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Congruency between the projected and perceived tourism destination image of Vietnam.
Abstract:
Since the last decade, the tourism industry has given great opportunities to emerging markets like Vietnam to grow remarkably. Vietnam has been still an attractive tourism destination for Chinese, Japanese, Korean, European and American visitors, even during the global economic crisis period. Signs of recovery are observed with an increase of the number of foreign visitors by 34.8% (more than 5 million visitors) in 2010 in comparison with the figures shown in 2009. However, the country has been facing competition from its ASEAN neighboring countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia which have developed a strong tourism destination image for years. This research work explores the destination image attributes perceived by foreign visitors on one hand and examines the government's projected image of Vietnam on the other hand. The qualitative study on the level of congruence between destination image projected by the tourism public sector and the image perceived by international tourists will help Vietnam as a tourism destination attract more and more visitors in order to improve significantly tourism growth as supported by the literature about destination image (Cai, 2002; Koerte, 2009; Le, Cooper, 2009).

Article Type:
Statistical data
Subject:
Travel industry (Economic aspects)
Economic growth (Statistics)
Sales promotions
Author:
Bui, Thi Lan Huong
Pub Date:
09/01/2011
Publication:
Name: Journal of International Business Research Publisher: The DreamCatchers Group, LLC Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business, international Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 The DreamCatchers Group, LLC ISSN: 1544-0222
Issue:
Date: Sept, 2011 Source Volume: 10 Source Issue: S2
Topic:
Event Code: 680 Labor Distribution by Employer
Product:
Product Code: 7010000 Lodging & Tourist Services; 9103440 Travel Promotion (Govt) NAICS Code: 721 Accommodation; 92812 International Affairs SIC Code: 4724 Travel agencies; 4725 Tour operators
Geographic:
Geographic Scope: Vietnam Geographic Name: Vietnam Geographic Code: 9VIET Vietnam
Accession Number:
275234040
Full Text:
INTRODUCTION

Since the early 1990s, Vietnam has experienced a new start of tourism development. The country has been gradually building up its destination image and witnessing growing popularity of tourism attraction. Recently, the quick economic recovery in Vietnam with annual economic growth rate of 6.78% in 2010 against 5.30% in 2009 has been also the key driver for boosting a new wave of international arrivals. In 2010, Vietnam hosted more than 3 million international tourists out of 5 million arrivals, a good sign for the tourism industry after the global recession (Figure 1). It generates a turnover of VND billion 96, 000 (equivalent to USD billion 4).

Relied on potential resources and experiences of the tourism industry, the Vietnamese authorities plan optimistically to host 7-8 million international tourists and to generate around USD billion 10, contributing to 5.5%-6% to GDP in 2015. Its key traditional inbound markets are Asian, especially Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, Australian, American and European. Recently, Russian tourists emerge as very potential markets for Vietnam (Figure 2).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

Despite of increasing popularity of Vietnam as a tourist destination, the country has been facing fierce competition from its ASEAN neighboring markets such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia which have developed their strong tourism destination image for years. Therefore, in order to attain its tourism five-year plan objective, Vietnam need to build a strong destination image compared with its Asian competitors that influences on destination decision making of international visitors (Crompton, 1979; Echtner, Ritchie, 1993; Buhalis, 2000; Freire, 2002; Hall, 2002; Kotler, Gertrude, 2002; Lodge, 2002; Pike, 2008; Frochot, Kreziak, 2008; Le, Cooper, 2009). As a destination image is composed of the perceived and projected image, incongruities between the perceived and projected image might weaken marketing efforts of destination marketers to target and position markets (Cai, 2002).

This paper aims to identify relevant destination image attributes of Vietnam, both on the visitors' perspective and on the government's perspective. It also analyzes the level of congruency between the projected and perceived tourism destination image of Vietnam. The congruency of destination image anticipated by the tourism public sector with the image perceived by tourists will help Vietnam as a tourism destination attract more and more visitors in order to improve significantly tourism growth as supported by the literature about destination image (Cai, 2002, Koerte, 2009; Prebezac, Mikulic, 2009; Le, Cooper, 2009).

