INTRODUCTION The variety of landscape and its geographical,cultural and historical diversity offer Slovenia a great opportunity for thetourism industry. After declaring its independence from former Yugoslavia in1991, Slovenia has been extensively working on establishing its image(reputation) as a tourism destination (Konecnik Ruzzier & de Chernatony,2013). Destination image has been widely studied for the past centuries, sincethe image of destination is an important factor of destination’s success (Hunt,1975; Crompton, 1979; Chen & Kerstetter 1999). The image one have beforevisiting a destination is therefore a decisive factor in customertravel-related decision-making process and purchasing behavior (Echtner , 1993; Tasci & Gartner, 2007).
Previous studies have shown thattourist destination market is highly competitive, most likely because touristsare choosing among destinations with similar attributes e.g. beautifullandscape, friendly local communities and high-quality accommodations (Qu, Kim,& Im, 2011; Usakli & Baloglu, 2011). It is therefore crucial fordestinations to establish good brand identity through marketing strategies andbranding which will differentiate and position them on highly competitivetourism market (Chan & Phou, 2013). In their study, Konecnik Ruzzier & de Chernatony (2013) emphasized animportant role of tourism stakeholders in destination marketing process. Inaddition to that, Souiden et al.
(2017) argue that all stakeholders such asmarketing managers for hotels and attraction sites, tour operators, tourismagencies, Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO), tourism authorities,non-government organizations, tourism-related associations and councils,conventions and visitors bureau, etc. should coordinate their efforts andcombine their communication strategies for promoting the destination. In orderto do so, they need to know how tourists perceive their destinations and howthey differentiate and position these destinations when comparing it to others.Properly identifying destination image and identity is therefore crucial andshould be done prior to development and marketing a communication strategy orprogram (Kneesel, Baloglu, & Millar, 2010). In this regard Souiden et al.(2017) further states that, even though places within the country might differin personality and image, stakeholders should emphasize the right attributes ofthose places.
He suggests that this can be done through segmentation approachbased on destination image and identity attributes. Even though several studiesemphasized the importance of destination image and identity identification,there are limited amount of studies that have considered both concepts and theconnection between them. The study by Hunter (2016) showed that the distinction between projection andperception in the context of the high quality promotional materials such asguidebooks and brochures is quite clear, since the cost of publishing thosematerial gives the marketers a certain degree of authority.
He further arguesthat, however, “in the increasingly dominant online destination image online,the distinction between marketers’ intentions and the visitors’ uses of socialmedia to communicate or share their experiences breaks down” (Hunter, 2016, p.222). Therefore, this paper’s objective is to compare the analysis ofSlovenia’s destination identity projected through official promotionalmaterials published by the national DMO (such as brand book and officialSlovenia’s website “I feel Slovenia”), with the Slovenia’s destination image asit appears in YouTube videos. With the development of internet, the large number of people use differentonline channels to communicate about destination image. According to Hunter(2016, p. 222), “online, the destination image works as a form of soft power,inducing sympathetic sentiments and brand image ‘trust'”. Therefore, bycarrying out a semiotic analysis of visual representation of Slovenia onYouTube, this paper aims to examine the social construction of destination image.
Recognizing that researchers have widely studied the factors impacting thedestination image formation, but nonetheless there are limited studies aboutconnection between destination identity and destination image, the overall goalof this paper is to determine and compare online destination image of Sloveniaperceived by the tourists with the destination identity projected in theirbrand book and official national DMO’s website. The study aims to identify themost frequently used words from the brand book and official website to describeSlovenia’s tourism offerings, as well as most frequently showed images in theseven YouTube videos published by the visitors. Furthermore, this paper willtry to evaluate the congruency between the destination image and identity ofSlovenia and based on that, propose what actions should be taken by thenational DMO in order to better align its image with the identity, or in otherwords, how strategic communication could berevised/improved in order to make Slovenia’s perceived image better align withthe organizational goals of the national DMO.
THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK Destination Image Within the tourism research, there are numerousstudies dealing with the topic of destination image. The first studies trackedback to the early 1970s (Gunn, 1972; Hunt 1975) and the topic remains theabundant area of study. The variety of studies is not surprising, since it isquite important that one have some sort of knowledge or (and) imaginationbefore visiting particular tourism destination. Since the nature of destinationimage is quite complex, there are different interpretations of this concept,and the common definition has not yet been established (Gallarza et al., 2002).
