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).

Liminality and Tourism

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

Marketing ‘Inbetweenness’


 Accelerated changes in style and speed of daily life in Western societies have sparked an urgent need for new tools to analyse the increasingly rapidly changing tourism markets and especially the tourists themselves. Hasty life styles, intensified communications and many other globalizing trends impede free self realization of most individuals living in the so-called developed countries and holidays have therefore grown in importance to counter the negative effects western life styles are causing. Escaping used to be the main motivation for a majority of holiday-makers, but conditions in Western societies seem to force people towards a search for re-encountering their true selves.

As part of the reflexive approach to tourism, in this article changing tourist behaviour is analysed as well as the involvement and the experiencing tourists show during their holidays, since these are of fundamental importance for an understanding of market changes in the hospitality sector and tourism in general. The period a tourist temporarily abandons social status and home influences can be described as a time of transition and transformation; 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 situation of a betwixt and between. Postmodern tourists are locked into an ‘inbetweenness’ of two cultures, of falseness and authenticity or of constraint and spontaneity.

Inbetweenness is described in this article with an introduction to a fairly recently developed concept called liminality, which serves as a tool to get a clearer insight into the changes tourists and tourism are subject to. On this basis shifts in tourism markets are explained and finally a reference is made to the difference with other travellers in general concerning the relation between sustainable tourism development and postmodern liminal tourists.

1. Post-modern tendencies and tourism

From the 1960s on, new social and cultural actions have been coinciding with accelerated globalisation movements leading to what is now known as post-modernism (q60, q62, q117, q120). It has been most noticeable in Western societies and among others it has led to what is called cultural pluralism, which in essence means that people have started to lose their own feelings of belonging to a place by embracing many expressions of different cultures in one way or another (q92). Nationality, ethnicity, gender or class are no longer cornerstones people can build their identity on. This in turn has resulted in a growing egocentric preoccupation with the self (q86), with an increasing consumerist behaviour as one example and preoccupation with the bodily self as another (q62). Having lost their sense of “belonging to” a certain place or culture, it refers to the trend in which people’s strong feelings of once having been tied to that place and culture are now slowly giving way to being tied to a certain time or era (q50). Most people living in postmodern societies have not only lost the links with their cultural backgrounds, but also with authenticity and nature. They seem to live in a world that is increasingly dominated by images and representations, rather than by real and realist objects and phenomena (q92).

The loss of a feeling of identity amid un-authentic people, cultural pluralism, and time-space compression has created uncertainty about the present day and the future (q50). However, at the same time this has prompted a search for historical roots, an idealistic authenticity, longer lasting values or an eternal truth, often drawing explicitly upon the spiritual traditions of the East ( q60, q88, q120). 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. Not only are ways of living leading to a sense of loss of identity, for many individuals, work and everyday roles impose constraining and monotonous routines in which individuals find it difficult to pursue their self-realization (q110).

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). Additionally, if in postmodern times individuals cannot realize their authentic selves in everyday life, then they are liable to turn to tourism in order to reach this goal (q110); of course this does not imply that nobody can realize self-fulfilment in work or routine life. Tourism can offer freedom from work and other obligatory time, 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).

2. Post-modern tourists

The increase of tourism activities is unsurprising therefore as reflected in the growth figures published by the World Tourism Organization (q113). Post-modern tendencies have influenced tourism in general through globalizing and others trends, whereby tourism is seen as a cause as well as a consequence of global transformation. Van der Duim (q41) explains that tourism as a cause, is supposed to induce global flows of people, ideas, imags and capital, whereas tourism as an effect results from increasing global interconnectedness of economic, technological and socio-cultural transformations. Within the context of postmodernist tourism, the clear tendency for more individualist experiences and exclusive authenticity have widened the boundaries of the tourism panorama as well as the number of activities and experiences that can legitimately be categorized as tourism. It seems that nearly every dimension of human culture now has the potential to become a form of tourism. At the same time, to become a tourist coming from a post-modern society and having travel needs based on escape and search encompasses three fundamental understandings:

  1. Being a tourist means having to leave the home environment as part of satisfying a travel need;

  2. The potential tourist expects to have experiences that in turn will affect him in some way or another; some kind of transformation has to occur. At the end of the holidays a tourist expects to come home having satisfied (some of) his needs and being enriched in many different aspects, other than the monetary one; most tourists expect that they are or feel different than before the holiday and this may just mean a nice suntan or a completely different outlook on life;

  3. The third understanding is that tourists enter the unknown motivated by escape and search, where they have to rely on their expectations, previous experiences, factual travel knowledge and personality. Tourists are well aware that they enter a different socio-cultural and economic environment during their holiday where their home “rules” may not apply.