RESEARCH ON TOURIST DESTINATION IMAGE

Conceptualization of tourism destination image

Concepts

Destination image is defined generally a sum of beliefs, ideas and impressions that people have of a particular tourism destination (Crompton, 1979). In details, it includes perceptions or impressions of a place (Phelps, 1984, reviewed by San Martin, Rodriguez del Bosque, 2008) or an individual's mental representation of knowledge, feelings, and global impression about a destination (Baglolu, McCleary, 1999a). Despite the popularity of the concept, its exact meaning seems "subjective" (Bigne, Sanchez, Sanchez, 2001), "vague" , and depends on a variety of context, including those pertaining to the destination images projected by the government or perceived by tourists (Echtner, Richie, 1991; Jenkins, 1999). To make the definition of the destination image less abstract, Echtner and Ritchie (1994) conceptualize the destination image construct by distinguishing the two distinct dimensions of a destination image: attributes based and holistic. Each of these two dimensions consists of functional (or more tangible) and psychological (or more abstract) characteristics and images may range from those based on common characteristics to those based on more distinctive or unique characteristics. At this regard, the destination image construct is quite rich because it uncovers multi-components. Indeed, it is commonly viewed as a compound of various dimensions that enhance destination attractiveness for potential tourists (Mackay, Fesenrhasier, 1997; Freire. 2002; Blain et al, 2005).

Components and formation of destination image

The conceptualization of destination image also concentrates on three components: affective, cognitive, and conative, which have a hierarchical relation. The cognitive component includes knowledge and beliefs of destination attributes. Affective component is related to how the person values destination, or what does he/she feel about it. After the formation of affective and perceptual components, the conative component is happening, or the travel decision is made (Crompton, 1979; Echtner, Ritchie, 1993; Freire, 2002). Understanding the formation process will help destination marketers design effective destination branding strategy. The formation of image is influenced by the characteristics of a destination, exposition to information received about that destination (Baloglu, 1997) and personal factors such as motivations and social demographic characteristics (Baloglu, 1999, Crompton, 1979). Following these previous models, Beerli and Martin (2004) proposed a similar conceptual model of the formation of destination image where the perceived destination image composed of cognitive and affective images forming the overall image is influenced by the two main factors, information sources and personal factors. The information sources might be secondary such as induced, organic and autonomous or primary such as motivation, traveling experience and socio-demographic variables.

In short, the essence of destination image studies is to discover how people visualize, think, and feel toward places. The perception of tourism destination image through attributes can influence tourists' destination choice (Goodrich, 1978; Gartner, 1986; Hunt, 1995; Jenkin, 1999). It also plays also an important role in the formation of satisfaction of travelers (Buhalis, 2000; Pike, 2008). Interestingly, due to the multi-dimensional and dynamic nature of destination image (Kotler, Gertner, 2002; Freire, 2002), researchers should analyze the composite image in the context of a specific place and a specific period of time. In addition, the image perceived by visitors might not be necessarily similar to that projected by the government or anticipated by destination marketers, and "no two people see a destination in exactly the same way" (Dann, 1996). Beside, the relationship of tourists' perception of a destination attributes and their destination selection might be reinforced by the importance of some important attributes as some destination attributes may play a more important role than others (Swarbrooke, 1999). Therefore, while investigating image of a destination, researchers should focus not only on a particular place and point of time, but also on specific segments of population.

MEASUREMENT OF DESTINATION IMAGE

The relationship of tourists' perception of a destination attributes and their destination selection might be reinforced by the importance of some important attributes as some destination attributes may play a more important role than others (Swarbrooke, 1999). Therefore, it is important for tourism researchers to identify and measure destination image by capturing destination image core components.

Attributes components captured

As an image of a destination is defined as a set of attributes, most of research works focus on the attribute component of destination image. Echtner and Ritchie (1991, 1993) suggested an empirical research framework where components captured are composed of attribute-based images, holistic impressions, and functional, psychological, unique, and common characteristics.

Methods used

The measurement of tourism destination image has been important for both researchers and practitioners. An accurate assessment of image helps destination marketers design an effective marketing strategy (Reilly, 1990, reviewed by Baloglu, Mangaloglu, 2001). To measure comprehensively a destination image, researchers did apply structured or unstructured measurement approaches. Structured approaches include semantic differential scales or Likert scale format to evaluate the cognitive (natural beauty, friendly people, value for money, weather, nightlife, entertainment, ...) and affective components (Exciting atmosphere, romance, ...) of a tourism destination image (Goodrrich, 1978; Haahti, 1986; Gartner, 1989; Bagloly, Brinberg, 1997; Jenkins, 1999; Hankinson, 2004). Because this method usually requires respondents to evaluate a set of pre-determined attributes subjectively, it might be relatively unreliable (Timmermans et al, 1982, cited by Jenkins, 1999). Meanwhile, unstructured techniques explore the richness of image that measuring image by pre-identification of attributes fails to capture it (Gallara, Saura, 2002, reviewed by Zhou, 2005). However, few research works have used consumers to identify attributes relevant to a destination image. Therefore, a combination of an exploratory qualitative study and a validation of the results seems the most useful method to investigate a tourism destination image. To investigate the projected and perceived image of Mexico, Crompton (1979) applied content analysis of written information (reading material, travel brochures) and unstructured interviews with 36 students to identify the attributes of Mexico. Particularly, content analysis of both written and visual information such as brochures, photos, movies) is an effective method to study the images projected by the public and private tourism organizations. For instance, Dilley (1986), reviewed by Jenkins (1999) used this method to reveal the destination images projected by different national tourist organizations to the North American market. Content analysis is also used in focus groups or in-depth interviews where respondents discusses their image of a destination were taped and transcribed, and then, the important dimensions, constructs or attributes are extracted (Jenkins, 1999).

