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Journal ofTravelResearch
 http://jtr.sagepub.com/content/48/1/92Theonline version of this article can be found at:DOI: 10.1177/00472875083286572009 48: 92 originally published online 6 January 2009
Journal of Travel Research 
Yaniv Poria, Avital Biran and Arie Reichel
Visitors' Preferences for Interpretation at Heritage Sites
Published by: 
On behalf of: 
can be found at:
Journal of Travel Research 
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at Universiti Malaya (S141/J/2004) on November 21, 2012 jtr.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
Visitors’Preferences for Interpretationat Heritage Sites
Yaniv Poria
 Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel
Avital Biran
University of Surrey, UK 
Arie Reichel
 Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel
Research on interpretation at heritage settings commonly centers on the display. The current study highlights visitor pref-erences for on-site interpretation, an essential element in the management of heritage tourist attractions. This researchfocuses on the Wailing Wall, a religious “must-see” attraction in Jerusalem. The role of interpretation as a facilitator of emo-tional experience rather than a means to gain knowledge is explored. Results indicate the need to customize the interpreta-tion to meet visitor preferences and motives. Furthermore, the study reveals the need to capture heritage tourism not onlyas a search for naïve nostalgia or a simplified romantic version of the past but also as a more complex phenomenon.Implications for marketers and heritage site operators are suggested, highlighting the need to adopt innovative approachesto the management of heritage tourist attractions and provide different interpretations for different visitors.
interpretation; personal heritage; perception; preferences; tourist experiences
eritage tourism, whether defined as visits to culturalsettings or visits to spaces considered by the visitorsas relevant to their own heritage, is one of the fastest grow-ing tourism sectors (Bonn et al. 2007). Research on her-itage tourism sites often focuses on the display rather thanon latent heritage (Caton and Santos 2007), a line of research that often highlights the concept of “power,”emphasizing the stakeholders’impact on the presentationand interpretation. The current study adopts Tunbridge andAshworth’s (1996, p. 69) approach that the study of her-itage settings “must shift from the uses of heritage to theusers themselves and thus from the producers (whethercultural institutions, governments or enterprises) to theconsumers.” Specifically, the approach presented herefocuses on the visitors, exploring the relationships betweenthe visitors’perception of the site relative to their own her-itage and their preferences toward on-site interpretation.The significance of this relationship derives from studies inareas such as environmental psychology, human geogra-phy, and sociology of tourism as well as heritage site man-agement and construction of history and commemoration.The main assertion in this study is that research ontourist experiences in spaces presenting cultural assetsshould be based on the interrelationships among siteattributes, visitors, and presentation. Specifically, in linewith the “experientially-based” approach (Apostolakis2003, p. 799), the current research explores visitors’per-ceptions of the site relative to their personal heritage,which may be linked to individual personal characteris-tics such as gender, age, religious affiliation, and prefer-ences with respect to elements of the on-siteinterpretation. These interrelationships, especially pref-erences for interpretation, which are often ignored inheritage tourism literature, are essential to the manage-ment of heritage tourist attractions. The study also pro-vides a better understanding of people’s experience of heritage settings by clarifying visitors’subjective andpersonal perceptions of the site and their motives for vis-iting. Thus, the view that only a naïve search for nostal-gia or a simplified commoditized past is at the core of heritage tourism is challenged.Highlighting visitor perceptions and preferences rela-tive to the interpretation is most valuable for the man-agement of heritage attractions. The findings shed lighton the need to mass customize visitor experience of her-itage settings rather than provide monolithic experiencesonly; this is specifically the case where there is an inter-est in attracting visitors and increasing revenues.
