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INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF TOURISM RESEARCH

Int. J. Tourism Res. 11, 111126 (2009)


Published online in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com) DOI: 10.1002/jtr.721

Understanding and Meeting the


Challenges of Consumer/Tourist
Experience Research
J. R. Brent Ritchie1,* and Simon Hudson2
1
World Tourism Education & Research Centre, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, T2N 1N4
2
Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, T2N 1N4

ABSTRACT of the earliest scholarly journal research arti-


cles on the tourism experience: The Service
This paper seeks to provide a framework Experience in Tourism (Otto and Ritchie,
that will help us identify and better 1996). This paper sought to provide some
understand the major challenges we face in initial insights into the critical dimensions of
consumer/tourist experience research. These the experience in tourism and served to
challenges have both theoretical and launch us on our quest to better understand
managerial dimensions. Based on an what many have argued is the central chal-
extensive and comprehensive review of the lenge facing tourism planners, namely, the
current literature in the eld, we have design of effective touristic experiences.
categorised extant knowledge into six main In preparing this review, we rst undertook
streams of theoretical thinking and to thoroughly examine material on the experi-
empirical research. These streams were ence so as to provide an overview of existing
identied as the fundamentals of the research. We then proceeded to sort the docu-
experience, experience-seeking behaviours, mentation into six broad categories or streams,
methodologies used in experience research, each of which appeared to reect a stream of
the nature of specic tourism experiences, thinking and related research. The streams
managerial issues in the design and identied were as follows:
delivery of experiences, and the
evolutionary trail of experience thinking. Stream 1 the fundamental stream
Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. involves conceptual work and/or research
that sought to dene and understand the
essence of the tourism experience. This
Keywords: understanding challenges;
includes a sub-stream in which research-
consumer/tourist experience research.
ers use specic theoretical frameworks as
their point of departure;
INTRODUCTION
Stream 2 a stream of thinking/research
Tourism is all about Experiences that sought to understand the tourists
Canadian Tourism Commission (2007) experience-seeking behaviour;
Stream 3 material/research related to

I
t has been nearly a decade since Pine and
the specic methodologies used in tourism
Gilmore (1999) published their popularis-
experience research;
ing treatise on The Experience Economy,
and over a decade since the appearance of one Stream 4 those studies that sought to
explore and understand the nature of spe-
cic kinds of tourism/attraction experiences;
*Correspondence to: J. R. Brent Ritchie, World Tourism Stream 5 involves the managerial con-
Education & Research Centre, University of Calgary,
Alberta, Canada, T2N 1N4. cerns related to designing and develop-
E-mail: britchie@ucalgary.ca ing the tourism supply systems required
Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
112 J. R. B. Ritchie and S. Hudson

to manage the delivery of a basic/satis- halyi later applied his psychological insights to
factory/quality/extraordinary/memora- consumer behaviour and marketing (Csik-
ble experience; szentmihalyi, 2000, p. 268) observing that con-
suming is behavior whereby entropy (disorder
Stream 6 focussed on efforts to distin-
in the universe) is increased in exchange for
guish among the various levels/types of
existential or experiential rewards.
experiences that conceptually seemed to
form an evolutionary trail of experience
thinking. This trail involves the basic
The Anthropology of Experience: Victor W. Turner
experience, the satisfactory experience, the
and Edward M. Bruner (1986). A second seminal
quality experience, the extraordinary expe-
work is this series of papers exploring the con-
rience and the memorable experience;
cepts of experience. The rst chapter attempts
an etymology of the English word for experi-
Each of these streams of thinking/research
ence. Turner and Bruner elaborate on Diltheys
presents us with a dened set of research chal-
(1976 [1914], p. 210) distinction between mere
lenges. In what follows, we will examine the
experience and an experience (Turner and
nature of each of these research streams and
Bruner, 1986, p. 35). Mere experience is simply
present a selection of papers/studies that are
the passive endurance and acceptance of events.
representative of each stream. The greatest
An experience, like a rock in a Zen sand garden
emphasis will be on Stream 1, whose contents
stands out from the evenness of passing hours
seek to provide an understanding of the
and years and forms what Dilthey called a
essence of the experience. Unfortunately,
structuring of experience. Turner and Bruner
space limitations prevent us from reviewing
saw as signicant Diltheys view that, such
the material from each stream to the extent we
experiences have temporal or processual struc-
would have liked. Hopefully, what we have
tures they proceeded through distinguish-
been able to present, and the conceptual frame-
able stages. In Diltheys view, experience urges
work within which it is presented, will be
towards expression, or communication with
helpful to readers.
others. We are social beings, and we want to tell
what we have learned from our experiences.
In his contribution to the same book,
Abrahams (1986) explores in great depth the
STREAM 1: UNDERSTANDING THE
evolution of the concept of experiences, and
ESSENCE OF THE CONSUMER/TOURIST
the distinction between the ordinary and
EXPERIENCE
extraordinary experience. To summarise, Abra-
hams asserts that there seems to be in essence
The beginnings of consumer
two kinds of an experience. Those arising
experience research
directly out of the ow of daily life, with little
As we reviewed the theoretical origins of the or no explicit preparations; and those for which
consumer/tourist experience, the single most we plan, and to which we look forward, where
important person in giving birth to the concept the parts are precast and each role has its set of
appeared to be Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a lines. He further notes that in our desire to opti-
psychologist, who rst studied the experience mise what he terms authenticating acts, at the
in the context of Leisure/Play (Csikszentmih- expense of authoritative ones, we seem to
alyi, 1975). However, it was the publication in appreciate most, those moments we can say
1990 of Flow: The Psychology of the Optimal afterward were big but which stole up on us
Experience which gave him a wide international and took us unawares. And then, quite interest-
audience. In it, he describes the importance of ingly, he subsequently points out that To
experiences in providing a sense of exhilara- encourage such moments, however, we must
tion, a deep sense of enjoyment that is long expend a good part of our energies secretly pre-
cherished and that becomes a landmark in paring for these breakthroughs, for those spon-
memory for what life should be like. This he taneous times in which we are overcome by the
termed, the optimal experience. Csikszentmi- fullment of the expectations we hardly could
Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Tourism Res. 11, 111126 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/jtr
The Challenges of Consumer/Tourist Experience Research 113