Preceding any tourist’s expectation there is motivation interacting with the need to travel. The need behind the travel motivation may refer to wanting to experience new things or to escaping in the sense of avoiding certain situations; breaking away from the daily grind may serve perfectly well as a motivation to want to travel. In other words, there are the explicit motivations often related to the element of escape, such as wanting to have a rest, recharge batteries, to have some variations from daily life or based on some specific hobby or field of interest, and then there are the implicit motivations: searching for inner-balance, wanting to take one’s own initiatives, pursue self-realization, use one’s own skills or experience involvement and engagement with a certain destination (q47). In the literature on the subject of travel needs and motivations, escape and search form the core elements that can be distinguished (q30, q35, q68, q69). However, the extent to which escape is a necessary step before searching is arguable.

Apart from the importance of the need to travel (point 1 above) and the role of expectations (point 2), point 3 refers to the issue of a tourist’s status at the holiday destination. The period a tourist temporarily abandons social status and home environmental influences can be described as a time of transition and transformation; it is like living in-between two realities: his home environment, which he has left behind, and the destination, where he finds himself physically but does not form a part of it. It is a situation of a betwixt and between or a no-longer but not-yet. Tourists enter into the unknown, where they do not participate in daily routine activities and slide into a world where their “rules” no longer apply.

3. Tourism and liminality

When analyzing this social phenomenon of temporary alienation, comparisons can be drawn with observations stemming from anthropology. In his writings published in 1908, a concept was introduced by French anthropologist Arthur van Gennep based on the Latin word “limen” referring to a “threshold or boundary.” Van Gennep described rites of passage such as coming-of-age rituals or marriage as having the following three-part structure:

  1. Separation
  2. Liminal period
  3. Re-assimilation

The initiate (the person undergoing the ritual) is first stripped of the social status that he or she possessed before the ritual, he or she is then inducted into the liminal period of transition, and finally given his or her new status and re-assimilated into society.

But it was not until the second half of the 20th century that the terms “liminal” and “liminality” gained popularity through the writings of Victor Turner (q102). Turner borrowed and expanded upon Van Gennep’s concept of liminality, ensuring its widespread usage not only in anthropology, but other fields as well.

Examples can be found on different levels. Twilight serves as a liminal time, between day and night. Illegal immigrants (present but not “official”) and stateless people, for example, are regarded as liminal, because they are betwixt and between home and host, part of society, but sometimes never fully integrated. Trans-gender people in most contemporary societies or those accused but not yet judged can be liminal. Another case is that of just married couples: after the honeymoon (time of seclusion) they enter their new home, whereby the bridegroom is supposed to carry the bride over the threshold (“limen”) of the front door. The concept of liminality can be applied to individuals (rites of passage, puberty), groups (graduation ceremonies, religious gatherings, pop concerts, soccer hooligans) or populations (carnivals, days of national mourning or celebrations). The term liminal may apply to short or longer term occurrences, as in the case of periods of wars or revolutions.

The spatial dimension of liminality can include specific places, larger zones or regions. Liminal places can range from borders to no-man’s-lands or disputed territories. Mountain passes, crossroads or bridges are all liminal and do not forget the most important one in tourism: beaches as liminal zones between water and land, whereupon visitors forget their social backgrounds for a moment; besides, in a bathing suit everybody looks more or less the same – it is the physical status that starts to rule rather than the social one.

In most Western societies affected by post-modern tendencies there is no better way to demonstrate one of the most visible consequences of this than to point to the places in this world that have no cultural-historical ties or any fixed identity at all. They are also called non-places and are part of a phenomenon that started to spread around the world from the 1970s on (q22). Often they are seen as beacons for postmodern globalisation and include: international airports, shopping malls and international chain hotels. These are designed and built so that anyone from any culture can feel comfortable and have something they can recognize; places that are inseparably linked to consumption and trade and have an air of luxuriousness; places where people – tourists among them – will have little sensory intake and will be left with hardly any memories, other than their encounters with fellow human beings, although even these seem to be superficial. It is about liminal places and in tourism, airports or hotels where people pass through but do not live in them highlight theinbetweenness that defines these spaces. For a hotel worker (an insider) or a person passing by (an outsider), a hotel would have a different connotation for these two people; however, to a traveller staying there, the hotel would function as a liminal zone. These liminal zones are also characterized by a certain timelessness and cleanliness, erasing any signs of wear and tear.

