2.1. Sustainable Tourism
Although the World Tourism Organization established an environmental committee in 1978 to agree on the lines of work necessary to achieve tourism that respects the environment, it was not until the mid-90s when international organizations undertook different activities in favour of sustainable tourism, being a clear referent to the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development in 1992, organized by the United Nations [3
]. It was a consequence of the rapid growth of tourism (in terms of volume and geographic coverage) during the development period of European economies after World War II, and the negative effects of the massive tourism development model that led to greater environmental awareness, beginning with the Brundtland Report [4
It should be noted that the concept did not appear within the tourism industry or the initiatives of public bodies, but mainly in the academic field. From this perspective, authors such as Bramwell and Lane [12
], and Krippendorf [18
] were a reference. Thus, for example, Bramwell and Lane [12
] were the first authors who, in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Sustainable Tourism
, defined the term and described its role [7
]. Krippendorf [19
], through various works, was a reference for the English and Germans and Krippendorf, Zimmer and Glauber [21
] were icons in the field of sustainability, being considered its founding fathers. Although there are differences between these works and their authors, all of them seek integration and interaction between tourism, tourists and the environment in general, seeking to create and live a beneficial experience for all parties involved [7
]. They capture the zeitgeist—the Spirit of the Times—which was indirectly due to the discussion about limits to growth triggered by the creation of the Club of Rome in 1968 [22
]. In this sense, the Brundtland Report [24
] provided the first international recognition of the discussion on sustainable development.
As a result of this analysis of world tourism development, new sectors of tourism emerged, and new market niches were created, such as rural tourism, ecotourism, cultural tourism, agritourism and solidarity tourism, etc., all aimed at creating a holiday model in line with sustainable tourism. Although there are many definitions of sustainable tourism, an analysis of the existing literature leads us to the conclusion that most of the definitions of this concept incorporate aspects related to economics, concern for ecology and the environment and society [4
It is evident, therefore, that in recent decades there has been a growing concern to find formulas that are capable of balancing tourism activity with the development of sustainability, with a progressive social and governmental concern for environmental sustainability that should be considered in economic and social processes, given the importance that the preservation of the environment has for the stability and social profitability of long-term tourist destinations. To this must be added the importance not only of economic but also social and cultural factors of the tourism industry as a result of its greater diversity and the enhancement of existing tourism resources [14
Therefore, it should be noted, in general terms and after all these previous considerations, that the development of the tourism sector ought to focus on creating links with the principles of sustainable development respecting the conservation of the natural environment by creating relationships with the local economy and considering the good of the local community at both a social and ethical level [34
]. In other words, tourism must be a sustainable practice that contributes to economic development, social equity, cultural revaluation and the preservation of the environment [33
]. Therefore, it should be highlighted that the sustainable development of the tourism sector is principally based on the attainment of three basic objectives that constitute its dimensions [1
The ecological dimension, which includes objectives such as the preservation of natural resources, which are necessary for the tourism sector and the reduction of dangerous emissions generated by that sector.
The economic dimension, which integrates objectives such as the contribution to the economic success of the local community, as well as the maintenance and optimal use of the available tourist infrastructure.
The socio-cultural dimension, such as the creation and improvement of satisfactory employment in the tourism sector, the possibility of offering opportunities for relaxation to both tourists and local residents, the preservation and enhancement of culture and the local heritage, and an increase in the level of participation of the local population in the area of sustainable policy development.
