlines responsible. But is this right? From an economic viewpoint perhaps it is: airlines offer a service and have to be held responsible for it. The economic viewpoint emphasizes supply, demand and market principles. It should be clear by now that the notion of ‘client’ forms a barrier for travellers in realizing that they are the ones who are travelling and therefore that they must take responsibility for their actions.

The modern travellers

For travellers, assuming that tourists are among them, we can distinguish two levels of influencing the environment, a local population or a local economy. First of all a traveller can try to make sure when choosing a hotel, means of transport, attraction or way of payment, that sustainability considerations prevail. He will adopt a critical attitude and make sure that all services contracted are clean or environmentally-friendly services. The second level concerns the traveller who takes care not to pollute the destination, avoids buying endless numbers of plastic bottles, switches off the air-conditioning when leaving his room, and general tries to leave as clean a ‘footprint’ as possible.

However, there are issues that can be noticed much more clearly among tourists than in the case of ordinary travellers. The tendency to insist increasingly on more luxury is quite obvious among tourists, but hardly noteworthy among the other travellers. As in a supermarket where you can find products wrapped in seductive and expensive plastic wrapping (the packing being often more expensive than the content), the tourist wants beautiful, fully-equipped bathrooms, Jacuzzi, noiseless remote controlled air-conditioning, refrigerator, mini-bar, Wi-Fi and big, flat screen cable TV. It is about many extra things that are, just like the expensive supermarket wrappers, simply harmful for the environment and do not enhance the holiday experience. Is this the hotel’s problem or the tourist’s? Shouldn’t this tourist desist from his rights as a ‘client’ and become again a normal traveller, who cares for the environment, who realizes that exaggerated water usage may affect a local environment, who understands that any excess is harmful and that the account of this harm will be rendered to the next generations?

Airlines were the first to give up this ‘client’ concept under pressure of the 2001 twin tower disaster; all passengers now are subject to the same rigid security checks and there is no point in claiming that you are an important client. Under the pressure of environmental issues, measures should be introduced that go well beyond the ‘client’ concept, converting clients and tourists into simple travellers again who have to follow certain rules.

Up till now – 2010 – this separation between travellers and tourists still exists, even on a United Nations level (World Tourism Organization). Although there are efforts to widen the scope of the concept of tourism with terms such as health tourism, golf tourism or culinary tourism and nowadays business people are “officially” considered to be tourists, it is increasingly more difficult to keep tourists and travellers apart and the same UN organization should perhaps be renamed the World Travel Organization.

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After the Holiday

When arriving home at the end of the holiday, the traveller still feels some of the atmosphere of all the places visited, but at the same time the process starts to be absorbed again by the daily work routine. Then there is the stage of showing pictures and videos to friends, acquaintances and colleagues or publishing them on the Internet. This includes giving travel advice to friends, recommending some things and ignoring others; finally, the whole “audience” gets to know the final verdict: a more-or-less successful holiday. Rarely will the tourist say at the end, “Never again!” They may think it, but they will rarely say this out loud, since the choice of holiday destination was made by the tourist himself and he will not likely confess that he was wrong. All impressions will start to fade, images and experiences become interposed, some things will be forgotten (usually the least pleasant ones), and finally the person will be left with some general impressions. It must be clear that the latter process may take months or even years. The holiday has finished and now he has to wait until the next one can begin.

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Living the Experience

Experiencing in tourism

Puffing and panting with red faces, they follow the small track up the hill. They no longer hear the noises of the crickets, mosquitoes and birds and the only thing they are trying to see is how much father they have to go. They are nearly to the point where the forest breaks open and the lowlands are lying far below their feet. They finally reach the clearing and the majestic view is laid out before them: WOW! They enjoy this breathtaking vista, in part because of the difficult walk they endured.

It is this moment – the climax – that provokes the wow reaction in some parts of the world (depending on the language), what we call the wow-moment. When we talk about tourism, we are first of all referring to this moment as the essence of what a tourist is looking for and for which he has saved his money: experiencing something that is not in the same region or country where he lives, to which he had to travel and spend at least one night, in short, the holiday. How exactly does this wow-moment work? And what is the meaning of “experience” in tourism?

