This study aims at developing a framework to investigate and analyze sustainable competitiveness in tourism destinations.
This study has a qualitative approach, and it has been conducted by use of a comprehensive literature review. First, the key concepts of the study such as destination competitiveness, sustainable development, stakeholders’ attitude and performance and tourist loyalty were identified. Then, an integrative review was conducted on literature regarding the mentioned keywords. More related resources were selected and critically reviewed to explore gaps. For this purpose, a search was conducted at databases such as Emerald, Elsevier and ScienceDirect.
An appropriate framework for tourism sustainable development and, in particular, for its sustainable competitiveness, requires considering economic, sociocultural and ecological dimensions on the one hand, and considering all stakeholders participating in tourism process on the other hand.
The model suggested in this study can be applied by managers and policymakers in various destinations to investigate true competitiveness situation of their tourist destinations. It also can be theoretically a start point to raise further issues and studies on destination competitiveness by adopting a new sustainability approach.
From reviewing previous studies, it is clear that most models developed on destination competitiveness only consider creation of competitiveness and destination’s characteristics. In addition, a sustainability approach has rarely been considered in these studies. A model or a framework specially designed for evaluating and investigating sustainability of destination competitiveness has not been developed yet. In this sense, the proposed framework in this study is a new one. What differentiates this model with previous ones is the sustainability approach to the competitiveness and taking all stakeholders of the competition process into account.
Nadalipour, Z., Imani Khoshkhoo, M.H. and Eftekhari, A.R. (2019), "An integrated model of destination sustainable competitiveness", Competitiveness Review, Vol. 29 No. 4, pp. 314-335. https://doi.org/10.1108/CR-12-2017-0086
Emerald Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited
Competition has been recently considered an economic concept influencing sustainable development of the tourism and travel industry (Balant et al., 2009). Understanding the determinants of competitive advantages in tourism is of key importance for both advanced and developing economies (Algieri et al., 2018). Like competition in the commodity market, tourism destination should convince their customers (tourists) so that they believe in the destination’s ability to offer a mix of benefits which other destinations are not able to (Ritchie and Crouch, 2003). According to Yilmaz (2008), the tourism industry is a changing industry that requires competing to survive. Dwyer and Kim (2003) suggest that, to succeed in the international tourism marketplace, a destination overall attractiveness must equal or surpass that of the many alternative destinations. Despite the “comparative advantages” of a destination, which include accessing to resources, “competitive advantages” mean the capability of the destination in effectively applying the mentioned resources in the long term. As Risteski et al. (2012) argue, a destination may have many resources, but it may be less competitive compared to other destinations without similar resources. In other words, a destination with a clear vision can be competitive by an understanding of its weaknesses and strengths and by adopting appropriate marketing strategy. Today’s destinations should effectively use their competitive resources and advantages to reach a sustainable tourism development. Besides, competitiveness of a destination should be sustainable. Feurer and Chaharbaghi (1994) argue that definitions of competitiveness have been mostly developed based on an organization’s capability and what it offers compared to the competitors. According to these authors, the current definitions consider competitiveness as a static concept; in other words, these definitions have been formed around organizations’ competitiveness in a certain period and less consider stability and sustainability of competitiveness. They believe that sustainability is a criterion that describes an organization’s ability to keep and improve its competitive position perceived by customers and stakeholders. Competitive advantage will be sustainable if the mentioned ability in the organization is acceptable. A similar argument can be applied to destinations. In a destination, key players include tourists and internal stakeholders. Ignoring internal stakeholders, a destination is not able to sustain its competitiveness. Ritchie and Crouch (2003) believe that most destinations are looking for ways to become competitive and to continue being competitive.