The quantitative study will validate the qualitative findings. Echtner and Ritchie (1991, 1993) suggested an empirical research framework where components captured are composed of attribute-based images, holistic impressions, and functional, psychological, unique, and common characteristics. They propose a combination of structured and unstructured methodologies to measure the destination image.

IDENTIFICATION OF TOURISM DESTINATION IMAGE ATTRIBUTES OF VIETNAM

In the empirical tourism literature, researchers usually proposed a set of attributes to identify the image of a particular destination. In his review of literature on tourism destination image attributes, Zhou (2005) listed 16 attributes which were frequently used from 28 previous studies for different destinations during the period 1986 to 2005 namely: (1) Culture, history, (2) Landscape, (3) Services (shopping, accommodation, food, and transportation), (4) Entertainment, (5) Relaxation, (6) Climate (pleasant weather, ...), (7) Price (cost, value for money), (8) Sport, (9) Safety (personal safety), (10) Local people's attitude toward visitors, (11) Special events and activities, (12) Accessibility (information available), (13) Adventure, (14) Wildlife, (15) Close to other destinations, (16) Special animals. Zhou also pointed out that among them the most frequently used attributes are: Price, Culture and history, Entertainment, Relaxation, Landscape, Climate, Safety, Accessibility, Local people attitudes toward tourists, Special events and activities, Adventure, and Tourism services. However, these frequently used attributes must be analyzed with reserve because not all tourism destinations share the same core attributes and visitors might see a destination in their own perception. Therefore, the country specificities must be taken into consideration.

In the case of Vietnam, relevant destination image attributes for Vietnam might not be the same as studied in previous research works. Based on the empirical tourism literature in Asia and specifically in Vietnam, we incorporate 9 new attributes which were additionally identified: (17) Cleanliness, (18) Political stability, (19) New experience (20) Tourism infrastructure, (21) World heritage sites, (22) Souvenirs, handicrafts, (23) Convenience, (24) Exotic food, (25) Interesting local ways of life (Tapachai, Waryszak, 2000; Nguyen, 2008; Le, Cooper, 2009; Bui, Perez, 2010; Asia-Pacific Travel Intentions Survey, 2010, conducted by Visa and the Pacific-Asia Association (PATA)). However, among the 25 attributes identified especially for Vietnam, we discard 3 attributes namely Sport, Wildlife, and Special animals that seem less relevant to Vietnam tourism specificities. Thus, we propose an initial list of 22 tourism destination image attributes from tangible attributes (from attributes 1 to 8) to less tangible or psychological attributes (from attributes 9 to 22) in Table 1.

PROJECTED VERSUS PERCEIVED TOURISM DESTINATION IMAGE OF VIETNAM: AN EMPIRICAL STUDY

Research methodology

Based on our initial literature-based list of attributes, we design an empirical research to examine how international tourists perceive the image of Vietnam as a tourism destination. The identification of attributes perceived by tourists will allow us to confront with our above literature-based list of attributes selected for Vietnam so as to adjust our list of attributes suitable to the tourists' perspective.

Besides, aiming to explore projected and perceived destination image, unstructured method which does not use any form of descriptions to measure destination image (Boivin, 1986, cited by Rashid and Ismail, 2008) is chosen because it facilitates to capture the most relevant destination image attributes. The investigation of congruency between the projected and perceived image will be processed in three steps as follows:

Step 1: Exploring the perceived image.

Identifying destination image attributes of Vietnam perceived by international visitors by conducting an exploratory study with in-depth interviews with an interview guideline. Respondents were asked to talk firstly about their perception about the image of Vietnam before visiting the country. Then, they talked freely about their travel experience, and especially their perception about attributes forming destination image. The sample is composed of 43 foreign tourists coming to Vietnam during the period of June 2010-March 2011 (in which 8 are repeat travelers) at different tourist sites such as Halong Bay, Hanoi, HCMC Da Lat, Nha Trang, Mekong Delta, and Mui Ne. Interviewees were chosen among key target segments in Vietnam: American (7), Russian (12), Japanese (5), Italian (3), Spanish (4), English (2), French (5), and Australian (5). All of them come from the upper middle income class of different categories of profession, from entrepreneurs to employees. The selection of various markets in our study is explained by the diversity of Vietnamese structure of international tourists because in our preliminary study about destination image we tempt to explore the general perception of international tourists on the tourism image of Vietnam before moving forward to segmenting the Vietnamese inbound tourism market as the literature suggests.

