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


Many travellers and surely all tourists are very much interested in finding things and phenomena at their destinations that are authentic for that area. We may even consider this as one of the basic conditions of a holiday, because the tourist finds himself in an area that is different from his home environment and he wants to experience things that are typical for that area.

The search for something different or something distinct may even reach the level of dreams or imaginary images. Authenticity may evoke images of honest people, working the earth honestly to produce honest products single-handedly. Within this image there is no room for nuclear reactors, trade unions or traffic jams. The tourist looks for this one unique spot where this alliance between present and past can be found. When we connect this image with journeys to other continents, it may be mixed with images of primitivism, exotic tribes and historical stagnation; an image whereby the underdeveloped has to remain underdeveloped and the poor have to stay poor. It is this image of authenticity that is still very much alive among Western societies. Obviously, reality is quite different and never forget that authenticity is something seen through the eyes of humans, while things and phenomenon simply are as they are with or without authenticity.

Things that were original and real in a certain area were tied for place, depending on the geological and geographical characteristics of the region. Not only in Western societies, but nearly all over the world social and economic changes affect the structure of societies themselves and what is typical for an area is increasingly more difficult to define. The notion of tied to place has made way for the idea of tied to time. We have a notion of what was authentic during the 1930s, but it is quite possible that future generations may have a distinct view of this. Additionally, there is a tendency for ties to fade. Under the influence of globalizing tendencies among others, many things tend to look more or less the same. The authentic must have a historical element and something unique at the same time, but when these are incorporated into the larger mass of things, there is nothing unique about them and we should not call them authentic anymore.

Authenticity should unite cultural-history with identity elements. There may be cultural-historical elements that are so removed from our perceptions that they do not belong to our identity anymore. On the other hand things or phenomena may be formed in recent time, so they do not yet form part of our cultural-history. We can find authenticity therefore on the border line between cultural-history and identity.

We see tourism as an activity where the tourist takes a central spot and his living an experience is the specific focal point of what we call tourism. It is all about the intake of ImpCal on a voluntary basis in an area that is different from the tourist’s home environment and the tourist has to stay there overnight. That is called tourism. This means that the question of what is authentic in tourism has to be linked to the question of whether a tourist can get ImpCal out of it and whether this leads to a unique and authentic experience or not. The link between authenticity and experiencing is for us a fact and we even consider that authenticity is a means to the goal of experiencing.

In this respect we can distinguish three approaches in tourism:

Object related authenticity:

objective authenticity relates to the original, which means that an authentic experience depends on whether the original is genuine or not. An example: a folkloric dance may be considered real, but when the dancers happen to be from a different region, it is not.

Symbol related authenticity:

refers to the authenticity being projected on objects or phenomena through the tourists themselves or travel organizations on the basis of expectations, preferences, fantasies, beliefs, etc. There are different versions of authenticity for the same object. This type of authenticity is symbolic and how real an object is is directly related to how real the tourist’s experience is.

Activity related authenticity:

Existentialist authenticity relates to the authentic state of being as a person. This may be enhanced by tourist activities. This type of authenticity may have something to do with the authenticity of an object, but not necessarily. For example, by going fishing you can relax your own Being, thus converting the experience into something authentic for the inner-person.

How complicated the authenticity issue is shows that within an object or phenomenon there are also different layers of authenticity:

Material authenticity – conserves the object itself

Conceptual authenticity – conserves its intention

Contextual authenticity – conserves its environment

Functional authenticity – conserves its functioning

These four layers cannot all be applied at the same time. To have an antique car running on the road means functional authenticity, but engine parts will have to be replaced some day, so material authenticity cannot be guaranteed. One may put the car in a museum, but obviously the contextual authenticity cannot be fulfilled. In other words we see a break with the past, whereby a thing or phenomenon cannot be exactly the same in the present as it was in the past.


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In Guatemala people dress as they have always done with or without tourists around; it is part of their cultural heritage.

A local population may put on traditional costumes for when tourists arrive and in this case we do not call this authentic; the locals convert themselves into a tourist attraction – a side Impsource to be precise. Nevertheless, if tourists still feel they have some sort of authentic experience, we may call this dressing up symbol related authenticity. However, if the locals wear these dresses anyway, with or without the tourists, obviously we can call this object related authenticity and even part of a heritage.