Crompton (1979, p. 18) defined destination image as “the sum of beliefs, ideasand impressions that a person has of a destination”, whereas Baloglu &McCleary (1999, p. 870) defined a destination image as “an attitudinalconstruct consisting of an individual’s mental representation of knowledge(beliefs), feelings, and global impression about an object or destination.” Andwhen applied to the country, Martin & Eroglu (1993, p. 193), suggest thatimage concept is defined as “the total of all descriptive, inferential andinformational beliefs one has about a particular country”. What thesedefinitions are trying to emphasize is that images are a sum of associationsabout a particular destination, perceived by an individual (or group ofindividuals), rather than a general truth about what this destination is. Several studies have found that success of destination is heavily dependent ondestination image (Hunt, 1975; Crompton, 1979; Chen & Kerstetter 1999).
Inthe same vein, Buhalis (2000) suggest that the image one have of particulardestination before visiting is a decisive factor in his decision-makingprocess. Ahmed (1991) confirms that by stating that positive destination imageallows the place to attract and retain tourists, therefore destinations withstronger positive images have a higher chance to be selected (Johnson &Thomas, 1992) and revisited (Kim & Lee, 2015). While studying destination image, most studies (Boehm & Petersen, 1994;Baloglu & McCleary, 1999; Soica, 2016) emphasize functional andpsychological attributes of destination such as natural and cultural landscape,activities, residents’ receptiveness, culinary, history and safety. In theirwork, Kim & Chen (2015) state that the natural landscape (Soica, 2016)attract visitors to tourism activities, such as backpacking, wildlife viewing,sightseeing, and rock climbing (Fennell & Smale, 1992; Priskin, 2001),whereas human-made cultural landscape (Soica, 2016) such as general offerings(e.g.
buildings and roadways) and tourist infrastructures (e.g. hotels andrestaurants), as well as tourist attractions (e.g. themes parks and museums),are also among the most important factors that attract tourists to adestination (Pearce, 1997). The categorizing of natural and culturallandscape, will be further discussed in the next sections. The evident influence of traveler’s perceptions of destination image on adestination’s overall success has encouraged researchers to study the factorsthat influence destination image formation. Some researchers argue thatdestination image is based on personal experience (Crompton, 1979; Baloglu& McCleary, 1999; Chen & Kerstetter, 1999); Gunn (1972) emphasizes thatdestination image can be formed through numerous information sources; andaccording to Alhemoud & Armstrong (1996), destination image can also be formedwithout being exposed to any commercial information sources.
Furthermore, Gunn(1972) distinguished between two types of information sources – induced andorganic. He defines the former as images formation based on strategiccommunication, promotion, or marketing by destination markets. On the otherhand, he defines the latter as image formation based on noncommercial sourcessuch as mass media, friends and family, and books. Branding and Destination IdentityCompared to destination image, that has been widely studied for severaldecades, destination identity or personality (which is according to Morgan etal., (2002) sometimes used as identity’s synonym) has received less attentionfrom academics, because this concept is quite new in the tourism research area(Hosany et al.
, 2006). In contrast with the destination image, which is bestunderstood from the demand-side perspective, destination identity is bestcomprehended from supply-side perspective (Konecnik & Go, 2008). Moreover,destination image, is the consumers’ interpretation of the destination’sidentity (Geuens, Weijters, & De Wulf, 2009).
Aaker (1996) defines destination brand identity as a unique set ofassociations about destination brand used either by tourists or stakeholders inorder to identify and differentiate a destination brand from competitors.Kapferer (1997) suggest that destination identity is “who we are” as adestination and “how do we see/define ourselves”. Other researchers (e.g.Kavaratzis & Ashworth, 2006) defined brand identity in terms of how theowners of the brand want the brand to be seen.
