Nostos within the tourism context: Perspectives from young adults

Prokopis Christou

Department of Hotel and Tourism Management, Cyprus University of Technology, Limassol, Cyprus

Elias Hadjielias

Department of Hotel and Tourism Management, Cyprus University of Technology, Cyprus

Konstantinos Melas

School of Business& Management, University of Central Lancashire, Cyprus



Nostos derives from the ancient Greek νόστος, essentially describing the desire for a return journey. Since archaic eras, humans have been faced with a disgruntled yearning to relive the past, often leaving them with a sense of ache (algos). In current days, the tourism industry and organizations within often stimulate nostalgia, in an endeavor to augment visitor experiences. Even so, there is so far no evidence to suggest that objects and displays offered as nostalgic triggers address a wide spectrum of visitors, particularly the young population. Findings derived from informal interviews with young adults at a specific cruise ship setting with a contemporary yet vintage ambiance address this gap in the literature. In doing so, the study adds to the body of knowledge of this rather unexplored phenomenon, while discussing certain theoretical and organizational implications.

Key Words: nostos, nostalgia, tourist experience, cruise ship



A type of song known as nostoi (plural of nostos) referred to the returns of Troy’s warriors to their homeland. The term has been closely associated with the emotion of nostalgia, although the latter contains algos, which describes the pain linked with the longing for a return journey. Particularly, Holbrook (1993, p. 245) referred to nostalgia as “a longing for the past, a yearning for yesterday.” There is plenty of evidence to suggest that nostalgia may be triggered by more than an individual’s retrieval of past experiences and feelings of loneliness. Examples include food, sounds, scents, pictures, and objects (Chen et al., 2014; Zhou et al., 2008). Even so, there is no evidence to suggest that such stimuli trigger nostalgia in people who might not have encountered such specific elements in the past. That is, whether or not people feel nostalgic after coming across a specific object not linked to their early years, such as their childhood, may be argued. For instance, because nostalgia requires a cognitive appraisal, such as memory retrieval, conceivably one would expect that young people do not feel nostalgic over certain stimuli. Chou and Lien (2010) proved that positive nostalgic feelings are created upon hearing previously heard old songs. Hence, the primary aim of this study is to explore whether or not vintage elements and old objects trigger nostalgia in a specific cluster of people – the young adult population. A particular tourism setting is used for this reason. It is well acknowledged that tourism acts as a panacea for nostalgia seekers, such as in the case of nostalgic British consumers who visit Kolkata to bask in the glory of the Raj (Bandyopadhyay, 2012). In current days, the tourism industry makes use of nostalgic stimulators, given that the past is not the remedy for nostalgia, and this is why the past is reanimated (Bazin, 2013), such as through specific elements and objects on display. The study used an exploratory approach, like similar studies (e.g., Christou, 2018), to reveal further insights into this rather unexplored notion. In doing so, the study attempted to illuminate existing knowledge on an under-researched concept, while simultaneously addressing the above-mentioned gap. Furthermore, it provides practical implications for tourism stakeholders and establishes a future research agenda on the notion and its relationship with organizations. First, though, the paper discusses nostalgia within an emotional and experiential conceptual framework. The methodological approach then follows, while a discussion of findings precedes practical and theoretical implications.



The notion of nostalgia has been labelled as an emotion (Cheung et al., 2013), yet certain researchers (e.g., Holak & Havlena, 1998) reveal the complexity of emotions elicited in a nostalgic experience, such as sadness being linked with warmth, joy, and affection. Nostalgic posts in social media were found in Davalos et al.’s (2015) study to include both negative and positive emotions, consistent with the bittersweet character of nostalgia. Nevertheless, in the past, it was characterized as a cerebral disease of essentially demonic cause (Hofer, 1934/1688), of carrying a negative affect and melancholia (McCann, 1941). This rather depressive state was associated with severe psychological disorders (Rauchs, 1999). Currently it is interpreted as a maladaptive sentiment that individuals experience once trapped in their past while failing to measure up to present demands. This entails remembering an event from someone’s past and a longing to return to it. Hence, a person may feel sentimental such as happy but with a tinge of longing (Stephan et al., 2015). Jarratt and Gammon (2016, p. 131) determined that “respondents became emotional when recounting memories of family holidays….” Despite this idiosyncratic, bittersweet emotional amalgam, nostalgia has nonetheless been regarded as predominately a commonly felt positive emotion (Cheung et al., 2013). A parallel stream of research draws on social psychology to investigate the collective properties of nostalgia. In more detail, Sedikides et al. (2008) make reference to nostalgia’s collective association by referring to it as a social emotion serving key psychological functions. Additionally, Smeekes (2015) demonstrates how group-based nostalgia is likely to be related to a positive in-group orientation.

