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Title: Examining structural relationships among cognitive destination image, destination personality and behavioural intentions : the case of Beijing
Authors: Xie, Lijia Karen
Degree: M.Phil.
Issue Date: 2011
Abstract: There has been continuing concern internationally about how to brand destinations, either regional or national, to increasingly demanding tourists. Destination marketers are seeking effective positioning strategies to increase destination competitiveness when they are becoming highly substitutable (Ekinci & Hosany, 2006) and increasing parity (Morgan & Pritchard, 2002). Echoing the industrial efforts, a growing number of studies have been conducted to explore the most workable destination branding and marketing approaches (e.g., Baloglu & McCleary, 1999; Beerli & Martin, 2004; Chaudhary, 2000; Gallarza, Saura & Garcia. 2002; Petrick, 2002; Prayag, 2008; Waitt, 1996). For example, Blain, Levy and Ritchie (2005) investigated the use of logos and associated taglines in business cards, letterhead paper, and various types of merchandize promoting the destination. Richel, Piggott, Morgan and Pritchard (2002) spotlighted the value of media relations activities in destination brand building. However, the traditional promotion of destinations which use tangible attributes and activity opportunities is a very narrow interpretation of destination branding. There is increased focus among scholars on destination differentiation through intangible and emotional appeal of the destination brand. In line with de Chernatony's (1993) assertion, tourists embrace the brand that could help express about their emotions, personalities and roles. Tourists' beliefs and feelings about the destination accounts for a large part of their decision making (Ekinci, 2003), and tourists hold favorable attitudes towards, and will most probably visit, those destination brands matching their own personality. Destination personality, defined as "the set of human characteristics associated to a tourism destination" (Hosany, Ekinci & Uysal, 2006), is beyond physical, utilitarian, and experiential attributes, to carry significance as consumption symbols, stressing their capacity to fulfill symbolic or value expressive functions for the individuals (Shavitt, 1990; Sirgy, Johar, Samli & Claiborne, 1991). The compelling advantage of destination personality is to create a link to tourists' self-image and thus stimulate a set of congruent and favorable associations in tourists' memory, developing a strong emotional tie, trust and loyalty with the brand (Fournier, 1998). In particular, a unique and emotionally attractive destination personality could leverage tourists' perceived destination image and influence tourists' behavioral intentions (Crockett & Wood, 2002; Ekinci & Hosany, 2006). According to Murphy, Benckendorff & Moscardo (2007), destination personality appears to be emerging as a compelling tool to differentiate the destination from its rivals. The industrial practice also lends support to this assertion. Conejo (2006) documented that faced by strong competitive pressures, top tourism destinations are increasingly basing their brand identities on rich and distinct personalities. Successful implementations have been found in destinations of Spain (Gilmore, 2002), Wales (Pride, 2002) and Britain (Hall, 2004). In particular, using destination personality campaign to promote the premier nature-based tourist destination Western Australia harvested additional tourism demand. There are also a handful studies attempting to develop empirical studies to measure destination personality. The past decades have witnessed some international applicability of five-dimensional Aaker's (1997) Brand Personality Scales in Australia (Murphy et al, 2007), India (Vaidya et al, 2009), Turkey (Hosany et al, 2007), UK (Ekinci & Hosany, 2006), and it has continuously been taken as reference for laying the foundations for measuring destination personality (Pitt, Opoku, Hultman, Abratt & Spyropoulou, 2007). Although the importance of destination personality at both theoretical and practical levels is fully acknowledged, much ambiguity exists in its conceptual meaning. The literature review indicated that the focus on destination personality research has still been confined to a very early stage of delineating the destination personality and destination image (Hosany, Ekinci & Uysal, 2006). Secondly, as destination personality is prevailingly rooted in the concept of Aaker's (1997) brand personality, when generalized to cross-cultural contexts, its attributes appear to show uncertainties. For example, personalities of African countries are presented by the mix of Competence, Excitement, Ruggedness, Sincerity and Sophistication (Pitt, Opoku, Hultman, Avratt & Spyropoulou, 2007), and three UK cities embrace the personalities of sincerity, excitement and conviviality (Hosany et al., 2006). While considerable studies about destination personality of western destinations virtually exist, there is a dearth of both theoretical and empirical examination about destination personality of eastern destinations. Furthermore, there was no consistency in findings about its