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).


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


The Expectation

For tourists expectations form a very important part of their holiday. Expectations exist from the first moment a tourist starts thinking of his holiday and those first expectations are based on images and information he has already stored in his memory. Internal sources can be drawn from parts of the memory. When a tourist thinks of going to Patagonia in Argentina, images of penguins or glaciers may come to mind, some may have read Paul Theroux’s The Patagonia Express’, while others may have seen a car rally on TV. Many parts of our memory have stored images or information and when trying to compile all one knows about a destination, the memory drags all the info to one place. We are talking about the initial phase of forming expectations for a particular holiday.

Expectations are then being fed nearly continuously with new information and images and this process continues until the holiday starts. Even then the brain keeps on storing material which serves to adjust expectations for the rest of the trip. Finally at the end of the holiday expectations still play a part, although a slightly different one: weighing expectations against the final result of the holiday. We may wonder therefore, if a tourist without expectations really is a tourist. Here we assume that a tourist always nurses some expectations.


Perito Moreno expectations

An impressive picture can fuel a need to travel and some expectations at the same time.


What an expectation really is can be best explained by psychologists and I am not, but Wikipedia says the following on this subject: “in the case of uncertainty expectation is what is considered the most likely to happen. An expectation, which is a belief that is centered on the future, may or may not be realistic. A less advantageous result gives rise to the emotion of disappointment. If something happens that is not at all expected it is a surprise.”

With an expectation we think, that we know beforehand what something looks like or how an experience will be and what we consider the most probable something may be like. Expectations are based for most part on images and only for a smaller part on verbal expressions or simple facts. These images and information may be stored in our memory as from childhood onwards and they may have arrived from many different sources. It is important to realize, that a tourist to be considered such has to travel to an area which is different from his own environment, which means there is an element of uncertainty, which in turn sparks off the expectation.

Expectations feed on what we have already stored in our memory, which includes previous experiences; then there are the external sources, such as travel guides, books, films or television programmes. There are the verbal sources by means of family members, friends or colleagues and finally there are the background images, associations or our fixed ideas, which may form and influence our expectations. Apart from the first source mentioned, the others receive new information and images continuously.

Apart from existing material in the brain, there is another internal source feeding our expectations: our imagination. Imagination as a projection of possibilities can bring people to the point where they go in search for sensory experiences that have been consigned in every day life to the margins or rejected altogether. Several uses of the imagination can be distinguished:

    • calling up things that are not present but which exist elsewhere;

    • creating images in the mind of things that do not exist;

    • bringing about representations to replace things (e.g. paintings, diagrams);

    • representing things that are not present or do not exist, but which create the belief in the subject of their empirical observable existence: the domain of the illusion.

The imagination may lead to metaphors, and the latter is crucial for the theory of imagination. Existing notions can be given new interpretations and their significance and value be extended. In tourism many types of metaphors and narratives can be found, which in turn can be considered as a metaphorical re-description of reality. The connections which are created between tourists and their destinations in this way simplify the temporary holiday context, of which it is difficult to gain a comprehensive view of the nature and complexity. The perceptions of the senses are placed in a context and concepts are provided with new contexts and meaning.

Expectations therefore are often based on metaphors helping us to grasp more easily the unknown of a situation to confront. Some possible holiday destinations may strike the imagination, while others evoke fixed ideas, such as it is the case of the idea of romanticism in Paris during springtime. “Caribbean atmosphere”, “green season” or “cloud forest” are all metaphorical utterances so commonly used in marketing, fuelling the imagination and possibly the expectations.

With expectations we distinguish two extremes on a scale: there are the broad expectations and the narrow ones. The first ones are not clearly defined, are based on some general information and images, and one can expect a wide range of experiences. People mention sometimes the expression of “low expectations”, but this is more related to the experience than to the expectation itself. If one does not expect to have a great experience, we may call the expectation low, but not necessarily wide.

