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).

Tourists’ profiles and lifestyles

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

 Tourists’ Profiles and Lifestyles

 1. Introduction

Trying to understand how tourists may behave in environments that are foreign to them is the object of this article and is of direct interests to those working in tourism or studying the subject. In this article it is explained, that with tourism activities, it is not about what a destination can offer or what tourists want from a destination, rather it deals with what at any given destination can serve each type of tourist. For some time now there have been a series of attempts to classify these ‘types’ of tourists for scientific as well as mercantile purposes. First of all a summary will be presented of the main stream developments regarding tourists’ profiles and their practical uses. Then a framework is presented that may help identify the ends tourists are after and how they can be matched at a destination.

 2. Types of attractions and types of tourists

 Tourism is about the encounter between tourists and their holiday destination and therefore it is this particular relationship we shall embark on. Tourists have their sensory intake from sources, called impact sources (q52). Similarly, other terms used are ‘toured objects’ (q110) or ‘experience clues’ (q169, q221, q66). Holiday tourists may look all the same with their bright-coloured clothing, expensive bags, cameras and funny caps, but in fact each of them experiences their vacation differently. When tourists enter their holiday destination local identities – cultural, sociological or natural – become associated with a significance they may have for tourists, whereby these identities turn into impact sources. In other words each tourist attributes some value to the impact source he or she is confronted with through association, recognition, comparison or imagination, among others. The question how we can differentiate among these attributed values leads to an inventory of tourists’ reactions to impact sources, that is to say to the results of their internal processing of sensory intake (q52): tourism deals with what at any given destination can serve each type of tourist, emphasizing the binomio tourist-destination as nucleus of the tourism activity. However, it would be erroneous to describe the encounter between destination and tourists just as a stimulus-response model. Once we interprete the encounter between destination and tourists as the convergence of emotions and activities being an existentially authentic process of interactions that may lead to experiences for both sides (q163), we shall be able to reach a much broader understanding of the phenomenon called tourism.

Impact sources themselves can also be differentiated on the basis of economic value among others. Tourism destinations consist of tourism services, such as hotels or restaurants, and also of tourist attractions, whereby a distinction can be made between the main attraction embodying the destination’s pulling power and side attractions taking advantage of the tourists’ presence. The former can also be called main impact source and the latter side impact sources (q52). For those attractions that are specifically developed or adapted for tourism, visitors will have to pay – in other words these sources represent economic value and are market dependent.

Next there is the general ambiance of a place, its normal daily life and cultural heritage, which is there anyway with or without the presence of tourists. The destination shares these impact sources or experience clues with tourists and hence they can be called Shared Impact Sources (q52) and they form the basic ingredient of any (tourism) destination. One characteristic is, that tourists do not pay for their use and therefore these do not represent direct economic value in tourism. In most cases locals do not receive money for the tourists’ presence either, other than from additional economic activities such as selling souvenirs or by improved local infrastructure, for example. It must also be clear, that main or side tourism attractions are just expressionsof a destination’s culture and not its embodiment. This is an important observation, since it is in contrast to most marketing techniques following the ruling economic approach, whereby marketing is restricted to these impact sources with economic value, while the rolling hills, neat little churches or the locals’ colourful dresses are used as background for the promotion of specific tourism attractions (q222). In marketing what is of importance to the locals – their daily life and surroundings – is pushed backstage (q225) to create the opportunity for visitors to spend.

Returning to the subject of the encounter whereby tourists convert local identities into impact sources – which may remain unnoticed or intensively lived – setting up a typology for tourists and their likes and dislikes prompts an additional question: any of such typologies may be used for a number of different purposes, each of which may require a specific starting point and development. Predicting what type of holiday or destination tourists may like is one reason for such typologies, another may be the design of a tourist attraction and there is also the direct interest of the marketing sector. It seems that predicting tourists’ destination preferences has received the bulk of research interests and more practical approaches have been designed for this purpose. Afterwards some more theoretical methods will be analyzed concerning the general disposition tourists have and which may serve more the marketing sector.

2A. The practical approaches

There seems to be a widespread consensus on tourist typologies concerning a continuum or linear scale with both extremes represented by few tourists only and the middle sections covering more than half of them. In 1972 Stanley Plog (q219) published one of the first of these scales, which later was to be called psychographs. One extreme of this scale refers to individualists people travelling alone or with a partner or friend. They will make their own itineraries and travel at their own rhythm and pace. They want to be active, tend to avoid typical tourist sites and have a keen interest in local populations and their culture. Volunteer work is a serious option and encounters with one’s self and with people from other cultures are of great importance. This is the idealistic end of the scale and since these people try to depart from the usual standards, we can call it the allocentric part of this lifestyle scale.

