Visitor narratives: researching and illuminating actual destination experience.
Anderson, Alistair R.
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Purpose: This paper argues that whilst destination benchmarking and visitor surveys seek to measure the visitor experience, they privilege the destination manager or researcher rather than taking the visitor’s viewpoint. It suggests that capturing and analysing visitor stories whilst in the destination can facilitate understanding of how destination image changes with actual experience, and what factors or attributes are important, thereby offering a deeper insight into the process through which destination experience is transformed (sense making) and transmitted (sense giving) via those stories, that all important word of mouth publicity. Design/methodology/approach: Unstructured interviews were recorded with visitors in Edinburgh and Greenwich. An interpretive approach was employed in analysing the interview data to uncover facets of visitor experience affecting the image conveyed through the narrative. Findings: The research reveals three elements involved in the sense making and sense giving process and sets out the three categories of visitor consumption characteristics which are implicated in the process. Research implications: Although the outcomes of the sense making and sense giving process are mediated by the incidents, interactions and characteristics of the individual visitor, the process itself is common to all visitors. Analysing visitor narratives to uncover the mediating factors illuminates the visitor’s actual destination experience and its impact on their understanding or image of a destination. Narratives proved to be a useful research tool. Practical implications: The interview and analysis techniques used could be readily adapted for use alongside existing standardised visitor survey tools to provide destination managers and marketers a greater understanding of the impact of customer care and visitor management programmes and how narrative may be useful in tailoring destination marketing to meet the requirements of specific visitor groups. Originality/value: This research demonstrates the utility of capturing and analysing visitor narratives at the point of destination consumption for understanding actual destination experience and the way in which it is transmitted as word of mouth information to others.