One of the key factors that may guarantee the sustainability of tourism in a destination is destination’s consistent competitiveness and attractiveness. Sustainable development emphasizes present generation’s needs and the necessity of maintaining resources for future generations, i.e. intergenerational and intragenerational equity. In the same way, in the case of tourism sustainable development, it is expected that tourism development can address both present and future tourists’ needs, as well as host communities. Generally speaking, today’s destinations should remain competitive and attractive in the future. In this way, a destination uses its environmental resources and potentials in a sustainable and effective way and considers economic and social prosperity of the society. Because some phenomena of this kind and these dimensions and complexity cannot be consistent by itself over time, competitiveness of a destination may also be a temporary phenomenon. The explanation for this behavior is that, over time, different factors such as exploring resources, residents’ attitudes and dissatisfaction, destination performance, changing tastes of tourists and many social, economic and environmental problems in both micro and macro scales reduce competitiveness and attractiveness of the destination. Therefore, one way to reach sustainable competitiveness is simultaneous consideration of all mentioned factors and all involved stakeholders in a destination. In a sustainable tourism development, regarding the benefit of the stakeholders, particularly local residents, is of great significance. Also, competitiveness is not sustainable without considering benefits of all stakeholders and moving toward a balanced development. Successful tourism development is based on the existence of balance and harmony among tourists, people, places, enterprises and organizations participating in the tourism process. Each stakeholder, as a key player in tourism system of destination, must benefit from tourism development; otherwise, destination competitiveness will be only looking for tourism development, not tourism sustainable development. It must be considered that sustainable tourism is competitive, but competitive tourism is not necessarily sustainable. Furthermore, creating competitiveness is not enough by itself; it does not occur unless contributory factors to destination competitiveness are effective, and their quality and performance are perceived and interpreted by stakeholders. As Daft and Weick (1984) suggest, interpreting the information about competitiveness is the main work that individuals do in this regard. One of the gaps between creating competitiveness and maintaining it seems to be the perception of competitiveness. According to Angelkova et al. (2012), tourism competitiveness begins with an expression of experience. They believe that images perceived by tourists in tourism destinations shape core product of tourism. Andrades–Caldito et al. (2013) suggest that the true perception of destination competitiveness requires evaluating the image of a tourism destination. This image includes a set of tourists’ believes, opinions and expressions about different aspects of a destination attractiveness on the one hand, and internal stakeholders’ attitudes toward tourism on the other hand that considerably influence their performance and lead to destination competitiveness.
Nowadays, although some tourist destinations are famous nationally or internationally, the stability of this situation cannot be guaranteed due to their weaknesses in planning and management. In this regard, a weak management results in ignoring sustainable development considerations, lack of attention to continued and purposeful market research and lack of creativity in offering products. These issues have caused environmental problems and neglecting tourism stakeholders’ interests in the destinations. Lack of continuous studies on markets and consumers has brought about ignoring changing wants and needs of tourists. Disregarding stakeholders’ attitudes and perceptions of quality of what destinations offer, along with above-mentioned issues, eventually leads to tarnishing the destination’s image and consequently causes competitiveness of destination to be unsustainable and perishable. Therefore, in the long run, the destination will witness community’s dissatisfaction and a decrease in quality of resources and attractions, which it per se will cause tourists’ dissatisfaction, a decrease in the number of visitors and attraction of tourists by competitors.
Adopting a sustainability approach, the present study aims at filling gaps in the previous models on destination competitiveness by developing an integrated model to investigate and analyze sustainable competitiveness in tourist destinations.
First, the key concepts of the study such as destination competitiveness, sustainable development, stakeholders’ attitude and performance and tourist loyalty were identified. Then, an integrative review was conducted on literature regarding the mentioned keywords. More related resources were selected and critically reviewed to explore gaps. For this purpose, a search was conducted at databases such as Emerald, Elsevier and ScienceDirect.