From this three-dimensional perspective, it can be affirmed that the sustainable development of tourism is inclusive, since it is friendly and close to its natural environment when considering and promoting ecological processes and biological diversity, by strengthening the local economy and over time improving the productive processes and giving value to indigenous products [37
]. All these are relevant aspects to support and favour the development of future generations in a specific geographical area. It also incorporates residents and local communities into decision-making processes and strategic development [9
]. For some authors, the development of sustainable tourism is strongly focused on the maintenance and enhancement of the natural, environmental setting and on economic development, while social commitment and development do not show the same evolution rates [32
]. In this sense, the contribution of Mihalic [41
], who combines the concepts of responsibility (linked to the behaviour of tourists) and sustainability (both for the content of the concept and for its values), is the concept of “responsustable” tourism, that gathers from a more real perspective both the academic concerns and the real behaviours of companies and tourists, and that connects responsible behaviour with the concept of sustainable tourism, adding the value of sustainability to the concept of behaviour. To this end, she developed a model called Triple-A, which is divided into three stages: Awareness–Agenda–Action. This model begins with a phase of analysis and recognition of the situation, continues with a planning step and concludes with an action stage. In addition to better understanding a model of responsible tourism that is fundamentally based on sustainability, this model is also a useful tool for understanding how the process of a destination or responsible tourism company can implement the sustainability agenda.
2.2. The Tourist Experience
Like sustainability, the “tourist experience” is a fundamental construct in tourism research that has been investigated for more than 50 years [42
] and where at least four changes have been seen from a simplistic perspective until reaching more subjective and complex interpretations of the concept [43
]. The first studies during the 1960s understood the tourist experience as a unique experience that was different from everyday life. At that time, there were studies dedicated to the nature of experience in a general, critical way [44
], and through other contributions such as those of Clawson [45
] and Clawson and Knetsch [46
], who pointed out that the tourism experience should include influences and personal results both before the holiday and after it, identifying the recreational experience as an experience that has five main phases: before the holiday, the journey to the destination, the stay, the return trip and the memories.
Later, in the 1970s, the concept of the tourism experience progressively evolved towards more complex interpretations [47
], and above all, with the publication of works such as Cohen’s [49
] on the phenomenology of tourism experiences that marked a point of inflection to recognize diversity within experiences, recognizing that there could be different tourists with different experiences. Later, in the 1980s, the author continued to investigate the understanding of tourists’ motivations, attitudes and behaviour [50
], which showed the sociological foundations of tourists and their experiences [52
Later still, in the 1990s, investigations into the concept of experience demonstrated its complexity through its subjectivity and sensory dimensions. Some researchers, such as Falk and Dierking [53
] with their model of interactive experience, considered that experience is a person’s interpretation of situations in the culture and times visited. But above all, the work of Pine and Gilmore [54
] stands out as an important study that has been the basis for further work [56
Both Pine and Gilmore [55
] through their “experience economy” concept, and subsequent researchers [56
], have highlighted the main problems presented by the tourism experience due to the difficulty in measuring it given its multifaceted nature. Thus, companies must stop offering goods and services as such; rather, they should start attracting customers in a more personal and differentiated way by generating unique, memorable experiences [52
]. From this perspective, the field of experience can be classified into two dimensions: a horizontal dimension that integrates active and passive participation (in the first, the client is largely the protagonist of the development of experience, while in the passive participation the degree of protagonist of the client does not influence the development of the experience) and a vertical dimension that measures the degree of connection or relationship with the environment and where two degrees of connection differ. On the one hand, the degree of absorption (collected by the how the experience mentally captures the client’s attention and where he experiences the event but does not alter it) and the degree of immersion, where the subject participates in the experience and is directly involved and alters the experience), creating four quadrants where different types of experiences could be integrated [57
Education, which implies the active participation of the person, such as participation in sports activities or participation in workshops and seminars. It is an experience where the person, in our case a tourist, learns and extends their knowledge.
Escapism, where the person is totally immersed in the experience, which implies being able to detach themselves from everyday problems through the active participation of clients in events that are fun, festive, religious or through their participation in the projects of non-profit organizations in the third sector.
Entertainment, which involves passive participation and immersion in activities of a cultural or sporting nature, such as attending a classical music concert or a football match. It is an experience in which a passive absorption of experiences is carried out through the senses. In fact, many people associate entertainment with experience, which is why it is one of the most developed.
