10 Unique Features of tourism destination product
Tourism industry is very much a service industry. However, compared with most other service industries it has several differentiating features (see e.g. Laws, 2002; Flagestad & Hope, 2001; Ritchie & Ritchie, 1998; Ashworth & Goodall, 1990), deriving from complexity of destination product and intrinsic characteristics of tourism, which may have an impact on brand management competences required in developing and maintaining successful destination brands (see Morgan et al, 2001; Park & Petrick, 2006).
Feature 1 - The collective nature production and marketing
The marketing of a destination is by nature substantially different than the marketing of fast moving consumer good (fmcg) products and most other services (Ritchie & Ritchie, 1998). Ritchie & Ritchie (1998) claim that the primary difference relates to the fundamental nature of what is being marketed. A firm as a strategic business unit has "typically clearly defined boundaries through ownership or control structures whereas a “destination” may have rather vague boundaries" (Flagestad & Hope, 2001,450). Much the same way, a fmcg product is typically tangible, well defined entity that is being marketed and delivered by a single firm or a group of firms having very common interests. In tourism, however, not only is the subject of marketing a very diverse and complex product, but it is also one that is delivered by many different firms that are typically quite different in terms of their objectives, resources and capabilities (for a related arguments, see Ritchie & Ritchie, 1998; Flagestad & Hope, 2001). The destination product being delivered is, in effect, series of products and services together with destination environments. As Asworth and Goodall (1990,7) note, "Places…both contain tourism facilities and attractions and simultaneously are such a facility and attraction. The place is both the product and the container of an assemblage of products". The challenge facing a destination marketer is to determine if this complex entity of products/services can in any way be seen as having a common and collective character that could be captured within a single brand. Extant literature suggests that destination branding is much more of a collective phenomenon that is normally found in generic marketing / branding situation (e.g. Ritchie & Ritchie, 1998; Park & Petrick, 2006).
Feature 2 - Lack of control
An important difference between tourism marketing, in comparison with fmcg marketing and most other service marketing situations, is management control, which has been noted in several studies (e.g. Pritchard & Morgan 1998, 218; Morgan et al 2002,19; Laws et al 2002; Morgan et al 2003,287). Destination marketers typically have very little, if any, control over the different marketing mix elements of their product, other than promotion (Morgan et al., 2002, 19). Findings of Park & Petrick (2006,263) give partial support for this argument, as persons-in-charge of destination branding in selected destination argued that destinations can not be branded in the same way as manufactured products, because the leading organization cannot control destination products.

As noted by Laws et al (2002,42) “Branding, imagery, positioning, target marketing and marketing mix, are mutually dependent management decisions, but in a typical destinations these decisions are taken independently by the managers of different organizations based on their own operating criteria. It is important to note, however, that these organizations share benefits from the attributes of the place being marketed, the expectations raised in potential clients by marketing activities, and the experiences of visitors attracted to the place.” In other words, this diverse range of agencies and companies are all stakeholders in a potential destination brand.

Subsequently, according to Laws, in majority of destinations diverse range of agencies and companies act as partners in the task of crafting brand identities. These include local, regional and national government agencies, environmental groups, chambers of commerce, companies of various sizes from various sectors, local inhabitant representatives etc. A number of major tourism organizations may promote a particular destination, but emphasizing different or even conflicting place attributes (Laws et al,2002,40).

Feature 3 – Customer compiling the product
Customer participation in the production process is well understood concept in services marketing. The tourism product consumed at a particular destination is assembled from the variety of products and services available, but this assembly is conducted largely by the consumer rather than the producer (Ashworth & Voogt, 1990). Thus, it may be argued that destinations are marketed without the marketers knowing exactly what the end experience and derived value will be.
Feature 4 – Limited possibilities to opt out
Building on the arguments of earlier research presented above, I suggest that as opposed to most other types of alliance or network organizations, actors operating within a destination may have relatively limited ability to choose the partners involved in the network. For instance, companies operating in a certain skiing resort in the Alps are to an extent given, and strategic co-operation in destination marketing is pressed to incorporate them all, because, as noted above, the assembly of services and products in the resort is conducted largely by the consumer and can rarely be predicted.
Feature 5 – Reaching agreement of the essence of the brand
Ritchie & Ritchie (1998, 24) argue that one of the major challenges facing the organization seeking to market / brand a destination “is simply to reach a common agreement as to what is being marketed/branded“. In a large number of destinations there is no full agreement as to what the destination offers/should offer, or what its ideal image should be in the marketplace (Ritchie & Ritchie, 1998). This clearly creates considerable potential for ambiguity and inefficiency.

