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The Art of Semiotics and how it forms the Tourist Experience

The Art of Semiotics and how it forms the Tourist Experience
Author: Rebecca Horton
1 Commentries
The semiotics of tourism play a huge part in tourism and it is possible that the way tourists interpret images can have an effect on the experience of the holiday. This paper will analyse how images can influence perceptions of a destination and what part they play in the experience and expectation of a holiday.

Discussion Paper:
This paper analyses the semiotics of tourism and the part it plays in the tourist's experience, and falls into Strand 1: Tragedies, Risks and Rewards. It has been proven by theory that the act of photography and signs have an influence on travel and the decision making process, but this paper will investigate if semiotics affect the satisfaction of the holiday.

Semiotics include the images of a destinations, and this is how a holiday can be portrayed using photographs to influence the decision to purchase a certain holiday as well as having the power to create memories once the holiday is over. Due to the tourist having limited knowledge of a destination before travel, trust is put into organisations when choosing travel to a specific destination, so is the experience always rewarding? Or are there disasters when it comes to expectations?

If a potential tourist has a high level of expectation of a holiday, it is important for the expectation to be reached for a rewarding experience, otherwise the holiday can be classed as a tragedy (Ryan, 2000). Many of the expectations of the holiday derive from advertising, and images take up a high percentage of brochures, and they are used to create a profile of the destination before they travel. Emotions can be attached to tourist icons; the Eiffel Tower in Paris is associated with love, which is also a motivation to travel. However, this icon has been voted the most disappointing tourist spot in the world (Hardy, 2007). Images of the Eiffel Tower are considered to be part of the romantic gaze; which represents intimacy and relationships, and people want to re-create this in reality (Urry, 2002).

Whereas the tragedy can occur during the holiday, the risks involved include the booking of the holiday and the process of travelling. The booking and travelling aspect creates uncertainty as a tourist is not aware of how a holiday will unfold and how the images will live up to their imagination, which is not possible to judge until the tourist has arrived.
A risk of visiting destinations that are famous for being famous, such as the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, can be a disappointment for some tourists as they may not come across as awe-inspiring in reality than through photographs. However due to the large scale of the naturally created landmarks it can still provide a rewarding experience, depending on the tourist's expectations and what they are expecting to see, as without the anticipation there would be no interest in visiting the destination (Urry, 2002).

Even with risks involved with travelling to a new destination, tourists can be rewarded with fantastic experiences socially and visually. For the tourist to experience a rewarding holiday, the reality of the aesthetics of the destination needs to match up to the profile that has been created. Even though this is a rare occurrence for the reality to exceed the perfected pleasures of anticipation, it is possible depending on the individuals (Urry, 2002).
The scenery of the holiday is considered to be the third most enjoyable factor of a holiday (Ryan, 2002), and some destination control the look of the settings and landscape to ensure a pleasing view for the tourists. This indicates that a high expectation of an attractive landscape can match up with the reality of the gaze which creates a rewarding experience visually, but requires some manipulation from stakeholders in the tourism industry.

To conclude, the semiotics of tourism can have an influence of the holiday before it has taken place, as it creates expectations and a profile of the destination in the mind of the tourist. This has an effect on the holiday, as it is down to the visuals to meet the expectation to create a positive experience. Otherwise this can lead to disappointment and categorising the holiday as a tragedy. Rewards are more likely to take place before travel, as this is where the destination looks at its most idyllic, the risk is the act of visiting the destination with the expectations, and the rewards and tragedies are the outcomes of the holiday experience and if it has met the expectations. The outcomes of the holiday are almost impossible to predict as each individual will interpret images and signs differently and judge their own experience. To eliminate the tragedies, some stakeholders have already begun to alter the aesthetics, but another way is to lesser the expectations of the potential tourist which then lowers, yet while this lowers the tragedies this also has a negative effect on the rewards. A solution to this problem that occurs would be to show icons and images of destinations in a variety of ways so the tourist can create of profile of the destination closer to reality.


Hardy, F. (2007). Brits left cold by tourist hot spots. Available: <http://uk.virginmoney.com/virgin/news-centre/press-releases/2007/brits-left-cold-by-tourist-hot-spots.jsp>. Last accessed 4th June 2012.

Ryan, C. (2002) The Tourist Experience. London: Thomson

Urry, J. (2002) The Tourist Gaze. 2nd ed. London: SAGE Publications Ltd
Commentry on Discussion Paper: The Art of Semiotics and how it forms the Tourist Experience
Author: Sophie Gee
This discussion paper introduces the topic well, clearly identifying the issues which are to be addressed and raising questions to immediately provoke thought and increase interest from the reader. A range of interesting views are documented, with reference to how aspects of the subject matter are directly linked to issues of tragedy, risk and reward, demonstrating the appropriateness for inclusion in strand 1.

The paper is structured well, flowing nicely from one point to another, making it very easy to follow. Key authors have been selected well and the literature used to successfully support the points made.

The discussion regarding attaching emotions to tourist icons prior to visiting could be further supported by introducing the work of Baudrillard (1993) who suggests that the proliferation of words and images has resulted in populations becoming unconsciously used to consuming the signs of products and services, rather than the actual product or service itself. He indicates that inaccurate 'fantasies of realism' are more appealing and will therefore circulate faster and more successfully than realities. He suggests this is beginning to result in the referent systems of postmodern populations becoming full of fictions and false information, leading to much of society developing an unstable and fickle grasp on reality.

An extra dynamic could be added to the discussion of landmarks and destinations failing to live up to expectations through the inclusion of opposing views documented by authors such as Voase (1995) and Urry (1992) who claims that today's tourists realise that they are merely a tourist and that the entire tourist experience can be described as a 'game'. It is suggested that they understand that the holiday brochure is a glorified representation and may not mirror complete reality and they are aware that many 'authentic' aspects of a destination are manipulated and manufactured in an attempt to appeal to tourists. The use of this literature would help to create a more balanced argument.

Overall this paper is very well written, easy to read and holds the interest of the reader throughout. The subject has clearly been well researched and a range of literature has been used to successfully create a varied discussion. The conclusion sums up the subject area well, once again ensuring a clear link to the strand title and makes valid recommendations. The questions raised in the introduction are answered well with support from the work of key authors; therefore the objectives of this paper have been met. Improvements could be made by reference to further literature, which would contribute to a more critical analysis of the subject.


Baudrillard. J (1993), Symbolic Exchange and Death, London, Sage

Urry.J (1992), Theory, Culture and Society, London, Sage

Voase.R, (1995), Tourism: The Human Perspective, London, Hodder & Stoughton