Destination Image Of Ho Chi Minh City By Korean Tourists

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During the past few decades, destination image (DI) has been extensively defined in literature from a psychological perspective. In the tourism literature, destination image has been defined by a range of specific keywords, as mental impressions, knowledge, beliefs, expectations, ideas, perceptions, and emotional thoughts of an individual accumulated towards a destination over time. Researchers have constantly proposed conceptual frameworks which studied DI as a multi-dimensional concept. Echtner and Ritchie (1993) proposed that destination image is constructed by two core elements which are individual attribute-based and holistic. This distinguishment signifies that DI is understood as tourists’ holistic impressions through the consumption of singular characteristics of the destination. Hence, measurement of perceived DI necessitates the operationalization of attributes-based and holistic components of DI construct. According to Echtner & Ritchie (1993), the attribute-based and holistic impressions comprise functional (tangible) and psychological (intangible) characteristics which can include both common and unique group of traits evaluated by the tourists. Echtner and Ritchie (1993)’s conceptualization categorizes destination image comprised both common/unique functional characteristics and common/unique psychological characteristics. While the former refers to both a group of comparable and similar characteristics that most destinations obtain (i.e. price, climate, accommodation, etc.) and the destination’s iconography (i.e. Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, special events, etc.), the latter refers to abstract attributes related to the feelings of tourists to the destination (i.e. friendliness, beauty of the landscape, safety, relaxation, quality of service, etc.) and special auras.

In consistence with Echtner and Ritchie (1993)’s conceptualization of destination image as a multidimensional concept, subsequent tourism studies have suggested that DI is formed by the cognitive-affective dimensions. The former refers to the personal knowledge reflecting evaluations of the functional attributes of the destination, while the later refers to the feelings of tourists toward psychological attributes of the destination. In this study, the perceived DI is scrutinized by both attributes-based and holistic impressions of tourists toward a city destination. This requires researcher to examine each DI attribute of the city as connoting a totality of tourists’ perception rather than singular factors that works individually in magnetizing tourists to visit.

In recent decades, the multi-dimensional DI and its formation process have received particular attention due to its importance in destination marketing and management. At first, Gunn (1972) proposed the stage theory of destination image formation in which DI is formed by the modification of organic images (person-determined image) generated by the influence of induced images (destination-determined image) throughout seven stages of the travel experience. Gunn (1972) also highlighted the importance of the actual experience and accumulation of information in the image formation process. In the 1990s, Fake and Crompton (1991), Gartner (1993) elaborated model of image formation process, based on Gunn (1972)’s conceptualization, as a multiple-stage construction of image evolved from organic image, through the creation of induced image to synthesize the complex image.

Subsequent scholars introduced a new perspective on image formation framework which juxtapose the conventional image construct, known as cognitive and affective image, and stimulus factors such as personal factors, information sources and previous experience. Researchers proposed that destination image perceived by tourists is influenced by peripheral factors from both the supplier’s side (i.e. external information sources from marketing agencies and word-of-mouth) and consumer’s side (i.e. socio-demographics, cultural background, previous experience, motivations, etc.). At the after-visit stage of travel itinerary, the perceived image generated from actual travel experience of past visitors can play a role as an important source of shared information to potential tourists in their decision-making process, known as word-of-mouth, as it denotes their subjective evaluations and genuine opinions toward existing attractive factors of the visited destination. Hence, building an in-depth understanding of perceived destination image by past visitors is essential in promoting destination attractiveness to future tourists and competitive advantages of the destination over other destinations.

With the advancement of Web 2.0 Technologies affecting tourism information sources, it has been popularized that perceived image generated from actual travel experience can be presented and shared in the form of online tourist-generated content (online TGC) including photographic and textual online materials. Perceived online destination image has been defined as “the holistic impressions, perceptions and feelings that tourists shared online with regard to the tourism products and offerings in a destination”. In recent tourism studies, online photographic contents has been considered as representation of perceived images of tourists toward a certain destination. Various studies analyzed photographic contents from online travel blogs to understand the perceived destination images of a destination. The present study also aims to analyze tourists-generated photographs to understand online representation of Ho Chi Minh City perceived by South Korean tourists through the interpretation of dimensions determining the perceived DI. Elaboration of online perceived DI presented in photographic contents is also important from a tourism marketing perspective since online organic DI has certain influences on potential tourists’ attitudes and behaviors. Online photographic representation and analysis Photographic content has been defined as static visual contents created and shared online in the form of travel photos which can be used to understand tourists’ perceived image of a destination.

