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: Motivation and needs

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Motivation and Needs

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

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

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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