Authenticity and Impsources

The act of experiencing, or the intake and processing of ImpCal, is only possible when there is a reason for a tourist to consume this intake. Therefore we introduced the concept of Impsources, which we divided into four different types. Two of them, the main Impsource and the side Impsource, are specifically intended for tourists. They have been developed specifically for tourists or they already existed and have been provided with the necessary infrastructure, such as roads, hotels or souvenir shops. Impsources that are especially made for tourists with the aim of creating authentic experiences for them often make use of what we call ‘staged authenticity’, meaning that a tourist attraction has been staged just for the tourist experience. This is often difficult to avoid, and we have to realize that the focal point is the possibility that the tourist’s experience is authentic (symbol related authenticity). A Canopy Tour (side Impsource) is sold as a way to get closer to nature and especially to have a chance to see the flora and fauna at treetop level. In practice, however, the tourists experience it more as a funfair attraction good for a healthy dose of adrenalin, rather than a way to observe nature. Other types of attractions that are either main or side Impsources are called ‘recycled history’, such as historic shows at an old castle. When well executed, these can produce tremendous experiences for tourists and therefore we can call these authentic, but obviously they are about symbol related authenticity as well. Another case is that of an old church. Nowadays many churches or cathedrals are attractions, having become sources for ImpCal intake of a history related experience, while their original function as place of prayer has disappeared. How authentic is this? The church is still a church but it is used for other purposes. The cultural-historic element is still there but the identity probably not, since the church is put at the same level as a shopping centre. The conceptual authenticity is no longer there. However, there are many people insisting that as long as the tourist has the feeling of having an authentic experience, we should regard it as such. Whether the experience will really touch the inner-person or how deeply rooted the resulting experience will be remains doubtful.

Another example is that of impressive natural phenomena – a volcano or waterfall for example. These concern the real wow!-moments a tourist is immersed in. The confrontation with an impressive natural phenomenon and the resulting feeling of how insignificant we are may really touch our inner-person. Imperishable memories and unforgettable experiences are the result. The historical element, the uniqueness, the symbolic value and the identity the phenomenon has within a region, together with the experiences tourists can have indicate that we are dealing with real authentic phenomena, which usually are labelled as main Impsources. Although we are talking in this case about object related authenticity, what sometimes happens is that many travel organizations, guide books or information on the Internet give target information about the phenomenon, creating a picture that is directed at the possible authenticity of the tourist’s experience and not directly at the authenticity of the Impsource itself. A high level of expectation my hamper the direct processing of the ImpCal intake in the sense that the tourist does not value the waterfall as a phenomenon on its own, but it is measured according to the expectation the tourist had. We have a genuine (object related) authentic waterfall but the tourist treats it as if it were symbol related authenticity. With the expectations and subsequent experiences of main and side Impsources we think of material images. The tourist usually has more or less formed an idea of what he is going to see and experience and at the big moment of confrontation with reality of the waterfall, things may turn out to be better or worse and the resulting experiences may be more or less authentic.

A completely different story is the case of shared and incidental Impsources. The tourist crossing a country in his (rental) car sees local life everywhere around him. The sheer fact that we are talking about everyday normal life indicates that this is not unique and therefore it is not authentic. A mother with her daughter going shopping in a supermarket – how authentic is this? It is not. A tourist may like to see how other people and societies live their daily routines, but the resulting experiences we do not call authentic. However, there are other factors at work, too. Every village anywhere in the world has in some way its own colours, smells and noises; it breathes a certain atmosphere and has something unique as a community, although the individual components of the total picture may not be authentic at all. What makes a village in France so different from one in Chile? The intake of sets of ImpCal during a certain period of time gives the tourist the chance to reach further than just processing individual ‘pictures’, and he may be able to construct a total picture, which will enter his memory as the cultural-historic and unique atmosphere of a place. What makes the French so typically French and the Chileans so Chilean? In this case it is all about the shared Impsources and the sets of ImpCal intake that may lead to much longer lasting experiences, because of the longer time span and the higher degree of difficulty in processing the ImpCal. Obviously the old men with Basque berets playing ‘jeu de boules’ at a local market square in France, or the ‘Guasos’ in Chile acting in their ‘media luna’ are authentic, but at the same time they are part of a bigger picture, too.