The other end of the scale gives us a profile of people who do not want any problems before or during their vacation, they like to have everything arranged for them and they want complete relaxation. They are concerned about their own bodies, and therefore their interests are in the fields of sunbathing, massages, spas or plastic surgery, just to mention a few. They have no particular interest in local people or their culture. We call this end of the scale the psychocentric one – see graph 1 at the end of this article.

Plog’s research led to the identification of three more intermediate groups for a total of five: psychocentrics – near psychocentrics –midcentrics – near allocentric – allocentrics. More recently the terminology has been changed and a sixth group has been added: traditionals – sightseers – journeyers – voyagers – pioneers – venturers (q81). Although over the years underlying concepts have been changed – and Plog has made many changes – the model remains a useful instrument, although thorouhly based on western style communities – especially from the USA. Updates of Plog’s tourists’ profiles description can be consulted at:

One has to keep in mind that the vast majortiy of tourists can be found somewhere in the middle between these extremes. In practice this means that the differences between tourists at either side of the centre are small and therefore difficult to measure. Additionnally, in an ever changing society increasingly moulded by globalizing effects these smaller differences may in practice be unnoticeable. Plog’s model therefore may be useful for specific societies – such as the USA – but for other continents its use may turn out to be limited. The psychographs are mostly about predicting tourist destination choices, but its usefulness for the design of tourist attractions is not clear.

From 1982 onwards Pearce (q156) started to publish a series of proposals around the concept of the roles tourists play in contrast to roles played by travellers. Pearce (q156) emphasizednot so much tourist behaviour itself, but rather a series of criteria for a taxonomic evaluation of typical tourist roles that in turn can be differentiated from other types of roles that are not typical for tourism, but which are related to travelling in general in some way or another. In his article published in 1987 (q223) he distinguished five travel concepts: Environmental – Close Encounter – Spiritiual – Pleasure – Business. It is about an approach whereby subjectivity is turned into a formal model, based on the presumption that there are typical tourist roles that differ from any another travel behaviour pattern. In the end it is about efforts to predict tourist behaviour and its impact on a destination environment. One of the criticisms that has been ventilated of Pearce’s concepts is that in more recent years the World Tourism Organization has widened considerably the definition of a tourist, which means that nowadays the relation tourist-traveller is seen in a different light undermining Pearce’s original concepts.

These two efforts to set up some kind of typology of tourists have been developed with direct practical use in mind. Next we shall look into two examples, whereby a sheer scientific approach forms the cornerstones for typology theories – the first based on socio-psychological grounds and the second with a clear psychological underpinning.

B. The Theoretical Approaches

Eric Cohen (q30) follows a phenomenological reasoning, in which he proceeds from the degree to which tourists let go of the orientation of their every day world and focus on the Other and the unknown (q69). The tourist experience itself is a varied entwining of alienation from everyday life and longing for a different place. The extent to which one is inclined to detach from the familiar world (centre) and attach to a world elsewhere (centre-out-there) may vary significantly and results in a “continuum” of experiences (q159). Underlying travel needs and motives differ highly among (potential) tourists, revealing the importance of the mental distance in tourism rather than simply the physical one.

Based on Cohen’s five orientations, Elands & Lengkeek (q159) set up a series of five modes as part of a quantitative study of people camping at nature sites, ranging from the amusements mode in which individuals step outside the ordinary in search for entertainment, to the dedication mode, whereby the estrangement from ordinary life is so strong that a new everyday reality is sought elsewhere. These shifts in modes or orientations relate to two other terms often used: travel motives based on escape and search respectively (q35; q69; q68). Some tourists may stick to their daily circumstances, while others open up to different socio-cultural environments. Elands & Lengkeek (q159) aimed to understand this propensity to either stay close or move farther away from what is familiar as a dynamic ‘predisposition’ that influences immediate and retrospective experiences of tourist situations. The typologies of subjective interpretations and experiences can be summarized as follows:

Table 1: Key characteristics per experience mode – adapted from Elands and Lengkeek (q159) with additions made by Marinus Gisolf

Mode: Amusement Change Interest Rapture Dedication
Subjective Distance Close by Going away from Going to Far away Immerse
Subjective Time (short) Break Another sense of time As long as you can Unanticipated Permanent
Space Familiar, symbolic and physical Elsewhere Vistas, Gaze, Liminal Really different, high level of liminality Backstage world
Sociality Familiar social groups Free onself from home environment Stories Open to the unknown Authentic otherness
Impact sources Main Impact sources Main & Side impact sources Any experience clue Mainly shared impact sources Local life
Expectations Specific – physically oriented Well documented Mixed Broad The unknown

Table 1: Key characteristics per experience mode – adapted from Elands and Lengkeek (q159) with additions made by Marinus Gisolf


An attempt can be made to link the modes with concepts such as needs, expectations and liminality.