4. Being liminal

For people, being in a position of liminality means foremost a withdrawal from social action and structures; actually the very structure of society is temporarily suspended (q102). In liminal zones a liberation occurs from the social, intellectual and physical limiting factors inherent to working conditions in the Western world and this refers to the body as well as the emotional inner-person: the liminal experience refers precisely to the feeling of being more one’s authentic self with a higher degree of freely expressing it. There are four recognizable effects this temporary suspension may cause.

First, hierarchy and social structures do not apply anymore, which means that their forces do not limit thought or self-understanding. In liminality people are able to analyze their lives and backgrounds more clearly and they tend to deny prejudices that may rule within their home environment (q110).

Secondly, generally social differences are de-emphasized or ignored (q115). Among groups of liminal people there exists a state of equality and even solidarity, especially when a common goal is sought, such as a pilgrimage, soccer fans accompanying their team, or at rock concerts. Spontaneous friendships, warm contacts and completely undifferentiated social relations tend to prevail. Even on a national level, the celebration of commemorative days or matches of national sports teams (Olympic games!) may “unite a nation.”

Thirdly, the liberation of societal constraints opens up possibilities for a more authentic self with higher levels of self-expression and spontaneity. It also means that reason, prevailing so much in daily life in Western societies, gives way to a more free flow of emotions. The original idea of transformation such as in the case of rites of passage takes place in liminal zones or in state of liminality.

Fourthly, on the basis of diminished social pressures another element may also manifest itself: the darker side of human nature. Under the influence of being in a state of liminality people may want to do things they otherwise are not allowed to do at home. In the case of groups, soccer hooligans are an example of such behaviour and on an individual level, sex tourism and excessive consumption of drugs can serve as examples.

Additionally there is the phenomenon of permanent liminality: an individual or usually a group of people enter a state of being liminal, but for internal or external reasons do not pass on to the next state of re-integration. Monasteries or convents are examples as are groups of hippies living alternative lifestyles. Refugees are by definition liminal and there are cases that their status remains so for an indefinite period, stuck in a society they do not belong to and unable to return to their home environment. This may lead to dangerous developments, precisely because of the lack of societal norms and standards. Extremist groups personify the dark side of the permanent liminal state and in most cases this is related to violence.

Another significant variable is the “degree” to which an individual or group experiences liminality, which depends on the extent to which the liminal experience can be weighed against persisting social structures (q96). Whether people are able and willing to enter a state of liminality voluntarily or by force or whether they consciously try to avoid it can depend on personality traits as well as socio-cultural backgrounds. Distancing oneself from the home social environment may also be different for young people (students) and children, since their involvement in the home society has not been fully developed yet and entering a liminal zone may not be experienced as a fundamental difference or as response to the hasty and stressful life the thirty to fifty five age group has to deal with. The same can be said of elderly people, especially when they are retired.

5. Tourists in liminality

Arguably indeed tourism enacts the three stages that characterize liminality: separation, marginalization, and re-aggregation. The second phase – marginalization – is linked to the concept of liminality. For most tourists entering the state of being liminal consciously marks the moment a holiday really starts. The physical distance away from the home environment helps tourists separate themselves from home societal life, freeing themselves from social structures in favour of a feeling of social equality among tourists in general with a feeling of increased emotional freedom and spontaneity. Clothing and in general the way of dressing is a nearly obligatory external sign for tourists to show they are entering liminality.

 Liminality in tourism can be explored from the inter-personal point of view or the intra-personal one (q110). The latter refers to tourists that are alienated from the home environment, which means a liberation from social constraints and from the loss of the “true self” in public roles and spheres. Tourism activities under conditions of liminality can help tourists re-find themselves as a direct antidote to the loss of the true self in ordinary daily life at home (q15). In such a liminal experience, people feel they themselves are much more authentic and more freely self-expressed than in everyday life, not because they find that the objects or phenomena visited are authentic, but simply because they are engaging in non-ordinary activities, free from the constraints of the daily routine. Among other things this means that the authenticity of emotions starts to prevail, enabling tourists to act much more freely among themselves.