Majority of destinations themselves may be considered to act as a market with a number of firms competing with each other. These actors obviously may have conflicting or even opposite interests concerning issues related to branding and brand positioning. Taking into account that a destination may incorporate large number of firms from a number of different sectors (e.g. ski-lift operators and grocery stores) and in addition a number of other stakeholders including non-governmental organizations and public sector organizations, the objective of reaching common agreement concerning the entity being brand may prove out to be a major challenge (see e.g. Morgan et al, 2002).

Feature 6 - Politics involved
Destination marketers are aiming to build and manage a desirable image that can attract tourists, to differentiate one’s destination from competitors and to make one’s destination a better place to live by increasing the contribution of tourism (Park & Petrcik, 2006). While doing this, the marketers are heavily bombarded by various political pressures (Buhalis, 2000; Morgan et al, 2002; Morgan et al 2003).

Ritchie & Ritchie (1998) argue that the host population, or ‘Destination Residents’, are themselves part of the visitation experience and affect the consumers perception of the destination brand. Furthermore, Morgan et al point out that “…they [destination marketers] have to reconcile local and regional interests and promote an identity acceptable to a range of public and private sector constituencies. At the same time, they also have to confront the culture clash between the public and private travel and tourism sectors, both of which possess highly differentiated value systems” (2003, 287)

Another significant political feature affecting destination branding is the geographical organization of society. Often destinations are artificially divided by geographical and political barriers which fail to take into consideration consumer preferences or tourism industry functions (Buhalis, 2000,97). The choice of scale for the definition of the tourism product may be, and often is, determined by the nature of local governmental boundaries, and the division of public functions within the local government hierarchy may assume greater significance in shaping the destination product than the characteristics of the place or the perceptions and behavior of the customer (Ashworth & Goodall, 1992,8).

Feature 7 - Inequality the actors
A feature related to the collective nature of destination product and to control issues discussed above is the need of resolving inequalities in importance of the subcomponents of the brand (for a related argument, see Ritchie & Ritchie, 1998,25). This feature is clearly visible for example with Disney World in Orlando, whereby one single company is overwhelmingly bigger than any of other companies operating within the destination. The size and reputation of Disney may be expected to dwarf the possibilities of other companies to influence decision making within the net, and to lead to significant dominance of one company within the destination.
Feature 8 - The evolution of the product during its consumption
"Because a destination product is composed of many parts, and is consumed over an extended period of time, it is evident that the total offering itself may undergo evolutionary changes during the time that it is being purchased and consumed by the visitor" (Ritchie & Ritchie, 1998,26). This brings us back to the question as to the definition of what is actually being branded. Ritchie & Ritchie (1998) suggest that as such, a destination brand must be capable of capturing or at least allowing for the changing nature of the product/service that it represents.
Feature 9 - Cyclical changes and the destination experience
Cyclical patterns in the destination experience can be frequently identified. The most obvious cyclical patterns are those due to seasonality. Certain destinations (if not most) may be argued to offer very different experiences during different seasons of the year. For instance, a skiing resort in the Alps during the summer offers very different experiences from that of the same resort during the winter. Similarly, the experience offered by the city of Paris during the summer is different to that offered during the winter. Some authors (e.g. Ritchie & Ritchie, 1998, 25-26) raise the question as to whether a single brand of the destination is capable of capturing or representing a visitation experience which is clearly very different at different times of the year.
The list of unique features presented above should not be taken as a comprehensive analysis of features differentiating tourism destination products from other types of service products. However, it does identify a set of features, which may have a particularly significant effect on place brand management. The intended purpose of the list is provide justification for a suggestion that the context of destination branding differs significantly from the context of branding physical goods, and to large extent from most other service branding contexts.


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