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: Evaluation

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The Evaluation

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The influence of previous experiences

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

The influence of an experience by endowment:

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

The influence of an experience by contrast:

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

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

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

The Evaluation and Expectations

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

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

(see more about expectations at: )

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

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

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

The Evaluation and the Experiences

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

The experience has three functions in tourism:

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

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

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

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

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

There are two ways we can evaluate a holiday:

Continuous evaluation

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

Final evaluation:

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

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

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

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

The evaluation of what was not expected

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

file limon eng

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Evaluation and Sustainability

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

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

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

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

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

The Holiday Hangover

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

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

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

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

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

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