      1. The recreational orientation: the stories and metaphors are well known and do not create any tension with everyday reality. Tourists want to be entertained and do not try to depart from their social roles.

      2. The second orientation – the diversionary mode – refers to a real difference with normal life and the need to break away from it. A typical metaphor used is that of “recharging batteries”. There is a genuine search for the unknown and tourists take consciously distance from their home social life. However, many will not deviate from the beaten tracks.

      3. The experiential orientation refers to much stronger implications of stories and comparisons. The unknown has to be experienced, the break from the own society is complete and consciously liminality zones are entered. Metaphors refer to the mystical, the feeling that there is more between heaven and earth than we can understand. The wild is symbolized by the big five of animals and nature by erupting volcanoes or dense forests.

      4. The experimental orientation is very much directed to the Self. Tourists submerge in their holiday environment in search of new values and experiences. Liminality is consciously sought and lived, while experiencing takes on an existentialist manner. Metaphors tell about deep religious believes, about amazement and rapture. The tourist is prepared to undergo a transformation.

      5. This orientation is existentialist and motivations are primarily concerning the Self. Liminality is lived in full and the tourist seriously considers the option of passing the threshold to try to enter the destinations socio-cultural environment on a permanent basis. Metaphors refer to the role of nature for the planet, its immensity and untouchability. Religious experiences can also be related to this orientation.

Concentrating more on a personal socio-psychological approach serves as an advantage when trying to apply this typology to a broad set of different cultural settings as well as an ample array of nationalities. When designing tourism activities it is of vital importance to evaluate the encounter tourists have with the destination and to what extent a destination want tourists to enter their world. In this sense managing spaces and places is one of the keys as will be explained furhter on.

A sheer psychological reasoning was applied for the Tourism Experience Model (TEM) developed by J. Gnoth (q163). The TEM first seeks to understand the process of experiencing itself as the precursor to experiences. This is important when considering, on the one hand, the tourist’s role and desire for fulfilling experiences and on the other the unique nature of destinations that are to be involved. Gnoth and Matteucci (q163) explain, thatexperiencing is not only contingent on how the mind perceives the activity in which it is engaged as it interacts with its environment, but also on what the destination provides in terms of possible experience clues. The tourist’s mind becomes aware of its holiday destination in two outlined modalities: the mind either applies the perceptual norms, standards and expectations of a person whose perception seeks the alignment with roles, or his/her mind is humanistically oriented and seeks spontaneous convergence of emotions and situations that reflects the individual’s existence. In this sense there exists a certain agreement with Cohen/Lengkeek’s vision with regards to the degree of detachment of the home environment.

In describing the interrelated processes by which human beings acquire, change and adapt knowledge and skills as a function of their emotional being-in-the-world, one can begin to understand how tourists structure and perceive their destination (q163). The TEM is based on two axes: the activity axis (from consolidating and self-directed to exploratory and other-directed) and the consciousness axis (from role authenticity to existential authenticity). These also show four overlapping areas: egoistic pleasure seeker, re-discoverer, knowledge seeker and holist. 

Egoistic pleasure seeker: In this mode, the tourist experiences known feelings and outcomes and is able to predict what moderately novel environments may produce, and varies their intensity to a measured degree through choice and decisions.

Re-discoverer: Here, the tourist begins to rediscover him or herself as he/she seeks to apply some form of effort in order to re-establish known skills and capabilities.

Knowledge seeker: Novelty seeking moves beyond self-gratification when becoming exploratory and when the mind is seeking.

Holist: If exploratory behaviour becomes spontaneously playful, experimental and seeking existential, emotional convergence, activity becomes creative and holistic as moments are experienced as Gestalts rather than differentially experienced details.

An additional dimension to consciousness and activity is therefore the tourist destination itself as the physical and mental space that turns into a relational place when the tourist engages and interacts with it. It can reveal the types of agency the destination assumes in the interaction (q163) and it is precisely this point that leads to the question of how different types of intervention at a destination can be distinguished.