Now we are talking about the atmosphere of a place and the total picture of it, it must be clear that we are referring to mental images, which had been fed by the so-called descriptive information the tourist received. Mental images play a much bigger part with tourists when they travel individually or in small groups through a country than in the case of big groups or resort tourism. It is understandable that not every tourist is susceptible to this and that every tourist “reads” and interprets the atmosphere of a place in his own way. How well a tourist can observe (ImpCal intake), how expectations patterns are set and to what extent a tourist tries to smell new flavours or eat different dishes depend on each tourist individually. There are many tourists who go somewhere to see a main Impsource and simply do not (or cannot) see anything else around them. An example is when tourists enter a forest to spot the famous Quetzal bird and being so keen on seeing it, they do not look for anything else – no ImpCal intake therefore. By the end of the day there is the point of who spotted the bird and who could not. The unfortunate ones who did not have the chance to see this bird are thoroughly disappointed and had a lost day, in spite of the fact they hiked through one of the most beautiful cloud forests in the world. Apart from the expectations based on mental images, a tourist usually knows little beforehand of this special atmosphere or the typical character of a certain place. Most main and side Impsources are being visited on the basis of material images and expectations, but for shared and incidental Impsources things are different. There is only one group of tourists that goes for mental images and shared or incidental Impsources alone, without paying any attention at all to main or side Impsources: the backpackers. They go for the atmosphere or how ‘cool’ a place is and move according to incidental meetings or fortuitous circumstances.

This may be the case with travellers in general, too. We had already mentioned that travellers have a compulsory element as reason for travelling. The grandmother travelling to another country to see her newborn grandchild is likely to want to see something of the surroundings amidst all the help and support she gives her daughter’s household. She may become a tourist for a few days, like the invited scholar who wants to visit some recommended places between the various lectures or workshops he has to impart. This type of traveller may be open to enjoying cultural and historical local life, but he differs from tourists in that he has little material or mental expectation patterns and hardly knows what to expect therefore. In this sense he does not claim or insist on certain tourist treatment and does not behave like a typical ‘client’. With tourists visiting the same area and coming from the psychocentric side of the TL-scale, there is quite a big difference! (see )

This psychocentric side of the scale has little chance to get experiences from shared Impsources because these tourists’ choice of holiday shows a clear lack of interest in anything authentic. The more idealistic tourist does have interest in the atmosphere of a place, which in turn is related to the mirroring of their own values, norms and habits. Self-realization may be an important factor when deciding on the type of holiday or selecting a certain destination, at the same level of social interest or the will to learn and teach. This search for contact with locals, which may be reciprocal, underlines the importance of shared Impsources in tourism. It is worth looking schematically at the different tourism consequences between main and side Impsources on the one hand and shared and incidental Impsources on the other:

Main/side Impsources

Shared/Incidental Imps.

Information sources

Target Information

Descriptive information

Expectations patterns

Material Images

Mental Images

Tourists’ expectations



Tourist Idealism Scale

Low on the allocentric part and high on the psychocentric one

High on the allocentric side and low on the psychocentrid side

Travel Organizations

Controlled experiences

No control



Objective / Existentialist

Tourist objective

Feeling, doing

Learning, being

The above separation into two groups shows extremes and like any human activity the majority of cases can be found somewhere in the middle. The scheme above helps give us a clearer view of how tourists confront and experience the different sources of their ImpCal, from the first information they receive until the authenticity of the experience gained.

Authenticity is anchored in society. Normal daily life cannot be considered authentic because it is not unique (every day the same…), but there is an argument that asserts that everything a tourist experiences as authentic must be considered as such. The discussion does not stop there. One has to realize all the time that what may be authentic in the eyes of a tourist may be daily routine for a local. The opposite holds true, too: things that local people feel are special and authentic in their society may be ignored completely by tourists. Two visions and two realities play their parts at the same moment with reference to the same objects or phenomena. In my book “Tourists and Sustainability” I painted the image of a woman in a small village in a developing country carrying a water bucket on her head, walking with a gently swinging pace. A passing tourist flashes his camera; she startles for a moment, but quickly she resumes her pace. The tourist turns around contently and is happy with his authentic photograph. Will he ever realize how water shortage influences one’s life?


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For tourists this is an authentic photograph, but for the woman it is her daily life solving the problems of water shortage. Two worlds and two realities.

Authenticity and Travel Organizations

The concept of tourism as it is used here puts the tourist in the central spot and goes even one step further by stating that the moment of experiencing – the wow!-moment – forms the core of the tourist activity. We have to realize therefore that travel organizations do their best to get a tourist to a certain place so he can get his desired ImpCal intake and that most of these travel organizations stop there as far as services are concerned, but in fact this is where tourism begins: ImpCal intake and processing into experiences. The whole holiday process can be divided into four parts in the case of tourists:

  1. The informative stage – in the country or origin of the tourist;

  2. The stage of filling in information gaps, making travel arrangements and possible reservations – country of origin of the tourist;

  3. Travelling to the destination; second round of information gathering and/or making reservations, first intake of ImpCal;

  4. Use of infrastructure (hotels, transport, etc.), then Impsources and experiencing things and phenomena; finally travelling back home.