The narrow expectations are more clearly defined, coincide with a certain wish (which may be even take idealistic forms) and are based on specific information and images. Usually one can see at the end of the holiday how broad or narrow the expectations were. It should be obvious that with broad experiences there is less chance that things are worse than expected, while with narrow expectations there is certainly a chance, that this may be the case. We can distinguish a special case, which is called the “self fulfilling prophecy”, a clear cut phenomenon among expectations. A person puts a tremendous amount of expectations (narrow, obviously) on a specific part of his holiday. To make sure that he will have indeed the incredible experience he thinks and wishes to have, the tourist applies certain tricks: he reduces the ImpCal value of possible alternatives in his holiday programme, then he puts even more emphasis on the experience-to-be and finally he will spend all possible time and money to show that his choice for that particular item of his holiday programme is the most interesting and best of all. In other words, when a tourist indicates that the great wish in his life is to visit the Galapagos, then this tourist will do everything possible consciously and even more so unconsciously, to be able to say afterwards, that it was indeed the experience of a lifetime.

Motivation and Needs

From the point of view of psychology we may wonder, when an image in our memory serves for an expectation or when it is just a memory. This has to do with the motivation of a person as basis for his choice to travel, which in turn generates a need. Before we have any expectation there is the motivation interacting with the need to travel.

Therefore the connection between motivation and needs is clear and these form the basis of what we call expectations. The tourist must have a certain direction in the sense of motivation and needs, before the brain starts dragging material to one place and the first expectations grow. For more on travel needs see

Sources for expectations

The way an expectation is formed and the images and information it is based on depend on the tourist himself in the first place and on the available material in his memory and later expectation will be fed by outside sources. The latter deals with simple factual information (although for expectations of lesser interest), then the target information is of importance, the more so because this type of information (usually stemming from tour operators or tourist boards) is provided exactly to fuel the tourists’ expectations and finally there is the descriptive information that may help a tourist to get a more general idea or overall picture of what he may expect. Information is often supported by images, of which material images are an important part of the forming of expectations (usually based on photographs, film clips or the like). Mental images, just as the descriptive information, help tourists to imagine the atmosphere of a place and to have a general idea of how life is going on at a certain destination.

The places a tourist tends to visit can be divided in principle tourist attractions or main Impsources, the smaller secondary Impsources and furthermore there is everything what belongs to the population of a place and tourists may get some experiences from that through the intake of ImpCal. Main Impsources usually form a motivation on their own for tourists to visit them and expectations are usually narrow, therefore. A tourist will know quite a lot about that main Impsource, otherwise he would not have chosen that particular destination. We assume with main Impsource tourists have clear cut expectations, obviously with the serious risk, that things may turn out worse than expected. Side Impsources have usually been well documented and most tourists will know beforehand of their existence and will have some expectations. When white water rafting is offered at a certain destination (which is famous for another Impsource), then most tourists will have some expectations and usually somewhere in the middle between narrow and broad.

Things are different for the shared Impsources. Tourists travelling through a country will see all day long the local houses, landscapes, little churches or temples or some agricultural activity. To have well defined narrow expectations is impossible and even in many cases tourists will have very broad expectations or even none at all by lack of information or corresponding images. Villages in India, France or Chile are all so different and although we may see photographs of them, it is hard to imagine how a place smells, what the colours really look like and not even talking about the different noises each place has. Tourists on the left had side of the idealist and motivation scales will tend to get more experiences from shared and incidental Impsources and will have, therefore, dominantly broad expectation patterns, while tourists who can be placed on the right hand side of this scale, will have a tendency of visiting more the main and secondary Impsources and have narrower expectations, often primarily fuelled by travel organizations, tourist boards or direct factual information from friends or family. Information and images received before the trip depend therefore on the type of Impsources a tourist plans to visit and influence the type of expectations he will develop.

Real expectations

There still is another level regarding the tourists’ expectations. It is about the concepts of genuinity and authenticity the tourist expects or not. When a tourist has the expectation to visit an authentic indigenous tribe and once there he discovers that there is very little authentic about it and even less typical indigenous, then the tourist will be disappointed because of an unfulfilled expectation and corresponding need. With expectations tourists assume that it is always about objects or phenomena that are real – at least that is what one imagines. In case the tourist suspects it is not, then there is a good chance the tourist will not visit that particular Impsource. Thinking “that is not worth it” means in most cases a tourist will not visit this place or phenomenon. That is what we call negative expectations. But there is a possibility that notwithstanding the fact a tourist realizes that the indigenous people are just dressed up for tourists, he still may find it interesting to see, how those people used to live and part of the expectations can still be fulfilled. In other words the story about the indigenous people has to make up for the lack of real object related authenticity. This type of authenticity-with-a-story about Impsources we call symbolic related authenticity. In the case of this type of authenticity travel organizations or tourist boards can manipulate to a certain extent the tourists’ expectations and experiences he will have. Main and side Impsources receive through target information and material imaging a symbolic value, with which the tourist can have a clearer picture about what he is going to experience and can be better prepared on how real or authentic it is, what he is going to experience.