The concept of the authentic self is mainly based on the balance between reason and emotion, and the latter on body and inner feelings (q116). Tourism serves in large measure as a means to help put this balance back on track after the sometimes devastating attacks imposed on most people in developed countries by the stressful and complicated life. Liminality helps create the environment in which tourists can regain their authentic self in the sense of a balance between self constraints and spontaneity (q110) and we could even go one step further and say that the authentic self can primarily be found while staying in liminal zones, while in the daily routine of life at home, it is rather a question of the in-authentic self caused by the process of alienation through the constraints and limitations put up by working conditions and societal pressures (q110).

As far as the bodily part of the self is concerned, beaches are a fascinating domain for analysing liminality in all its aspects, not only because of the territorial liminality between land and sea, but also because of the lack of a clear dress code and therefore the growing importance of bodily feelings at the expense of the mind. Moreover, the time after sunset and before it gets dark plunges the scene into the extra dimension of a liminal time zone. No wonder beaches are still a favourite spot for tourists to rid themselves of any feelings of homesickness. Stripping clothing and social status is different from sunbathing in a local park, where workers pass by and watch or criticize, in other words where normal social life continues.

When exploring the domination of body over mind that is occurring in beach areas, in the case of the bodily a sensual element can be distinguished that can be translated into feelings among other sensations and a symbolic element as part of a culture of sign systems – fashion and ‘good looks’ being two general ones (q44). The latter is related mostly to the idea of a “display” of personal identity, including health, naturalness, youth, vigour, vitality, fitness, beauty or energy, while the sensual element is related to inner-feelings concerning relaxation, diversion, recreation, entertainment, refreshment, sensation-seeking, sensual pleasures, excitement, play and so on (q30, q31). The element of escape is most clearly demonstrated by the physical freedom a tourist enjoys with the minimal clothing used as extra value. The element of search is less obvious and does not always exist for all people. Getting to know one’s own body, having a clearer feeling who one is physically and the sensual pleasures that are often not present in the home country help tourists free themselves from constraints at home and supports their self confidence and esteem. In general the terms used here refer to what is generally known as ‘wellness’ and beach zones have very much to do with that part of the authentic self.

Next to the intra-personal element of tourists in liminality, there is the inter-personal focus and whether liminality is conceived fully or partially there are some basic traits that can be identified.

Tourists in a liminal situation will regard each other as social equals simply based on their common humanity that generates spontaneous relationships developed between equals stripped from their structural attributes (q103). They form part of a liminal travelling tribe whose members will show their typical social contacting: they exhibit none of the reluctance to greet complete unknown fellow travellers they would otherwise demonstrate at home, while commonly introducing themselves to each other with the first name only and the place they come from. They exchange some travel impressions, joke about any general topic and mention their likes and dislikes of globalized products such drinks, top hit-songs or films. It is unusual during the holiday to mention social or occupational status, while attributes such as jewellery or brand-name clothing are left at home. Most tourists have similar consumption patterns, bathing suits, going around in brightly coloured clothing and baseball caps while shopping in more or less the same stores. The food served often reflects the liminal status: different from the home fare, but not typical of the destination either. With group travel, the liminal tribe element tends to show even more clearly. Often friendships within a tour group constitute one of the most important elements of the entire holiday experience and even after returning home many members of the group remain in touch with each other (q52). Liminality here refers not only to the alienation of the home social environment; it very much refers to the state of being liminal and the interaction between liminal people. Thus experiencing within a group is an element derived from liminality, whereby not only the pleasure exists of seeing uncommon things or phenomena, but also of sharing and communicating this pleasure instantly with fellow travellers (q24, q106).

Another point is that of nationality and customs for each country. Countries where people dispose of a relatively large period of leisure time – 4 weeks per year or more – tourists will have various medium or short holidays per year and their need for escape is probably less than their urges to search for new experiences. With 2 or 3-day escapes liminality is usually not sought and the main motivation is a particular interest, hobby or just going shopping (consumerism therefore). In other countries where people can enjoy only one or two weeks off work, the element of escape is likely to dominate the holiday agenda. In this respect it is worthwhile to mention that there are still large parts of the world where people do not enjoy any form of vacation.