Journal of Travel Research
Volume 48 Number 1August 2009 92-105© 2009 SAGEPublications10.1177/0047287508328657http://jtr.sagepub.comhosted athttp://online.sagepub.com
 at Universiti Malaya (S141/J/2004) on November 21, 2012 jtr.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
Literature Review
Interpretation in Tourism Literature
Although many definitions of 
have beenproposed in the tourism literature, no single definition hasbeen universally accepted. A review of the literature sug-gests that interpretation can be defined as the transmissionof information from the presenter to the viewer in anattempt to educate the latter. Referring to heritage settings,Howard (2003, p. 244) argues that interpretation “covers thevarious means of communicating heritage to people.”Focusing on tour guides, Cohen (1985) differentiatesbetween information and interpretation. Alderson andLow’s (1976) definition is of importance as it emphasizesthe role of management in the provision of interpretation.They defined interpretation as a “planned effort to create forthe visitor an understanding of the history and significanceof events, people, and objects” (p. 3). The use of the words
is noteworthy, as it recognizes that thereare different heritages “out there” in the public arena andthat management of heritage sites decides what to present.Studies dealing with on-site presentation and interpretationoften reveal that the information presented is not the truth,challenging the possibility that objective reality exists(Reisinger and Steiner 2006). The differences between the“real thing” and the presentation are the result of two mainfactors. The first is the fact that the display justifies and val-idates the version of history as seen by those in power ignor-ing other versions, an idea derived from a feminist researchperspective (e.g., Hall 1994; Poria 2007). This research per-spective has an effect on tourism research in general andrecognizes the need to provide those without power theopportunity to influence heritage presentations (e.g.,Pritchard and Morgan 2001; Pritchard et al. 2007). The sec-ond factor refers to managerial considerations arising fromthe need to attract visitors and raise revenues. However, thisfactor is often ignored. A possible reason could be itsincompatibility with often-cited theories that overestimatethe role of “power” in heritage presentation and ignore therole of heritage tourist attractions as a source of income.Heritage settings must compete with other tourist attrac-tions and be profitable. In line with the above, they areforced to present the past as an interesting and appealing“show,” thus introducing modifications and manipulations,distancing the presentation from the “real thing” (i.e., pre-vailing historical facts). This happens, for example, whentour guides at heritage setting manipulate the narrative tosuit the specific audience. Studies suggest that narrativemanipulations are geared to increase tips, increase returncustomers, and enlarge customersmarket share potential(e.g., Guter and Feldman 2006).Similar to general tourism studies, literature that cen-ters on interpretation also points to the difficulties in defin-ing interpretation. Beck and Cable (2002) argue thatinterpretation encompasses many possibilities in manydifferent places. Tilden (1977, p. 7) argues that a definitionof interpretation is either too inclusive or fails to empha-size that “which we believe is vital.” Instead, in Tilden’swords, “I am prepared to define the called Interpretation”as follows: “an educational activity which aims to revealmeanings and relationships through the use of originalobjects, by firsthand experience, and by illustrative media,rather than simply to communicate factual information”(pp. 7-8). Beck and Cable (2002) defined interpretation“as an informational and inspirational process designed toenhance understanding, appreciation, and protection of our cultural and natural legacy” (p. 1). Based on the above,and in line with conceptualizations from communicationtheories (Kotler 1984), the working definition of interpre-tation adopted in this study is the following:
 Interpretationis the process of the transmission of knowledge, its diffu-sion, and its reception and perception by the individual.
This definition intentionally implies that interpreta-tion is a process that begins with the information chosento be presented by heritage site management (whether itis “real,” “objective,” “authentic” or not) and continuesthrough the visitor’s understanding and experience of theinterpretation. It is suggested that interpretation is not aone-sided effort but an outcome of an interactive process.In line with Reisinger and Steiner (2006), who adoptedHeidegger’s philosophy, the working definition recognizesthat visitors play both active and passive roles during theinterpretation experience.The above definition of interpretation includes elementsoften overlooked in the tourism literature, such as thenature of heritage, the nature of the visitor, and the poten-tial relationship between them. The fact that these elementsare ignored is revealed through a review of the literature(see Timothy and Boyd 2003) dealing with the objectivesof interpretation and ways of evaluating its quality. Bothresearchers and practitioners often perceive the objective of interpretation as educating the visitors, aiming at facilitat-ing an understanding of the importance of protection andconservation (Timothy and Boyd 2003). This line of thought is reflected in Tilden’s (1977, p. 38) statement:“Through interpretation, understanding; through under-standing, appreciation; through appreciation protection”Another example is Herbert’s (1989, p. 191) statement thatinterpretation should “make people more aware of theplaces they visit, to provide knowledge.” Infrequently,entertainment is mentioned as a means for endorsing learn-ing (Light 1995; Timothy and Boyd 2003). Moreover, theliterature that elaborates on the links between power and
Poria et al. / Visitors’Preferences for Interpretation93
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