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Tourism Review

Towards a general theory of touristic experiences: Modelling experience process in tourism

Seppo K. Aho
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Modelling Experience Process in Tourism (Discussion Forum)

Towards a general theory o f touristic experiences:

Modelling experience process in t o u r i s m

S E P P O K. A H O

Abstract Experiences are a main issue in tourism. However, the conceptual configuration of experiences in
tourism has proved to be difficult. The English word 'experience' is rather neutral and vague; it can be
understood to cover all kind of things that a person has passed through, regardless of their mental,
emotianal or other relevance. There is a more precise terms available for emotional experiences in some
languages: Erlebnis in German, upplevelse in Swedish and elämys in Finnish are examples of these.
(Cf. e.g. Ireland & Kivi 1998.)
The purpose of this paper is to clarify the nature and main characteristics of experiences in tourism for
the benifit of general understanding of experience processes in tourism. The scope, contents and types
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of experiences are discussed first from functional points or view giving special attention to the scope of
processes producing various types of experiences. The types and roles of various personal resources are
clarified then. The stages of experience processes in tourism are then figured out in the third section of
the paper. Finally, a preliminary model is presented decribing the essential elements and dynamics of
the process where tourism experiences evolve.

Key Words: Experience Process, Experience Typology, Modelling Experiences

1 The nature of touristic experiences Various elements of experience often

appear as partly overlapping; emotions for
Modern tourism is an important arena in instance are likely to be involved to various
people's search for various elements of well- degrees in most touristic experiences. How-
being. Tourism offers a wide forum for satis- ever, learning and many activities may pro-
faction of quite a number of human needs: duce experience also without any signifi-
relaxation and cure, feeling togetherness, so- cant emotions.
cial acceptance, prestige, learning, self-real-
ization in various forms, and esthetic impres-
sions. However, the general nature of touris- 1.1 Typologising contents o f
tic experiences has been dealt relatively little. experiences
Tourism can be characterized as a com-
bination of those processes that are volun- It is useful to distinguish between essential
tarily and purposely originated for produc- core contents of touristic experiences. Four
ing experiences by means of moving people essential cores are suggested here:
between places. These experiences may
have various dominant contents: for exam- 1. Getting emotionally effected, i.e. some
ple amusement, emotions, learning, relax- emotional impression felt and registed
ation, and various types of activities. by the subject of experience. This core
Seppo K. Aho, PhD (London) Gilmore and Pine claim in their recent contents is called emotional experiences.
Lic.Sc.Sc. (Helsinki) book (1998?) that sufficient areas of (hu- 2. Getting informed, i.e. some new intellec-
Professor o f tourism (Preston University) man) experience are entertainment, educa- tual impression or learning based on the
Senior Researcher (University o f Lapland) tion, escapism and easthetism. This defini- information offered to the subject by the
University o f Lapland
tion clearly does not cover all relevant types experience. This core type covers infor-
Tourism studies
of experiences in tourism; cure (getting mative experiences.
Box 122
healthier) and various types of personal 3. Getting practiced, i.e. increase in some
Fin-96101 Rovaniemi
achievements (e.g. activities resulting in capability (like skills in language, tennis
self-saticfaction), for instance, are not cov- or mountaineering) of the subject. This
Phone: +358 16 341 26 39
ered. core covers practice experiences.

