A Gadamerian Approach to Tourist Experience
: Understanding the Expectations, Perceptions and Memories of German Soft Adventure Tourists in Oman

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Tourist experience research frequently disregards underlying philosophical debates on the nature of experience. In particular, research neglects the dynamic and subjective processes occurring before, during and after trips. In order to address these limitations, this thesis frames tourist experience in the Gadamerian hermeneutic approach of Erfahrung. The philosophical framework is applied to understand German soft adventure tourists’ experiences travelling to Oman.

In the qualitative research approach, I interviewed 19 tourists from Germany taking soft adventure trips to Oman. Six respondents were interviewed three times, before their trip, shortly after, and half a year after their return. Further, during the Covid-19 pandemic, I conducted thirteen additional interviews after respondents returned from Oman. The semi-structured interviews employed probing and image-elicitation techniques. I analysed data using a hermeneutic spiral informed by the Gadamerian approach. This necessitated a reflexive approach to the researchers’ positionality, life experience and personal background in Oman.

The hermeneutic spiral revealed complex, dynamic and integrated experience processes. Travellers showed dynamic changes in remembering and forgetting after their return. Several respondents lost access to or forgot memories of natural sensations while better remembering personal interactions with travel partners. Further, tourists applied cultural relativist interpretations to their experiences, especially those related to patriarchal societal structures, to avoid cognitive dissonance. These interpretations enabled respondents to affirm desired self images and ideal social self-images. Findings also show that soft adventure tourist experiences in Oman, especially those in the desert, produce a mix of existential reflections of tourists between angst, avoidance and authenticity.

By applying a Gadamerian Philosophical Hermeneutics of Erfahrung to tourist experiences, the thesis contributes knowledge in four areas. Firstly, it provides a dynamic perspective to tourist experience research adding depth to literature through its Gadamerian Philosophical Hermeneutic approach. Secondly, cultural relativist interpretations offer a fresh perspective on tourist experiences to understand reconciliations of dissonances in intercultural settings. This provides a novel explanation of how tourism shapes cross-cultural societal views. Thirdly, the thesis portrays self-concept effects in adventure tourism as not determined by images or satisfaction but more framed by the travellers’ recollections and ideal self-image. Fourthly, the research adds complexity to debates on existential reflections triggered through tourist experiences by incorporating dynamic reflections in the conceptualisation. The contributions have implications for future research on tourist experience, soft adventure tourism and cultural effects of tourism.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorNigel Jarvis (Supervisor) & Clare Weeden (Supervisor)


  • Cultural relativism
  • Erfahrung
  • Existentialism
  • Expectation
  • Gadamer
  • Hermeneutics
  • Memory
  • Self-image congruity
  • Soft adventure
  • Tourist experience

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