Step 2: Exploring the projected image by the Vietnamese government.

To determine the image projected by the Vietnamese authorities, we use a content analysis on Vietnam's National Administration Tourism website and promotion tools such as advertising in the mass media and other marketing efforts to promote the image of Vietnam by the tourism public sector. In addition, to collect primary data about the projected mage by the tourism private sector, we also conduct in-depth interviews with 5 big tour agencies operating in Vietnam to analyze the image of Vietnam that they want to project. The choice of tour operators and travel agents in the destination selection process is explained by the fact that these agents serve as both distribution channels and image creators (Reimer, 1990). Our content analysis of verbal, written, and visual information is justified by research works reviewed by Jenkins (1999) to analyze the projected destination image. Koerte (2009) also applied by this method to study core attributes projected by the tourism public and private sector in Tanzania such as Natural environment, Culture, Marketing, Business, Transportations, Accommodation, Travel information, Activities, Wildlife, and Attractions.

Step 3: Congruency analysis of projected image by the Vietnamese authorities and perceived image by foreign visitors.

The level of congruency between the projected and perceived image will be assessed after confronting core attributes captured from this empirical study.

Findings: Perceived versus projected tourism destination image of Vietnam

Our qualitative research indicates that our 22 proposed attributes from the existing tourism literature seem to match perfectly with those perceived positively or negatively by our respondents. Interestingly, 4 more attributes are added, namely (23) Memories, nostalgia and colonial charm, (24) Green, environment protection, (25) Economic development, (26) Freshness of products, healthy eating habits from foreign visitor. Indeed, they were really amazed with the Vietnamese consumption of fresh produce and healthy eating habits (a well-balance of protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables). More importantly, experiencing a couple of days in busy cities like Hanoi and Hochiminh city had changed their image of Vietnam as a quiet and still poor country after the war. Thus, Economic development seems also a core attribute contributing to the image of Vietnam. Otherwise, friendly attitudes of residents toward foreign tourists, cheap purchase, exotic food, souvenirs, traditional artworks, natural beauty, rich culture, diverse ethnic groups, long history and colonial charm are positively perceived by most of respondents. Delicious cuisine, restful feelings, good weather with eternal sunshine, freshness of produce, new experience, and friendly people are particularly highlighted by all of international tourists. For instance, good food such as Pho noodles (Vietnamese beef or chicken noodle), spring rolls, fresh sea food, regional specialties, tropical fruit has been always an interesting attribute along with History linked to the war memories from travelers' relatives, Convenience viewed by most of respondents as the abundant availability of fruit and food every corner. Exciting life that means for them overcoming fears to go across busy streets in the heart of motorbike cities, socializing in traditional markets by bargaining, Entertainment at Vinperland close to the beach in Nha Trang, fun when attending different local festivals, and New experience when riding motorbikes have amazed international visitors.

In contrast, Poor tourism infrastructure, Unsecured feeling when going across the streets, and traffic accidents, Bad environment protection have been causing a negative image of Vietnam as a tourism destination.

Interestingly, regarding the image projected, among 26 attributes perceived by international travelers interviewed, only 18 attributes have been projected by both Vietnamese authorities and tourism agencies (Table 2).

Results of our study suggest that basically the destination image components projected by the Vietnamese authorities, in particular functional and emotional attributes such as Price, Natural beauty, Safety, Friendly people, Relaxing atmosphere, New experience, Culture and history, Festivals and cultural events, Exotic food, Good climate, Tourism services, Adventure, Entertainment and Political stability have been perceived by international tourists. The "hidden charm" to discover, "unpredictable" trip experience by questioning "What next?" (TV commercial broadcasted in CNN during December 2010) in "Vietnam, your destination" promoted by the Vietnamese public tourism industry have been effectively helping travelers to connect the place with their experience.

