Masberg, B and Silverman, L. (1996) 'Visitor Experiences at Heritage Sites: A Phenomenological Approach', in Journal of Travel Research 34: 20 -- 25.
[Rather a damp squib after a promising start. The actual material obtained from student visitors is rather banal. This might indicate a genuine and interesting response to heritage sites -- that student visitors don't treat them as anything particularly memorable or remarkable at all. The authors come closest to this when they notice that their respondents seem to remember the companions they were with at the time as much as anything specific. This is, roughly, what we found in interviewing Disney visitors, but we decided to take this as a valid finding, and talk about indifferent or 'semiotically exhausted' visitors. These authors clearly feel that they should find some particular significance in visitor recollections, and they do this by coding the responses, despite their commitment to a 'phenomenological' approach. The results are hardly gripping. The promised comparison with expert views is similarly limited, and turns on whether or not visitors classify heritage sites in the same way that experts did.]
There is still not much work on how visitors define their experience, and what there is tends to be excessively quantitative -- verbal behaviour, forms of interaction, various scores on psychological tests. A phenomenological approach might do better to uncover actual subjective meanings [not if it is just a prelude to some pretty basic qualitative research, though]. Promising methods include open-ended interviews , 'think aloud protocols', and recollection studies, where it is assumed that people will recall only particularly meaningful experiences (21).
However, phenomenologists appears to support a number of methods [actually, is indifferent to all empirical methods]. Apparently there was a pilot phase involving open-ended questions and then a brief questionnaire. [My own suspicion here, based on my own sad experiences, is that simply asking people to recall their experiences leads to some pretty thin and uninteresting data]. The authors then apologise for the small and unrepresentative sample.
Apparently, respondent answers revealed two general themes -- heritage involves history, and heritage involves history and culture. Some reported feeling an authentic atmosphere. Sites visited varied quite a lot, but no student used the apparently official classification of heritage sites as 'natural heritage, cultural heritage, or built environment' (22). [I am guessing here, but I think the idea of a built environment refers to a specially constructed heritage site and not a modified existing building].
Major themes in recollections included '(1) activities, (2) companions, (3) site personnel, (4) information, (5) built environment, (6) nature, and (7) culture' (22). Recalled activities are particularly banal, involving wandering round or having picnics. Companions seemed important, including meetings with absent parents. Site personnel seem to be important too, especially the ways in which tour guides and other people dealt with visitors. Information remembered was pretty vague and personal. Here, comments about built environment are taken to involve memories of particular buildings and how things were laid out. Natural surroundings, such shrubs and trees or landscaping were also important. Culture 'was most often implied by mentioning the ways of the people depicted or observed' (23). The authors conclude that 'the heritage site for the college student is do is an active social experience' (23). [One among many rather than anything specific?].
When asked what they had got from the visit, student visitors referred to knowledge and experiences. The knowledge examples seem particularly slender, a matter one or two specific facts, although some respondents claimed to have developed some empathetic feeling with the lives of others [which might reflect media representations as much as realist narratives on the site itself? Certainly, experiences and feelings seem the usual banal things].
Visitors also seems to have developed personalized learning, social benefits, and aesthetic experiences (24). They personally identified with participants, they had fun with their families, and they enjoyed the beauty of the setting.
Implications overall are pretty obvious. Visitors do not share the classifications and categories of scholars and professionals. They do think in terms of history, and so heritage professionals might market this more effectively. They also mention an educational function, Bernie some seem to have found it personally relevant, again implying new educational policies . Student visitors also seem to be unaware of other possible functions for heritage sites. The 'natural' aspects of the site seemed important, and staff need to be trained to be friendly and informative. Other activities also seemed important, like cycling with your friends, and these additional interests should also be accommodated. Phenomenological approaches seem best at picking out these multiple dimensions.