Tourism Review, Vol 56, No 3+4/2001 33

S. K. Aho

4. Getting transformed, i.e. at least a rather Other useful bases for typologising ex- The overall experience resource poten-
permanent change in the state of mind or periences refer to their character as having tial of people is a dynamic combination of
body or the way of life of the subject. This physical, social or mental or psychic con- these resource types.
core covers transformation experiences. tact with the subject. Tourists can have Time for tourism is practically worth-
Some of these four core contents of physical experiences in bathing and mas- less without money necessary for buying
touristic experiences appear in various de- sage places, for instance. Social experiences services inherent in travel.
grees often simultaneously. are important in many types of travel, both Money without any free time is not a
Emotional experiences are likely to be in incentive tourism of active businessmen sufficient condition for tourism as the feel-
present, at least to some extent, in most and more leasurable tours for the elderly ing of leasure is inherent in touristic expe-
touristic experiences. Therefore, they can be people. Mental experiences are common riences. The coincidence of time and mon-
described as rather universal elements of both in pilgrimages and in tourism devoted ey is thus a necessary basic condition for
tourism. The essence of emotional experi- for art. Touristic motivations can be classi- tourism.
ences is the mental impression they produce. fied on the basis of these three basic cate- But there are other clear resource fac-
It is an effect produced on the mind of the gories of elements (see Figure 1). tors in the subject's personality qualifying
subject experiencing tourism. The strength Tourism experiences may be individual the touristic experience.
of emotions vary a lot. This can be reflected or collective phenomena. A person may ad- Accumulated knowledge of facts, fic-
in immediate reactions (applause, excite- mire a scenery alone or be one in a group of tion and earlier experiences influences both
ment, laughter, cryes) as well as in the length friends at a pop concert. However, the very the search, anticipation, choosing and ac-
of the resulting "mental imprints". The du- experience is received by individuals in the tual on the spot enjoyment of experiences.
ration of memories - how long and strongly
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last hand. But the collective situation as The knowledge background also relates
people reminisce on them - represents good such means often a certain important ele- new experiences to wider relevant contexts
criteria for evaluating these imprints. ment; therefore it is relevant to recognize and thus influences their reflections (nov-
Getting informed by a touristic experi- collective experiences as a social type. An- elty, intensity, etc.).
ence includes reception of some knowledge other significant aspect is that tourist expe- We can imagine a person who already
elements that result in enrichment of rience may be introvert or extrovert in its has seen and experiences "everything". His
knowledge of the tourist. This learning may character. A subject may hide his feelings,
be intended or occational. Intended learn- learnings and even transformations, while
ing is the main content of various study another makes them openly known to oth-
trips, while most other tourist trops may er people.
include various elements of
valuable sporadic knowledge. There are
thus two clearly different forms of infor- 1.2 Types and the role o f personal
mative experiences. The role of emotions in resources
informative experiences vary a lot. The ap-
pearance and strength of emotions may fa- People vary a lot in their personal resources
cilitate greatly learning processes, tourist to recieve experiences. Time and money are
trips may offer a fruitful arena for these the most commonly mentioned resource
combinations. types, but they are not the only important
Practice experiences have a variety of ones. Various personal resources con-
forms from many kinds of hobbies to spec- tributre in different ways to the resource
ified professional experience. Practice in potential of experiences of people. The fol-
foreign languages, for example, may belong lowing list includes the most important
to both of these categories depending on types of personal experience resources:
the subject's situation. Practice during 1. time for thinking, planning, anticipat-
touristic trips can be gained also in various ing, receiving and reflecting experi-
kinds of sports and many other activities. ences,
Getting transformed in the state of 2. money for buying services needed for
body is the aim in health tourism, especial- approaching and receiving experiences,
ly in cases where various curing treatments 3. knowledge (including earlier experi-
are excercised. The state of mind may be ences) background for finding informa-
transformed in cultural tourism, for in- tion of, evaluating and
stance in cases when a new permanent in- choosing between available experiences,
spiration in art is created. It may be noted 4. skills of approaching and self contribut-
that there is a clear difference between get- ing to experiences,
ting practiced and getting transformed: 5. attitudes ("openness") towards new
practice maintains and maybe increases ca- things and possible unexpected
pabilities already exisiting in the subject happenings,
while transformations represent structural 6. social networks for anticipation, deliv-
changes in his personality. ery and sharing of experiences.

34 Tourism Review, Vol 56, No 3+4/2001

Modelling Experience Process in Tourism (Discussion Forum)

situation is clearly different from a person 2 The stages o f called attachment. In additon to the go-de-
to whom "everything is new and exciting". experience processes cision it includes preparations of the trip
Skills to approach experiences and self and also some account of expectations.
contribute to them clearly influence the A straight-forward way of distinguishing More or less vague elements of interest are
quality of experiences. As an example serves stages in tourism experience process in- developing to various expectations at-
a situation where tourists visit a folk festi- cludes three stages: one before the trip, the tached to the trip. These expectations are
val and they are invited to join in the dance: trip as such, and that after the trip. The first very important from the standpoint of
those who dare and have necessary stage includes then the planning and deci- both touristic experiences and general sat-
skills to do it shurely gain a more intense sion making, the trip covers the touristic isfaction: evaluations of the trip are usually
experience than those just looking by. On act itself, and the third one all post-consid- related to the expectations. Expectations
the basis of his skills the subject can himself erations. This staging leaves room for con- are the core of attachment.
contribute to his experience. sidering more detailed relevant stages in Trips usually include travel and stay in
Attitudes of the subject represent a fil- people's search for experiences. one or more destinations. Both of these may
ter for receiving or rejecting available expe- The broad stage ending up to a visit de- offer significant experiences. So as to em-
riences. People - and even the same peo- cision and the choice of destination is ap- phasize the differences between touristic
ple in different situations - differ in their propriate to divide at least in two parts: get- trips and more routine trips to work etc. the
willingness to "open" themselves to new ex- ting interested and getting attached (includ- term visiting is used here. It refers to the es-
periences. This is a significant aspect in ing the choice of destination). Some re- sential feature of tourists: they are deter-
evaluations of experiences. searches (e.g. Crompton and Ankomah mined to come and also go after staying for
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Enrichment of experiences is possible 1993) distinguish here three phases (awere- a while. The process of visiting is the arena
in various social processes. Existing social ness set, evoked set and final destination se- for absorbing raw material for experiences; a
networks represent here an essential per- lection), but the delineation between the two part of it lead to immediate reactions, while
sonal resource. Anticipation of experiences first ones may in some cases be problematic. a part may ripen over a longer time. The iden-
is vitalized in hearance of stories told by It seems obvious that awakening of in- tification of this time dimension is impor-
friends having been to potential destina- terest is a normal condition for touristic ex- tant for understanding experience processes,
tions. The "post-experiences" of trips are vi- periences. but it does not dimish the value of visits as
talized in communications with and within As tourism is basicly voluntary activity, the primary source of touristic experiences.
various social networks of the subject. orientation in the form of awakening inter- Evaluation of visits are usually made in-
The overall resource potential of the est to touristic experiences can be defined formally and sometimes systematically. Expe-
subject is based on these six personal expe- as a necessary starting point of the process riences are related to earlier trips and com-
rience resource factors. leading to decisions of touristic choices, pared with those recieved by other visitors.
The resourse potential has a form of a and later to touristic expepriences. Al- The new experiences are related to the accu-
dynamic structure where some factors are though quite sporadic touristic experiences mulated storage of one's earlier experiences
rather concrete (like money) and easily not- are possible in principle, their appearance is and the existing image of others ' experiences.
ed (like time) while some are less obvious. not likely without a suitable arena consist- The strength of this double-mechanism de-
The possession and use of various types of ing of certain components of which orien- pends on both the size of one's own storage
personal resource potential has influence tation is the first one. and the type of the reference group. As forma-
on scope and strength of experiences (cf. If orientation leads to a decision of tion of experiences has a time dimension it is
Figures 2 and 3). making a trip, the decision maker is at- worth noting that immediate on-the-spot
tached to a destination or a route in a clear evaluations of various destinations are not al-
way indicating strong interest. This stage is ways reliable in a long run. Likewise, the posi-

