Journal of Sport & Tourism vol:18 issue:3 pages:161-183
Hallmark events are favoured by policy-makers due to their assumed effects on destination image, social and infrastructural developments and economic benefits. They are also criticised because these targets are seldom met. However, little is known about the dynamics of forming a tourism destination image (TDI) under the influence of event visitors’ travel experiences. In this paper, the three-gap model was used to provide a better understanding of this dialectic process from the travellers’ perspective. The three-gap model describes which factors influence TDI and highlights the importance of pre-visit expectations compared to travel experiences. There was a special focus on the ‘environmental bubble’ as a relevant concept for destinations where safety might pose a real risk and present danger. The 2010 FIFA World Cup was chosen for an explorative multi-method case study, focusing on travelling Dutch fans. The results show that before the event, the international media and Dutch fans who planned to visit the event saw serious safety risks. However, supporters did not retreat into the provided environmental bubbles which might prevent them from contact with the host community and would limit authentic experiences. They used these bubbles rather as a launching pad for venturing into the country. A gap between expectation and experience was present, after their visit the Dutch fans evaluated South Africa more as a country which is safe to travel in. The paper concludes that when not organised too rigidly, environmental bubbles might pre-empt potentially negative gaps between visitors’ experiences and expectations. In turn, this may contribute to travellers feeling a greater sense of autonomy than implicitly assumed by tourist organisations, a change in their travel behaviour and their TDI.