3. Destination typologies

The four typologies mentioned here – Plog, Pearce, Cohen/Lengkeek and Gnoth – are just some of the many attempts to frame tourism behaviour, to set up a typology of tourists or to design a Tourist Lifestyle Scale. The next step now relates to how corresponding impact sources can be categorized in order to be matched with tourism experience modes or life styles. Earlier on one particular division was mentioned: main and side impact sources with economic value versus shared and incidental impact sources, which tourists can enjoy for free. There is another possible way to distinguish impact sources.

The structure of experience is based on tourist interactions with places, people and artifacts. However what is considered a place at a destination may turn out to be an unknown space for a tourist.It is the destination’s space-place relation that moulds the tourism encounter and resulting tourism activity. Place implies space, and each home is a place in space. A place requires human agency; it is something that may take time to know and a home especially so (q165). The notion of place goes beyond physical matter and transcends tangible qualities such as size, proportions and features (q173). A place is what people make out of a space with their emotional attachment and interaction. Tuan (q171) characterized places as “humanized spaces”, wondering how people understood and recognized them and how they imparted meaning to them.

In practical terms it means that one’s own bedroom is an intimate place, but a hotel room is just a space to sleep. This is an important observation. Both share structure and intention, but the first contains a wealth of emotions and impressions from experiences gained over a certain amount of time, which cannot be said of the hotel room, a scene for only a few nights. The example turns out to be even more intriguing when taking into account the case of home stays, whereby tourists sleep in spaces that are clearly places to the local people. Tourists become backstage intruders in local life.

For local people their daily environment is directly place related, which turns the encounter between tourists and their holiday destination in the widest sense of the term into a complicated entwining of space/place concepts (q222).

Both spaces and places can be turned into experience sources by tourists, but each can be ascribed distinct features for their functioning in tourism. If a place can be defined as being relational, historical and related to an identity, then the space that cannot be defined as relational, historical and related to an identity can be defined as a non-place (q166). International hotel chains, airports or shopping malls are examples. Main tourism attractions are specifically developed for tourists and represent spaces exclusively for them. This means that local people who might visit this attraction may feel the same distanced space, although in the past they may have known the site as a familiar place. Tourists might try to convert these spaces into recognizable places for themselves, however, they will still remain among tourists (q222). Different are those spaces where tourists intermingle with local people in a local setting. This encounter opens up a wider array of options for tourists in their effort to turn space into place, depending on their own predisposition to either stay close or move farther away from what is familiar. In mixed spaces more often than not tourists are non-paying consumers. The point here is to what extent tourism attractions may be scaled on a space-based perspective. Not only do tourists and local people mix at spaces, this may also be the case at public places. Those present in a concert hall are all listeners regardless their background. In general the mixed places show the most interesting mix of direct contact between locals and tourists, while the latter may actively try to convert the mixed place into a personal place. Finally there are places with different characteristics: so-called backstage local life, which is about living places by definition and it is therefore hard for any tourist to penetrate, although there are examples, such as backpackers or volunteers.

So far arbitrarily 5 contact zones between holiday destination and tourists have been distinguished: non-places, tourism spaces, mixed spaces, mixed places and local places. The analysis of the role of spaces and places within the tourism activity at a holiday destination on the one hand and the socio-economic factors defining possible experiences sources on the other is summarized in Table 1.

Returning to experience modes and ways of experiencing as presented in this article, a figure can be designed that serves as a general framework of what at a destination will work for each type of tourist. In Figure 1 the horizontal axis shows the various experience modes as set forth by Elands & Lengkeek (q159) whereby visitors and the people being partially visitor/tourists have been added, while the vertical axis shows the socio-economic impact sources.

The different areas representing space/place relations have been indicated in the figure. Figure 1 is an imaginary model that represents the extent to which tourists make use of tourism attractions depending on their alienation from their home society and the level of search for alternative experiences; a similar figure can be designed on the basis of TEM (q163). The width of each column (tourist experience mode) does not refer to absolute numbers of tourists. These figures do not exist, since the distribution is arbitrary. There are many visitors and visitors/tourists, but whether they outnumber the so-called ‘real’ tourists is questionable and different for each destination. Figure 1 serves as a theoretical framework that helps identify at a destination which types of impact sources may generate a way of experiencing or an experience itself and as such serves a dual purpose. First, the framework helps identify and categorize all impact sources at a destination, especially those that do not represent direct economic value for tourism, while, secondly it provides indications for which orientation of tourists experiencing these impact sources may serve. This model will show up differently for each destination, although general outlines are mosty likely to be similar.