Tourism Review, Vol 56, No 3+4/2001

S. K. Aho

tion of a specific experience in the stored com- a visitor has learnt on his trip. In some cas- assumed to be the core of influence. The
plex of experiences may change over time. es visits may lead into better skills. The types and strengths of these influences can
Visits are commonly registed and "taken essence of this stage is the post-trip growth be analysed afterwards.
with" in various forms utilizing technology. of either experience audience (the external It may be noted that this model empha-
Souvenirs and photos are the most common aspect) or the internal utilization of the ex- sizes structural differences between the
ways of making memories concrete. The perience. The term enrichment is used to stages of the processes behind final touris-
storing of physical objects, however, is not cover both of these aspects referring to the tic experiences. Not much attention is giv-
the only significant way of storing visits. Al- growing value of experiences afterwards. en to issues like the states of mind during
so social features like interesting people and the visit and that are analysized rather
significant social situations may be stored. much in earlier literature (cf. "animation"
Mental affections, impressions and new 3 A process model o f t o u r i s m and "touristhood" in Jafaris terminology ,
meanings are commenly known results of experiences "liminoidity" with Selänniemi and some
touristic visits. Storage of these various ele- other antropologists).
ments has many forms. Physical elements The seven stages of experience processes The elements and stages of tourism ex-
may be given away or saved by the visitor. presented above are linked into a dynamic perience processes cover a complex process
They may have a visible role at home (as a system where previous stages are necessary from awakening of interest to utilization of
room decoration, for example) or be sec but not sufficient conditions of later gained experiences. The seven stages of this
aside and soon forgotten. Storing social and stages. New experiences can emerge and old process are logically linked together and
mental elements can happen both in one's ones may be modified at each stage the ex- their combined system can be considered as
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own mind or diary and through messages perience process being thus cumulative in a model (Figure 4). This model has follow-
sent to other people. Various written travel its basic character. Each stage involves dif- ing characteristics.
descriptions are a classical form of long-last- ferent basic processes which again get vari- 1. Touristic experiences begin before the
ing storage on these rather abstract ele- ous forms between cases and individuals. trip in awakening interest and expecta-
ments. The effect of a short moment's ex- Each stage involved has a role in the final tions and they may live for life in memo-
perience can last over centures in a popular experience. The type and strength of a cer- ries, artifacts and practices.
travel description (like that of Acerbi's from tain stage depends on circumstances; it 2. The time sequence of the stages in evolve-
the year 1799). Therefore, storing is a very cannot be generalized. Visiting, of course is ment of experiences is clear and logical:
significant stage in the process of experi-
ences. It also represents the necessary basis
for the two last stages of the process.
Reflection of experiences is both an indi-
cation of and a way of increasing their
strength. These reflections may take place ei-
ther privately or in social arenas. Most inti-
mate experiences belong to the private
sphere and their reftections are difficult to
trace. But a large majority of touristic experi-
ences offers interesting material for social
communication: exceptionally good destina-
tions are rewarded with praising comments
offered to all kinds of people met soon after-
wards. If a visitors' group has developed so-
cial community it may organize a meeting
for seeing the pictures and reflecting the
events during the visit. Reflections may be
spontaneous or staged. They are based on
the stored material of visits. The time and ef-
fort devoted to reflections as well as their fre-
quency may be considered as good proxies
for the experienced value of touristic visits.
Touristic experiences may be offered to
wider audiences (i.e. to those who have not
participated the visit) as entertainment or
interesting information. The effects of the
visit are then spread to people for their
needs of orientation, attachment and eval-
uation - maybe even storing offering thus
new experiences at various levels. But some
visits may end up also in new practices that

Tourism Review, Vol 56, No 3+4/2001

Modelling Experience Process in Tourism (Discussion Forum)

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Tourism Review, Vol 56, No 3+4/2001

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