Real expectations have to lead to authentic experiences, whether being object related of symbolic authenticity. In that sense all own memory material a tourist has is supposed to be authentic for him and the very first expectations a tourists develops are real, because they are based on his own memory. Once information and images turn up from outside there arises the chance of corrupted expectations, because of the fact a tourist may not understand or misinterpret the information and images he receives.

The negative side of expectations

First of all we saw above that expectations not necessarily are all positive. A tourist can have a certain feeling that a particular Impsource or holiday arrangement in general is not for him. The expectation is that he is not going to like it, and therefore he will not go. This is mostly the case with target information, that is to say the type of information that tries to reach the tourist in an effort to persuade him to book a certain holiday arrangement or specific Impsource. Expectations stemming from the original motivation and need are positive by definition. It is therefore in a later stage that expectations are raised, found negative to be discarded consequently.

Apart from this phenomenon, there is a completely other problem. In the case of narrow expectations, the tourist may be focused on a particular intake of expected ImpCal to such extent, that he may not really enjoy an Impsource as it is, too much involved to proof if his own expectations were right – or wrong. People expect to see something and obviously the first they see is what they expect to see. This hinders a tourist to really observe, to let his senses absorb all possible ImpCal and to have an independent experience, which is based in first place on own observations and not on own expectations. It is a common phenomenon. Only when something turns out to be a disappointment, a tourist may start to really observe and to spot, first of all, why he is disappointed and, secondly, if there are other elements which can be enjoyed instead. Expected ImpCal intake is used too often to prove one’s being in the right.

There is a third problem that often is encountered dealing with one’s expectations: wrong information. This can occur because of misinformation, which means that somewhere along the line a direct error or misinterpretation has sneaked in, or the problem may be that of disinformation, which means that someone gave out wrong information on purpose. So far we have assumed that all information and images feeding the development of expectations were true, but obviously this does not need to be the case. Travel organizations may ‘stretch’ the symbolic load of an Impsource to a point, that there is little direct relationship with objective reality anymore, which may finally lead to a disappointment for the tourist. “Overselling” is a practice that a product is presented in a by far superior way than it really is. When an “incredible bird safari” turns out to be a 40 minute boat right up and down a straight canal, whereby perhaps a few birds may be spotted, it is in sales terms an overkill, producing very narrow expectations for incredible experiences, which in reality turn out to be false.

Another reason why wrong information influences expectations concerns the tourist himself. When the (pre-) tourist gets motivated and develops a need to go on holidays, he will first of all rely on his own knowledge and experiences to build up some expectations. Later he will further feed the expectations with external images and information which either come to him or he selects. This selecting depends entirely on the tourist himself and furthermore it is about the interpretation of what he picks up. The tourist “reads” in certain pictures or stories certain ideas or information he then uses for his expectations. However this process of interpreting using one’s own referential frameworks may lead to misunderstandings. When a description in a travel brochure (target information) talks about a place with such typical Caribbean atmosphere, a potential tourist who does not know what kind of atmosphere that is and therefore cannot relate to this concept, has no other choice then to interpret the information as factual information, thinking that this particular place has to be located on the Caribbean coast, otherwise it would be wrong. We all compare new information with things we have already stored in our memory, and when there is hardly any material in our memory to relate to, we shall find it difficult to handle the information.

Another problem that can be encountered is, when a tourist misinterpret his own feelings or way of being. Pressurized by heavy stress in a busy job, someone may decide that he needs some rest and organizes a holiday to a remote mountain cabin far away from the madding crowd. He feels this need. However, once arrived at his lonely retreat, the silence may drive him crazy, being used to having loads of people around him all day long. This tourist may decide after a couple of days to get down from his mountain and spend the rest of his holiday in a city, where he feels more at ease. This tourist did not know himself well enough to generate the right need. A holiday still depends on the person experiencing it and on the way a tourist tackles the confrontation with himself. Many people think, they want to do sturdy adventures and wild activities, while once on the spot where the adventure begins, they back off, show uncertainty and may suffer of lack of self-confidence. Regularly this can be noticed with heavy trekking or that type of holidays, when one or more participants are not ready for that type of adventure and have to return early. Additionally this behaviour is fuelled by what is fashionable at that moment, which may lure potential tourist into choosing the wrong type of holiday with confused expectation patterns.