The aesthetics that occur when clients are submerged passively in the experience, such as touring, swimming, sunbathing or hiking on vacations, etc. In these experiences, the subjects hardly affect the environment since they only participate in the observation and enjoyment of the place.
Therefore, the experience can be of an active or passive nature for the participant, either because concrete results are produced, such as learning or the development of skills or whether it requires interaction or not. Pine and Gilmore ([54
], p. 98) claim that an experience occurs “when a company uses services intentionally, its products as accessories, and there is a commitment to customers to create a memorable event”. Stamboulis and Skayannis [56
], based on the Pine and Gilmore [54
] model, indicated that we are moving towards a more experiential type of tourism, where it is very important to incorporate all the information and knowledge generated in physical and digital interactions with the tourist at the destination to create tourist intelligence that permits the generation of unique, satisfying experiences for new tourists in a continuous physical and digital learning environment (e-learning). The intelligence that is generated is specific to the destination and is oriented to the user, thus providing a source of intangible competitive advantage (and therefore it is more difficult to copy and imitate), and where culture becomes a fundamental factor in generating value in an interactive, dynamic way. These experiences are not unidirectional but created jointly between the company (supply) and the consumer (demand).
In the same way, Prahalad and Ramaswamy [59
] assert that consumers realise that they want to interact with companies and create value jointly, assuming a more active role, breaking the traditional market focused on the company and opening a new era of interaction in which all stakeholders are empowered thanks to the possibilities offered by ICT [60
]. In this way, the co-creation of experiences represents a highly relevant concept for tourism and research into experiences [52
]. The interaction can be generated physically or digitally, at different or simultaneous moments in the four areas of experience described by Pine and Gilmore [54
]. Therefore, it favours the existence of a suitable environment for successful interaction between destinations and tourists in a more direct and credible way.
Following the analysis of the creation of experiences, Oh, Fiore and Jeoung [57
] elaborated a scale of measurement and validated the four dimensions of experiences of Pine and Gilmore [54
] in the tourism sector through a study of bed-and-breakfast establishments in the hotel sector. The authors collected data from both the point of view of business owners and their guests. The results obtained confirmed the dimensional structure of the four areas of experience and provided empirical evidence and nomological validity of these areas within the housing and tourism environments.
Tung and Ritchie [62
], on the other hand, defined the tourist experience as “an individual’s subjective evaluation and undergoing (i.e., affective, cognitive and behavioural) of events related to his/her tourist activities which begins before (i.e., planning and preparation), during (i.e., at the destination), and after the trip (i.e., recollection)” ([62
], p. 1369). Through in-depth qualitative interviews administered to 208 participants, these authors identified four dimensions of the tourism experience using a grounded theory approach: affect, expectations, consequentiality and recollection.
If we continue to analyse the components of the tourism experience, we can see that they are complicated and vary widely if we analyse the existing literature on the subject. Thus, for example, for authors such as Gómez-Jacinto, Martín-García and Bertiche-Haud’Huyze [63
], the tourist experience includes intercultural interaction, tourist activities, quality of service and holiday satisfaction. Other authors point out that the tourism experience is composed of dimensions with a cognitive nature [64
], emotional [65
], social [66
], and the sensescape or multisensory enjoyment of the tourist destination on the part of the visitor [67
Authors such as Kim et al. [70
] contributed the concept of the memorable tourist experience (MTE), which they defined as a “tourism experience positively remembered and recalled after the event has occurred” ([70
], p. 2). It is generated selectively from real experiences and is influenced by the individual’s emotional assessment of holiday opportunities and helps to consolidate and reinforce the memory of pleasurable events experienced by the tourist while exploring the resources of the destination. They were also pioneers in developing a quantitative scale of 24 items to measure the MTE. This scale is composed of seven sections or domains: hedonism, refreshment, local culture, meaningfulness, knowledge, involvement and novelty. Subsequently, Kim and Richie [71
] validated the scale interculturally with Taiwanese tourists.
