Academic journal article European Journal of Tourism Research

Investigating Tourists' Destination Choices - an Application of Network Analysis

Academic journal article European Journal of Tourism Research

Investigating Tourists' Destination Choices - an Application of Network Analysis

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

Introduction

Travel decisions are multilayered decisions with interdependent elements (e.g. destination, type of accommodation) that "evolve in a decision process over time" (Dellaert, Ettema, and Lindh 1998, 313). A type of travel decision that receives special attention in tourism research is the choice of a destination, probably due to the high importance for tourists compared to other elements of the travel decision (Fesenmaier and Jeng 2000; Oppewal, Huybers, and Crouch 2015). Choosing a destination is a complex process where only the result is visible in the form of tourist flows from a source market to a destination. Until a destination is finally chosen by a tourist it has to successfully complete several stages of the destination choice (DC) process. The reasons it is preferred to other alternative destinations during these steps are manifold, interrelated and depend on external as well as internal factors (Um and Crompton 1990).

Tourism research tends to focus either on actually executed or hypothetical DCs which covers up an existing discrepancy between these two types of DC. A research gap exists in the understanding of DC as the discrepancy between actual and hypothetical DCs has rarely been investigated. For example, reasons why tourists decide to travel to some destinations while others remain hypothetical "dream" destinations are not clearly identified. Actual behaviour and imagination of travelling cannot be seen as equal (Decrop 2010; Karl, Reintinger, and Schmude 2015). This implies that actual and hypothetical DC do not proceed under the same premises and that there are differences in the way tourists evaluate alternative destinations for actually planned or executed and hypothetical future holidays. However, knowledge about the discrepancy and how to overcome this discrepancy can be highly relevant for the tourism industry.

DC is furthermore a negotiation process between tourists' needs and what destinations offer (Ankomah, Crompton, and Baker 1996). While many past studies focus on tourists and their attitudes, needs or perceptions of destinations, information on the destinations such as the geographic location is rarely captured. There are exceptions in the form of case studies which give important insights into a specific destination (e.g. Botha, Crompton, and Kim 1999) but not into the DC process in a more comprehensive way. The lack of consideration of the destination itself pushes one of the most important aspects of DC into the background: The destination and its distinct characteristics are important determinants of DC (Karl et al. 2015).

To approach these two research gaps (i.e. discrepancy between actual and hypothetical DCs; consideration of destination characteristics), this study investigates DC sections that vary in their closeness to reality. The focus is not only on the outcome of DC (actual DCs) but also on dreams and imaginations of travelling occurring before the decision to travel has been initiated (hypothetical DCs). The purpose of the paper is to better understand differences in the evaluation of alternative destinations concerning actual and hypothetical DCs. This study furthermore aims to analyse the relevance and role of the destination itself at different DC sections in order to emphasise the importance of destination characteristics in the DC process.

A reason why destinations have not been paid more attention in research on DC, in particular in quantitative studies, may be the methodological challenge to capture the multiplicity of destinations that are considered during the DC process. This study therefore applies network analysis as it allows to identify structures in the evaluation of alternative destinations whilst preserving destination information. Based on a quantitative survey on DC behaviour, alternative destinations of different DC sections and their relations as competitors are analysed using network analysis. …

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