In addition, in order targeting North American and European tourists, tour operators also use emotional attributes such as Memories linked to the Vietnam war, Nostalgia, colonial charm with French colonial architectural motifs of buildings, houses and churches to enhance the image of Vietnam. Nevertheless, the 7 other destination image attributes that seem important for tourists to evaluate their satisfaction such as Tourism infrastructure, Convenience, Green and environment protection, Cleanliness, Close to other destinations, Memories, nostalgia and colonial charm, and Healthy eating have not been projected by the Vietnamese government. Surprisingly, while natural beauty, friendly people, political stability and diversity of culture are strongly projected by tour operators and the government, the attribute that seems very important for international tourists, and especially for Vietnam to promote a new image of the country with Rapid economic development has not been highlighted by the Vietnamese tourism public and private sector.

MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH

Our research points out that there is a relative level of congruency between the projected and perceived image of Vietnam as a tourism destination. However, the major dissonance between the projected and perceived image is the view of the quality of tourism infrastructure, convenience, cleanliness, and tourism environment protection that might undermine the tourism destination image of Vietnam as the tourism literature taught. In this sense, the public and private tourism sector in Vietnam has to take aggressive destination marketing actions focusing on improving the positive image of Vietnam while these attributes contribute to the sustainable tourism development.

The construction of Vietnam as a tourism destination anticipated by the tourism industry has long been as a country of natural beauty, a nation of peace loving with long history and smiling people. Meanwhile, the success of Vietnam's gradual industrialization efforts since its liberalization to international trade and investment leading to unprecedented high economic growth sustained for a long period has not been projected even though Economic development is positively perceived by most of foreign tourists. In order to create a new image of Vietnam as a tourism destination, this attribute seems one of the most relevant to attract foreign visitors.

As a tourism destination image is perceived differently by different markets, segmentation of the inbound market might be effective to enhance travelers' satisfaction and hence increase loyalty.

Due to the quasi-nonexistent of research on the congruency of projected and perceived tourism destination image of Vietnam, we propose to validate to our exploratory research to a comprehensive quantitative research while refining our study with a particular tourist attraction and a particular tourist segment for future research.

CONCLUSION

While Vietnam has been gaining popularity as an attractive tourism destination, there is a lack of research on its destination image that plays an important role to influence tourists' decision making to visit Vietnam. More importantly, tourism development depends strongly on the degree of congruency between the projected and perceived image. By exploring the perception of international tourists toward Vietnam as a tourism destination, we find out that international tourists seem very sensitive to personal safety, hygiene and health care, environmental issues as well as economic path of a country they decide to visit. Unfortunately, these components have not been anticipated by the tourism industry. The results of this research will help destination marketers from both public and private sectors to be aware of the structure of destination image and to identify the relevant core destination image attributes so as to take actions on building a strong the tourism destination image of Vietnam.

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Table 1: An initial literature-based list of tourism destination
image attributes for Vietnam

No.   Destination image attributes of Vietnam

1     Cheap purchases

2     Exotic food, delicious cuisine

3     Interesting local ways of life, rich culture

4     Historical places, world heritage sites, beautiful
      architectural buildings

5     Beautiful landscapes and beaches

6     Cultural festivals and events

7     Souvenirs, handicrafts items

8     History

9     Tourism services quality

10    Tourism infrastructure

11    Entertainment

12    Friendly people

13    New experience

14    Convenience

15    Cleanliness

16    Relaxing atmosphere

17    Safety, security

18    Political stability

19    Good climate

20    Adventure

21    Accessibility (information available)

22    Close to other destinations

Table 2: Perceived versus projected tourism destination image of
Vietnam

No.   Literature-based                       Perceived      Projected

1     Cheap purchases                            X              X

2     Exotic food, delicious cuisine             X              X

3     Interesting local ways of life,            X              X
      rich culture

4     Historical places, world heritage          X              X
      sites, beautiful architectural
      buildings

5     Beautiful landscapes and beaches           X              X

6     Cultural festivals and events              X              X

7     Souvenirs, handicrafts items               X              X

8     History                                    X              X

9     Tourism services quality                   X              X

10    Tourism infrastructure                  X (-) *

11    Entertainment                              X              X

12    Friendly people                            X              X

13    New, authentic experience                  X              X

14    Convenience                                X

15    Cleanliness                                X

16    Relaxing atmosphere                        X              X

17    Personal safety, security (in the       X (-) *           X
      streets)

18    Political stability, peace                 X              X

19    Good climate                               X              X

20    Adventure                                  X              X

21    Accessibility (information                 X              X
      available)

22    Close to other destinations                X

23                                           Memories,          X
                                             nostalgia,     (Tourist
                                           colonial charm    agents)

                                               Green,
24                                          environment
                                            protection;
                                               (-) *

25                                            Economic
                                            development

26                                          Freshness of
                                             products,
                                           healthy eating
                                               habits

Note: (-) *: these attributes are negatively perceived by respondents
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