Have there been any studies on whether tourists are affected by the Lake Woebegon effect (also known as illusory superiority) in terms of their level of sophistication? Do a significant majority of tourists regard themselves as more sophisticated than average? (Claim made by this article)

I've noticed a lot of tourists complain about tourist traps. I suspect, though I'm not 100% sure, that part of their train of thought is that tourist traps is ok for the "average" tourist, but not for them. This makes me suspect that the Lake Woebegon effect may be happening, and if it is the case, I want to be aware that I might be suffering from it.

  • Anecdotes of individuals wanting to partake in more sophisticated travel aren't signs of notability. Someone claiming that most people believe they are more sophisticated than the average would be.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 31, 2012 at 13:20
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    @Oddthinking tourists who identify as "travelers" are still tourists per definition. A questions on this site can also be based on a wide-spread belief, which there is evidence of. Voting to reopen. Commented Jan 31, 2012 at 16:05
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    Restating for 3rd time: There are wide-spread claims by individuals that they are 'travellers' rather than 'tourists'. (Arguing 'travellers' are a subclass of 'tourists' is just debating definitions, not facts.) The question is NOT "Do there exist people who claim to be sophisticated?" The question is NOT "Is my sister really a more sophisticated traveller, like she claims?" The question is "Do a large majority of tourists consider themselves sophisticated?" Show me some people making (or denying) this STATISTICAL claim (not PERSONAL claim) and we'll have notability. Currently, we don't.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 31, 2012 at 22:56
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    @Flimzy Tourists seperating themselves as travellers is sufficient, consider they are still tourists per definition. When things like this are said : "The tourist is seen as making little or no attempt to delve into anything beyond their guide book." well, it show's tourists who consider themselves "travelers" also consider themselves more sophisticated. -- matadornetwork.com/bnt/… -- Also see the first link in my answer. Commented Feb 1, 2012 at 9:08
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    I feel no need to repeat my objection that I have stated three times and hasn't been addressed. One message I wish I could get across: rather than say "It is easy to find this claim on Google" you should FIND THE CLAIM ON GOOGLE!
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 0:10

1 Answer 1


That's a great question. I travel a lot, having almost traveled on-stop for the last several years. Often when discussing the issue of "travel sophistication" with other tourists I often hear people make the distinction that they are "travelers" as opposed to "tourists". This page has many interesting points that I think show that people who consider themselves "travelers" in some cases consider themselves superior (in travel skills) to "tourists".

That isn't terribly useful without seeing how many people who travel consider themselves travelers as opposed to tourists, although it is interesting to note.

I did find some evidence to indicate that most tourists may consider themselves superior in travel ability relative to their peers.

A study focusing on German tourists in Norway:

German tourists were divided into two groups: those who perceived themselves as typical German tourists and those who did not. These two groups were compared with regard to their views on the characteristics of a typical German tourist, the activities of the two groups during their stay, and their self-reported motives for coming. Results indicate that while 89.5% of the respondents viewed themselves as nontypical tourists, the two groups' views of what constituted a typical German tourist did not differ significantly. Interestingly, the data showed no differences between the two groups with respect to their activities during their journeys or their motives for traveling to Norway. - Source

Also of note is that a tourists self-image can be linked to and/or influenced by their choice of destination. A study looking at tourist self-image and destination brand personality found:

The results indicate that where tourists can make an association between a destination and a destination brand personality, and where this association is consistent with their desired holiday experience, a high level of congruity will exist between the tourists' self-image and their perceptions of the destination. In turn this self-congruity was related to satisfaction with a visit to the destination but not to intention to travel to the destination. - Source

Personally I would not say that most tourists consider themselves more sophisticated in travel ability. In my experience that attitude seems restricted to people backpacking or taking extended (months to years) long trips, while most tourists tend to take very short trips:

the ten years between 2000 and 2010 spurred a rapid increase in travel frequency, with the growth in short breaks not surprisingly outpacing that of longer leisure trips. Not only did this boost domestic travel but, at the market’s peak in 2008-2009, a significant share of Europeans – especially those suffering time constraints – were taking upwards of four to five foreign short breaks a year, often at the expense of longer annual holidays. - Source, (p12)

  • The Germans described themselves as "not typical" which is different to "more sophisticated". Then when it comes to the actual claim, your answer is "Personally I would not say [...]" and "In my experience"?
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 0:06
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    @Oddthinking, The study with the Germans is not the only reference I provided. See the first link. I agree "not typical" is different from "more sophisticated", although I get the sense that is what is meant. Feel free to downvote if you think differently. Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 0:19
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    "while 89.5% of the respondents viewed themselves as nontypical tourists" - I think the whole answer can be replaced with that one money quote :)
    – user5341
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 18:08
  • "people make the distinction that they are "travelers" as opposed to "tourists"." This amused me, because Traveller is a synonym for Gypsy in Britain and Ireland.
    – user34550
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 12:01

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