3. Literature review
Nowadays, study of competitiveness is a dominant paradigm in the industry (Almeida-Santana and Moreno-Gils, 2018). Several models have been developed for investigating destination competitiveness using various determinants and attributes (Drakulic Kovacevic, 2017). Among most famous models in this regard is the Crouch and Ritchie model (1999) (Ritchie and Crouch, 2003). Being a comprehensive model of destination competitiveness and sustainability, this model includes 36 variables classified into five groups of factors, i.e. qualifying and amplifying determinates, core resources and attractors, supporting factors and resources, destination policy, planning and development and destination management. Generally, studies on destination competitiveness can be classified into three categories (Cucculelli and Goffi, 2015): first, studies that have developed models on destination competitiveness (Ritchie and Crouch, 1993, 2003; Yoon, 2002; Dwyer and Kim, 2003); second, studies that have focused on a particular aspect of destination competitiveness (Stevens, 1992; Baker et al., 1996; Heath, 2002); and finally, those studies which have investigated position or capabilities of a particular destination (Ahmed and Krohn, 1990; Mazanec, 1995; Chon and Mayer, 1995). From reviewing previous studies, it is clear that most models developed on destination competitiveness only consider the creation of competitiveness and destination’s characteristics. In addition, the sustainability approach has rarely been considered in these studies. A model or a framework specially designed for evaluating and investigating the sustainability of destination competitiveness has not been developed yet. In this sense, the proposed framework in this study is a new one.
4. Theoretical background
According to Dwyer and Kim (2003), destination competitiveness depends on the ways adopted by destination to offer products and services better than competitors do. Dwyer et al. (2000) argue that tourism competitiveness is a general concept, including price differences, exchange rate changes, efficiency level of different elements of the tourism industry and qualitative factors contributing to a destination’s attractiveness. As d’Hauteserre (2000) suggests, destination competitiveness refers to destination capability for keeping, improving and developing its position and market share over time. According to Hassan (2000), competitiveness of a destination depends on its ability for creating and integrating products with added value that make destination able to sustain its resources while keeping its market position compared to the competitors. Although the idea of destination competitiveness has been traditionally approached in terms of supply and its economic dimension (Blanco-Cerradelo et al., 2017), destination competitiveness includes economic, sociocultural, environmental, political and technological dimensions (Ritchie and Crouch, 2003). In this connection, economic efficiency is considered one of the most critical dimensions of tourism competitiveness. Because of the unique nature of tourism phenomenon, a destination ability to compete externally with competitors depends on its social, cultural, political and environmental strengths. Economic growth, as a measure of destination competitiveness, sometimes predominates this completion. However, other dimensions should be incorporated in measuring destination competitiveness. From a political perspective, competition phenomenon is defined as a group’s affairs toward the stability of economic–political power that enables them to control those resources that finally result in individual and group welfare. Although political competition is rarely considered in analyses on destination competitiveness, it is obvious that political power and stability of a destination play critical roles in tourism competition. Despite lack of considerable changes in physical attractions, political control by various tools has made some changes in both their attractiveness and accessibility. Beyond economic and political aspects, as Ritchie and Crouch (2003) argue, a tourist destination is a place where individuals prefer to visit, because of its unique experience that is not found elsewhere. Sociocultural attractiveness of a destination may sometimes overcome all dimensions determining destination attractiveness. Here, considering communities’ welfare and sustainability of the environment is of paramount importance (Ritchie and Crouch, 2003). Technology is a key contributory factor to the destination competition. One of the initial affairs in this regard is the central reservation system (CRS). From an environmental perspective, as Ritchie and Crouch (2003) mentioned, environmental economists consider all costs in measuring a destination’s economic capabilities, because tourism development brings about ecological problems such as destroying natural landscapes within a destination, which can considerably affect a destination’s competition compared to other destinations. Therefore, when evaluating competition, all costs related to tourism development should be taken into account.
4.1 Tourism sustainable development
A sustainable tourism means to reach a balance among economics, environment and society in the development system so that no aspect dominates others (Farrell, 1992). As Owen et al. (1993) argue, the sustainable development concept is not necessarily consistent with economic growth. Sustainable development accepts the fact that poverty alienation, life quality improving and environmental conservation require economic prosperity. However, it is required to consider a balance such that demand does not exceed natural resources. In addition, a sustainable tourism does not mean not doing anything and standing motionlessly in the rout of change.