admit to having like those rst time experi- nents of experiential consumption, the authors
ences which, when successful are so surpris- emphasized that in their study, the actual unit
ing because we hear about them, and even talk of analysis is the individual consumption expe-
about them, but they seem to sneak up on us rience, not the respondent. Thus their work
anyway. We are surprised only by the full- began to consolidate the role of the experi-
ment of expectations (Abrahams, 1986, p. 64). ence in consumer research and conrm its
legitimacy.
The Experiential Aspects of Consumption
Morris Holbrook and Elizabeth Hirschman (1982); River Magic: Extraordinary Experiences and the
Play as a Consumption Experience: The Role of Extended Service Encounter Eric J. Arnould
Emotions, Performance, and Personality in the and Linda L. Price (1993). In the eld of leisure
Enjoyment of Games Morris B. Holbrook, and tourism one of the rst to recognise the
Robert W. Chestnut, Terence A. Oliva, and Eric A. importance of studying in the experience rather
Greenleaf (1984). These articles by Professor than the product was Arnould and Price (1993)
Holbrook and his colleagues (notably in their thorough and rigorous studies of an
Hirschmann) represent a crusade to move the extraordinary adventure tourism experience
marketing community away from the world namely river rafting. As well as focussing
of products into the world of experience. on the hedonic and symbolic aspects of ex-
Holbrook and Hirschman contrasted the view, perience, they questioned the conventional
popular at the time, of consumer behaviour as approach to measuring tourist satisfaction
essentially one of information processing, with through quantitative studies of the perfor-
that of consumer behaviour as being essen- mance of discrete attributes of the vacation.
tially experiential. They argued that previous
research, based on the information processing
Typology of experiences
perspective, tended to ignore the playful nature
of leisure activities and the importance of Another pioneer of experience research was
sensory pleasures, daydreams, aesthetic enjoy- Cohen (1979), who proposed a phenomeno-
ment, and emotional responses. They pro- logical typology of tourist experiences. Those
ceeded to argue that consumption behaviour which he identied and dened were: the
should acknowledge the importance of fanta- Recreational Mode, the Diversionary Mode,
sies and feelings, all encompassed by what the Experiential Mode, the Experimental
they called (in 1982), the experiential view. Mode and the Existential Mode.
Nevertheless, it should be emphasized that Other attempts to dene the modes or
Holbrook and Hirschman did not advocate the components of leisure and tourism experiences
abandoning of the information processing included Unger and Kernan (1983), who iden-
approach, but rather supplementing it with the tify ve major subjective components of intrin-
experiential perspective. sic satisfaction in leisure: perceived freedom,
It is important to point out, that Holbrook involvement, arousal, mastery, and spontane-
and Hirschman accorded recognition to Alder- ity. Hirschman (1984) asserts that there are
son (1957), who had drawn a sharp distinction basically three stages of experience seeking: (i)
between buying and consuming, and to Boyd cognitive; (ii) sensation; and (iii) novelty.
and Levys (1963) discussion of the consump- Otto and Ritchie (1996) built on earlier
tion system with its emphasis on brand-usage studies by Havlena and Holbrook (1986),
behaviour. By focussing on the conguration Holbrook and Hirschman (1982), and Bello
of activities involved in consumption, the Boyd and Etzel (1985), among others, by using an
and Levy viewpoint calls attention to the expe- empirical study of 339 tourists to identify six
riences with a product that one actually gains fundamental dimensions of the experience
by consuming it. Holbrook and Hirschman construct: a Hedonic Dimension, an Interactive
(1982) pointed out that few consumer research- or Social Dimension, a Novelty Seeking or
ers had followed this lead. Escape Dimension, a Comfort Dimension, a
In a follow-up study by Havlena and Hol- Safety Dimension, and a Stimulating or Chal-
brook (1986, p. 402), of the emotional compo- lenge Seeking Dimension. It argues those
Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Tourism Res. 11, 111126 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/jtr
114 J. R. B. Ritchie and S. Hudson

seeking to provide tourists with a quality expe-


rience should consider the merits of providing
visitors with each and/or all of these six com-
ponents of the tourism experience.