One of the effects of being liminal is the opportunity for transformation either bodily, emotionally or mentally. Entering voluntarily a state of liminality creates expectations that may vary according to each tourist. Therefore it would be erroneous to presume that the liminal situation of tourists would erase any differentiation between them. On the surface and in the eyes of many local residents, tourists may all look similar, but the various orientations of experiences expressed by tourists indicate that motivations may differ considerably (q30, q69). Tourists find themselves in more or less liminal situations as part of their efforts to satisfy one or various needs and each tourist tries to have the experiences that fuelled his expectations originally. The liminal travelling tribe is out there on a mission and although this mission is distinct for each of them, nevertheless tourists also have common ground to share between each other.

6. Liminality – an illusion?

The influences of liminality can be analysed from a different perspective: what happens when something goes wrong during a holiday. An accident, robbery, natural disaster or illness will force any person to react to it and only this pressure of having to react breaks the spell of being temporarily free of daily responsibilities. Any mishap will trigger negative emotions such as anger, disgust, pain, disillusion and so on (q47), which are in complete contrast to the freedom experienced in a liminal zone. Under the pressure of negative emotions a tourist will fall back on his home environment, having to contact insurance companies, police, hospital or any other local or international body. Not only does a tourist have to again be involved in a series of networks he had tried to escape, he must also contact family or friends in his home country, picking up the thread of home social life and with this liminality disappears. It shows how delicate a liminal zone is in tourism and the extent to which voluntary liminality may be based on an illusion. With any mishap a tourist will quickly get the feeling that the holiday spell is broken, his being a tourist has finished while he is seriously considering getting home as quickly as possible where he can at least manage his environment and can feel much more secure again. The inbetweenness that defines liminal zones are constructs of the mind made virtual and the same zone may get a completely different connotation as a result of negative emotions. Additionally there is the observation that in the case of forced liminality (refugees for example) a mishap or similar would not change anything regarding their status. Turner (q104) coined the term liminoid to refer to optional liminal experiences such as those in tourism, limiting the concept of liminal to those that are part of the ritual of society itself.

7. Marketing the inbetweenness

The concept of liminality was introduced during the 20th century, but the idea itself is obviously much older. Even in Greek mythology examples can be found of liminality (q101) and in Oriental as well as Western mythology many examples can be found of liminal personages, places and times. In tourism the concept has been used little so far and the first interrogative therefore is, to what extent the status of tourists being liminal and liminal tourist zones could have been applicable in the past. Hardly any academic research has been carried out on this issue and therefore the only useful leads come from field experiences.

As a practical example the observation can be made that at least until the 1980s it was common for tourists to send postcards with pictures of their holiday destination to friends and family. Colleagues would even be offended if they did not receive a holiday greetings postcard, even though this may not arrive until weeks later (q52). With the years texts became shorter and just before electronic mailing took over, they were even limited to simple picture language: a sun, knife & fork and a little heart to indicate that the weather was fine, food was good and love flourished (perhaps this picture language was the predecessor of electronic messaging and emoticons). It definitely seems that until the 1990s, most tourists had their home crowds very much in mind, meaning that their break from home society during their holidays was only partly experienced as such. It also means that tourists talked with each other about their worries at home and social status was not hidden as is now the case with most 21stcentury tourists. Nowadays few tourists send email messages to friends or relatives during their holidays and if they do, it is by mass mail, lacking any personal touch and most of Facebook or Twitter use should be interpreted within this context. Communications via computer, iPod, mobile telephone or any other device is fast, voluminous and aggressive, leaving many tourists no choice but to disconnect themselves completely.

 Many tourists used to spend hours buying little presents for their relatives at home. But in the 21st century, if tourists do buy presents during their holidays, this is left for the last day when the process of de-liminalization has started. The type of souvenir tourists buy nowadays seems to be more geared towards the cultural expressions of a local population, rather than buying something that would just remind them of the place they have been (ashtrays, T-shirts).

 Another observation is that tourists under liminal circumstances do not like to be reminded of time and this is another characteristic appreciated by liminal postmodern tourists. Timelessness is an important ingredient in liminal buildings such as international airports or hotel chains, made visible by the absence of clocks and the continuing presence of cleaning personnel, making sure that any traces of the use of the facilities is removed as quickly as possible, emphasizing the time-spacelessness of liminal zones.

