Changing Beach Destination Image Schemas through Storytelling: A Study of Hainan Island, China

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Scott, Noel
Gardiner, Sarah
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Visiting the beach environment is a major tourism motivational driver. It is therefore not surprising that beach tourism is the largest segment of international tourism arrivals worldwide. Beach tourist numbers are particularly booming in South-East Asia, where many beach destinations such as Phuket, Bali, Sabah, Boracay have emerged. China is also seeking to position itself as a beach tourism destination in international tourism markets. Hainan Island is one of China‘s leading domestic beach destinations, and has the ambition to become the international beach tourism hub of China. However, Hainan Island‘s visitation growth is under-performing in comparison to other famous beach destinations in South-East Asia due to the continuous decline of international arrivals. The challenge for Hainan Island is to boost awareness and develop an appropriate destination brand image for promotion worldwide. Effective destination branding can enhance consumer salience through the creation of a distinctive and appealing image. There has been considerable research on this topic and numerous attributes for different beach destination images have been identified. However, less attention has been devoted to the study of travellers‘ image schemas that underpin destination image formation. This thesis examines the destination image of Hainan Island among Australian families to understand how image schema can be changed. Schemas are knowledge structures stored in humans‘ long-term memory which are used to direct attention, and encode and retrieve information for better information processing before decision making. An understanding of schemas can provide insight into the individual mental states underpinning human behaviour. In tourism, schemas allow tourists to process destination information and make travel decisions. Image schemas are the broadest sort of schemas and are used to build mental images of the destination and provide a framework for organising relationships between attributes. The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of persuasion considers schema as part of the process of attitude formation and change. In particular, schema congruity theory is used in marketing to understand how to change image schema. Image schema incongruity occurs when there is a mismatching of images between an ideal and actual or target destinations, thus influencing consumers‘ attitude toward this actual or target destination. There is little empirical evidence both in marketing and tourism literature about ways to reduce image schema incongruity. However, researchers have suggested that storytelling may be a means to change image schema incongruity. Storytelling (both in written and verbal) has been used to make destination image salient for travellers, change their attitude and increase their visit intentions. This is because stories may communicate the core values of a destination that evoke the consumer‘s desire to visit. Previous research has shown that narrative transportation plays a significant role in the effectiveness of narrative persuasion in storytelling. The format (factual information versus story) and perspective (first- versus third-person) of a story affect the level of narrative transportation. Nevertheless, there is little research that seeks to understand the interaction between format and perspective and their impact on narrative transportation, particularly in the context of destination image. This research aims to extend schema theory by investigating the influence of narrative transportation on the image schema congruity between Hainan Island and an ideal beach destination. The effect of image schema congruity on attitude towards the target destination was also investigated. This study applied a sequential mixed-method approach to examine these relationships. First, qualitative in-depth face-to-face interviews were conducted, assisted by use of the photo elicitation (PE) technique. Australian family adults with children living at home were selected for the sample given that family holidays are one of the main beach tourism market segments. Interviews (N = 14) unveiled the existing image schema of the ideal beach destination and 36 salient attributes and their relationships stored in their memory were mapped. Based on analysis of the interview data, Hawaii was set as the best ideal beach destination to calculate image schema congruity for the following quantitative research. Next, a pilot study (N = 200) and then the main survey (N = 552) was conducted. Respondents first evaluated attributes of, and attitude towards, Hawaii and Hainan Island in a structured questionnaire. Then, using a quasi-experimental design, respondents were randomly exposed to four variants of textual information about Hainan Island, manipulated according to the narrative format (factual information versus story) and perspective (first- versus third-person). Respondents were then asked to evaluate the narrative transportation of the treatment. The attributes and attitude to Hainan Island were then re-tested to look for post-intervention changes. Results show that respondents generally had a less positive attitude towards Hainan Island pre-treatment, but their attitude and the attributes they associate with the destination can be positively changed. The storytelling intervention reduced the image incongruity between Hainan Island and Hawaii (as proxy for an ideal beach destination), changing from negatively incongruent to congruent or positively incongruent. The first-person story about Hainan Island was found to have the greatest narrative transportation of the four treatments and reported the most significant changes in image schema incongruity and attitude. The findings of this thesis make significant contributions to the body of knowledge about destination image, specifically image schema, narrative transportation and persuasion. It introduces the concept of image schema into destination image research. It also extends previous cognitive-affective theory of image to multi-dimensional image schema theory by providing an overall image schema for the ideal beach destination. It combines the schema theory and narrative transportation theory in beach tourism to explore how to change image schema incongruity to attain positive attitude. The relationships among narrative transportation of storytelling, image schema congruity and attitude are demonstrated. This research confirms that storytelling can change schema incongruity and this impact on attitude change, in which narrative transportation plays a mediatory role. In addition, this study validates the interactional effects from narrative format and narrative perspective on narrative transportation. Practically, the overall image schema of the ideal beach destination identified in this study can help destination marketing organisations (DMOs) and tourism industry to acquire in-depth understanding of tourists‘ perceptions before positioning their beach destinations, and can be used as a benchmark to understand image schema congruity for destination comparisons to improve destination competitiveness. It suggests that an increase in salience is achieved through the matching of image schemas between the ideal and target destinations. In particular, the textual information edited by salient attributes stored in memory provides research-based suggestions for Hainan Island and other destinations on how to tailor effective treatment to change image schema incongruity to obtain positive attitude. The first-person story provides the greatest narrative transportation of the four treatments tested, suggesting this format and perspective is best suited to change image schema incongruity between the ideal and target beach destinations.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Dept Tourism, Sport & Hot Mgmt
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