The distinctive nature of tourism experience


Psychological Nature of Leisure and Tourism
Experience Roger C. Mannell and Seppo E. Iso-
Ahola (1987). This paper examined the leisure
and tourist experience from three perspectives:
the Denitional perspective; but also the
Post-Hoc Satisfaction standpoint; and the
Immediate Conscious approach. What is most
signicant is that their work attempts to
examine whether tourist experiences are just a
subset of leisure experiences or whether differ-
ent needs are satised by involvements in
tourism, as compared to other leisure involve-
ments. They discuss the relationship between
the way tourists think and feel at the time of
the experience, how it will be recalled in the Figure 1. The stages of the experience process: a
process model of the tourism experience.
future, and how will it contribute to overall
Source: Aho (2001).
satisfaction with the total activity or trip.

The Tourist Experience Chris Ryan, ed. (1997). Aho distinguishes among four essential core
Ryans book was one of the earliest in the eld elements of the touristic experience: emotional
to explore the experience from a strictly experiences; learning; practical experiences;
tourism perspective. A major theme of the and transformational experiences. Aho also
book is that the way people perceive leisure notes that tourism experiences may be indi-
and holidays is determined by the social fabric vidual or collective phenomena.
that surrounds them and that society has Aho further asserts that people vary a lot in
changed signicantly over the decades and their personal ability and resources to obtain
centuries. Ryan also focuses on holidays as and enjoy experiences. Their resources may be
important periods in peoples lives having classied as: time; money; knowledge; skills;
the potential for cathartic experiences. He then attitudes; and social. Aho stresses the interde-
proceeds to examine what is it about holidays pendency of these resources within the follow-
that can make them the opportunity for life- ing process model of the tourism experience.
changing experiences.
A process model of the tourism experience. Aho
Towards a General Theory of Tourism Experi- has developed the process model (Figure 1) of
ence Seppo K. Aho (2001). Ahos work also the tourism experience; one that we believe
seeks to clarify the main characteristics of merits review. This model contains the
experiences in tourism. Aho asserts that following stages: orientation; attachment;
tourism can be characterised as a combination visiting; evaluation; storing; reection;
of those processes that are voluntary and pur- and enrichment.
posely intended for producing experiences by The seven stages of the experience process
means of moving people between places. These in the model are linked into a dynamic sys-
experiences may have various dominant com- tem where previous stages are necessary
ponents, for example: amusement, emotions, but not sufcient conditions of later stages.
learning, relaxation and various types of New experiences can emerge and old ones
activities. may be modied at each stage. The experience
Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Tourism Res. 11, 111126 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/jtr
The Challenges of Consumer/Tourist Experience Research 115

process is thus cumulative in its basic charac- of authenticity as it pertains to the tourism
ter. Each stage involves different basic pro- experience. The value of Wangs essay is the
cesses that vary between cases and individuals. thoroughness with which it rst examines the
The type and strength of a given stage depends concept of authenticity. He subsequently pres-
on circumstances and cannot be generalized. ents a framework (see Wang, 1999), which cat-
egorizes three types of authenticity as they
The Tourist Moment Stephanie Hom Cary pertain to tourist experience. These are: objec-
(2004). While drawing heavily on the earlier tive authenticity, which refers to the authentic-
work of others, Hom Cary nevertheless ity of originals; existential authenticity, which
provides a rather fresh interpretation of the refers to a potential existential state of Being
tourism experience, in that she focuses on what that is to be activated by tourist activities; and
she terms the serendipitous moment. The nally, constructive authenticity, which refers
serendipitous moment is, in her terminology, to the authenticity projected onto objects by
a spontaneous instance of self-discovery and tourism suppliers, in terms of their imagery, or
belonging in which, the moment simultane- expectations.
ously produces and erases the tourist as a
subject and where one goes beyond being a The Ego Factor in Tourism Dean MacCannell
tourist. (Hom Cary, 2004, p. 68). What is sig- (2002). Another author who has addressed the
nicant here is her recognition that the essence issue of authenticity in tourism experiences is
of the truly insightful and rewarding tourism Dean MacCannell. In his treatise on The Ego
experience very closely resembles Csikszent- Factor in Tourism, he reviews the commodi-
mihalyis concept of Flow. cation of cultural forms and touristic experi-
ence, which he argues, is one the most important
changes in markets and consumer behaviour
The debate over authenticity
that have taken place in the industrial and
Transformation of Self in Tourism Edward M. post-industrial era.
Bruner (1991). While this paper may not
contribute as much to our understanding of
the experience as some of the previous ones
The post-consumption experience
covered, it makes one point which we nd to
be signicant. He asserts that his evidence Assessing the Dimensionality and Structure of the
indicates that most tourists are quite satised Consumption Experience: Evaluation, Feeling and
with their own society, and are not necessarily Satisfaction Haim Mano and Richard L. Oliver
seeking an authentic experience elsewhere. He (1993). This is one of the few papers that focuses
further asserts that while tourists are upset if explicitly on the post-consumption experience.
what is presented to them is an outright fake, If we use as a reference, the Aho model of
they are quite willing to accept a reproduction, the touristic experience process (Aho, 2001),
as long as it is a good one or an authentic then Mano and Olivers work indicates that
reproduction. In brief, we believe Bruners our research efforts could benet from
essay is important in that it counters the view study of post-consumption aspects of experi-
that all tourism experiences must be intense ence: evaluation, storing, reection and
and real. We should keep this point of view in enrichment.
mind, particularly with respect to how research-
ers view and dene the extraordinary and the Tourist Experience, Phenomenographic Analysis,
memorable experience. Post-postivism and Neural Network Soft-
ware Chris Ryan (2000). Ryan also reviews
Rethinking Authenticity in Tourism Experience the post-consumption reection by discussing
Ning Wang (1999). Bruners essay, as just the way in which tourists, through learning
reviewed, has asserted that tourists can be from their past travel experiences, identify
quite satised with tourism experiences based ways (other than replicating past experiences
on authentic reproductions. Wang provides that have proved to be enjoyable) to nd other,
us with an in-depth examination of the concept even more satisfactory experiences.
Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Tourism Res. 11, 111126 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/jtr
116 J. R. B. Ritchie and S. Hudson

