In the previous post, we explored how image affects our destination choices. On this occasion, in order to better understand this process, we focus on see how that image is formed.
Understanding how the image of a tourist destination is formed is extremely important, and without question can increase its attractiveness and competitiveness.
The process of forming that image is a mental construction, based on a few impressions and a lot of information about a destination chosen from an overall information flow. We could say that it is a creative process where impressions are prepared, refined and ordered.
To better understand the concept we will use as a starting point one of the first models realized to explain this process: Gunn’s theory of 7 steps. The model is based on forming a conceptual framework that departs from an analysis of the information sources.
The 7 steps are the following:
- Accumulation of mental images about a vacation experience.
- Modification of those images through the use of additional information.
- Travel decision.
- Travel to tourist destination.
- Participation in the destination.
- Return home.
In addition to setting out the steps we pass through involuntarily, it differentiates between different types of images:
- Organic. This information comes from the opinions of friends and/or family (word-of-mouth communication) newspapers, magazines, news…that we receive and which is not necessarily linked with the promotion of the destination.
- Induced. This is the result of the tourist destination’s marketing and promotion efforts with the goal of inducing the potential tourist to visit.
- Real image. Formed after visiting the destination and processing the information.
But do you believe that nowadays we continue to follow all these steps to arrive at our image of a destination? Is it necessary to visit the destination to finish building our image? Do we differentiate so many types of images? Obviously the answer to all these questions is no.
The Gunn process has provided the basis from which to start to organize the theory. What should draw from it is that we carry out a constant process of construction and modification based on the stimuli we receive, i.e. from the constant flood of information that reaches us. The response to questions raised can be summed up by changes in our means of acquiring information.
Our habits of getting information have changed, such that we no longer follow these steps; in fact, we practically skip all of them. The consumer has changed, his habits of acquiring information have changed. The tourist market has suffered a transformation but principally it has been the tourist who has changed.
The Internet is the key means to search for information. There is no longer any differentiation between steps 1 and 2 of Gunn’s model, and there is such a quantity of information that when we come to step 3 of the model we already know what we want, how we want it and what we are going to find when we reach the destination. Therefore, we don’t need to visit the destination to complete the process of image formation.
Another topic: verifying that our image corresponds with the reality encountered and experienced… But that will be addressed in subsequent posts.
Meanwhile, I invite you to visit LookInside.Travel, a web page that carries out studies on the information and buying habits of Spanish travelers.