Chandralabal and Valanzuela [72
], on the other hand, went further and pointed out that past experience plays a very important factor in the generation of memories and their power to influence consumer decision-making. For these authors and based on the research of Hoch and Deighton [73
], the level of memory becomes the most valuable source of information when a tourist decides to return to a particular tourist destination and has important repercussions on their future behaviour. These authors point out that the importance of storing past experiences in memory is relevant due to their impact on future purchase motivation, its value and reliability and its influence on decisions.
What seems logical and important is that tourist destinations should consider MTE as a factor of differentiation and creation of value for tourists, as these are built by tourists in their individual evaluation of subjective experiences [73
] according to their expectations. Therefore, the role of destination management organizations (DMOs) is “to facilitate the development of an environment (i.e., the destination) that enhances the likelihood that tourists can create their own MTE” ([62
], p. 1369), as relevant factors that make it possible to return to the destination and also speak well about it in social and professional circles.
2.3. Sustainability, Expectations and Experiences
The economic dimensionality of the world tourism industry has led to the creation of an increasingly competitive market, where marketing plays an important and growing role with the aim of improving these economic indicators, as a symbol of progress and welfare of the resident company of a tourist destination that seeks to obtain a commercial advantage [8
]. From this perspective, a tourist destination can be considered to be a complex amalgam of tourism products and services [75
] where they participate and, at the same time, create relationships between a varied set of existing attributes, interest groups and main actors, such as shopkeepers, hoteliers and restaurateurs, necessary for the co-creation of tourism experiences [52
], as we have commented previously. In addition, it seems that there is a correlation between sustainability and competitiveness, since if sustainability is created and integrated (with the creation and commercialization of sustainable attributes creating a credible sustainability agenda) as a key element within a differentiated tourism package, the attractiveness of the destination increases and, therefore, can improve its competitiveness [77
The effective commercialization of sustainability in destinations can potentially reduce the burden of perceived responsibility for the consumer and act as a key factor in their decision-making process, provided that other aspects such as price and quality are comparable [79
], integrated into sustainability and promote its development and acceptance. It should also be kept in mind that sustainability encompasses all the elements that contribute to creating a complete tourist experience for all tourists alike [8
]. For authors such as Yu, Chancellor and Cole [80
], the role that residents represent for tourism sustainability is fundamental, and their involvement in the tourism planning process is crucial for the success of sustainable tourism development. Pulido and López-Sánchez [81
], in a study conducted on the Costa del Sol in Spain, analysed whether there were significant differences in the way they generate their expectations and perceptions of a destination depending on whether tourists considered it sustainable or not, noting that tourists who considered the destination to be sustainable had higher expectations of it and that affected the way in which they valued the destination and their experience of it, which was quite different from those that considered the destination to be unsustainable.
The state-of-the-art research in sustainability of tourism has shown that there is an incipient literature that reflects the relationship between sustainability and tourist experience of visitors, so that the visitor generates greater expectations about a destination perceived as sustainable. However, there are gaps in the literature about the factors and variables of sustainability that generate expectations in the destination by visitors, that is, what builds their perceptions and expectations. But, in addition, little has been studied yet about the relationship between expectation and tourism experience in the field of sustainability, especially from disciplines such as marketing and tourism. Understanding of this aspect could provide useful knowledge for the creation and management of tourist products and destinations. Therefore, our hypotheses started from the premise that the sustainability of the destination significantly influences expectations and that, in turn, these expectations are general experiences along with the loyalty to the destination and its recommendation. Following these considerations, our first hypothesis is:
The sustainability of the tourist destination has a positive and significant influence on the generation of tourist expectations for a tourist destination.
2.4. Managing Expectations and Memorable Experiences
Together with sustainability, the concept of tourist experience, as mentioned above, has been the subject of interest in marketing literature in recent years and has become a fundamental factor for the success of tourism businesses, in the hostelry sector and the accommodation sector [82
], and that was later incorporated into other areas such as cultural tourism or sports, among others.
