The Unfolding Theories on Destination Image, 1990-2020: A Content Analysis Approach

The Unfolding Theories on Destination Image, 1990-2020: A Content Analysis Approach

Fatima Lampreia Carvalho (Faculty of Economics and Research Centre for Tourism, Sustainability and Well-Being (CinTurs), University of Algarve, Portugal), Bernadete Dias Sequeira (Faculty of Economics and Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences (CICS.NOVA), University of Algarve, Portugal), Magda Wikesjö (Faculty of Economics, University of Algarve, Portugal) and Célia M. Q. Ramos (ESGHT and Research Center for Tourism, Sustainability and Well-Being (CinTurs), University of Algarve, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3156-3.ch015
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This chapter examines a 30-year collection of tourism destination image (TDI) components and scale attributes sourced from tourism and hospitality studies to assess the scientific field at hand. From the 1990s, it was clear that cognitive, affective, and overall (holistic) images were involved in destination image formation. Cognitive psychology is crucial to explain tourists´ behaviour, but tourism studies are not simply a branch of cognitive psychology. This study taps into the multidisciplinary character of destination image. At stake are propositions and theories applicable in tourism such as the theory of self-congruity, self-concept, brand signal theory, destination source credibility, novelty seeking theory, and brand equity theory. The intention of the present chapter is to map its theoretical ground and underlying hypotheses by means of a systematic literature review and point out sub-studied dimensions of TDI.
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Early published research in tourism studies singled out the complexity of tourism destination image (TDI). The notion of TDI has been extensively applied in marketing and behavioural sciences to represent people's perceptions of products, objects, behaviours, and events driven by beliefs, feelings, and impressions (Baloglu & Brinberg, 1997; Crompton, 1979). Several authors strived to conceptualise TDI (Lawson and Baud-Bovy, 1977; Crompton, 1979; Assael, 1984; Phelps, 1986; Gartner & Hunt, 1987; Moutinho, 1987; Coshall, 2000; Kim & Richarson, 2003; Lai & Li, 2015; Kislali, Kavaratzis & Saren, 2019) to respond major questions on how images emerge and what impact they have on tourism.

TDI tend to be defined as “mental/total impressions/perceptions held by tourists about a destination” being used out of a practical concern because it is more natural to ask tourists “What is your impression of Destination A?” rather than “What is your image of Destination A?” (Lai & Li, 2015:10). Existing definitions of TDI tend to be connotative definitions (e.g. genus-and-differentia definition) such as a feeling, thought, or idea, associated in one's mind or imagination with a specific destination. Addressing the conceptual problem of TDI from a definition perspective (Gerring 1997; Kimiecik & Harris 1996), Lai and Li (2015) proposed a new definition by adopting a procedure derived from definition theory in logic studies. Results showed that TDI was “defined mainly as the mental/total impressions/perceptions held by tourists pertaining to a destination” (Lai & Li, 2015: 1). They also found that TDI definitions were quasi-theoretical in type and created by roughly following the connotative definition technique.

The intention of the present chapter is to single out the most relevant theoretical constructs that cutting-edge tourism and management studies have used since 1990. This literature review arises from previous systematic reviews by Sirakaya and Woodside (2005), Zhang, Fu and Cai Lu (2014), Li, Ali and Kim (2015), Shankar (2018), Picazo and Moreno-Gil (2019) and Chan and Peters (2020).

Main Contribution

In coherence with this Handbook of Research on Resident and Tourist Perspectives on Travel Destinations this chapter seeks to map the most relevant theoretical constructs that underpin TDI in tourism and management studies, especially from the perceived image perspective. This study highlights the multidisciplinary character of TDI which is situated in the bounds of the Science of Psychology, the Science of Marketing, Philosophy, Sociological theory, Social exchange theory, Public Management, Business Management (Stakeholder Model), Geography and Linguistics, to mention just a few. Another contribution is to demonstrate the need for more studies on the topic, suggesting future research avenues.



Since the first studies in the early 1970s, TDI was approached from multiple perspectives (Campubri, Guia & Comas, 2014). Authors like Gallarza, Saura and Garcia (2002), Pike (2002) and Tasci, Gartner, and Cavusgil (2007) later integrated these perspectives and systematized the research field.

Destination image is a key topic of investigation in the marketing scholarship in tourism studies (Cherifi, Smith, Maitland, & Stevenson, 2014; Fu, Ye, & Xiang, 2016; Stepchenkova & Li, 2013; Sun, Ryan, & Pan, 2015). From the 1970s’, TDI gained salience in models of travel decision-making because it was viewed as an important aspect of promoting information about a specific destination, “since frequently tourists make travel decision at home, before leaving, rather than on impulse along the way” (Matos, 2014: 81).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Affective Component of a Destination Image: An individual’s feelings and emotions raised by tourist destinations affected by the motivations of tourists.

Overall Component of Destination Image: An image that people develop about a tourist destination, which is a combination of cognitive and affective components and deemed as the only variable with a significant influence on the tourist’s willingness to revisit and to recommend the destination.

Cognitive Components of Destination Image: An individual’s unique knowledge, perceptions, and beliefs about the individual attributes of a destination which are observable, descriptive and measurable.

Conative Component of Tourism Destination Image: An individual’s concrete behaviour or intention to revisit and endorse the destination to others, which is related to loyalty.

Destination Image: The expression of all objective knowledge, prejudices, imagination, and emotional thoughts of an individual or group about a location being a predictor of behavioural intentions, such as destination choice and visit intention

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