When arriving home we go back to the beginning again in two ways: first as information provider to future travellers to that same destination and, secondly, most people will start the whole process all over again for their next vacation.

See about this subject

The role travel organizations play refer to only a part of this cycle and there are many cases (even more than half) whereby travel organizations are not used at all in the country of the tourist’s origin or destination. During their holidays tourists want to see everything that is worth seeing and that includes anything authentic. Travel organizations in the country of origin of the tourists play an important role by making clear to tourists what is worth seeing and by offering the possibility of getting to those places. This holds true specifically for the psychopcentric side of the TL-scale. The supply offered by the various travel branches is based on what the destinations have to offer in terms of main and side Impsources; additionally, travel agents and tour operators try to find out what tourists want to be able to adjust their supply according to tourism tastes and fashions.

There are travel organizations in the country of origin of the tourists (travel stores, tour operators or Internet tourism companies), and at the destination you can also find local agents, small local operators and, obviously, the hotels and tourist attractions that try to contact the public directly. This complete sector of tourism suppliers takes the line that as far as authenticity is concerned they go for the symbol related one and they concentrate on those things and phenomena that may lead to an authentic experience for a tourist. The travel organization can either make use of already existing Impsources or they have to be created. In both cases this may refer to main or side Impsources. Most Impsources offered are usually described as being authentic, mainly to capture the tourist’s interest in the first place. Travel organizations appoint a certain symbolic value to an attraction, or in other words, they make a nice story about it that sheds light on its cultural-history and uniqueness. It is not about whether the attraction is real or if the tourist may get a real profound inner emotion from it. From the point of view of the travel organization, we can describe a main or side Impsource as the relation between its visitors, the object or phenomenon itself and the image that is presented of it. It is important, therefore, to see that the tourist attractions as offered through travel organizations only provide an opportunity for tourists to have ImpCal intake and, secondly, that this possibility is about the relation between humans, things and the symbolic value of the latter. This relation, which may lead to ImpCal intake by tourists and their subsequent experiences, is partly controlled by travel organizations.

As far as main and side Impsources are concerned, these observations are sufficient for now. Travel organizations obviously fulfill many other functions as well. Let us have a look at the case of shared and incidental Impsources.


ossewagen eng

Symbolic authenticity: the story that is told about former means of transport have to generate an authentic experience.

In the case of travel organizations, making use of shared Impsources is a different cup of tea, since they have no specific owners and are often difficult to define or even pinpoint. How travel organizations can use these sources – creating mental images potential tourists can associate with – is not an easy task. Earlier we had mentioned that we are dealing mainly with the allocentric part of the TL-scale and issues such as self-realization may play a part. There are a growing number of tour operators who really try to incorporate these kinds of Impsources into the programmes and arrangements they offer. There are some obvious examples, such as big cities, whereby the shared Impsources are easier to “sell”. Paris has a certain atmosphere and many people have seen or heard something about it. The same holds true of many cities and it is this kind of mental image a place evokes that travel organizations want to convey to potential tourists. The shared Impsources in this case form an attraction in their own right and are easier to explain to tourists than in the case the shared Impsources are mixed with main or side Impsources. Another example of shared Impsources in their own right is the case of rural tourism.

Under the pressure of sustainable tourism development in a country or region, there is an increasing tendency to incorporate more local tourism projects with the aim of giving a local population a better chance to incorporate into tourism development. Depending on the circumstances, this may refer to day trips only or it encompasses overnight stays for tourists, too. It gives the tourist a chance to walk in the shoes of the locals for a few days, to share meals with them and to learn about their daily troubles and how they solve them. In this case we are dealing with object related authenticity (“it is really authentic you know”) and to a certain extent with activity related authenticity, whereby the ego of the tourist is enriched and he gets a good dose of self-realization. The allocentric side of the TL-scale is interested in these types of experiences. These experiences are firstly of a social nature and are based on two-way communication with local people. Many tourists may have selected this type of holiday arrangement on this basis. Secondly, there is the level of mental image framing and the assimilation of short impressions to form the total picture, which may be fed by more impressions afterwards. The experience a tourist seeks also has to do with the local lifestyle from which he may copy elements. It is about the type of experience whereby the tourist stops feeling like a tourist for a moment; he ceases being ‘the client’ for a while and has to make his own bed. It is important for tourists to experience many new things, but not too many, because when there is a lack of referential materials the tourist may get scared. Rural tourism usually does not form a complete holiday on its own, but is mixed with the more traditional tourism of visiting main Impsources. Travel organizations try to find a diplomatic way of highlighting the exotic and different parts of rural tourism on one hand, but make the recognizable differences clear by means of images among others. General advertising slogans may be “you’ll come back as a Peruvian” in the case of a tour operator offering rural community tourism packages in Peru, or “you cannot leave a country without having made friends.” Most tour operators nowadays also stress the fact that local communities prosper from this kind of rural tourism.