The application of specic theories from backgrounds lead to diverse interpreta-


other elds tions of a single tourism producthow can
a single product interest and excite all
As well as these general theories of the tourism
customers?
experience, a number of authors have made
(2) Experiences are multifaceted. They arise
efforts to better understand the tourism experi-
from activities and the physical environ-
ence through the application of specic theo-
ment, as well as the social meaning embed-
ries selected from other elds. Again, because
ded in the activities. As such, people have
of space constraints, we shall only identify a
different experiences even if they are doing
selection of the theories that have been used to
the same thing in the same place;
help us understand the tourism experience.
(3) Experiences are existential. They are
Lee and Shafer (2002) use Affect Control
embodied in people in that they are per-
Theory (ACT), which was developed primarily
sonally felt and can only be experienced by
by Heise and his colleagues (Heise, 1979) to
people.
investigate social interactions. It is based on
symbolic interactions, balance theory and lin- In conclusion, even if tourists say they enjoy
guistic principles. Trauer and Ryan (2005) apply themselves in the same situation, it does not
Intimacy Theory to the study of destination necessarily mean that they all have the same
image and experience of place in tourism. They exciting and memorable experiences.
argue that four types of intimacy exist: physi-
cal, involving actual contact; verbal, exchange Touring Cultures, Transformations of Travel and
of words in communication; spiritual, sharing Theory Chris Rojek and John Urry (eds) (1997).
values and beliefs; and intellectual, sharing This work presents a complex and varied per-
reection and disclosure of knowledge. spective on the nature of the tourism experi-
ODell and Billing (2005) collected a set of ence. It is based on the belief that the essence
papers on the concept of Experience-Scapes. At of tourism is related to what can be described
the sites of market production, the spaces in as a realist search undertaken by tourists
which experiences are staged and consumed themselves for evidence that they really were
can be likened to stylised landscapes that are in some particular place.
strategically planned, laid out and designed.
They are, in this sense, landscapes of experi-
STREAM 2: UNDERSTANDING THE
ence or EXPERIENCE-SCAPES. They are
TOURIST AND THEIR EXPERIENCE
spaces in which diverse groups (with poten-
SEEKING, DECISION-MAKING
tially competing, as well as overlapping inter-
AND BEHAVIOUR
ests and ideologies), move about and come in
contact with one another. Examples of experi-
Most general textbooks on consumer behav-
ence-scapes covered in this reference include
iour in tourism are still based on the cogni-
an industrial-scape, a regional-scape, an archi-
tive information-processing paradigm. For
tecture-scape, and a nostalgia-scape.
example, in Pizam and Mansfelds (1999) com-
In contrast, Oois (2005) theory of tourism
prehensive compendium the concept of the
experiences draws on the psychology of atten-
experience is only explicitly referenced in the
tion and perception to point out the limits of
index on two pages. Where experience is
managerial planning and design. Tourism
addressed it is often seen as a supplementary
destinations, attraction operators and other
issue, or as a variable inuencing choice. For
tourism businesses assume that experiences
example, Vogt et al. (1993) seek rst to under-
can be managed and packaged, so that tourists
stand the functional or decision-making role
will only be offered exciting and memorable
of travel information acquisition, and subse-
experiences (p. 51). This assumption, he states,
quently turn to exploring the supplemental
seems untenable if we consider three charac-
information need of image experiencing or
teristics of tourism experiences:
aesthetics. Nerhagen (2003) uses past experi-
(1) Experiences arise out of peoples social and ence as a variable inuencing choice behaviour
cultural backgrounds. Since these different and valuation in a hypothetical travel mode
Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Tourism Res. 11, 111126 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/jtr
The Challenges of Consumer/Tourist Experience Research 117