Tourists-captured photos (TCPs) are considered as a trustworthy source of information with high credibility since it is created based on personal interest rather than commercial purposes. TCPs are visual representation of tourists’ real travel experiences and their subjective evaluations when visiting a destination. Therefore, TCPs contain true descriptions about the tangible, observable, and explicit features of the perceived images that provide insights into destination image construct. The analysis of the surface messages of TCPs reveals tourists’ gaze and how they depict their travel memories of places they visited. As perceived image is primarily picture-like and formed by a process of storing visual information, it is worthwhile to examine TCPs to understand the visual images from tourists’ own, emic perspectives.

In recent decades, visual representation of the destination has been examined using TCPs collected from online tourist-generated contents. Researchers have argued that TCPs contain both manifest and latent contents that can be understood and interpreted through both metonymic and metaphoric perspectives. With metonymic perspective, photograph captures an appearance of destination’s physical attributes that stands for itself and contains denotative meanings than are interpreted by reading the superficial message based on all signs presented on a photograph. A number of recent destination image studies has employed a metonymic perspective when analyzing TCPs to examine perceived destination image.

Study of Stepchenkova & Zhan (2013), Pearce et al. (2015), Hunter (2016), Wu & Kim (2017), and Mak (2017) exemplifies the use of TCPs collected from online travel blogs in examining visual representation of a specific destination. In these studies, photograph is considered a metonym, and typically, different appearances of physical attributes of the destination can be captured on one photograph and interpreted at face value. Signs and manifestations are content-analyzed quantitatively and categorized into themes which represent visual attributes of destination. In this present study, the aforementioned analytical treatment are employed to explore the perceived DI of a city destination through the analysis of online representations of physical tourist attributes at the destination. Content analysis for pictorial materials allows researchers to sort denotative signs into frequencies and categorizations of online representation of image. This technique has been widely used in previous research to present manifest content captured in TCPs. Studies have pointed out that tourism photography also comprises latent content that is implicit, intangible while indicates connotative meanings of a specific set of pictorial appearance.

A review of existing perspectives on analyzing photographic contents reveals that the connotative meanings embedded in TCPs cannot be entirely interpreted through the content coding-based analysis of physical appearance on a photograph. Hence, TCPs can also be regarded a metaphor, which cannot be interpreted at face value, when pictorial elements alluding meanings required interpretations and understandings outside the photographs. In this case, the exploration of intangible components of destination image construct requires that the connotative sign elements of TCPs including iconic, indexical and symbolic signs to be interpreted into meaningful messages. To interpret meanings of both denotative and connotative components, researchers have attempted to juxtapose content analysis and semiotic analysis in visual methodology.

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In tourism research, semiotic analysis is considered as an analytical method to identify the nexus between denotation referred to the physical signs existed in reality and the connotation defined as the cultural, mythological, or ideological implications of the denotative signs. Efforts in constructing a comprehensive methodological approach to analyze and interpret perceived image through photographic representation has been made by Hunter (2013), who proposed the visual research procedures based on the semiotic view of reality and the synecdoche of interpreting sign elements. The combination of content-semiotic analysis in Hunter’s studies provides a systematic and replicable approach to hierarchically analyze the perceived DI. The five steps approach of content-semiotic analysis treats image as both metonymy and metaphor. The interpretation of denotative and connotative elements embedded in tourist photographs allows researchers to treat image as a totality which includes both manifest and latent content. This is a highly-suitable approach for visual methodology which allows the complexity and richness of interpretation of the complex image.

Destination attractiveness

Similar to destination image, destination attractiveness (DA) remained a multidimensional concept as it is defined based on a psychological perspective related to the perception, expectation, experience and satisfaction and the construction of multidimensional attributes determined the attractivity of a destination to tourists. Over the two past decades, conceptualization of DA has been attempted by various tourism researchers. Mayo and Jarvis (1981) defined DA as “the relative importance of individual benefits and the perceived ability of the destination to deliver individual benefits”. Following the abovementioned definition of DA, Hu & Richie (1993) elaborated the concept from a consumer-supplier dualism. Tourist obtains a sum of feelings, beliefs and opinions about a destination which has the perceived ability to satisfy potential tourists’ vacation desires. In this circumstance, the perceived ability is described on a marketing perspective as destination’s attributes or pull factors leading tourists to choose the destination. Similar to Hu & Richie (1993), Formica & Uysal (2006) argued that overall evaluation of DA is subjected to the supply-demand binary.

On the management viewpoint, the availability, quality and management of accessibility, amenities and infrastructure, scenery, and tourist services at the destination are the foundation of DA leading to tourist satisfaction. In the context of the competitive global tourism market, DA has been juxtaposed with the concept of destination competitiveness.