Nostalgia can be triggered by an individual’s past experience through memory retrieval, betraying hence its cognitive dimension. According to Stephan et al. (2012), nostalgia refers to memories (i.e., meaningful) that are preserved, if not idealized, across time. Even so, an increasing number of recent studies support the fact that various stimuli act as nostalgia triggers (Sedikides et al., 2015; Chen et al., 2014). Resting on the beneficial properties of nostalgia, organizations use such stimuli to evoke nostalgic feelings in their consumers. In fact, the notion shifted into something more positive (Specht & Kreiger, 2016), with organizations’ acknowledgement of its importance, purposefully using stimuli to trigger nostalgia. This is particularly the case in the general tourism field, such as in restaurants, hotels, cruise ships, and museums. In more detail, the constructed setting put on by organizations, such as displaying old pictures and offering traditional food, appears to trigger nostalgia. For instance, Leong et al. (2015) mention various mechanisms that may evoke nostalgia and help an individual to remember a specific place at a specific time period, such as a sound, a scent, or a picture. Moreover, the Imperial War Museum in the UK sells a “nostalgic cultural image” (Brown, 2013, p. 277). All the same, human interactions in the form of conversations about former days also seem to trigger nostalgia. Besides, humans are reflective and social, discuss the past with others, and eventually become nostalgic (Davalos et al., 2015). Based on Synnes (2015), stories of nostalgia are vital aspects of maintaining the continuity of the self when much in life is characterized by discontinuity and uncertainty. Hence, the notion acquires significant status in current times, resting assured that it is prevalent and universal (Sedikides et al., 2015). Even so, the notion remains largely unexplored, with the majority of the literature focusing on its positive or negative effects on individuals. The tourism academic community has not contributed much in its further comprehension. This, despite the fact that it is widely used as a mode to augment the overall tourist experience, hence where this study now turns.



The aim of this study is to further investigate the concept of nostalgia; particularly it seeks to reveal whether nostalgia is experienced by young people who might have not (due to their young of age), been exposed to specific experiences, objects, and cues of the past. For this reason, an exploratory research approach was employed, like studies of similar nature (e.g. Christou, 2018). A day trip was organized in March, on a cruise ship in the port of Limassol (Cyprus), in which university students participated, during the specific time of the year the particular ship was not touring in international waters, easing access to the particular cluster. The setting was chosen because it met certain criteria relevant to the scope of this study. Firstly, it provided a useful context due to its spatial limits. Secondly, it served as an ideal setting because it could not be easily associated with previous experiences, unlike a museum. Thirdly, it combined a contemporary layout inclusive of elements such as objects that could act as nostalgia triggers, such as old photos and vintage globes (view image 1). Following a tour of the ship’s areas, which lasted approximately one hour, students were approached by the researcher. Those who agreed to participate in the study were interviewed either at the particular setting, or as soon as possible after the experience took place (Nawijn et al., 2012), such as in a commonly agreed-upon venue (e.g., university cafeteria). Informal interviews were chosen because they are acknowledged to put people at ease and allow concepts to emerge naturally. Questions were general in their frame of reference, allowing some latitude to ask further questions (Bryman, 2004). Such questions included: “Did you experience any emotions during the trip?” “Did you feel nostalgia at any point during the trip, such as the desire to return to your formal years, or a place in the past?” and “Why do you believe you felt nostalgia?” Achieving rigor in data collection, such as ethical clearance, reliability, and relevance of outcomes was emphasized (Kitto et al., 2008). Interviews were conducted in English, and each lasted approximately 20–30 minutes (view table 1: Interviewees’ details). The study came to an end once some degree of saturation was reached, while a total number of 40 interviews were retained in the study. Informants were equally distributed amongst the two genders, they were between 18–24 years old (average 21 years old), and they had a heterogeneous yet mainly European background.