An example would be a tourist who has been identified by the use of questionnaires or direct contact as somewhere between the “Change” and “Interest” modes as set out by Elands & Lengkeek (q159) or between the Re-discoverer and Holist headings in terms of the TEM (q163). Following Figure 1 this tourist will generally be avoiding the non-places and will require limited use of tourist spaces. These are already clear indicators for tour operators or travel agents when preparing a holiday proposal. For this example Figure 1 also indicates that direct contact with local people is desired, a liking for everything that is shared with the local population and this tourist may even want to move into places that usually form part of the local daily routine. Choice of hotels would be the more cosy and small scales lodgings and informal relations. Furthermore, this tourist likes to take his own initiatives, so a holiday with a rental car and a flexible programme would be recommended.

4. Final remarks

What popularly are called tourist profiles or lifestyles and the existing interest in these typologies for marketing reasons have to be handled with a certain caution. A isolated tourist profile without context does not exist. Profiles, typologies, personal characteristics are all relative and highly subjective concepts. Two main arguments have been presented in this article: one cannot separate the tourists’ experiencing from the tourist destination. The second argument embarks the uses that is given to the data generated by typologies.

The first argument needs to be reiterated once more: in this article it is explained, that with tourism activities, it is not about what a destination can offer or what tourists want from a destination, rather it deals with what at any given destination can serve each type of tourist. A destination represents the physical and mental space that turns into a relational place when the tourist engages and interacts with it. Tourists’ involvement in a destination depends on their personal disposition, which can be typified on the grounds of psychological or socio-psychological grounds as explained.

The second argument refers to the purpose typologies are developed, being for the marketing of specific tourism products or for the development of tourist attractions at a destination – just to mention a few examples. The data about tourists’ profiles can be used to help predict tourist behaviour, their choice of holiday or destination and their ways of experiencing. However, there is a catch, because there are more factors in play: the external ones. Bad weather, money problems, robbery, heat waves or tropical storms, road incidents and so on all have a direct impact on tourists’ behaviour. First, external factors may influence a tourist’s choice of holiday deviating from his customary profile and secondly at a destination behaviour may also change on the grounds of forementioned factors.

What interferes with regular tourist behaviour paterns according to the various experience orientations is the form and extent with which tourists react to external factors. Among others this depends on the extent a tourist follows his usual logic and reacts similarly as in his home environment or looks for solutions himself for the (unexpected) situations he is confronted with.Up to date there has been relatively little research on this issue of how tourists react to negative external factors and to what extent their reactions coincide with expierence modes and orientations.

 Additionally, there exists the practice among tourists from the 21st century on, to be involved in what is popularly known as “tourism zapping”, tending to mix various types of holidays: a few days of wellness holiday alternating with some really adventurous tours, then a bit of culture, while not forgetting one’s Self by engaging in a Reiki course (q150). Figure 1 helps select in this case the different areas that may be combined. Specifically under globalizing influences combining different types of impact sources and destinations seems to be more common nowadays.

At a holiday destination matching tourists’ profiles with certain tourism attractions may be useful, first of all for marketing purposes and secondly for arranging infrastructural aspects in accordance to what tourists are supposed to expect. Figure 1 is just about that. At a holiday destination drawing up an inventory of attractions according to features that can be matched with similar social psychological traits in tourists is a vital exercise for understanding what tourism is about. This inventory then can be matched with the existing image or brand a destination presents, while helping tour operators or travel agents classify any destination’s impact sources according to the specific market segments they relate to.

A last remark: from the beginning of the 21st century a vast part of (western) tourists travels electronically well-equiped, which may undermine the notion of staying closer or moving farther away from the home environment. It is difficult for anyone to separate oneself from home while continuously in touch via mobile telephone or other devices. It is not yet clear what the consequences are for tourists’ attitudes and how tourists with different experience orientations may handle the Internet during their vacation, but I would not be surprised if I had to re-write this article within a couple of years!

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


2 Responses to “Tourists’ profiles and lifestyles”

  1. Dear Marinus Gisolf!
    Good Evening
    That’s a very informative article and giving me certain insights about my research.
    thanks very much for putting over this webpage.
    I want to use the last diagram by citing you. in my research page by citing you.
    Kindly allow me to do so, I shall be highly obliged to you.
    In case if you are allowing please guiding for citing this article and above-researched diagram(last one).
    thanks and regards

    Ashok Sigh Rathore
    Mody University,Sikar
    Rajathan, India

    • Dear Ashok,
      Thank you for your mail. Please feel free to use the material from my website, but obviously always mention the source.
      Additionnally I am interested in your article and once published perhaps you can send me a copy.
      With regards from Costa Rica,

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