In today’s context, VR has become a popular method to promote a destination because travelers have become acquainted with this technology. Thus, it may well be that VR is able to form the image of a destination or to reinforce or change an already existing image. VR and destination image formation are two important cornerstones in the tourism industry and are of much interest in tourism research.
As part of our curriculum at the tourism department of FH Salzburg, we are conducting research on the interrelation of VR and destination image formation. Consequently, the aim of our research is to understand how these two factors are connected, if at all. Furthermore, we seek to prove the effectiveness of using VR as a means to form the image of a destination and aim to determine the degree to which VR contributes to the formation of a destination’s image.
Gartner (1994) was one early scholar to outline the concept of destination image formation. Since then, various authors have followed suit (MacKay & Fesenmaier, 1997; Baloglu & McCleary, 1999; Beerli & Martin, 2004). Lai & Li (2015) recently defined image formation as following:
“a voluntary, multisensory, primarily picture-like, qualia-arousing, conscious, and quasi-perceptual mental (i.e., private, nonspatial, and intentional) experience held by tourists about a destination. This experience overlaps and/or parallels the other mental experiences of tourists, including their sensation, perception, mental representation, cognitive map, cosciousness, memory, and attitude of the destination.“
According to this definition, the image formation process is a subjective one. Nevertheless, the formation of one‘s image of a destination is not only subjective, it is also influenced by factors such as sociocultural elements, user-generated content, technology and image projection (Kisali, Kavaratzis & Saren, 2016). Moreover, a destination’s image is also formed through the combination of the following three image types: cognitive image, affective image and conative image.
The formation of a cognitive image occurs when a person inherently approves of the characteristics of an object. Affective image is formed at the second stage of the customer journey, namely the research phase. Lastly, the conative image is a combination of the affective and cognitive image: the conative image is the behavior component, which illustrates the determination to travel to the chosen destination (Gartner, 1994).
In the upcoming semester, we are conducting empirical research on VR and destination image formation. To follow our research, we provide updates on the process throughout the winter semester. Consequently, this research is going to result in a complete research report and is going to be shared on our blog so that different stakeholders, such as Destination Management Organizations or independent businesses, are able to use this knowledge to decide on new forms of marketing and promotion. Upon completion of our research, we are going to be able to understand how the tourism industry can take advantage of this technology to change the image potential visitors have of a destination and to present destinations in a favourable light.
Stay tuned for more information and for research updates during the weeks and months to come!