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Photography and Tourism

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Photography and Tourism

       With the growing popularity of digital photography it is becoming increasingly clear that tourists cannot go on holidays anymore without a camera. During the second half of the 20th century tourists were content with taking 50 to 100 photographs but today people take more than a thousand pictures with no problem, propelled by a tendency to record anything that seems different from their home environment. It must be clear that the role photos play in holidays has changed and therefore for the tourists as well. This may seem obvious but in reality, little research has been done to determine the extent to which the camera rules the holiday or whether the tourist is still in control.

       Apart from these tendencies, there are still “old-fashioned” tourists – and there are many of them – who just take a few snapshots here and there even though they could push the shutter button a thousand times for free.

Let us study this phenomenon a bit closer in the light of the tourists’ tourism: the influence of ImpCal sources and the resulting expectations tourists have on photography and vice versa.

The photograph

       The sheer fact of what a photograph really is has now become a difficult question. Most photos do not survive the phase of simply being glanced at on the camera’s micro-screen, only to be deleted quickly. Then there is the photo shown on a computer or television screen – here we are talking about the really good pictures. The absolute top pictures may reach the important stage of being printed in different formats or forms. During the beginning of the 21st century it was the screen format of the photograph that began to dominate, while the printed version was losing its importance to some extent. More and more tourists show their pictures on the Internet, to the great relief of family and friends who were harassed in earlier times by having to watch photo albums or slide shows. In this sense it is interesting to see how photographs have become images more than pictures, mainly because of their enormous quantities. Tourists take ten pictures of the same thing, erase five and remain in doubt about the other five, which ones are the best and should be kept. These five pictures form one image.

       What is this image and what is its function? I assume that a photograph is a fragmented and subjective documentation of tangible and intangible memories, whereby two worlds are evoked at the same time: the material and the immaterial ones. The image suggests something of reality, but at the same time it presents us with a symbol to be interpreted.

       Each photograph taken by a tourist is loaded with symbolic significance or value. The reason why a photo has been taken and the way it is done show the vision, the ideas and referential frameworks of the photographer. The moment a picture is made, it is just that: a picture and the ties with reality have been broken.


Moreno photo

Seeing often means imaging in tourism. Observation with the naked eye sometimes is made subordenate in the process of experiencing.

       When talking about images in tourism, we can see their function as a cycle. When the tourist decides to go 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 (material as well as mental ones) 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 by new information and (photographic) images. On arrival in Patagonia, the process of putting the images to the test will begin, while at the same time the tourist is adding his own recently shot photos. At the end of the holidays all the pictures are studied extensively (or not) and they serve as experience for the next holiday, but also as informational material for family, friends or colleagues, with which the cycle closes. The tourist will use his pictures later as pegs for his holiday memories. These memories may fade when time passes, while the images of the pictures linger on, unless things or phenomena were so impressive that they continue to be present in our memory. A glacier’s blue colour is so intense it is hardly possible to capture this phenomenon in a picture, but it will remain stamped on one’s memory – at least in my case.

       It may be that some tourists will skip certain parts in this cycle. “How was your trip to Patagonia?” “I do not know, because I have not seen the pictures yet” is such example, while another tourist may cry out desperately “I wish I had taken more pictures, and then I would have had more holiday memories!” The role of material as well as mental images are inseparably linked to tourism, at least as far as the organized part of tourism is concerned. Later on in this article we shall see that tourists arranging their own journey often show a different behaviour in this respect.

The tourist as photographer

       Three levels of photography can be distinguished in tourism. First of all there is the photographer, then there is the moment of taking a picture, and finally there is the usage of these pictures.

