Updated June 2023 –Are your customers leaving your tours and activities feeling satisfied and exhilarated, or are they left with unmet expectations?

In the tourism industry, managing customer expectations is critical to ensure positive reviews and repeat business. That’s where the tourist expectation and satisfaction theory comes in.

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 in tourism, 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.

What are customer expectations and satisfaction?

how to sell tours

Understanding how customer satisfaction and customer expectation link is crucial for businesses in the tourism industry.

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 viewing content on social media can all influence a customer’s expectations.

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 and customer satisfaction processes are divided into four parts:

1. Manage expectations with tour descriptions, videos, photos, prices, and 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


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.

What influences customer expectations?

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 in tourism are formed:

Previous experiences with you

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 negative expectations 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.

Previous experiences with other tour operators

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.

Here are a few strategies you can employ:

Personalized experiences

Study the feedback or reviews from your customers’ previous tours to understand what aspects they enjoyed the most. Use this information to customize their upcoming tour, incorporating elements that align with their preferences. By providing a personalized experience, you can demonstrate that you’ve paid attention to their feedback and are committed to delivering a superior tour.

Enhanced itineraries

Analyze the itineraries offered by your competitors during the previous tours and identify any gaps or areas for improvement. Introduce new attractions, landmarks, or hidden gems that were not covered in their previous experience. By adding unique and exclusive elements to your tour, you can exceed their expectations and offer a fresh perspective on San Francisco.

Exceptional customer service

In addition to the tour itself, focus on providing outstanding customer service throughout their journey with you. Train your guides to be knowledgeable, engaging, and responsive to their needs. Encourage your staff to go above and beyond to ensure a seamless and enjoyable experience. By delivering exceptional customer service, you can create a positive and memorable impression that sets you apart from your competitors.

Remember, it’s essential to strike a balance between meeting their expectations based on their previous positive experience and providing a unique and memorable tour that sets you apart. By leveraging their previous customer experience, you can enhance your offerings and establish a reputation as the tour operator that consistently exceeds expectations

Customer reviews

positive reviews are a customer expectation

Reviews, including pictures of customers, are one of the main ways potential 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 start asking for reviews the right way which you can then display on your website. 

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 examples of the three types of customer expectations:

Surpassing low expectations

When your customers have lower expectations for your tour, they are more likely to feel highly satisfied after it is complete, and it’s 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.

Failing to meet exceedingly high expectations

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 and be prepared for managing customer complaints if things don’t go as planned. Try to ensure that 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

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 operators?

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 tourist expectations and satisfaction will help you stay ahead of the game from all your other competitors.

So, what do customers expect from tour businesses today?

Discovering your customer expectations vs customer satisfaction

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.

Offering meal packages, private tours, or a mode of transportation may be that extra element to capture the booking. This is the perfect time for you to get creative and think of ways to make your services stand out.

Flexible cancelation and refund policies

Arival’s Path to Purchase 2021 report shows that flexible cancelations 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.

According to Arival’s Path to Purchase September 2021 report, over 80% of travelers in 2021 are participating in smaller group sizes of between 1-10 people. This goes to show that offering smaller group tours and activities will make your customers feel at ease. 

Longer tours

Along with a great itinerary and smaller groups, customers want to make the most out of their first trip since the beginning of the pandemic. Longer tours make people feel more fulfilled when it comes to their plans and activities and it covers a big chunk of their day.

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. 

Quality tours at the right price

Offering quality tours at the right price is the key to meeting and exceeding customer expectations. A tour that is too expensive may lead to disappointed customers, while a tour that is too cheap may cause customers to question its quality.

Striking the right balance between price and quality is crucial. Customers want to feel like they are getting a good value for their money, and they want to know that they are getting their money’s worth. By offering high-quality tours at a fair and reasonable price, tour operators can meet and exceed customer expectations, leaving them with unforgettable experiences and positive memories.

But how do you know whether your tours are priced correctly?

It’s important to take a customer-centric approach when understanding customer needs and expectations in travel and tourism. You can start by conducting market research to understand what customers are looking for in a tour and what they are willing to pay for it. Utilizing technology and data analytics can also help tour companies optimize their operations and pricing strategies, leading to better cost management.

Streamlined booking

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. 

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