 Tourists have much more access to information compared to the pre-computer era, which enhances the level of preparedness before the start of the holiday. Factual travel knowledge and backgrounds on the destination seems to inspire tourists to want to know more about where they go, increasing therefore the learning element (search as motivation).

 They are all signs of tourists slowly shifting their holiday behaviour to a progressive alienation from societal pressures as from the late 1990s onwards and these signs point therefore at an increasing degree of liminality. The changes in tourist behaviour are caused basically by the post-modern tendencies that increasingly affect societies around the globe. One of its 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 satisfaction of the latter. Emotional constraints seem to characterize post-modern living conditions, unbalancing the reason-emotion relation in favour of the former. 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.

 Therefore it is unsurprising that under post-modern influences the concept of liminality is rapidly gaining importance and people coming from post-modern societies tend to enter a liminal status more easily than it is the case with more traditional societies. The concept of liminality therefore is a tool to get a clearer insight into the changes that tourists and tourism are subjected to. The levels of involvement and experiencing that tourists show during their holidays are of fundamental importance for an understanding of market changes in the hospitality sector and tourism in general. As a result these shifts have become visible through various changes in tourists’ behaviour:

  1. In practical terms it means there is a slow change towards individual travel to the detriment of travelling in groups or mass tourism. The latter is very much related to the element of escape exclusively, but nowadays tourists need more than just that, which also means that in search of one’s true self a complete breakaway from the home environment is essential. To resist the in-authenticity of post-modern life the authentic self is thought to be more easily realized in spaces outside the reigning social relations, where one can be true to oneself and keep distance from the constraints caused by work conditions, societal life and in-authenticity resulting in a growing importance of being absorbed by a liminal status (q110).

  2. Inherent in individual travel is a wider range of possible holiday interests and with this a growing number of niche markets on nearly all levels of human activity. These tendencies have led to a series of market shifts, whereby new niche markets seem to arise at high speed. Similar to the fact that nearly every dimension of human culture now has the potential to become a form of tourism, any search for one’s inner-feelings and bodily needs seem to open up new niche markets. From the 21st century onwards tourism destinations can be differentiated on the basis of a wide array of activities from health tourism to dark tourism or from new age tourism to sports tourism. As far as group travel is concerned, there is a tendency to organize them around a central theme, rather than just going to a destination.

  3. The shift from group travel and mass destinations toward individual tourism and the growing importance of being liminal have prompted many tourists not to emphasize a specific destination they want to go to, instead they appear to look first for the activities they want to carry out. Since being liminal is a priority for many tourists to be able to fulfil their various needs, the choice of destination will depend more on the possibilities to satisfy those needs in the sense that for a destination just being famous is not enough anymore. Tourism destination selection is increasingly based on activity related criteria, while at the same time tourists are less fixed to one particular type of activity. In marketing terms the motivational element of escape can be related to push factors, while search as motivation can be directly connected with the pull factors of many marketing strategies. Along the same lines there is the tendency to do the so-called ‘tourism zapping’; like the postmodern way of watching television by “channel-surfing” – dipping in and out of different settings that capture the interest momentarily, regardless of whether or not the entire programme is watched – they readily mix different styles during the same vacation period: some adventurous trekking, a few days at a spa resort, culture in a city, a Reiki course at an ecological farm for a few days and finally some days at the beach. Dipping into different niche markets as part of the search for finding a personal balance has very much been related to tourism practices since the beginning of the 21st century and with it the importance to be able to do so under liminal circumstances.

Of interest for marketing strategies is the fact that staying within a liminal status sparks off some side effects, of which the two most important ones are mentioned here:

First, the element of transformation in liminal zones, which is related to the element of search regarding tourists’ travel needs, has to do with tourists’ bodily wellness as a result of the restrictive use of the body in most work environments in post-modern societies. This is partly remedied by the use of gyms and fitness schools and the development of green areas, local outdoor attractions or “theme” parks in the tourists’ home countries, but generally speaking there seems to be a tendency for increased care of one’s own body during the holidays. It concerns a niche market that has grown so fast (q112) the word ‘niche’ no longer applies. Wellness, health or spa tourism is receiving an increasing response from a broad public that dedicates either part or the entire holiday to this tourism market. The existential experience and the importance of finding the authentic self prompt many tourists, once they have entered liminal territory, to focus just on body and emotions and the balance between the two. The quest to recuperate and discover oneself is gaining importance and it is one of the main themes encountered among postmodern tourists (q112).

