Updated January 2022 – The expectation and satisfaction theory is a cognitive theory that was originally developed by psychologists and marketing professionals in the late 1980s, and it has subsequently been applied in many industries and studies.

The purpose of this theory is to evaluate the expectations of consumers and their post-purchase satisfaction.

Expectation management is critical for tour and activity providers, as you are hoping to leave your customers feeling exhilarated and impressed in order to generate positive reviews on the best travel sites. By understanding the importance of customer expectations, you’ll know how to meet customer expectations in your tour and activity business. This will ultimately lead to a better and more positive rate of customer expectations vs customer satisfaction.

Customer expectations are a set of ideas about a service, brand, or product that people set in their minds. Seeing an ad, past experiences with your company, or even by viewing content on social media can all influence a customer’s expectation.

For example, customers that choose to go to Disneyland over other amusement parks may have developed higher expectations about Disneyland. For example, some of their expectations may include being able to meet their favorite Disney characters, eating food that they’ve seen in their favorite Disney films, or experiencing rides exclusive to Disneyland.

Customers set this cognitive expectation in their minds to feel satisfied with the experience and value for money. However, being able to identify customer expectations vs customer satisfaction is a complex process; some customers may have expectations that aren’t so easy to see or plan for.



The customer expectations vs customer satisfaction processes are divided into four parts:

  1. Manage expectations with tour descriptions, videos, photos, price, basically everything a consumer sees before booking your tours.
  2. Manage the perceived performance with the marketing mix elements.
  3. Disconfirmation of beliefs is the difference between what a customer expects and experiences during your tour or activity.
  4. Customer satisfaction, is something we are all trying to achieve!

How are customer expectations formed?

You may be wondering, how are customer expectations formed and when does it occur? Customer expectations are formed all the time and at every stage of the customer journey. In some cases, customer expectations can be formed even before they’ve experienced your tour or activities.

Here are a few common ways customer expectations are formed:

  • They’ve experienced your services in the past

Customers that have had a positive experience with your services in the past will gain a positive expectation for the next time they book. However, customers that have had a negative experience, will form a negative expectation and will probably never rebook.

Both positive and negative expectations from a previous experience with your business shouldn’t be taken lightly. Based on an analysis performed by Deloitte, people with a positive experience on average share their stories with only nine other people, however, those that have had a negative experience share it with an average of 16 people. 

When you consider this, it’s easier for more people to form a negative expectation rather than a positive one. You can avoid this by getting those with a positive experience to become your brand ambassadors. Provide them with incentives such as 10% off their next booking in return for a review.

  • They’ve experienced a similar tour or activity from another operator

Let’s say you’re a tour operator that provides guided tours around San Francisco and you’ve got customers that have done a similar tour from one of your competitors. If their previous experience with your competitor was positive, your customers will now expect that you either match the experience or better yet, exceed their expectations. By knowing this information, you can use their previous customer experience to gain a competitive advantage by providing them with a better tour.

  • Reviews

Reviews are one of the main ways customers perform research before placing a booking with your company. A negative review can generate bad expectations of your company and can easily deter people from following through with their booking. You can avoid negative reviews by ensuring that you provide consistent customer service and satisfying experiences. By doing so, you can then ask for reviews the right way which you can then display on your website. 

The different types of customer expectations

We live in a world with many different types of people and with that comes different views and expectations. Here are the three examples of customer expectations:

low expectations > more and better reviews post-sales > increased number of bookings

When your customers have a lower expectation for your tour, they are more likely to feel highly satisfied after it is complete, it is easier to exceed customers. This can help you get good reviews, as customers will be surprisingly pleased by the experience. Positive reviews are important in driving traffic to your website and increasing your online bookings. However, you do not want to set expectations too low for your customers, because they may not feel compelled to initially book your tours. You want to set the right tone of excitement for the tour, without promising an experience that you cannot deliver. Finding the right balance will be the key to your success.

exceedingly high expectations > bad reviews, no referrals > decreased number of bookings

