Post, Ergo Sum: Social Media and Brand Competitiveness in Tourism – The Case of Molisn't

Post, Ergo Sum: Social Media and Brand Competitiveness in Tourism – The Case of Molisn't

Anna D'Auria (Universidad de Jaén, Spain) and Marco Tregua (Universidad de Jaén, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0365-2.ch008

Abstract

Social media launched a “tongue-in-cheek” trend taking a comic approach to state that Molise— an Italian region—doesn't exist; several reactions appeared online, since this discourse may affect the attractiveness and image of a territory. Therefore, this chapter aims to analyse the online actions and counteractions to describe the role of the actors and the modalities by which they reacted. Literature showed a growing interest in the ties among destination marketing, destination image and competitiveness, and social media. A multi-level approach has been chosen in identifying the actions and reactions of actors. Due to the research context, the authors performed a netnography and identified six categories of actors. On a theoretical side, the levels of analysis – macro, meso, and micro – are mutually influencing, as actions and reactions take place at various levels. On a practical side, the awareness of actors in understanding the need to support the territory represents a suggestion for policymakers, as they should engage in actions to combat the negative image of the region.
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Introduction

This chapter deals with the effects of a multilevel online discourse on the attractiveness and image of a territory. More in detail, an analysis is run on an online phenomenon involving multiple actors in a debate over Molise, a small region in the South of Italy. The long online debate has been shaped around two perspectives—the first taking a comic approach to state that the region doesn’t exist and the second seeking to legitimize what the region can offer and to recover its image.

The statements about the non-existence of the region originated as a “tongue-in-cheek” online trend based mostly on the limited dimensions of the area, the limited awareness that people have of the local attractions (especially as compared to the surrounding regions), and the weak conditions of the infrastructure.

On the other hand, the counteractions of both local and external actors seek to recover the region’s image and to develop the tourism that may have been damaged by the negative e-word of mouth.

The statement that Molise doesn’t exist feeds the idea that there are no attractions in the region, which affects one of the pillars—perhaps the most relevant one—of the concept of a tourism destination (Cooper et al., 1993; Holloway, 2006; UNWTO, 2007).

Therefore, the aim of this study is to analyse the online actions and counteractions related to this phenomenon in order to describe the role of the actors who joined the debate and the modalities by which they chose to react; recent reviews (e.g., Teixeira and Ferreira, 2018) showed a missing focus on the online context as it affects the tourism business, its competitiveness, and the interplay between territory image and those acting on it. As a consequence, this research will describe the different choices of various actors who control the region’s image and seek to increase regional competitiveness from the perspective of tourism. Some potential drivers of tourism development emerged in the debate, counteracting the false views of the region; these drivers included the historical centers, the coasts, the local culture (e.g., products, events, and folklore), and the natural environment.

Several studies focused on the role of e-communication (Wu and Yi-kuan, 2005) in enhancing the image of an area; the industries affected by the communication actions of various actors are several, but tourism and hospitality—and the services related to them—are especially affected. This is particularly relevant in cases in which the effects on image are then transferred to tourist attractions, cultural heritage, local events and products, and the natural environment.

Scholars paying attention to the role of image on tourism activities have focused on the concept of destination competitiveness and, more recently, the multiple and differentiated roles of actors affecting or involved in (directly or indirectly) the building of the destination image (Bellini, 2004; Neto, 2007; Martínez-Ruiz et al., 2018) through the use of new technologies (Wang and Law, 2013; Shen et al., 2015). Finally, in line with the aim of this study, the process of destination-image recovery (Saraniemi, 2011; Ryu et al., 2013) has been taken into account as a useful means of framing and interpreting the dynamics of reactions and counteractions. The theoretical background led the authors to frame the research in order to accomplish their aim and to highlight a novel element, namely, image recovery to attain competitiveness and attractiveness following an online debate that was aimed to be funny. Indeed, previous contributions highlighted image recovery as a consequence of natural events (Ryu et al., 2013), social issues such as crime (Dimanche and Lepetic, 1999), and the failure of local ancillary services (Voltes-Dorta et al., 2017).Thus, to summarize the aim of this research is to describe the action-reaction dynamics of a multilevel debate over tourism; to do that, multiple online sources will be investigated through a netnographic analysis. This aim is based on the interactions among scholars in their debate over a tourism destination and the use of social media in destination marketing. Therefore, the literature review is devoted to these two topics. Then the research process is described, leading to the analysis and discussion. The chapter continues with both theoretical and practical implications and ends with conclusions and proposals for further research.

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