Secondly, as part of an effort to regain a healthy balance between body and mind under liminal conditions there is a marked tendency for tourists to insist more on luxury. For example, twenty years ago a hotel room with a shared bathroom was still common, but nowadays many tourists insist on rooms with private bathrooms, preferably with a jacuzzi, flat screen television, air conditioning, mini-bar, Wi-Fi, and so on. These luxury items often jeopardize sound sustainable development and furthermore they do not directly enhance the level of experiencing a holiday destination in general; however they do caress bodily feelings, which is often exactly what tourists are after, and furthermore they help create the dream a stay in a liminal zone is supposed to be, therefore forming part of the concept of liminality. An important element of spa resorts is precisely the high level of luxury and comfort these hotels offer. As an extreme counterpart to this type of physical wellness, adventure tourism can be mentioned wherein physical hardship is a base element in the process of getting to know oneself. Those tourists looking for spiritual experiences only may also shun the comfort zones, for a short period at least, and the hardships of staying at New Age farms is a rapidly expanding niche market, not to mention the option of voluntary work.

8. The non-liminal travellers

The concept of liminality has another application: as a tool to help distinguish tourists from any other traveller. For the former it means that social status is temporarily abandoned, but other travellers remain socially the same, regardless of where they are. This also means that at a destination the tourists’ gaze (q106) is different from that of any other passenger, visitor, participant or lecturer, who will look at their environment according to their socio-cultural status and views. In tourism the liminal status of tourists is voluntary as are their motivations and expectations; in contrast, travellers in general have an obligatory reason for moving from one place to another. Having personally enriching experiences is the primary source of motivation for tourists, but that is not usually the case with other travellers such as athletes, lecturers, business people or family visitors. There are many travellers that may fit into the ‘official’ category of tourists, but if they lack the element of liminality, one could arguably doubt to what extent they can be considered tourists or not.

Some more differences emerge from the liminality concept: it means that tourists often expect that holiday destinations are adapted in one way or another to the tourists’ needs, whereas any other traveller will accept a destination as it is. This point of adaptation has an additional connotation. Inevitably tourism will leave its marks on the destination’s environment, economy and socio-cultural life. Although sustainable management is a priority on most development agendas, practice and an extensive literature on the subject indicates that tourists are hardly involved directly in any sustainable development and only a few efforts have been made to involve tourists directly into mitigating their footprints.

There seems to be two clear reasons: the first is related to marketing efforts from tour operators or any other travel organisation that follows the current post-modern approaches of viewing relations from an economic and specifically mercantile viewpoint, wherein the tourist is pictured as the client and the client is King. If a tourist insists on having champagne in the middle of the jungle, any sustainability principle is quickly put aside just to satisfy his majesty’s supposed needs.

The second reason is related to the liminal status, whereby tourists temporarily abandon the daily social responsibilities they are used to at home; this is precisely what liminality is about, so this means it would go against the liminal feeling to demand a responsible attitude from tourists. With most sustainable management schemes tourists are asked to behave just as well or better than they would at home, ignoring the fact that this is exactly what tourists are trying to escape. As was pointed out before, the trend as a part of liminality to demand more luxury puts more pressure on sustainable management. Winning tourists’ support for responsible and sustainable development is therefore a hard task. Marketing the need for sustainability measures has also proven to be a challenge (

MacCannell, D. (1976): “The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class”. New York: Schocken Books

">q118), which may lead some to conclude that sustainable management should be imposed rather than suggested. Additionally, little effort has been invested in analysing the incentives that ecotourism offers to tourists to change their own perspectives and behaviours concerning sustainability matters. This is a gap in the research and it exists despite the fact that a significant goal of ecotourism is precisely to raise environmental and cultural awareness among tourists (q91).

Another case concerning the application of the liminality concept refers to domestic tourism. People who take time off to explore their own country and decide therefore not to change their socio-cultural environment are obviously less likely to enter the liminal status. The element of escape dominates and in most cases this is simply space-related without any connotation of freeing oneself from the constraints of societal pressures in home or work environments. In one’s own country many societal pressures will remain the same whatever the purpose of the journey is, with the exception of very large countries such as Brazil or India, where internal cultural differences are extensive and people from one area can very well be liminal in another.