       Let us have a look at the tourist as photographer. The photograph may play an important part in tourism; it all starts with the photographer, his camera and his relation to his immediate social environment. The latter concerns family or friends and when the tourist is travelling in a group, it concerns his fellow travelers as well. There is a fast growing number of tourists who think of their camera as a calling-card for other people in the group and they really like to present their camera as such. Usually we are dealing with expensive brand names and, secondly, many attachments, such as lenses or tripods, also play their part. This issue is further emphasized by the rather extroverted way pictures are taken demonstratively; the photographer will lie down flat on the ground to have the best angle (“the real photographer has to suffer”) and more than anything else there are the loud comments on the camera’s special settings. As complicated as digital photography may have become, many tourists carry two camera´s with them: an expensive one for the impressive pictures and a simple automatic one for taking pictures quickly without hassle, demonstrating that photography can hardly be separated from tourism anymore.

       Another issue is the tall stories about how a tourist was able to take a certain impressive picture, thanks to sudden circumstances. The stories sound similar to the hunting stories from earlier days and the photograph takes the place of game as trophies (the fisherman with his huge catch). A central part in these stories is the way that the tourist spotted the possible picture right on time. While the average listener may get bored with this, it emphasizes exactly the tourist’s unique holiday feeling of what he has experienced and no one else will understand.

       Another typical attitude of the holiday photographer should be mentioned here. When staying in a foreign country, a tourist is on his guard, he may feel unsure or afraid, especially about any negative reaction on behalf of the locals against his presence. The solution to this problem can be simple: the tourist hides behind his camera. He is putting up a face as if to say “this isn’t me” and he evades direct contact with the people around him. The tourist feels like a neutral observer and thinks (hidden behind his camera) that he is not interrupting anything and that he can take authentic pictures. The camera plays the role of intermediary between reality and the tourist, not only in the sense that the picture taken is not reality anymore, but the photographer from behind his camera shuns this same reality: Them > My Camera > and Me.


shy photographer

The tourist in the background filming taking on the role of outsider trying not to interfere.

       We should also add that there are still tourists who display nearly the opposite behaviour: they apologize, take one picture and put their camera away quickly, hence creating an opportunity for social contact. This group of tourists is now in the minority but this was different in the past.

Taking pictures

       As stated earlier, there are different reasons for taking a picture and deciding what to do with it afterwards. The motivations for taking particular pictures are diverse and depend mostly on the photographer himself. However, there are some general trends.

       The most noticeable characteristic of a holiday picture taken of some tourist attraction is the presence of the tourist himself, a friend or a family member standing right in front it. There are several explanations. When dealing with a tourist highlight (a main Impsource) it is obvious that a picture must be taken, but in such a way that the photograph does not look like any of the photos in the travel brochures or on the Internet. Tourists are opposed to the material imaging presented by travel organizations. Everybody knows that hundreds of pictures have been published of that famous glacier, but the tourist wants to make clear that his picture is unique by putting himself right there in front of it. It is one way of indicating that this is his picture and not something copied from the Internet.

       Another reason is that a tourist wants to keep something from this moment and he wants to have something tangible as a reminder and a memory at the same time. On the same level as a photograph with you in front of a more-or-less impressive Impsource, it is one way of saying “I was here!”, just as in the old days people carved their names on a tree trunk or scribbled their names on a wall – with the date.

       The character of the holiday photograph usually portrays something idyllic, picturesque, impressive or extraordinary. The camera is maneuvered in such a way that the garbage bin cannot be seen and a tourist nearly risks his life to avoid a lamppost blocking a gorgeous view. The more professional photographer will try to arrange the colors as warm and full as possible. These images correspond to the ones of an ideal holiday as portrayed in travel brochures, guide books or Internet advertisements. First of all the tourist wants to see what he expects to see and those expectations with corresponding material images dominate the first experiences more than the reality that a tourist can experience by absorbing ImpCal. Many tourists wonder how it would feel to live in such a picturesque village, and they try to see the authenticity of it while refusing to recognize any ugly aspects. The dream of what is original, a bit old-fashioned and authentic is very much alive among Western tourists and this can be noticed from the holiday pictures.

       At the same time, there are other mechanisms at work. There is the phenomenon of the shutter-urge: the tourist who cannot get his finger off the shutter button and keeps on taking pictures. He may reach the point of not experiencing anything anymore – no ImpCal intake of any kind – but he just looks at the world through his camera’s little screen. Just like a little kid who points his finger at anything that draws his attention, this tourist points his camera toward anything that is different from his home environment and presses the button. By the way, this type of tourist hardly looks at the pictures taken. What is important is the moment of taking the picture and not the image that is being recorded.