choice situation. The research models and Ritchie (1975), addressed the difculties of
compares the response behaviour of travellers measurement theory and practice in Tourism
who used a car and travellers who used the Research, but again, from a general, rather
train for their original trip. It was found that than an experience perspective.
past experiences inuenced travel choice
behaviour. Heywoods (1987) study explored
An informal taxonomy of consumer/tourist
the relationships among individuals recre-
experience research methods
ation experience preferences and the character-
istics of their social group of participation. As Ideally, we believe it would be useful to clas-
predicted by social group theory, participants sify methodologies and research approaches
in different types of social groups showed dif- rst by research stream, and second, by the
ferent experience preferences in river recre- type of method utilised. The goal would be to
ation. The results indicated that the kind of eventually provide an understanding of the
preferred river recreation experiences are extent to which each method is used within
related to the size and composition of the social each stream.
group of participation. Towards this end:
(1) We rst developed a working framework
STREAM 3: RESEARCH RELATED TO THE
for a possible taxonomy of research
METHODOLOGIES FOR
methods for studying the consumer/tourist
UNDERSTANDING THE CONSUMER/
experience (see Table 1).
TOURIST EXPERIENCE
(2) Second, for the convenience of readers, we
have provided a select list of tourism
Our intent here was to identify a representa-
research reference books (see Table 2),
tive selection of research methodologies used
whose methods apply in varying degree to
in each of the research streams we have identi-
the study of the experience. In general, it
ed. We were unable to identify many papers
would appear that qualitative methods
that specically reviewed methodological con-
have found particular favour with experi-
cerns in experience research. One paper, by
ence researchers.
Dann et al. (1988), examined the entire eld of
tourism research, but with relatively little A selection of articles illustrating the various
emphasis on methodologies for studying the challenges of experience research are discussed
consumer/tourist experience. A second, by further in this paper. Research into wilderness

Table 1. A working framework for a possible taxonomy of research methods for studying the consumer/
tourist experience
Consumer/tourist research stream
Stream 1 Stream 2 Stream 3 Stream 4 Stream 5 Stream 6
Understanding Research Evolutionary
Essence of Choice Methodologies specic kinds related to focus of
Method the and for experience of tourism managerial experience
Characteristic experience behaviour research experience concerns research
Quantitative
Experiential
sampling
method (ESM)
Qualitative
Focus groups
In-depth
interviews

Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Tourism Res. 11, 111126 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/jtr
118 J. R. B. Ritchie and S. Hudson

Table 2. A list of selected tourism research books


Ritchie JRB, Goeldner CR. 1994. Travel, Tourism & Hospitality Research: A Handbook for Managers and
Researchers, 2nd edn. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: New York.
Jennings G. 2001. Tourism Research. John Wiley & Sons Australia Ltd.: Queensland, Australia.
Ritchie BW, Burns P, Palmer C. 2005. Tourism Research Methods: Integrating Theory With Practice. CABI
Publishing: Oxfordshire, UK.
Ritchie J, Lewis J. 2003. Qualitative Research Practice: A Guide for Social Science Students and Researchers. Sage
Publications: London.

recreation trip, for example Arnould and Price physical stimulation, intellectual cultivation,
(1993), have used mixed methods to study the creative expression, introspection, relaxation,
participants experiences as they developed fun and enjoyment.
before, during and after the trip. Nickerson In addition to the already mentioned, the
et al. (2004) sought to compare the meanings research using SITRM identied additional
behind visitors experiences using three extraordinary characteristics of leisure that
methodological approaches: diary, open-ended have not been reported in existing research.
mail-back survey, and in-depth interviews. All They were a feeling of exhaustion, apprehen-
three approaches provided experience dimen- sion and nervousness. This should warn
sions and understanding about the environ- researchers not to focus only on the pleasant
ment and activities but only the in-depth aspects of leisure and tourism but to consider
interview was able to elicit a spiritual connec- the totality, negative as well as positive, of the
tion to the vacation experience. experience.
However, because the majority of leisure/ An example of this is found in the work of
tourist experiences take place in short, inter- Jackson et al. (1996), who used the critical inci-
rupted episodes, rather than occurring over dent technique in which tourists were asked to
extended periods, a true understanding can be recount their most positive and most negative
elusive. Data for Lee et al.s (1994) study were tourism experiences. These qualitative data
collected in two stages. The rst required the were reduced using attribution theory. This
collection of immediately recalled leisure framework allowed the researchers to deter-
experiences via the SITRM (self-initiated tape mine which four causes (ability, effort, task
recording method), which requires partici- ease/difculty and luck) the tourists use to
pants to wear electronic pagers and carry self- explain their experiences.
report booklets usually involving a quantitative The results of the study indicated that tour-
questionnaire. Participants were asked to ists were more likely to attribute the cause
respond to a series of questions whenever they of positive experiences to themselves (self-
received signals activated by the investigation enhancement) and more likely to attribute the
at random times. This enables investigators to cause of their negative experiences to external
collect participants immediate experiences factors (self-protective). These external attribu-
in naturally occurring situations (Csikszent- tions include the industry, the host population
mihalyi and Larson, 1987). Other benets are and just bad luck.
minimisation of memory decay and mood In order to probe deeper into the way respon-
bias (Larson and Csikszentmihalyi, 1983). dents interpret their experiences, a number of
The second stage was designed to assess techniques can be used. Fairweather and Swaf-
aspects of leisure through in-depth interviews. eld (2001) used photographs of landscapes to
Analysis of the data revealed a number of explore how different groups chose different
characteristics of the leisure experience, some experiences in the same geographical location.
of which were previously identied. These Photographs representing different landscape
were: social bonding, communion with nature, experiences were Q sorted by a non-random
Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Tourism Res. 11, 111126 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/jtr
The Challenges of Consumer/Tourist Experience Research 119

