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Young Consumers









Surprise family vacations have become increasingly prevalent in today’s digitally mediated consumer culture. Drawing on a performance-based view of tourism, this paper aims to explore the performance practices and embodied experiences by which young consumers are the recipients of last-minute surprise vacations.


YouTube offers a space for examining surprise family vacations, as captured in real time by consumers. The visual elements and verbal discourses of 139 surprise family vacation reveal videos were analyzed using a hermeneutical approach.


Findings suggest that surprise family vacations are characterized by three performance practices in which embodied tensions arise between normative expectations and unanticipated experiences: executing the reveal (scripted act versus improvised act), announcing the destination (absolute ideal versus relative ideal) and reacting to the surprise (initial acceptance versus initial rejection).

Research limitations/implications

By exploring a phenomenon in which children’s anticipation for a vacation is largely absent or limited, surprise family vacations reveal culturally idealized norms and performative practices in family tourism. Positioning a family vacation as an offering or surprise for the children is distinct from previous research, which suggests family vacations are co-created. Children of all ages experience tourism-related stresses and anxieties.

Practical implications

The primary practical contribution for marketers lies in revealing how the material and performative practices of a family vacation begins even before a family enters its tourist destination. Service providers and retailers may provide offerings for families to support surprise family vacations, particularly in an increasingly digital culture. This study also reveals opportunities for parents to strategically discuss surprise vacations with their kids.


This study captures the liminal moment in which a child’s tourism journey begins. By using YouTube as a resource for digital ethnography, researchers can better understand how families discuss, negotiate and mediate tourism-oriented concepts, through their lived experiences.


Author Posting. © Emerald Publishing Limited 2018. This article is posted here by permission of Emerald Publishing Limited for personal use, not for redistribution. The article was published in Young Consumers, 2018,

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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