The constant search for these experiences has given rise to a new profile of a more active tourist, with a more creative and participative role, who seeks to create and form unique and memorable tourist experiences, generating value and meaning through them as a vital part to living and travelling [84
]. The management of experiences has also evolved significantly with the implementation of new information and communication technologies [86
]. In this way, for example, the arrival of new technological devices and the development of specialised software has permitted the application of new technologies such as virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) through applications that can be downloaded to mobile phones and specific programs made available to tourists who visit them in certain cultural and scenic destinations, such as museums, exhibition halls, etc., that facilitate new experiences for tourists [90
] and that help to generate a series of expectations of the visited destinations.
In this way, the design of the experience becomes increasingly important in the current context for all tourism organizations (corporate agents, public bodies, etc.) for whom it will be necessary to analyse and better understand the type of experience that tourists expect of them and how it can be facilitated at an individual level [91
]. The complexity of the concept of experience is evident and is reflected in the tourism marketing literature [52
]. Concepts such as expectations of experience [92
] and memorable experiences [70
] have appeared in recent years to try to better understand the concept. In this sense, for example, people generate tourism experiences in a different way based on the values, background, culture, attitudes and beliefs that they have received from the environment in which they live [58
]. Tsaur, Lin and Lin [96
] indicated that the expectations of a memorable experience motivate tourists to participate in tourist activities, which is very important, for example, for cultural destinations.
The relationship between expectations and the generation of memorable experiences is necessary to understand the latter. For example, Matolo and Salia [97
], in an investigation that compared the expectations of tourists before visiting the Serengeti National Park (SENAPA) in Tanzania with the experience that was obtained when visiting it, found, after questioning 390 tourists, that there was a strong positive correlation between expectations and real experiences. Cartwright and Baird [98
], in their book on the growth and development of the cruise industry, point out that the most common reasons for seeking, choosing and booking a vacation on a cruise are luxury and fun. As a result, these pre-purchase expectations give fundamental importance to the overall experiential value of cruise vacations. In addition, the characteristics of cruise holidays make them ideal for experiential benefits and allow tourists to have a unique and memorable social experience [99
We have based this work on what researchers like Chiou, Wan, and Lee [92
], Larsen [93
], Sheng and Chen [94
] and Andereck et al. [98
] call experience expectations. The expectations of tourist experience are the result of the different types of interactions between tourists and tourist systems before the holiday. For example, consulting tourist brochures, visiting websites, specialized travel blogs and other more general sites, advertising in different digital and analogue environments or remembering the experiences from previous holidays or trips may result in expectations of tourism experience, which, in turn, can influence the real travel decisions of tourists [92
]. In addition, the expectations of the tourist experience can influence the perceptions and experiences of tourists during the trip, the memories of the trip, and the loyalty to the place [93
], therefore, it is a psychological phenomenon.
] in his review of the concept describes the tourist experience as a combination of highly complex psychological processes, in which tourist experiences incorporate aspects such as expectations, events and memories, and where there are influences between the three stages. According to Larsen [93
], tourists expect that during their trip and stay there will be a series of events as a result of anticipated planning. Whether they occur or not and how they happen can influence the feelings and real memories during and after the visit, and precisely how they remember changes expectations for the next visit, creating a pattern that feeds back on itself.
It is precisely from this perspective of relative interpretation that Larsen [93
] pointed out that experience is a type of subjective and personalized process, which is related to society, culture and even to different systems, and that in the case of tourist experiences, changes depending on the type of tourist and the type of holiday among other factors, so its study should be addressed from different disciplines such as marketing, psychology, culture and sociology. In a similar way O’Dell [84
] expresses himself from the field of cultural sociology, in which tourists have ceased to be passive actors to become an active part of the design, search and creation of their own holiday, at all times seeking situations and events that motivate and satisfy them, becoming the main actors of their experiences, a fact that occurs more frequently among the new generations of millennial tourists, and that is included within the profile of the tourist 4.0, for example. Therefore, in order to carry out a study on the experiences of tourists, it must be done from the in situ observation of visitors and tourists, from close up instead of at a distance, in order to obtain better results.
