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).

Living the Experience

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

Experiencing in tourism

Puffing and panting with red faces, they follow the small track up the hill. They no longer hear the noises of the crickets, mosquitoes and birds and the only thing they are trying to see is how much father they have to go. They are nearly to the point where the forest breaks open and the lowlands are lying far below their feet. They finally reach the clearing and the majestic view is laid out before them: WOW! They enjoy this breathtaking vista, in part because of the difficult walk they endured.

It is this moment – the climax – that provokes the wow reaction in some parts of the world (depending on the language), what we call the wow-moment. When we talk about tourism, we are first of all referring to this moment as the essence of what a tourist is looking for and for which he has saved his money: experiencing something that is not in the same region or country where he lives, to which he had to travel and spend at least one night, in short, the holiday. How exactly does this wow-moment work? And what is the meaning of “experience” in tourism?

Living an Experience

The sublime moment in tourism is the instance of living an experience. Similar to eating a meal, where there is an intake of calories, the tourist receives impulses through the senses. We shall extend this idea of consumption of calories and call the impact of signals through the senses the intake of impact calories – in short ImpCal. These ImpCal are being processed by the brain. A unit of consumed and processed ImpCal is called an experience.

In tourism the process of ImpCal intake (living an experience or, in other words, the consumption of a tourist attraction) and the processing of data received into experiences uses an intellectual kind of digestive system, based on referential frameworks and data stored in the memory, such as images, smell patterns, noises, etc. It goes beyond the scope of this chapter to explore the details of the functioning of the brain. However, we can mention that the right hemisphere of our brain is concerned with the direct impulses received and our sensations as a response to them; simply enjoying something is part of this. The left side of the brain handles the information differently and absorbs it, returning a number of “impressions” as we call them and converts it into something that has already happened (the past) or, in other words, into something that can be recalled. The left hemisphere determines our ego and who we are. The right hemisphere offers us the opportunity to see, to smell and to feel all that surrounds us, without being “censored” by our own ego. For a tourist to be away from his home environment and to observe people and things without his ego interpreting everything is a possible consequence of ImpCal intake and in this sense we must always remember that this intake is voluntary. The application of referential frameworks here has to do with the capacity of a human being to be able to associate. Furthermore, all social and cultural norms and values with which we manipulate any input are also part of the so-called referential frameworks. The application of our own criteria to what we observe is called, at times, the assimilation of impressions.

ImpCal intake may increase when it is easier to associate, in other words, when the tourist has some references for what he is experiencing (or happens to live), at that particular moment. When what is happening around him is already familiar, the tourist will take in few ImpCal (“there is nothing new to see”). This may occur when the tourist is in an environment that is familiar to him – such as his home grounds, but in that case he is not a tourist anymore, because to be a tourist you must be in a relatively new environment.

The other extreme is for a tourist to find himself in a radically different environment, one so totally distinct that he has no referential material or data available to associate anything. The process of ImpCal consumption is hardly possible in this case and the tourist will experience very little. Most likely he will be dazed and not know what to do. What often happens in this kind of circumstance is that the tourist becomes afraid and finds everything scary; obviously ImpCal intake will be minimal in these situations.

Another fact is that a tourist must know how to spot the difference between his home world and the tourist destination environment. If a tourist only sees those things that are similar to things at home (the process of recognizing), his ImpCal intake will be small. The process of comparing what has been observed to already existing knowledge is an exercise that is easier for the experienced tourist than for those who are travelling for the first time. In other words, a tourist has to learn how to live an experience, how to assimilate ImpCal and how to convert them into a personal experience.

The level of ImpCal intake depends on the referential frameworks a tourist has available; often one finds something familiar in an observation, things one is acquainted with. These expressions refer to this referential framework, which is continuously being fed during the holiday, as is the memory in the form of images, sounds and other stimuli – on the basis of what is already known.

For example, to spot a certain animal you must have some image of this animal in your memory, otherwise it will be nearly impossible to detect it. An experienced guide has hundreds of images of the animal stored in his memory. Whatever he spots, it is easier for him to compare what he is seeing to images he already has. Suddenly you see the animal you are looking for, in other words, the image on the retina coincides with an already stored image in the brain. Obviously, the guide’s biological knowledge plays an important part, too. He knows where to look for a certain bird. Then there is the practice of “looking with your ears.” In a forest it is easier to spot animals by honing in on the sounds they make. The same holds true for smells.

For the intake of ImpCal by tourists there are some conditions that may influence consumption:

  • Existing referential frameworks of the tourist (based on previous experiences and information sources).