sample of both overseas and New Zealand dened by two major themes: intimacy and
visitors. The data were factor analysed to yield authenticity.
ve groups each describing a distinct visitor Ryan (2000) reviews two qualitative
experience. The results were interpreted on the approaches through which we can gain insights
basis of the photographs most and least liked, into the behaviour of individual tourists from
and the comments made about them by the the perspective of the tourists themselves.
people interviewed. These two analytical approaches for dealing
Chen (2004) used the Zaltman Metaphor with unstructured qualitative data are identi-
Elicitation Technique (ZMET) to elicit tourists ed as phenomenology (the study of what people
mental models of their family vacation experi- perceive in the world) and phenomenography
ence and behaviours. The study required par- (the study of the way they perceive the world).
ticipants to provide images and metaphors Of particular interest is his concluding call for
that represent their thoughts and feelings about research methods that would permit the
the family vacation. It is asserted that these construction of consensual realities for
insights tend to be far deeper and clearer than policy-making.
those gained from verbal discussions alone.
A few authors have chosen to use quantitia- STREAM 4: SEEKING TO EXPLORE AND
tive scales to chart the dimensions of experi- UNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF SPECIFIC
ence. Oh et al. (2004) developed a multi-item TOURISM EXPERIENCES
measurement scale that taps the dimensions of
Pine and Gilmores (1999) experience economy In this section, again because of space constraints,
concept namely: entertainment, education, we will only identify selected examples of studies
escapism and aesthetics. They assert that the that sought to understand the nature of specic
nalised scale demonstrated strong construct tourism experiences and differentiate them from
validity and reliability. others. Prentice et al. (1998) focussed on heritage
Other writers have criticised the pragmatic parks, while Chhetri et al. (2004) researched the
approach of much experience research. Small visitor experience in the natural landscape.
(1999) notes the lack of innovation in tourism Cameron and Gatewood (1998) aimed to identify
research methods, and the failure of many and understand the reasons that people visit
studies to relate theory to method. Her paper different types of historical sites and museums.
reviews the memory-work method and argues Vitterso et al. (2004) sought to distinguish be-
that it is an innovative method aligned with a tween experiences of different Norwegian tourist
feminist social constructionist paradigm. The attractions. Snepenger et al. (2004) investigated
key features of memory-work are: that memo- how a community with a large tourism economy
ries are the raw data; the subject and object of dened the normative meanings of experiences
the research become one; the researcher and for three contrasting places on a spectrum of
researched are co-researchers; there is collec- visitor attractions: Yellowstone National Park;
tive interpretation and theorisation of the the downtown shopping district; and big box
memories; and the collective approach allows stores. Community residents were requested to
for the possibility of liberation. assess the consumption, hedonic, utilitarian, and
Hayllar and Grifn (2005) also note the pre- social meanings for the places. Finally, Parks
dominantly structured and functional nature Canada, in a major policy move, has created a
of existing research on urban tourism and con- new External Relations and Visitors Experience
sider that, while such studies contribute to our Directorate (2007).
understanding of the utilitarian aspects of
tourism, there is a dearth of material on how STREAM 5: MANAGING AND
such places are experienced by tourists. Their DELIVERING THE BASIC/SATISFACTORY/
study sought to apply a phenomenological QUALITY/EXTRAORDINARY/
approach to investigate the nature of tourism MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE
experience in the Rocks historical precinct
in Sydney, Australia. They found that the While research into the understanding of the
essences of the tourism experience were experience should be completed (or at least
Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Tourism Res. 11, 111126 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/jtr
120 J. R. B. Ritchie and S. Hudson

well advanced) before we undertake to provide A Destination Brand is a name, symbol,