Sometimes, another problem area with expectations is the lack of them. When we do not expect something we may get a surprise and depending the circumstances this may work out positive or not. The so-called sIncidental Impsources are exactly about that: surprise happenings, sudden incidents or chance meetings. Actually, a fair part of a holiday consists of incidental Impsources, although the tourist who has booked a complete holiday arrangement with everything included will be less prone to this than a backpacker. One of the reasons many tourists want to be well informed beforehand is exactly to avoid surprises, especially since the tourist has no expectations in that case and may be afraid to lose control in a situation. Expectations play therefore the role, too, of reassurance. However, when expectations were based on wrong information, then we may have a surprise, which usually is found to be a negative one. When something unexpected happens, anybody will react according to his own personality and always try to remain in control. However, when we expected something, but something completely different happens, a tourist may be in shock and before reacting he has to unblock his expectation so he can start to observe freely (ImpCal intake) and experience what is going on and react to it.

The last problem area with expectations is, that at the moment of truth there may be a series of external factors hampering proper ImpCal intake resulting into a disappointment for the tourist, although expectations were set correctly. ImpCal intake refers to the attentional mechanism and depends on internal as well as external factors.

We have the narrow ImpCal intake, whereby a tourist concentrates on just one item (studying a particular painting in a museum, for example) and at that moment he does not pay attention to what is happening around him. Then there is the broad intake, whereby the tourist is confronted with a series of different impulses, such as it is the case when arriving at a busy airport or railway station, whereby a tourist has to be alert where to go, he has to read signs and screens, has to look after his luggage and at the same time has to listen what the loudspeaker is saying. Concentrating on many things at the same time may mean, that there is little ImpCal intake that may be converted into experiences. Although many people have the expectation that it is so exciting and interesting to travel, many people are far too stressed to experience anything. Other internal factors that influence ImpCal intake are the mood a tourist is in, being tired or angry about something. Expectations never count with this kind of negative influences.

There are many external influences and the simplest example is the rain that may spoil possible experiences, leaving needs and expectations hanging in the air. “We looked forward so much to see the active Arenal volcano erupting, but it started to rain and we could not even see where the volcano was!” Bad luck we call that and a disappointment for a tourist, though expectations were set correctly.

Expectations form an indispensable part of a tourist and travelling without them sounds very dull indeed. When we stop expecting we better stay where we are and search our soul for some motivation to have a new need or urge to start travelling again.

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

6 Responses to “Expectations”

  1. Hello, I’m Mariam, Master’s student in International Communications. At this time, I’m working on my master’s thesis about “cultural expectations and destination choice while travelling in the European Union in comparison of Non-EU country. “Reviewed countries are Italy and France for the EU and from Non-EU Georgia. I wanted to ask if I can use your source in explaining expectations part, and if yes can you give me the authors name and more information?
    Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Mariam, Thanks for your mail. Please feel free to use the content of my websit, but always mention its source and my name as author: Marinus C. Gisolf
      Good luck,

  2. Hi Marinus, thank you very much for the highly informative and interesting article. I am currently writing an article for my own marketing blog about the promotion of holiday destinations on Instagram and whether it is sustainable. I think that your article is quite suitable to explain tourists’ raised expectations towards a destination due to Instagram promotions. Would you mind if I use your article? I will include the source as well as the direct link to this article.

    My blog page is at in case you want to verify it. Thank you very much!

    • Hi LinhPham,
      With pleasure you may use the content of the Expectations article and please mention its source. I would also appreciate if you could send me the link once you have finished to:
      Stay safe,

  3. Hi Marinus,

    What a brilliant article! Hey, my name is Julia, I am a masters in tourism management student in NZ. Currently I am gathering resources for my presentation and literature review on tourists expectations and the reflection on online reviews. Would it be OK if I use your article? I will make sure to add the source to the reference list. Thank you very much.

    Kind regards,

    • Hi Julia, with pleasure you can use this material and please mention its source and my name.
      I would appreciate a copy once you have finished your project.
      Good luck!

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