  • Expectation patterns (mostly based on travel guides, TV programmes, travel brochures, Internet sites, recommendations from friends, etc.).

  • The emotional state of mind of a tourist at the moment of ImpCal intake. The tourist must be in the right mood; if for example he is tired, his assimilation of ImpCal will be small. The same holds true for states of mind such as mistrust, concern, uneasiness, fear, despair, etc.

  • The tourist must be well prepared in terms of clothing, proper shoes, perhaps binoculars or other implements.

A number of external factors are:

  • Local conditions, such as weather: if it starts pouring rain at the moment of ImpCal intake, it may be quite possible that ImpCal intake will be small, although a real tropical shower may be an experience in itself.

  • The presence of a local guide who can simplify the ImpCal intake, assuming that this guide presents things in the right way to the right tourist. If a guide starts running down a long list of plant scientific names, one tourist may find this boring (little ImpCal intake) while a botanist might be fascinated.

The moment of intake can be lived in different ways:

  • Completely on your own (you depend solely on your own ability to observe and to draw from referential frameworks).
  • With a partner; the other person’s referential framework may help to improve ImpCal intake. Additionally, the fact of commenting aloud may help confirm what has been observed.

  • With children; sometimes they must be helped with the observation process (ImpCal intake) and the fact of explaining things to them may support one’s own ImpCal intake.

  • With a group of people; the exchange of existing knowledge and interpretations of different referential frameworks may increase the intake, although the sometimes dominating character of some may have a negative impact.

  • With a guide; guides may help people get things right as far as referential frameworks are concerned. In other words, they create more understanding. The guide helps so the product can be more thoroughly consumed.

The explanations of a professional guide enhances the sensory intake of Impcal.

The ImpCal taken in by the tourist are of a varied nature. First of all there are the ImpCal assimilated through the senses: images, sounds, smells, temperature, touch and tastes. Then there is the physical exercise, what may refer to hiking, rafting, cycling, horseback riding, and so on.

Another important element is that of social intuition and behaviour patterns. Social contacts can be an independent source for ImpCal intake and for many tourists that may even lead to the kind of experience that sticks in their memories the longest.

The product being “consumed” in tourism needs to have potential for a tourist to extract ImpCal from it. The experience value of a tourist product is measured according to the potentially available ImpCal. However, measuring ImpCal is not a tangible affair. In the case a tourist attraction provides for possible ImpCal intake using only one sense (e.g. a landscape view), then we suppose that potential ImpCal is lower than in cases that involve more than one sense. A guide may enhance the ImpCal intake by explaining some historical background of the view, but after a while the tourist will find nothing new about it anymore and move on; in other words the tourist will have “had enough.” In those cases where more than one sense is at work, we presume the ImpCal potential to be higher. Another element to be considered is that of action. If an attraction has a static character, a tourist loses interest faster than when there is an ever-changing view. We can look longer at a waterfall thundering down than at a slowly flowing river. That is why we assume that a tourist sitting quietly on the beach will have lower ImpCal intake than one hiking through the forest, jumping over streams and spotting wild animals.

True, at the beach we can watch the breakers rolling over endlessly, but in our memory we capture the general atmosphere only by interposing a number of different images; watching the breakers at the beach does not produce an endless number of experiences.

The beach is seen therefore as a place to relax and not primarily for ImpCal intake. In many cases tourists want to finish their holidays with a few days at the beach to ruminate on all they have experienced during their holiday, unless the holiday was light in content (just a few highlights and nothing else), in which case they may just lie on the beach to tan a little more, we assume. While working on skin colour may be a reason for having a holiday and the tourist may feel more popular with a nice tan, it does not enhance one’s experiences.

When we measure potential ImpCal intake, physical exercise plays an important role as well. The exercise itself means possible ImpCal intake along with the environment where this takes place. Activities such as rafting, skiing or mountaineering (or even simple walking) provide a combination of ImpCal intake on the basis of the activity itself as well as impulses through smells, views, sounds, and so on.


For adventurous tourists a lovely way of sensory intake – but only once or twice…


There is also the effect of having too much of something. A hike through the Alps may produce so many beautiful mountain views that it does not affect the tourist anymore and he becomes ‘immune’ to it, reaching the point of saturation. Those who practice rafting as a sport usually cannot get enough of it, but the average tourist can. The tourist, in other words, will look for some variety as far as his daily tourist diet is concerned and obviously those offering tourist products (sources of potential ImpCal intake) should know this.

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

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