Konecnik Ruzzier & deChernatony (2013) also studied a brand identity and they proposed that brandidentity consist of vision, mission, values, personality, benefits, anddistinguishing preferences. Destination identity is usually promoted through the social media channelsin order to develop brand identity. In his work, Cai (2002, p. 722) has beenstudying the relationship between branding, image formation, brand identity andimage building. He proposed a conceptual model of place branding, shown in figure X, and clearly showed the differencebetween the image-formation process and its branding, as: “…image formation isnot branding, albeit the former constitutes the core of the latter.
Image-buildingis one step closer, but there still remains a critical missing link: the brandidentity.” Lately, Cai (2009) enhanced this model and put more emphasis onplace identity. The new model is showing the importance of differentstakeholders, their relationships and interdependencies. According to KonecnikRuzzier & de Chernatony (2013) stakeholders play important role indeveloping place brand identity.
Cai (2002) also suggest that it is crucial toadopt two perspectives that evaluate brand identity and brand image at the sametime, for destination brand planning and positioning to be effective. Slovenia as a Tourist Destination Slovenia declared its independence in 1991 from the former Yugoslavia. Itis a small country (20,273 square kilometers with population just a bit over 2million), located in the southern Central Europe where the Alps meet theMediterranean and the Pannonian Plain meets Karst. Its neighbor countries areCroatia on the south and southeast, Italy on the west, Austria in the north andHungary in the northeast.
On the southwest Slovenia is bordering the AdriaticSea.Since its independence, the country tried to establish its role in theEurope and introduce itself to the world through different marketingstrategies, pointing out its rich geographical, cultural and historicaldiversity. The country is one of the most water-rich in Europe and about halfof the territory is covered by forest. Over the centuries, Slovenia was alwayspart of larger empires or countries (including Roman Empire, Habsburg Monarchyand afterwards Yugoslavia), but has nevertheless preserved and pursued itsidentity, which is still evident today (Konecnik Ruzzier & de Chernatony,2013). Despite its small size, Slovenia features variety of landscapes includingmountains, meadows, lakes, caves and the sea. Such natural diversity offersideal opportunities for the tourism industry, which is one of the mostimportant economic sector in the country. In 2016, tourism employed 12.9% oftotal employees and generated 8,1% of the total amount of Slovenian exports,contributing 12.
6% to GDP (Slovenian Tourist Board, 2017). The number oftourists is growing from year to year, and in 2016, Slovenia recorded 4,3million tourist arrivals and 11 million overnight stays. Although Slovenia is so-called young country its country brand buildingstarted shortly after independence in 1991. However, the past attempts failedto employ a systematic approach, focusing mainly on advertising instead ofbranding and stressing visual element such as logos and symbols, rather than awell-conceived, holistic brand identity (Konecnik Ruzzier & de Chernatony,2013). The authors also argue that, failure to communicate Slovenia’s identityclearly and systematically was a starting point for developing country’sidentity characteristics. In 2007, the county brand “I feel Slovenia” wasestablished, as Figure X shows.
Analysis of Destination Identity of Slovenia After analyzing destination image(s) of Slovenia shownin the seven YouTube videos, destination identity of Slovenia, projected by thenational DMO Slovenian Tourist Board (STB) has been studied. As it has alreadybeen mentioned in the methodology section, NVivo software was used to analyzemost frequently used words from two national DMO’s sources – Brand book ofSlovenia and official Slovenian tourism website “I feel Slovenia”. Thissoftware allowed us to set the amount of words that are going to be analyzed andwe applied it to both sources at the same time, to identify 1000 mostfrequently mentioned keywords. The words were then grouped into categoriesbased on their related or associated meanings, which is known as “lexicalcohesion” (Halliday & Hasan, 1976). We have identified 53 categories. TableA displays the categories and frequency of the wordsmentioned in Slovenia’s brand book and “I feel Slovenia” website.
Each categorywas formed based on the keyword identified by NVivo software and grouped withwords with similar meanings. For example, category “Sustainability” was formedfrom the keyword “sustainable” and grouped with similar words such assustainable, clean, clear, future, unspoilt, protection, environmental, green,environment, development, preserve, maintain, responsibility, preserved. “Slovenia” is the most frequently used word in bothDMO’s sources and it was mentioned 598 times, which represents 22.73%. Thismakes much sense and it is not surprising, since both sources are promotionalmaterials of the country. Word “story”, composing “Slovenia’s identity”category, supports the idea that Slovenia devotes a lot of effort to thepromotion of the country.