For years, researchers have tried to propose an appropriate and comprehensive definition for tourism sustainable development. Despite this fact that today, all agree that tourism sustainable development is a long-term goal or, as Inskeep (1991) suggests, is a constantly evolving concept, and it is inherently dynamic (Liu, 2003), but there is not any standard definition of sustainable tourist destination (Tepelus and Cordoba, 2005; cited by Cucculelli and Goffi, 2015). However, an agreement is forming that tourism sustainable development aims at describing negative environmental effects, maintaining cultural heritage and providing opportunities for learning toward offering benefits for the local economy and reinforcing local communities’ social structures (Weaver, 2005; cited in Cucculelli and Goffi, 2015). As Angelkova et al. (2012) state, sustainable development of tourist destination does not merely include short-term economic, sociocultural and environmental benefits. Rather, it is the only way to ensure meeting tourists’ and local communities’ needs. Sharpley (2000) is of the opinion that a sustainable tourism development is not completely adapted to developmental characteristics of sustainable development, rather it has a wider product-oriented aspect (Cucculelli and Goffi, 2015). Generally, those tourism researchers who have tried to take a closer look at the sustainable development concept have frequently rejected or taunted extremist interpretations. McKercher (1993), for example, categorizes perspectives on sustainable development into two groups: an economically sustainable development and an environmentally sustainable one. He believes that both perspectives must be taken into account to decrease threats to the survival of tourism. In order to sustain tourism, the industry must be a pioneer in shaping the sustainability issue. According to McKercher, sustainability of tourism depends on keeping tourism growth. A simultaneous attention to economic, sociocultural and environmental dimensions shapes the basis of sustainable development. The economic dimension emphasizes long-term economic welfare and prosperity. The sociocultural dimension refers to the creation of equal opportunities for individuals and fair distribution of benefits. Lastly, the environmental dimension considers protection of environmental capitals and natural resources (Figure 1).
4.2 Destination competitiveness and sustainable development
Some authors studying the relationship between sustainability and competitiveness of a tourist destination have suggested that sustainability can improve competitiveness. However, most issues about the role of sustainable development, to some extent, have ignored the need of a deeper experiential test, and yet, there exist no clear experiential witnesses of sustainability role in describing competitiveness of a destination. Experimental models offered in the destination competitiveness literature present a useful insight toward destination competitiveness, but they have ignored the role of sustainability factors (Cucculelli and Goffi, 2015). Most of the studies and proposed models have introduced competitiveness from tourist number and high amount of market share perspectives. These perspectives have some limitations due to ignoring the sustainability aspect about a destination’s carrying capacity or keeping environmental integration (Croes, 2010). Most of the authors seem to agree that a competitive destination is able to protect its natural and cultural resources and provide long-term welfare for its residents by transferring satisfactory experiences rather than competitors (Cucculelli and Goffi, 2015). Ritchie and Crouch (2003) argue that competitiveness of a tourist destination should be assessed from a long-term perspective. They also assert that destination competitiveness is tied to its prosperity, high standard of life and residents’ quality of life through the realization of vision and goals determined directly or implicitly by destination. Contrary to corporations, destinations face the common risk of being temporary attractive and losing their competition power over time. Ritchie and Crouch (2003) believe that a sustainable solution must try to establish a right balance among four (economic, sociocultural, political and environmental) complementary pillars so that no weakness is observed in the sustainability system. In the case that situation in one pillar is unsustainable, it will be unsustainable in all other pillars. As Butler (1980) argues, the negative effect of tourism growth on destination and its environment will decrease its comparative advantages in long term and consequently result in decreasing tourist demand. Emerging destinations increase their attractions over time. First, a