relationships with other key variables proposed in the destination branding and tourist choice framework. For example, Ekinci and Hosany (2006) contended that destination personality positively influences tourist choice behavior, specifically, tourists' intentions to recommend, whereas Muphy et al. (2007) argued that destination personality, even though associated with high levels of self-congruity, failed to indicate a strong intention of tourists to visit the destination. Also, the role of destination personality when associating with destination image and behavioral intentions is controversial. Ekinci and Hosany (2006) claimed the moderating effect of destination personality on the relationship between destination image and intentions to recommend. However, direct and positive influence of destination image on tourists' behavioral intentions are also found in previous literature (Milman & Pizam, 1995). Finally, even though there is consensus about the importance of destination personality in determining tourists’ retention, it is not clear which dimension of destination personality is more effective in affecting tourists' behavioral intentions. Inspired to clear the above ambiguity and bridge knowledge gaps about destination personality, this study analyzes basic assumptions of destination branding in an integrative framework where destination personality is hypothesized to be the consequence of cognitive destination image and the antecedence of behavioral intentions. The reason to look at cognitive destination image, rather than affective destination image, is simply because it is directly observable, descriptive and measurable (Walmsley & Young, 1998), and thus may provide more concrete and interpretive meaning regarding uniqueness of a destination (Baloglu & Brinberg, 1997; Dann, 1996; Echtner & Ritchie, 1991). In terms of behavioral intentions, although the effectiveness of loyalty is often gauged only by the actual behavior (Baloglu, 2002), behavioral intentions are very accurate predictors of social behaviors (Fishbein & Manfredo, 1992) when properly measured. In view of research limits in previous literature, this study provides an in-depth understanding of the aforementioned structural relationships in the context of less studied eastern destination of Beijing, a spotlight city that recently hosted the 2008 Olympics. Firmly based on a structural equation model (SEM), this study addresses the research questions of how cognitive destination image characterizes destination personality and how destination personality impacts behavioral intentions from foreign tourists' perspectives. The paper ends with some thorough managerial recommendations for destination branding and in particular to raise awareness about less noticed aspects as to elevate Beijing's destination status.
In particular, empirical findings revealed that Beijing mainly communicated a four-factor destination personality of competence, excitement, sophistication and ruggedness, missing the centric personality of sincerity desired in prior studies. The findings implied that foreign tourists were reluctant to portray Beijing as trustworthy and dependable. Local people is the direct antecedent of destination personalities of excitement, sophistication and competence. Although the effect is not quite as strong, socially responsible environment is found to be the direct input of the most important destination personalities of sophistication and competence. The findings echoed to Hosany et al.'s (2006) assertion that cognitive destination image and destination personality are related concepts. At least some dimensions of cognitive destination image exert significant effects on most destination personality dimensions. Accounting for most of the variance, competence and sophistication are overwhelming indicators of tourist' behavioral intentions. Competence directly encourages tourists’ willingness to pay more, partially because tourists tend to embrace an anticipation of paying more for the competent destination, while sophistication works better in driving tourists' positive comments. Excitement works well in driving word-of-mouth intentions, however, tourists are reluctant to pay more for the exciting experience. Of particular note is that there is no effect of ruggedness on behavioral intentions, implying the fact that destination that is strong, outdoorsy and rugged is less effective in attracting the majority of the tourists. The finding is important because it clarifies much confusion about the nature of the relationship between brand personality and the consequent behavioral intentions superficially discussed in previous studies (Aaker et al., 2001; Fournier, 1998; Kotler & Gertner, 2002). Overall, this study confirms that destination personality flourish in cognitive destination image. Mainly based on the directly perceived image of socially responsible environment and local people, tourists ascribe brand personality to destinations across four dimensions, among which competence and sophistication directly and strongly drive behavioral intentions towards the destination. Identifying the role of destination personality as the bridge of situational variables of cognitive destination image and