       Another facet is that tourists want to share their experiences with their friends. One imagines how a friend would react to seeing what you saw. The tourist wants to make their friends and family part of their experiences and that is the reason for taking pictures. How true this may be and quite often what happens is that the tourist really wants to show what marvelous pictures he can take and how fantastic his holiday was, to the envy of his friends. People want to take spectacular pictures thinking of the home crowd, although only few manage to reach the objective.

       What plays a dominant part among many tourists is the urge to see as many as interesting things as possible to be able to make interesting pictures. When you miss a highlight, you miss the chance to shoot some good material. The disappointment when a dense fog hides a glacier is not limited to the failure to see this spectacle, it also means the tourist cannot take pictures of it and has to return empty handed. Expectations also play their part in this process, obviously.

The Use of Holiday Pictures

       Whatever motivations a tourist may have had at the moment of taking a specific photograph, what happens to that picture afterwards is a completely different story. After their holidays, most tourists decide what to do with the thousands of pictures they took, since only then do they realize the potential each picture has. Here we touch one of the fundamental differences between tourist photographers and professional photographers.

       A tourist selects his pictures mainly after the holiday has finished and the time factor usually plays its part. First of all, this selection concerns all the bad pictures, the ones that did not turn out well at all or those for which the tourist can no longer remember what he was trying to capture (such as a wide-angle shot of a forest where you have to spot the little bird). Deleting photos is not one of the favorite pastimes of any tourist, but it is a necessary job to avoid clogging up the computer. Sporadically a dark, blurred picture may serve as screensaver, but many of the pictures will have to be erased.



A bad picture (taken through a wet car window) may suddenly turn out to be a work of art – or not.

       The selection of what are considered to be ‘good’ pictures depends entirely on the tourist. A selection for the photo album (on a blog or other Internet tool) is made while bearing in mind the comments of friends or colleagues. Next, a certain vanity plays its part, too. Any photograph where you appear in a rather silly, dull or ugly position may be deleted quickly, in spite of the impressive background the picture may have.

       Obviously the tourist wants to show off the beautiful pictures he took and the notion of what is beautiful depends more on the content than the technical quality. Wild animals, ravishing views, colourful markets or romantic sunsets are what the tourist is after. Pictures with both attributes – interesting content and high technical standards – are the top photographs all friends and family will be shown extensively. One wants to show how special that holiday was and what great adventures have been lived.

       Another point involves the issues of the memories one has and wants to keep. The photograph serves as a peg to hang memories on. Clearly a photograph evokes a series of memories. The picture of Mary slipping in the mud will circulate among the family for years. Mentioning the incident may not evoke any laughs, but watching the picture itself of Mary lying in the mud will get the same laughs over and over again.

       Those who took few or no pictures during their holidays struggle with the problem of how not to forget things when they do not have tangible things to remind them. Memories are grouped in this case and when one of those memories appears in response to some outside stimulus, the rest will turn up, too.

       A completely different reason for keeping pictures is for historic reasons. One day tourists may want to show children or grandchildren how things were in earlier times. Another point in this case is the diary function that photos may serve to ensure the tourist does not forget the order in which his holiday adventures occurred.

Photographs and Experiences

       In the Pre-tourist / Tourist / Post-tourist chain, expectations play a fundamental part. Tourists start off with expectations and finish their vacation with them. Expectations are mainly based on images and this means that photographs play a crucial role. We are talking about photos presented by travel organizations or tourist boards on the one hand and those taken by tourists on the other.

       The tourist sees first of all what he expects to see. When a tourist has narrow expectations (when he has a clear idea of what he is going to experience) the tourist’s eye and his camera look for what he has seen before – in travel brochures or on TV for example. This is mostly the case with main and side Impsources that are well documented on the Internet and quite familiar to the tourists, since their choice of holiday may have been based on them.