DA is considered as one of the determinants of destination competitiveness over its key competitors. Therefore, understanding drivers of destination attractiveness assists National Tourism Organizations (NTOs) and Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) in projecting images for destination branding and structuring competitive strategy to maximize the performance of each attributes of DA on satisfying tourists’ demand and securing competitive advantages over other destinations. In today’s visitor economy, tourism resources has evolved from the distinct natural, cultural and environmental resources into “a form of energy that circulates to create feelings and desires” consumed throughout the staged destination experience. This means that nowadays determinants of DA is not merely perceived by a range of individual physical resources projected by NTOs and DMOs, but is considered key attributes of destination brand image that is socially constructed by tourists’ cognitive evaluations and holistic impressions. A number of scholars has illustrated that DA can be examined based on tourists’ perspectives, such as studies of Cracolici & Nijkamp (2009), Lee, Huang & Chen (2010), Wu, Xia & Tsai (2015), Reitsamer (2016), Xu & Zhang (2016). These studies suggest that the empirical investigation DA from an emic perspective generates rich information for tourism academics and NTOs-DMOs in reflecting destination competitiveness. The present study seeks to understand DA of a city destination based on the demand evaluations, while replicates a visual methodology developed in Hunter (2016)’s research to investigate the perceived holistic DA. In doing so, the research aims to elaborate DA of the city destination through the interpretation of synecdonical representations and its connotative meanings based on the identification of denotative components. This analytical approach has been used by Hunter (2016) and Wu & Kim (2017) in examining the perceived destination image of Seoul city through online photographic representations. Hunter’s studies on Seoul city destination image mentioned Smith’s conceptualization of synecdoche which referred to a symbolic part that is used to stand for the whole.

The most important synecdochical representations of the city, which is usually hard branded in promotion of tourism by DMOs, can be linked to the cognitive images perceived by tourists who visually consumed or experienced the city’s holistic tourism resources. While the interpretation of Seoul city’s synecdoches reveals a range of attractive physical features of Seoul as a tourism destination (Hunter, 2012), the connotative explanations of the iconic synecdoches informs insights into the messages conveyed the holistic DA that appeals tourists to experience the multifaceted set of products and services of destination. Hence, this study seeks to replicate the content-semiotic analysis as in previous studies mentioned to obtain an insightful understanding of DA as the holistic impressions of South Korean tourists toward HCM city, however, through the lens of photographs in travel blogs posted by past visitors rather than promotional materials published by NTOs and DMOs.

Ho Chi Minh city

Ho Chi Minh city, also known as Saigon, has evolved from “Pearls of the Far East” (Hon Ngoc Vien Dong) during the French occupation to the most important financial capital and economic hub of Vietnam nowadays. Established in the late 17th century by the Nguyen Dynasty, the city has been constructed primarily along the Saigon river with the port as the city’s nucleus in order to develop the foundation of commercial system in the area. The city infrastructure changed dramatically during French colonization due to the modern urban planning introduced in the mid-19th century (Huynh, 2015). French architectural buildings along the wide tree-lined avenues was built, transformed Saigon to be the most well-known cities in South East Asia for its beauty, and cosmopolitan atmosphere. The city experienced the next important change when the civil war ended in 1975. Since the central government introduced the Doi Moi policy aimed toward the establishment of market-oriented economy from 1986, high-rise buildings in District 1 appeared through the impact of foreign capital in real estate investment.

Apart from the emergence of new commercial high-rise buildings, large-scale modern offices, and new luxury hotels in central area, the city still remained its images of a European garden city, with the remnants of French historical monuments continued to attract domestic and international tourists to HCM city. However, the city image has also been affected significantly by rapid industrialization and growing urban population. As predicted to be home for 10 million people by 2020, HCM city has become a mega-urban city with overloading road system, inefficient public transportation, serious waterway and air pollution, serve flooding in the inner city. The city is facing with many environmental and urban planning challenges to a sustainable urban development due to rapid urbanization with a great influx of rural migrants. Nevertheless, the compact city model with a mix of modern buildings and ramshackle old apartment blocks, the disordered nature of traffic, local people hustling along the pavements or simply sitting down in front of their shop-house characterized the city’s unique images. In addition to the vitality and dynamics of the city, 7.5 million international tourists visited HCM city in 2018 are also attracted by its holistic images of local cuisine, the richness of culture, history and arts, recreation and entertainment, natural environment, especially by the remnants of French colonial architecture (i.e. Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office, Ho Chi Minh Municipal Theatre, Reunification Palace).

Recently, the municipal Department of Tourism, Ho Chi Minh City has introduced a four-targets project aimed at maintaining sustainable economic development of the city, with an emphasis on digital economy, especially in applying information technology to improve destination competitiveness in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This confirms the strategic importance of smart tourism development to the visitor economy of Ho Chi Minh city which is Vietnam’s leading tourism hub and an attractive inbound tourism destination. Based on this strategic planning context, it is essential to obtain an understanding about the online DI and the attractiveness of the city through visual methods.

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