psychological outcomes of behavioral intentions makes this study of significant value. Although cognitive perceptions are important in forming tourists’ future intentions (Milman & Pizam, 1995), emotionally congruent destination personality is a closer measure. Including personality trait makes destinations more interesting to the tourists through greater texture, depth and complexity (Aaker, 1996). Destination personality reflects back on to the destination, allows tourists to identify and self express through the destination, and thus establishes an emotionally interactive relationship with tourists. Applying the concept of brand personalities in the setting of destination has a direct relevance to destination prosperity simply because it builds up a manageable link with the input of cognitive destination image and the output of behavioral intentions. Neglecting the integrated process with consequential variables of cognitive destination image, destination personality and behavioral intentions, inconsistent findings have been reported in quite a lot previous studies. Perhaps the most significant finding could therefore be concluded as a theoretically logical and empirically validated link: cognitive destination image --- destination personality --- behavioral intentions, which firmly develops the links of belief - attitude -- intentions and behavior (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975) and cognition - affect---conation (Bagozzi, 1978; Breckler, 1984) in our specific context of tourism destination. Since the blueprint of Beijing is to become an internationally recognized destination, understanding what foreign tourists think about Beijing provides important and pertinent clues of destination branding and marketing. Quite a few managerial implications for destination marketers are readily available. First, local people is the key communicator of destination personalities and play important role in attracting and retaining foreign tourists. As manifested in the model, it shows robust path magnitude on most significant paths with destination personality, and in turn influences the behavioral intention level. It is evident that an important motive for tourists going on a pleasure vacation is to meet local people and see their culture, even some travelling are people oriented rather than placed oriented (Crompton, 1979). Destination marketers could develop unique programs and events with elements of host-tourist interaction, which not only enrich the travel experience of foreign tourists, but also open an window to introduce the destination culture and spirit. However, considering the missing destination personality dimension of sincerity which is highly relevant to local people, destination marketers may wish to internally launch considerable educational campaigns to correct inappropriate public manners (e.g., jumping the queue, spitting or littering, jaywalking) especially at the time China is ambitious to host spotlighted mega-events such as Olympic Games and the World Expo. Second, the centric destination personalities of competency and sophistication that directly predict the behavioral intentions stem from tourists' perceived image of socially responsible environment. However, the rating of socially responsible environment remains extremely low compared to those of other cognitive destination image dimensions. It is suggested that paramount emphasis be placed on shaping the positive image of social fairness and environmentally friendly. As a Third World destination whose destination image is shaped by conflicting ideological forces in western media's report, Beijing should resist those negative representations and make its own versions of the story to be told. It is recommended that Beijing use multiple information channels to construct a touristic promotion that highlights human care, political stability, respect for social justices and individual rights, safety and sanitation. Destination marketers should also boost the green image of Beijing by emphasizing the importance of various environmental issues to prospective tourists in the green promotion campaigns. In addition, destination marketers should seize the appropriate opportunities to promote the environmentally friendly image. For instance, destination marketers could advertise ecological practice in Beijing (e.g., recycling, control of emission, energy conservation) to prospective tourists using web-based communications. Thirdly, the results of the present study support the need to consider all elements of the destination image not just those related to the destination personality characteristics because they are implicitly correlated with each other and therefore could not be set apart. Importantly destination planners and marketers should strive to create a holistic positive experience for tourists. Branding efforts that lead to enhancing positive perceptions and eliminating negative perceptions will definitely pay off.
Subjects: Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Place marketing -- China -- Beijing
Tourism -- China -- Beijing -- Psychological aspects.
Pages: xxix, 379 p. : ill. ; 30 cm.
Appears in Collections:Thesis

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