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The role of destination image and personality in co-branding of Baltic region tourism destinations – a case of Germany as a source market

Leib, Thomas (2014) The role of destination image and personality in co-branding of Baltic region tourism destinations – a case of Germany as a source market. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

Marketing and branding are inseparably linked, since the ultimate goal of marketing is to establish a brand in the mind of the consumer (Ries & Ries, 2002). Branding can be considered as one of the most meaningful and important aims and objectives of marketing (Cai, 2002). Interest in brand partnerships or co-branding, a concept where two or more brands facilitate each other in the market with the collective objective to establish a brand more effectively compared to what a brand could achieve on its own (Bengtsson & Servais, 2005; Chang, 2009) is increasing. However, literature to date has not addressed a topic of destination co-branding. Small destinations with a limited tourist offering may be particularly able to benefit from collaborative marketing strategies, such as co-branding. The Baltic States are individually small destinations, relatively new on the international tourism market and, thus, not high in volume or oriented towards the typical mass tourism (Coles & Hall, 2005; Hall, Smith, & Marciszweska, 2006; Nilsson, Eskilsson, & Ek, 2010). It is therefore important to understand potential marketing strategies and approaches that might increase the touristic appeal of the region. This thesis is the first attempt to fill this void in the tourism and marketing literature. The central question that this thesis will address is, what role destination personality and destination image play in the market perceptions of co-branding destinations, and their impact on tourist satisfaction, as well as behavioural intentions. The primary research focuses on tourists’ perceptions of destination co-branding, as influenced by the perception of the destination image and destination personality. It adopts subjectivism of ontology as the underlying research philosophy and an inductive approach. Semi-structured interviews with 26 tourists to the Baltic States were undertaken; 13 interviews with actual tourists and 13 with potential tourists. Data were inductively coded and categories of description were identified, organised into coherent themes and linkages between them were drawn, which resulted in a framework of co-branding as informed by perceptions of image and personality. The findings demonstrated that apparent differences exist between actual and potential tourists in the clarity of their image and personality perceptions as they pertain to the individual states. Actual tourists can clearly identify commonalities and differences among the three countries, while potential tourists have difficulties recognising differences. Overall, Estonia’s personality is described as modern, stylish and young; Lithuania seems backwards, distanced, rough and proud, Russian-Polish influenced, religious and held back. Latvia, the reflective, quiet and rural but also metropolitan country seems blurred and still needs to find its own identity. With regard to the image perceptions, these countries are perceived as each being unique in their own way, yet belonging together through their history and, as such, offering the perfect holiday destination. While Latvia does not play a prominent role in their image associations, Estonia is perceived as having Finnish or Nordic influences; Lithuania does not stand out and is not in the tourism spotlight. Co-branding, as a marketing strategy, was seen as beneficial, as it would increase the visibility of the individual states but also the competitiveness of the entire region on the international tourism market. The aim of co-branding should not be the assimilation of the destinations, but to emphasise their similarities and differences to create awareness, visibility and interest among tourists. The contribution to knowledge of this thesis is in addressing the concept relevant to a highly competitive tourism industry through the lens of perceived destination image and personality concepts. It explores how it would affect tourists’ perception of the region. It makes an original contribution to knowledge by first determining the current perceived image and personality of a region that has been largely neglected in academic research and still carries a negative connotation of the Soviet bloc in consumers’ minds (Huettinger, 2008). Second, tourists’ perceptions of a co-branding approach for the region with similar historical, geographical, and cultural background is explored. Finally, a model of destination co-branding based on the destination image and destination personality is built. The thesis shows that small destinations with a limited tourist offering would be able to benefit from collaborative marketing strategies, such as co-branding, as it offers great potential to enhance the market attractiveness of an entire region when individual destinations target similar market segments and offer complementary products or services.

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