When travelers are planning their itineraries, they often rely on videos, photographs, and tour descriptions in order to make their selections when booking excursions. If you promise a once-in-a-lifetime experience that they can’t find anywhere else, they are likely to choose you over another tour provider. However, make sure you can make good on your promise. Make sure you’re able to meet and exceed your customer’s expectations if you set them high. If they leave feeling like they didn’t get what they were promised, they are more likely to leave bad reviews. Furthermore, they probably won’t be referring your business to others.

meeting desired expectations> happy customers, more referrals > increased number of bookings

This is the best approach to the expectation and satisfaction theory for tour and activity providers. Provide your customers with a realistic yet exciting expectation for their upcoming tour, and they will leave feeling like they got exactly what they wanted out of the experience. Your customer satisfaction levels will increase, and you will receive raving reviews as well as plenty of referrals. By being honest and accurate about your tours and activities, customers will trust you to provide them with an experience they won’t soon forget.

As a tour and activity provider, you can help manage your customer’s expectations by writing compelling and accurate tour descriptions. These descriptions play a pivotal role in attracting customers and convincing them to book your tours. In turn, you can increase customer satisfaction by applying the marketing mix to all of your goods and services.

What do customers expect from tour businesses today and what are some factors that influence customer expectations of service?

With the advancement of technology and ease of gaining information, it’s now quicker for people to generate expectations. Many factors could easily influence customer expectations and in order to increase bookings, tour operators must meet and exceed these expectations.

Identifying your customer expectations vs customer satisfaction will help you stay ahead of the game from all your other competitors.

Discovering your customer expectations vs customer satisfaction

So, what do customers expect from tour businesses today?

  • A great itinerary

With the heavy restrictions dampening many travel plans within the past few years, many people are craving great experiences. As a tour operator, creating a great and enticing itinerary will surely win the bookings of many.

This is the perfect chance for you to get creative and explore what your customers want. Adding extra elements such as meal packages, personalization to the tour, or a mode of transportation may be that extra element to a great itinerary.

  • Flexible policies

Arival’s Path to Purchase 2021 report shows that flexible cancellations and refund policies are the main expectation. With over 69% of travelers agreeing prior to making a booking, they’ll need to make sure there are flexible policies in place.

  • Smaller groups

It’s no surprise that smaller groups are one of today’s main customer expectations. With the pandemic forcing us to become accustomed to being around fewer people, smaller group tours are what people currently seek.

Arival’s report indicates that 80% of travelers in 2021 are opting to participate in smaller group tours of between 1-10 people. By being able to provide smaller group tours you’ll be satisfying the customer expectation vs customer satisfaction of today’s travelers.

  • Longer tours

In relation to smaller group tours, many travelers are also seeking longer, more fulfilling tours. Arival’s report states that 45% of travelers are opting into half-day tours (3-4 hour tours) with a further 22% opting for full-day tours that go longer than 5 hours. When you put those two numbers together, that’s over 70% of people participating in longer tours.

Using smart marketing strategies will help you emphasize your longer, more in-depth experiences. 

  • An easy booking process

The last thing travelers want before a holiday is a stressful process. By making your booking process as easy and efficient as possible, you’re contributing to the stress-free holiday travelers crave.

According to Arival’s report, research and bookings for tours have shifted dramatically to online channels compared to 2019. These stats indicate that more people are booking and researching through online platforms such as:

  • social media – 25% in 2021 compared to 9% in 2019
  • operator websites – 31% in 2021 compared to 23% in 2019
  • OTAs (Online Travel Agents) – 35% in 2021 compared to 22% in 2019

To be able to accept last-minute bookings via your website, social media, or OTAs will help ease the overall booking process.

An online booking system like Rezdy will simplify your overall booking process. It provides your customers with real-time availability so they can instantly choose the best time and date that works for them, already creating a great customer experience. It can also help you prepare for last-minute bookings/cancellations by automatically updating your schedules and manifest. This informs and prepares your team for any sudden changes. At the same time, it also makes it easier for customers to make changes. 

Curious to see whether Rezdy is right for you? Start a FREE 21-day trial or book a free demo today.

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