The Tourism Experience. A brief theoretical introduction.
The tourism experience is a complex concept that has attracted the attention of many scholars (Cohen, 1979; Jennings et al., 2009; MacCannel, 1989; Ritchie, Tung and Ritchie, 2011). However, the concept has yet to be further researched; there appears to be a general consensus that the concept is not yet conclusive, but rather vague (Jennings et al., 2009; Larsen, 2007).
Tourism is essentially cultural experiences. MacCannell (1989) defines cultural experiences as all the data that are fashioned and idealised of the social life. Cohen (1979) emphasises that touristic travel emerges from the desire to escape the daily routine and to experience what cannot be found in the ordinary life. He argues that with modern mass tourism there has been a growing demand to experience culture, social life and the natural environment of the ‘different’, the ‘other’. Tourists live experiences in order to stimulate emotions, these experiences are compelled by motives and expectations (Murray, Foley & Lynch, 2010).
Ritchie, Tung and Ritchie (2011) state that research about the tourism experience has been centred mainly on managerial concerns, experience behaviours, and types of different experiences. Many authors emphasise that there is a lack of representation in the tourism literature about the tourism experience itself. Yet, both academy and industry regarding tourism agree upon “the essence of tourism is the visitor experience” (Jennings, 2006; Ritchie, Tung & Ritchie, 2011:430).
Although the concept is unclear, there are different ways of understanding it. One approach explains the tourism experience as the different dimensions that commonly serve as outcome measures like consumer behaviour, tourist motivation, visitor satisfaction, recommendations, intention to re-visit, destination image, loyalty and evaluation (Ritchie, Tung & Ritchie; 2011). It can also involve more tangible experiences such as accommodation, booking, transportation, weather, and many other variables. However, it can be argued that the tourism experience can also be the type of experience that the tourist will live, for example, adventure tourism (Ritchie, Tung & Ritchie, 2011).
Another theoretical trend (Jackson, White & Schmierer, 1996) claims that the tourist will evaluate the experience in terms of the perception of positive or negative. These authors claim that the positive experiences include the understanding of another culture, the enhancing of understanding of oneself, the enhancing of marriage, hedonistic activities. Negative experiences include the poor food or accommodation services, mass tourism, boredom, the feeling of being lost or isolated, suffering a health problem, bad weather, transport hassles, mechanical breakdowns. It is the tourism industry itself that can “focus on minimizing or removing such potent negative experiences, and this will prevent the negative emotional reactions from occurring” (Jackson, White, & Schmierer, 1996:806).
Another position held by Otto and Ritchie (1996) claims that there are different dimensions that enhance the touristic experience; whether it is a hedonistic dimension, an interactive/social dimension, novelty seeking/escape dimension, comfort dimension, safety dimension or stimulating/challenge seeking dimension. The best quality of the overall experience is obtained by including all six dimensions.
One last theory about the experience is based on the idea that experiences are created through the process of visiting a place, enjoying activities, and learning in a place away from home (Stamboulis & Skayannis, 2003). The experience is complemented by the background of values, beliefs and attitudes the visitor has (Knutson et al., 2006). Pine and Gilmore (1999) proposed four realms of the experience: education (the active absorption of the mind), aesthetics (even though the mind is involved with the environment visited it is not altered by it), escapism (involves active participation of the tourist), and entertainment (passive participation of the tourist that does not affect the environment). However, the four dimensions this theory suggests are blurred since an experience can overlap more than one realm.
The general understanding of the concept of tourism experience is to escape from the tourist’s is ordinary life. But there is another factor that influences the experience: the perception of quality of the experience. Quan and Wang (2004) call the ‘peak experience’ the experience that provides the sense of actually escaping from ordinary life, which gives quality to the experience dimensions. Even though there is not a general consensus on the definition of ‘tourism experience’, it can be held that the quality of the experience is what provides tourism satisfaction in the overall experience.