the visitor with any experience, the reality is logo, word mark or other graphic that
that the stages of Branding, Marketing, and both identies and differentiates the
Managing the delivery of experiences have destination; furthermore, it conveys the
been occurring in various degrees for some promise of a memorable travel experi-
time now in a relatively unmanaged manner. ence that is uniquely associated with the
As such, they have been undergoing their own destination; it also serves to consolidate
evolution over this same period. Within this and reinforce the recollection of plea-
overall evolution, we argue that the 1999 book surable memories of the destination
The Experience Economy by Pine and Gilmore experience. (p. 103)
(P&G), has been the single most important
catalyst for the widespread interest in, While the previous books referenced in this
adoption of, and management utilisation of section have been written with the managerial
the experience concept in a truly systematic or management education market primarily in
manner. The P&G philosophy that Work is mind, at the same time, there have also been a
Theatre and Every Business is a Stage, pro- number of academic studies exploring the
vides the basis for the managerial framework managerial dimensions of experience manage-
used to implement their Experience Economy ment (CTC, 2004; Voss, 2003). One of the earlier
within and by the tourism industry by indi- works, itself is based on earlier work by Hendee
vidual sector rms and by destinations. The et al. (1978), is A Framework for Managing
P&G statement that managers must under- Quality in the Tourist Experience by Graefe
stand how to turn every interaction into an and Vaske (1987). As do many in the manage-
experience is the underlying premise of the ment area (especially early works), they
entire book. While P&G are some of the few address various aspects of recreation manage-
authors who argue for the experience being the ment, but provide a different narrative frame-
foundation of an overall management strategy, work. More specically, they address issues of
there are a number of authors who use an capacity measurement and management (e.g.,
experiential philosophy as the basis of a less Manning, 1985; Shelby, 1980; Hall, 1974), and
comprehensive strategy. One example of such issues involved in measuring the impact of
a limited strategy is Ford and Heatons (2000) visitor experiences.
Managing the Guest Experience in Hospitality A more recent academic study on the effect
in which guestology, a management of managing capacity/crowding in a hospital-
approach emphasising the quality of the entire ity-type setting (a bar) sought to determine the
guest experience dened in their terms as impact of user density and the user control of
the difference between the quality that the this density, on the pleasantness of the experi-
guest expects and the quality the guest gets is ences and the impact the density had on
utilized (p. 18). efforts to avoid the situation/encounter (Hui
Another managerial publication that draws and Bateson, 1991).
heavily on the concept of the visitor experience
is Destination BrandScience (IACVB, 2005). Pre- STREAM 6: THE ONGOING EVOLUTION
pared as a guide for destinations seeking to OF THE TRAVEL/TOURISM EXPERIENCE
design, develop and manage their destination
brand, this leading destination association As one stands back and examines the eld of
(the International Association of Convention & the experience, there appears to be a foggy, but
Visitor Bureaus now known as Destination still discernable, evolution of research on the
Marketing Association International, or DMAI), tourism experience. Figure 2 attempts to graphi-
has emphasised that consumers want authen- cally capture the elements of this evolution.
tic experiences (IACVB, 2005, p. 14). Their As shown, the seeds of the experience
framework would appear to draw on earlier concept were planted in 1975 by Csikszentmi-
work by Ritchie and Ritchie (1998), which pro- halyi in his book, Beyond Boredom and
vided the following denition of a destination Anxiety. In another vein, Berry (1981) and
brand: his collaborators (Zeithaml et al., 1985) laid
Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Tourism Res. 11, 111126 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/jtr
The Challenges of Consumer/Tourist Experience Research 121

Figure 2. The evolution of the extraordinary/memorable travel/tourism experience.

important foundations for the future, with the The next major phase in the evolutionary
success of their SERVQUAL model of quality process was a few years later (1986), when
of the service experience. While mainly Turner and Bruner provided some critical new
focussed on the transaction as opposed to the theoretical foundations for the study of the
more broadly conceptualised experience, experience in An Anthropology of the Experience,
SERVQUAL nevertheless was an important an entire volume of readings dedicated to the
catalyst in the movement away from the tan- topic. This was followed by Csikszentmihalyis
gible product towards the intangible world of now classic book, in which he consolidated
the experience as the basis of marketing think- the place of FLOW, the optimal experience,
ing. Next, from the very early days, when as a key foundational concept in our under-
Holbrook and Hirschman (1982) broke the standing of the experience (Csikszentmihalyi,
dam called product marketing by arguing for 1990).
the recognition of important experiential Ryans (1995) book, Researching Tourist
aspects of consumption that focussed on the Satisfaction: Issues, Concepts, Problems, set the
symbols, hedonic and aesthetic nature of con- academic standard for the next stage of the
sumption, there has been an ongoing evolu- evolution. Based on this standard, there
tion in the nature of this focus. have been numerous efforts by rms and
Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Tourism Res. 11, 111126 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/jtr
122 J. R. B. Ritchie and S. Hudson

Table 3. Identifying the relative level of difculty of challenges facing consumer/tourist experience research:a
a subjective assessment

Stream 1 Stream 2 Stream 3 Stream 4 Stream 5 Stream 6


The Understanding Research Evolutionary
essence of Choice Methodologies specic kinds related to focus of
the and for experience of tourism managerial experience
experience behaviour research experience concerns research
Conceptual/ 9 7 8 5 6 2
theoretical
complexity
Undone 5 8 9 6 7 4
research
Average 7.0 7.5 8.5 5.5 6.5 3.0
difculty
Overall (3) (2) (1) (5) (4) (6)
difculty
ranking
a
Note: Scale rating based on a 10-point scale, where: 1 = no level of difculty; and 10 = very high level of difculty.