This can be recognized from the frequency of usedwords such as stories, identity, logo, #ifeelslovenia, @feelslovenia,recognition. The second most used word is “sustainable”, which isone of the three promises or the core of Slovenia’s brand (see FigureX in Slovenia as tourist destination section). It was mentioned 240times, representing 9.12%. The promise of Slovenian green, as describedin the Brand book “…speaks of unspoilt nature and our focus on maintaining itthat way” (Slovenian Tourist Board, 2007: 8). The “Sustainability” category isconsidered as one of the most important ones, since Slovenia is promotingitself as a sustainable destination, which was also the first country in theworld to be declared as a green destination based on the Green DestinationCriteria. The words included in this category are sustainable, clean, clear,future, unspoilt, protection, environmental, green, environment, development,preserve, maintain, responsibility and preserved. Word “feel” is the third most frequently used one,mentioned 195 times (7.
41%). The “Feelings” category is quite close to the”Elemental” category, with keyword “elemental” mentioned 67 times (2.55%); andthe “Experience” category, in which the keyword “experiences” was mentioned 104times (3.95%). The reason behind that comes from Slovenia’s brand “Ifeel Slovenia” where one of its main aims is to allow visitors to feel Sloveniawith all their senses, which is represented through elemental promise.Moreover, Slovenia enables locals and tourists to feel unique experiences,which is represented through pleasant excitement promise. “Activity” with the keyword “active” mentioned 79times (3%) is another most frequently word and consist of the similar wordslike activity, skiers, ski, jogging, walk, climb, swim, swum, hunt,sportsperson and sports. Slovenia is promoted as an active country offeringvariety of activities.
Being active and having fun with the whole family is thepromise of Slovenia as a holiday destination. Therefore, wordcategories “Family” and “Holiday” are commonly recognized. Slovenia is also promoted as unique, boutique countrywith rich geographical diversity. Category “Uniqueness& Diversity” with 33 word counts is therefore highly represented in theBrand book and official DMO’s website. Slovenia features variety of landscapesincluding mountains, meadows, lakes, caves and the sea. Due to that fact, wordcategories such as “Landscape”, “Karst”, “Water”, “Mountains”, “Pannonia”,”Forest”, “Sea”, “Glacier” are also one of the most frequently used. Besidesvariety of geographical features, Slovenia offers cultural and historicaldiversity and limitless innovativeness. As a consequence, wordcategories “Culture”, “Heritage”, “Art”, “Architecture”, “Castle”,”Technological advancement” and “Event” are also among the most frequentlystated.
Categories such as “Ljubljana”, “Bled” and “Piran” as well devote someattention on the website, since those are most attractive cities for tourists. Attributes suchas “pamper, spas, relax, thermal, calm, rest, treatments and soothing” withinthe “Pampering” category, and “cuisine, foodie, culinary, cook, dish, chefs andtaste” within the “Cuisine” category have also been widely mentioned. Especiallythe website attracts and encourages visitors to pamper themselvesin different ways. This is either by enjoying the beneficial effects ofunderground thermal water in spas, or by enjoying culinary specialties preparedby the best chefs. And last but not least, to the categories “Locals” and”People” has also been devoted a lot of attention especially in the Brand book.Slovenians, namely play an important role in thenational brand. Slovenians are tenacious of the things they enjoy doing,hardworking and active, and they are focused on the thing that are dear tothem.
Therefore, categories “Tenancity & Hardwork” and”Love” are also quite often recognizable. Shortly, we can conclude that Slovenia is projected as a green/sustainable,active, geographically and culturally diverse country which has to beexperienced with all the senses. This is simply stated in their brand “I feelSlovenia”. After the categorization of most frequently used wordswe classified those categories among the elements of natural and culturallandscape, as shown in Table B.
This will allow us tocompare the projected image of Slovenia as promoted by the national DMO in theBrand book and on the official Slovenian tourism website with the perceivedimage of Slovenia shown by tourists in the seven YouTube videos. Furthermore,the comparison will identify the main gaps between projected and perceivedimage of Slovenia and based on that we will propose howstrategic communication could be revised/improved in order to make Slovenia’sperceived image better align with the organizational goals of the national DMO.