Table 1: Profile of interviewees









Age (Average: 21 years old)


















Felt nostalgic in the setting



9 out of 18


15 out of 22



Nationality (of interviewees)


Cypriot (Greek& Turkish Cypriots)




























Topics that emerged were grouped into interrelated themes, following coding scheme and frame analysis directions (Hennink et al., 2011), while guiding questions assisted in this process. On the topic of limitations, due to the place in which this research took place, certain informants from particular cultural backgrounds were more represented in the study. In fact, this study was not able to pinpoint cultural differences. Furthermore, another limitation of the study is the fact that it took place within a specific context, that of a ship, challenging generalization of outcomes.



When informants were asked if they felt any particular emotions while touring the ship, one third of them replied in the negative. The majority, though gave a positive reply, such as I20: 

It [trip] brought back some nice memories, when I was a child… When I was around nine I went for a cruise with my family. I think it was in the Mediterranean Sea. I can’t remember much about it, but I remember that it was a great experience… I really enjoyed that holiday! Those were the best days of my life! This trip made me want to go for a cruise again… [referring to what triggered nostalgic feelings:] … generally the whole scenery, the sea and the ship ambiance!  [smiling]

Those who gave a positive reply in the aforementioned question were asked to pinpoint which precise emotions they felt. This resulted in the following answers: “excitement,” “nostalgia,” “happiness,” “amusement,” “desire,” “impression,” “joy,” “boredom,” and “claustrophobia,” (e.g.): “I felt the desire… to go for a holiday!” (I17), and: “… It referring to the tour] has caused me excitement, about future prospects of working in the tourism industry” (I34). Of note is that only a few respondents (five) mentioned “nostalgia.” Even so, when respondents were asked directly whether they felt “nostalgia” during the tour, more than half gave a positive reply. One such interviewee, who initially did not make reference to nostalgia, said:

yes to some extentIt reminded me of various movies which I used to watch when I was little, with cruise ships… It was this particular moment in the ship, actually in the lobby area when I saw a picture and automatically I remembered a past situation of mine… when I was little and I was sitting on the couch watching afternoon films. It was a nice time, no stress, no exams, no worries… (I8).

Nevertheless, the majority of female respondents (fifteen out of twenty-two) gave a positive reply, compared to the males, half of whom gave a positive reply, about the question of nostalgia. Of note is that certain interviewees made reference to positive memories, while expressing positive states. That is, their comments betrayed a nostos (Liddell & Scott, 1940), to return to pleasant experiences of their childhood, with some answers underpinning a sense of algos (pain), for growing up and not being able to have (e.g.) a stress-free life. This supports previous findings of people becoming emotional when recounting memories (Jarratt & Gammon, 2016) and that nostalgia is a commonly felt emotion (Cheung et al. 2013; Wildschut et al., 2006). When asked what precisely it was that triggered the feeling of nostalgia, various reasons were mentioned, such as different stimuli, supporting the findings of previous studies (Leong et al., 2015; Sedikides et al. 2015; Chen et al., 2014). Interestingly, the “sea” acted as a nostalgia stimulator. Even so, stimuli mentioned could be grouped as: the natural surroundings and more specifically the “sea,” the venue itself (ship) and public areas within, and décor/objects (view table 2). Finally, a particular interviewee (I40) made reference to the conversations he had with the cruise staff. His comments betray an antithetical form of nostalgia, which refers to the anticipation of and yearning to live something that is yet to come (i.e., a future experience).

while 1 was talking to him [particular employee] I got really excited and started wondering how it would feel and be like, if I work in the cruise ship industry in the future. He told me about the places he’s been and I really got the feeling that I wanted to finish my studies as soon as possible and get a similar job… The whole experience was amazing! (I40).


Table 2: Nostalgic triggers at the particular setting

Nostalgic Triggers

Number of people who referred to these triggers

The Sea


Décor and Old Objects


Rooms and areas of the ship


The ship, ship ambiance and feeling of being on-board


Port Area


Aroma/Smell of the Ship


Conversations with staff


Note: People may have referred to more than one trigger.