Following the analysis of tourism expectations and experiences, Sheng and Chen [102
] designed a questionnaire to analyse the expectations of visitors to the museum, based on the works of Schmitt [103
], Larsen [93
] and Falk and Dierking [53
], which would allow us to learn more about the expectations and experiences of tourists. To this end, they carried out a preliminary qualitative analysis of the contents of travel journals by experts, students and researchers, and then, after the stages of debugging, reliability and trust, questioned a sample of 420 visitors to museums for subsequent correlation during the trip. The objective was to improve the level of understanding and content in this field, due to the lack of studies on the existence of common characteristics of experience, which would permit a better connection between expectations and experiences. Their goal was to analyse how they affected the prior expectations in the generation of experience during the tourists’ holiday to detect a pattern of common characteristics.
It should not be forgotten that a main objective of tourism research in general is to investigate what potential tourists perceive as the characteristics of a holiday that create a positive experience as a way to better match expectations with experiences. For Andereck et al. [98
], expectations are preconceived perceptions, prior to the experience of the performance or attributes of a product, so it is important that companies that want to offer experiences to tourists know their expectations, as the evaluation of an experience is framed within the preconceived ideas of the tourists [104
]. Therefore, the theory of expectation suggests that a travel experience that meets or exceeds the expectations of tourists will be positively remembered. Therefore, our second hypothesis is:
The expectations of tourists positively and significantly influence the generation of experiences in a tourist destination.
2.5. Memorable Experiences, Loyalty and Intention to Recommend
A bibliographic review reveals that travel experience positively influences tourists’ intention to return to a destination [63
]. Weaver et al. [101
] point out in their study that part of the variation in the assessment of the destination and in the intention to return can be attributed to previous travel experience and the characteristics of the holiday. Authors such as Woodside, Caldwell and Albers-Miller [22
], Kim and Ritchie [71
] and Kim [105
] report similar findings: the intention to return to a destination, the intention to recommend and the generation of positive word-of-mouth recommendations are the result of previous positive experiences of tourists. Also, Marschall [106
], in his work on the role of memory in tourism, points out that tourists like to return to destinations that they have fond memories of. For this author, memory is a crucial factor in the choice of a destination; it is based on the tourist’s experience in the destination and on sharing the experience with others after the trip, in particular, through sharing texts, memories, stories, photos and souvenirs. Tsai [107
] and Kim [105
], for example, from a sample of Taiwanese tourists, demonstrated the predictive validity of memorable tourist experiences (MTEs) on the future behaviour of returning to a tourist destination, as they found that five of the seven components on their MTE measurement scale (i.e., hedonism, involvement, local culture, meaningfulness, and refreshment) influenced behavioural intentions to return to the destination, participate in the same tourism programmes and promote word-of-mouth recommendations. Tsai [107
], in his study of a sample of tourists who visited Tainan in Taiwan, for example, considered the value of culinary experiences as a fundamental factor in generating positive and unforgettable memories that affect future behavioural intentions to return to the destination.
For other researchers, not only the type of memory has an effect, but the number of visits made previously also significantly influences the future behaviour of tourists to return to a destination [108
]. Lam and Hsu [109
] corroborated this fact in a study carried out in the Chinese market, determining that the intention of tourists from mainland China to return to a destination such as Hong Kong was reinforced by the number of visits made in the past. Therefore, based on the above, our hypothesis proposal is:
MTEs positively and significantly influence the intentions of tourists to return to a tourist destination.
MTEs positively and significantly influence the intentions of tourists to recommend a tourist destination.
Taking all of these considerations into account, the model being tested is shown in Figure 1