organisations having responsibility for the we will now reach some rather personal con-
delivery of a quality experience to try ensure clusions regarding where the real challenges of
that they were getting it right, i.e., that they the future lie. In order to provide a succinct
were in fact correctly conceptualising, and then assessment of our conclusions in the severity
measuring a satisfactory experience and of future challenges, Table 3 summarises our
nally delivering it, once it was understood. thoughts (on a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is
A further stage in the ongoing evolution of the greatest severity of the challenge). We
our study and understanding of the tourism dene severity according to two criteria:
experience has been the increasing attention
paid to the QUALITY of the experience. While (1) By the inherent conceptual/theoretical
there have been many studies of the quality complexity of the stream; and
experience, the book entitled: Quality Tourism (2) By the amount of research that remains
Experiences, edited by Jennings and Nickerson undone, if we are to achieve a better
(2006), has provided us with an extremely understanding of the eld.
valuable reference on which to understand the Table 3 is meant to convey the following
next critical stage of the evolution of the thoughts:
tourism experience. Because the content is so
rich and varied, we would not dare attempt to (1) First, in terms of conceptual/theoretical
summarise or characterise it here. We will only complexity, the most difcult challenge we
say that, if you wish to gain an understanding face is to truly understand the Essence of
of the quality tourism experience, there is no the Tourism Experience (given a score of
better place to begin your voyage. 9/10). The next most complex/difcult, in
our view, is the Methodologies stream.
ASSESSING THE RELATIVE LEVEL OF The least complex is the study, or tracking,
DIFFICULTY OF THE CHALLENGES of the Evolutionary Focus of Experience
FACING CONSUMER/TOURIST Research.
EXPERIENCE RESEARCHERS (2) In terms of the amount of research that
remains undone, if we are to achieve a
Having had the opportunity to review the reasonable understanding of the stream,
literature on the consumer/tourist experience, relative to that which has already been
Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Tourism Res. 11, 111126 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/jtr
The Challenges of Consumer/Tourist Experience Research 123

completed, we would rate the Method- experience, and subsequently provide an


ological Stream as the greatest challenge assessment of their validity, rigour and useful-
(9/10). ness in enhancing our understanding of
research for the topics in each of the experi-
While it is technically inappropriate to do so, ence research streams.
we have taken the liberty (in Table 3), of aver-
aging the score for the complexity and the
Stream 4 seeking to explore and
undone criteria, across each of the 6 streams,
understand the nature of specic tourism
so as to provide an average difculty for each
experiences
stream.
If we accept this approach, then Stream 3, Challenge 4 to document the kinds of con-
the Methodology Stream, with an average sumer/tourist experiences and or attractions,
score of 8.5, achieves the highest (or #1) ranking which have been studied to date, and to sub-
in terms of difculty followed by Stream 2 sequently identify and prioritise the research
(7.5 score), and Stream 1 (7.0 score), and sub- gaps that remain to be lled. This should be
sequently Stream 5 (6.5), Stream 4 (5.5), and done from both theoretical and managerial
nally Stream 6 (3.0). perspectives.
We, in no way wish to pretend that the abso-
lute scores we have accorded to each stream
Stream 5 managing and delivering the
are in themselves accurate. However, we hope
basic/satisfactory/quality/extraordinary/
the relative difculty rankings for each stream
memorable experience
will be useful to the reader. We shall now try
to identify more specically, the nature of these Challenge 5 to identify the most severe
challenges in each of the streams. managerial problems related to the delivery of
an extraordinary experience; to document the
nature of these severities; and, to undertake
Stream 1 understanding the essence of
research to provide managers with recommen-
the tourism experience, and the different
dations as to how these high-priority problems
stages in its evolution
can best be addressed.
Challenge 1 to reach a consensus concern-
ing the true meaning of the Tourism Experi-
Stream 6 the ongoing evolution of the
ence through a thorough assessment of relevant
travel/tourism experience
theories
Challenge 6 to continue to document the
ongoing evolution of studies that contribute
Stream 2 the tourist and their experience
to our understanding of the experience, the
seeking, decision-making and behaviour
extraordinary experience; and, the memorable
Challenge 2 to assess the degree to which experience so as to properly acknowledge
existing theory and methodologies in con- those who make the most signicant contribu-
sumer behaviour research are adequate to tions to these constantly changing foundations
enable us to truly understand consumer/ of the tourism economy.
tourist behaviour with respect to the Extraor-
dinary/Memorable Experience. CONCLUDING REFLECTIONS

The present paper has attempted to identify


Stream 3 research related to the
the major research challenges that we currently
methodologies for understanding the
face as we seek to better understand the various
tourism experience
kinds of consumer/tourist experiences. As we
Challenge 3 to systematically identify and stood back, after undertaking a general over-
categorise the range of research methodologies view review of the experience literature, it
and approaches that have been and/or ought seemed to us that existing research on the topic
to be used to study the consumer/tourist fell into six major themes or categories or
Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Int. J. Tourism Res. 11, 111126 (2009)
DOI: 10.1002/jtr
124 J. R. B. Ritchie and S. Hudson

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