As a result of this study, three clusters of respondents have been identified: The first consists of those who felt (and expressed that they felt) nostalgia. The second consists of those who initially did not mention that they felt nostalgia, yet when asked if they felt nostalgia, they gave a positive reply. The third cluster consists of those who did not feel nostalgia, even when asked whether they felt nostalgia. This outcome yields some important theoretical and practical implications, which can extend beyond the travel and tourism industry. Destinations, such as via event organizers, and tourism organizations, such as museums, if aiming to trigger nostalgia amongst their visitors, must not rest assured that a vintage ambiance will be sufficient. That is, vintage and old objects may not necessarily stimulate nostalgia amongst guests. In more detail, this study supports that young adults (in their 20s) may not experience nostalgia, even if exposed to certain stimuli. Lack of abundant past memories, absenteeism from past groups to which connecting feelings may be revived, and absence of cognitive associations with specific old objects, may possibly deprive the nostalgic feeling from a young person. Nonetheless, future researchers are called to identify which specific elements trigger nostalgia for specific (e.g., young) people, and the extent to which these must be used by practitioners. The proneness of females to experience nostalgia also calls for further research to appreciate the deeper question of why this occurs. Nonetheless, the natural element, such as the sea, was highlighted in this study as a stimulator of nostalgia. Thus, it is suggested that tourism stakeholders take an even more active role in preserving the natural environment, given its beneficial role as a nostalgia stimulator. A specific cluster of respondents mentioned that they felt nostalgic only when the word “nostalgia” was brought to their attention. Hence, the actual word “nostalgia” is an important trigger in and of itself and must be actually and actively used by entrepreneurs – that is, if they wish to trigger nostalgia.

Furthermore, considering the constructive effects of nostalgia, organizations are called to examine ways that they can use it for their advantage, not necessarily restricted to targeting their customers but also to target their employees, too. In more detail, a number of studies stress the beneficial social role of nostalgia, such as the fact that it promotes social behavior, increases social connectedness, and stimulates feelings of optimism for the future, inclusion, and belongingness (Cheung et al., 2016; Sedikides et al., 2015; Stephan et al., 2015). Conceivably, such positive effects could be used by organizations to foster a healthy and collective-cooperative workplace, while at the same time augmenting the consumer experience, benefiting hence, in a dual way, the organization. A healthy workforce, based on Hansen et al. (2014), translates into a productive organization. In this regard, Gardner and Pierce (2013) urge managers to attempt to draw employees’ attention to self-esteem-bolstering aspects of their jobs. Organizations can benefit by having members with positive wellbeing, because this can contribute to positive employee outcomes in the workplace. According to Kyei-Poku (2014), satisfying employees’ need for belonging is an important aspect of organizational life and useful in promoting helping behaviors amongst coworkers. A small business owner, for instance, can be effective in transforming an ordinary activity to an experiential event through product and aesthetics, constructing an idealized home that emphasizes belonging and sharing (Hamilton & Wagner, 2014). Whether or not, and the extent to which, the notion of nostalgia is adopted, however, remains to be explored by those organizations that envision a prosperous future for their organizations by reflecting on the past. The academic research community is called to assist in this process, of investigating the notion further from a managerial perspective. Nostalgia may be used as a positive organizational emotion that can set the tone for employee engagement and wellbeing at work, through the psychosocietal comforting dynamics it holds. Besides, as previously discussed, there are clear linkages between sensual triggers as well as cognitive intricacies such as memory retrieval, with the emotional state of the individual. That is, certain external elements function as stimuli towards a nostalgic emotional experience. This in turn promotes certain affirmative effects, such as boosting the self-esteem of a person, his/her safety, inspiration, and the need to socialize and belong. Collectively, this fosters a positive organizational outcome, such as employee engagement and commitment. This sets the basis for future research on nostalgia as an organizational tool. That is, future empirical investigations can help in measuring the properties and dynamics associated with the emergence and development of nostalgia as an organizational tool, in fostering both visitors’ and employees’ overall experience.



Image 1: Retro globes on display



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