The distinction between liminal tourists and ordinary travellers is reasonably clear but arguable. The businessman who takes a few days off during his stay in a foreign country to explore some of its beauties will do so viewing the environment from his own social perspective. Tourists however, may be in a position to take a different view of things they have not been used to before as part of their social alienation. For the same reason appealing to the sustainability sensitiveness of ordinary travellers will have a greater response than in the case of the travelling liminal tribe. Those in favour of responsible tourism should in fact advocate the thesis that all should be travellers and not tourists, but at the same time they should realize that a large part of the difference between the two is a result of socio-economic conditions in the developed world.

 For those working in tourism, students and scholars please remember that this website is not commercial and depend on voluntary contributions, small or symbolic as they may be, by pressing the DONATE button (PayPal system) at the bottom of this page.

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

5 Responses to “Liminality and Tourism”

  1. Very interesting paper Marinus, thanks for sharing. We live in an instant gratification society and pure travel is becoming a thing of the past. Niche agencies such as my own struggle more and more to find authentic options unspoiled by commercialism. Travelers that have that inquisitive spirit will continue to search for the oh so perfect respite. Those looking for the quick fix with end up on crowded beaches or in long corralled lines – or perhaps someday at the local “virtual tourism” shop.

  2. Dear Marinus,

    I’ve read your article about the liminality concept in tourism with great interest. Of course the role of the tourist is very important and if everybody in the tourism business would understand the needs of the tourist better, touroperators would do a much better job at attracting tourists than they are doing now…
    Tourism is not all about pretty pictures of sunny beaches and all-inclusive formulas… Each destination has its own character, its own flavours and a good holiday in a certain destination should create a memory on which the tourist can live until the next holiday…..
    In these times with mobile phones and internet the information comes fast, good or bad news can make the tourist decide on where to go…even last minute….!!
    But all tourists have different wishes for their holidays and I’ve spend the last years sharing information about Greek destinations, Rhodes and Kos, not only the typical sightseeing but also the local places away from the mass tourism spots…
    My latest site is

    Kostantinos Ec.

  3. I read this article with great interest at work. I haven’t previously heard of and I thought it was a very interesting concept to be applied to tourism.

    The idea of the tourist leaving his identity at home and entering a liminal state between his own life and the life ‘in-between’ is very interesting and I can see how this works well. You talk about the tourist tribe as a group of people that has left all social and cultural identity’s at home but shouldn’t this create a shared identity within a liminal state. I feel that many take on the image of the destination that is visited and shared cultural codes and procedures that relate to that country and inherit what it looks like to be a tourist in their country of choice.

    Tourists visiting Switzerland look and behave differently to those visiting Thailand. I argue the tourism identity relates to a destination and becomes their temporary identity and grounds them. Thus if it is common for tourists to show and express responsible tourism activity’s and any other activity’s if deemed to be important to the rest of the tribe. I am not sure tourists are in a total liminal state as many still conform to cultural and social tourism norms that relate to that particular destination. Furthermore, it could be argued that many try to jump from one cultural state (home identity) through a liminal passage (airline) into another cultural state (home-stays for example which are becoming ever more popular) to achieve a new identity.

    Just a few thoughts….

    Saul Greenland

  4. Liminality and tourism is an area I have written on for years. The concept was introduced over 50 years ago by van Gennep and Victor Turner in their exploration of the rites of passage. One of my primary areas of tourism research focuses on long-term overseas budget backpackers. I have used the liminal framework to explore their occupation in and traversing through international liminal zones. My dissertation (2008) has a 26 page bibliography that may help guide exploration of liminality in relation to the tourism literature. You indicated that it is a recent entry into the tourism literature but this is not so.
    Most of what you have written here has been written about by many researchers and writers in tourism education. Unfortunately I do not see anything that you have written as new but rather is repetitious of what I, and many others, have covered over the years.

    • Dear Mark,
      Thank you so much for your very quick reaction.
      I think it is not so much the application of the liminality concept to tourism what matters, but about the changing role of liminality in tourists’ perceptions. Market changes are notorious and fast and the changing role of liminality with regards to the escape-search paradigm helps us to get a clearer view of the shifts tourism is experiencing.


Leave a Reply

4 + = 12