destination is located in an exploration stage where it can attract only a few numbers of tourists who use current resources and facilities. Then, when the destination becomes more attractive for more groups through advertisements, more visitors will visit the destination. The increase in demand persuades destination to increase development of tourism. When the motivation for developing the supply side increases, destination reaches the last level of its carrying capacity, and tourists gradually bring about sociocultural and environmental problems to the destination (Goffi, 2013). Neglecting local communities and all stakeholders will create various problems for destinations in the long term. Certainly, tourism stakeholders play a key role in development and sustainability of tourism in destinations. Freeman (1984) introduces organizational stakeholder as any individual or group influenced by and influencing the organization’s goals. Carroll (1997) considers the stakeholder theory as a way to understand corporate social responsibility. Stakeholders are contributory factors to improve business performance and to maximize benefits. In addition, the stakeholder approach not only is related to corporates but also is useful for other businesses. Considering this suggestion, the stakeholder approach can be adopted also for tourist destinations. Tourist destinations are usually managed by various stakeholders along a value chain (Bieger, 2008). Nowadays, as Angelkova et al. (2012) argue, with increasing public awareness of environmental problems, the stakeholder approach has been considerably popular because it includes various groups of tourists, governments, destination marketing organizations, employees, media, retailers and social groups.
As Bornhorst et al. (2009) state, the government has two primary roles: first, improving and increasing the social and economic welfare of residents and several supporting roles; second, providing a set of activities and experiences to ensure the welfare of local residents and tourists. At the same time, the government should increase the flow of visitors and expenditures, monitor sustainability and create a platform for local businesses. If activities and experiences offered by a destination meet local residents’ and tourists’ needs, they are called “successful” or “competitive” (Müller et al., 2013). Generally, there exists four groups of tourism stakeholders: tourists, residents, entrepreneurs and government officials (Goeldner and Ritchie, 2003). Generally, destination residents, local businesses, governments and all stakeholders within the destination affected by benefits and costs of tourism are called internal stakeholders, while tourists and other stakeholders outside the destination are considered as external stakeholders. Also, Buhalis (2000) identifies four groups for implementing a tourism strategy based on sustainability, including local individuals, local officials responsible for governing destination, product and service businesses and visitors, including tourists and same-day visitors. Buhalis is of the opinion that these four groups are responsible for the sustainability of tourist destinations.
4.3 Local resident and destination competitiveness
Most authors believe that competitive destination is a destination that provides residents with long-term welfare. Bramwell (1996) suggests that local residents should be empowered to achieve tourism sustainable development. In the case that tourism is an income-generator sector with multiplier effect for the destination, the host community feels powerful and, therefore, local residents actively participate in the development process (Cucculelli and Goffi, 2015). Social participation, as Lee (2013) argues, is defined as the level of local communities’ involvement in daily activities within a society where they live. Tourism development, therefore, will be more successful by the participation of local communities, because their attitudes and perceptions are considered by decision-makers, and opportunity for their participation is provided. Sharma and Dyer (2009) believe that understanding communities’ values and desires is necessary to achieve the best level of performance in destinations. According to Ritchie and Crouch (2003), destinations’ residents play the most important role in protecting their own natural environment; however, the tourism industry does likewise not only by ensuring that tourism development does not damage ecology but also through providing economic incentives encouraging more protection of natural environment. As Pong But and Ap (2017) suggest, in many developing regions, tourism is a major source of development, and it is often a real challenge to encourage the local community to support.