       Tourists with broad expectations (those with no clear idea of what to expect) or those with none must first see what is going on before they can start taking pictures. This is especially the case for shared and incidental Impsources whereby anything occurring among a local population may be considered suitable for a picture. With this type of photograph the tourist’s interpretation plays a more pronounced role, not only because he selects the picture’s topic, but he composes it as well. With this type of Impsource it is nearly impossible to stand in front of a picture and it is unlikely there will be any resemblance to previously encountered commercial photos. When something sudden happens, the only thing a tourist can do is grab his camera and shoot pictures as quickly as possible (feeling like a journalist), secretly hoping they will be top pictures no one has ever taken (although practice proves differently). In other words we see that there is a difference in the type of pictures in the case of main and side Impsources versus the ones taken of shared or incidental ones.

       There is something else that plays an important part. An Impsource may be object related authentic (absolutely real in all meanings), but this is often not the case in tourism. In the case of main and side Impsources, what is of importance is the story that goes with the Impsource and the light shed on it. This type of authenticity-with-a-story is called symbol related authenticity and it is important in the organized part of what we call tourism. Often we see that what counts for a tourist is the story about a thing or phenomenon, even more than the thing itself. Expectations play a crucial role and even more so when travel organizations fuel them. On a photograph, how can we see this difference between object or symbol related authenticity? The so-called authentic Indian tribe which turned out to be little indigenous or not authentic at all may create a feeling of real disappointment for tourists. However, when the story around the show makes it clear that the modern Indian dresses up to show tourists how the indigenous people used to live, this may lead to an authentic experience among tourists and many interesting pictures can be taken. Back home later on it will be hard to see whether the indigenous people in the pictures were authentic Indians or not. The photograph does not show the difference between object or symbol related authenticity. Here we see the enormous difference between the moment of taking a picture and what happens to the picture afterwards. The photograph shows us just one image, which may be authentic or not – and the picture will not reveal its secret. What is real and looks like real become interposed. It also makes clear the strength a picture has: all too soon one assumes that what you see on the picture is real and all too easily people believe in the way things appear to be.

       There is also the point of what should be considered more important: the experience itself or the tangible and intangible memories one keeps; in other words there is that feeling that if no photograph has been taken, no experience has been gained. Obviously this is not true in practice, but the intake of ImpCal being processed into an experience may intertwine with memories based on pictures, whereby the latter may win the battle because of the principle of reconfirmation. When there is no picture of a certain incident, it may disappear from our memory faster than in the case the incident was recorded – at least that is what many people feel. That is why it is said that photographing shapes a holiday – and definitely the holiday experience. The risk one runs is that the holiday experience turns into a photographic experience and nothing else. One thing that is certain is that people do not want to miss a highlight, because then they are missing the chance of taking impressive pictures.

No pictures taken

       There are groups of tourists who take few or no photos at all. The average backpacker takes few pictures because it does not suit his style of travelling, whereby incidental and sudden incidents shape the journey. Meeting people is important in this case and the few photographs will be of the people they met by chance on their way.

       The truly idealistic tourist (see the TLS-scale) will be careful in handling his camera. For example, in the case of rural tourism, when staying at a farmer’s house, the tourist will not shoot pictures all day long. It is all about shared Impsources and the tourist will not have a clear idea what he can expect and he will be much more discrete with the use of his camera.

       There are also tourists who hardly consider themselves as such. The businessman who has to stay in a foreign town over a weekend may decide to play the role of tourist for a couple of days. His behaviour is different from the common tourist however, and as far as photography is concerned he will take only a few pictures since business people have not prepared themselves mentally to run around with a camera. There are many tourists who are at a certain destination for other reasons and their behaviour is different, mainly because of different expectation patterns.

       Nevertheless, for the vast majority of tourists photography is an inseparable part of their vacation and it gives the tourist an opportunity to better shape his holiday experiences. To what extent photography is now dominating the holiday or the other way around remains an interesting question whereby personal ideas and attitudes still rule.

       Finally we can mention that most of what has been said about photography here holds true for videos or any type of digital film material.

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