Authenticity and Local Tourists

What we have mentioned so far about tourists mostly referred to international and intercontinental tourists. However, travellers within their own country may also be labelled as tourists. The difference between local travellers or tourists is not clear cut and there is quite a large grey area between the two. In this case and with the topic of authenticity in mind, we must distinguish between the travellers/tourists that go to another part of their own country that is more or less similar and the case of people travelling to zones in their country that are quite different in cultural and linguistic respects, as in the case with different indigenous or tribal population groups within many African, Asian or Latin American states. The first group is the larger one and we can think of the drift of city dwellers to nearby beaches or to the countryside during summertime. These kinds of local tourists know what to expect and they know the destination. The majority goes there to enjoy themselves and only few will go for learning or self-realization purposes. As far as authenticity is concerned, this depends heavily on the type of destination. When adjusted to mass tourism (beach destination) there usually is very little left of authentic objects or phenomena and the tourist does not ask for this either. In the case of small villages, where authentic elements can usually be encountered, this may enhance the tourist’s holiday experience. A local population in general is more prone to share local customs with fellow countrymen than with foreigners. Anyway, authenticity does not play a dominant role with this type of local tourism.

The case is different for the second type of Impsources, the shared and incidental ones whereby people travel within their own country to regions with a different culture and often a different language. There are many similarities with international tourism but there are some differences, too.

Information supply when travelling in your own country is easier to access and is more varied. There are more possibilities for arranging things yourself or just going and seeing what happens. Communication systems within one’s own country are usually cheaper and easier to use. The reason why one travels to those regions within the home country that are completely different from the home environment is more or less the same as for an international tourist. For the same reason we assume that as far as authenticity is concerned, the local tourist is interested in it, but this interest has to be seen against the backdrop of his own culture (from the same country). One stays within the borders of one’s own country and therefore has an interest in exploring these specific cultures and getting to know the cultural history and identity of fellow countrymen. Authenticity plays a fundamental part in this case and often forms the main reason for travelling to those areas. In this case, too, we may put this local tourist on the left-hand side of the TL-scale. However, the extent to which self-realization or existential authenticity play a part is not yet clear. With this type of local tourism, the impression is that there is a strong learning element and the will to make contact with fellow citizens. Possible aid to poorer parts of the population may be a motive for travelling to those regions or it may be an effort to help preserve the cultural heritage threatened by the globalizing steam roller. In other words, it is not just the authentic experience local tourists are after, but also about the conservation of this authenticity, without that traditional view that the poor have to remain poor to be authentic. This issue shows a clear difference with international tourism. Obviously this distinction is not clear-cut and international tourists may also be very much interested in the conservation of the socio-cultural heritage of a place.

Another grey area in terms of the differences between international and national tourism is the case of tourism from neighbouring countries. Because of the physical closeness, tourists from neighbouring countries may resemble local tourists more than international ones, especially when there is no clear language barrier.


To finish this article about authenticity we should also mention what we consider to be more or less the opposite of authenticity. There are places in this world that have no cultural-historical ties or any fixed identity. They are also called non-places and represent a phenomenon that started to spread around the world from the 1970s on; they are often seen as a beacon for modern globalization and include airports, shopping malls, road restaurants 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 with consumption and trade and have an air of luxuriousness; places where people – tourists among them – will have little ImpCal intake and will be left with hardly any memories, other than their encounters with fellow human beings.

The interesting aspect of these kinds of places is that they exist in contrast to what we have talked about so far: cultural and historical ties linked to places and/or time, own identity, typical colours and smells, people’s customs, the connection with the earth, the meaning of the sun and moon and the more profound beliefs that go with this. In earlier days railway stations were real architectural landmarks worth visiting in their own right, while today’s modern stations are indistinguishable steel and glass structures.

Perhaps we need not digress more on this matter of anti-authenticity or why it developed at the same time mass tourism assumed enormous proportions, becoming a mere economic activity. It is enough to simply mention the existence of these black voids in the cultural universe.

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