4.4 Tourism enterprises and destination competitiveness
Tourism industry includes a wide range of businesses that offer various services. It includes different sectors such as accommodation, transportation, tour operators, travel agencies, tourism advertisement enterprises, insurance brokers, food and beverage, recreation, theme parks, concert and theater centers and so on (Uriely et al., 2002; cited in Akbaba, 2012). According to Mazilu and Chaouki (2012), beyond theoretical considerations, destination competitiveness and tourism business competitiveness are created in different ways, while there are mutual interdependency and conditions between the two. A tourist destination cannot be competitive without competitive tourism businesses. Similarly, a tourism business cannot be competitive without being in a competitive and attractive destination. To be sustainable, tourism businesses must offer environment-friendly products and services to green tourists. Green business is defined as a set of business activities which are environment-friendly. These activities may include using organic products to build structures, avoiding greenhouse gas emissions, designing procedures for efficient and economic use of resources. The green business should adopt principles, policies and affairs that improve life quality of host and guest communities and keep resources for future generations. Use of renewable energy resources improving reclamation cycle and decreasing poison gases are all among the efficient affairs in the green business. Applying green technologies in business can result in the creation of competitive advantages. It may decrease some costs during the production process. Government regulations can also considerably affect a country’s competitiveness. Competitiveness can affect a government’s regulations. The European Union, for example, has defined important limitations for the public sector. The extent of being environmental friendly of affairs can influence the competitiveness of a corporate. In addition to the cost advantage, environmental considerations and protection of resources create a positive image for the organization (destination). This environmental-friendly image helps companies (destination) to have a better reputation than competitors (Karagülle, 2012).
4.5 Destination “management organizations” and “destination competitiveness”
Destination management organization (DMO) refers to a visitor association or office within an urban area that is responsible for coordinating efforts to attract tourists (both business and recreational) to its geographical area (destination). Pearce (1992) in his book On Tourist Organizations provided the most descriptive yet succinct rationale for the existence of a DMO:
Interdependence, small size, market fragmentation, and spatial separation are all factors that may lead to a desire for combined action, a willingness to unite to achieve common goals, and a need to form tourist organizations.
Destination management is considered coordinated management of all elements creating a destination:
On this topic, some scholars have pointed out that the DMO acts as a coordinator of both the stakeholders who work in the destination and the marketing activities which the DMO and single businesses carry out (Bregoli, 2012, p. 213).
Bornhorst et al. (2009) believe there exists a relationship between the success of tourism destinations and that of DMOs. Most of DMOs, in addition to their traditional role-playing in destination marketing, are deemed now as communicational channels between tourism suppliers (local tourism corporations) and outside buyers (almost conference planners, tour operators and tourists) and even they turn out to be political defenders that have recognized voice of tourism in their societies (Adeyinka-Ojo et al., 2014). Considering the common goal of tourism marketing, Bonham and Mak (1996) argue that the government’s intervention in forming public capital is essential because the promotion of tourism is a public good from which everybody benefits. An empirical study by Sheehan and Ritchie (1997) confirms that DMOs receive a considerable share of their budget from the public sector, and that this is increasingly viewed as an investment for which an appropriate return is sought (Sheehan, 2006). As Sheehan (2006) argues:
[…] while considerable resources are being directed to DMOs (CVBs) in a major city and resort destinations, very little is known regarding the degree to which DMOs recognize stakeholders in their destinations and problems that occur between the two (p. 18).
According to this author, to fulfill its mandate, the DMO must has an understanding of individuals and organizations as the external entities influencing the achievement of its objectives.
Nowadays, DMOs exist less for management and more for coordination, and not simply for interaction with consumers but for supporting the larger system of a destination (Morgan et al., 2002). Goffi (2013) in his study on destination sustainability and competitiveness found that, for an effective use of tourism resources in the long term, DMOs play important roles. In recent years, much attention has been paid to networking and destination management in terms of networking. Some authors argue that it is necessary for companies and industries to build networks along with management of networks toward sustainable development and for a destination to become competitive (Ritchie and Crouch, 2003; Dredge, 2006; Raich, 2006; Nordin and Svensson, 2007). As Volgger and Pechlaner (2014) suggest, an exchange of information, synergy and coordination positively affects destination development, as well as being bases for innovation and flexible competitiveness.
4.6 Local community performance
Resident attitude toward tourism is one of the key issues considered by researchers. Studies on residents’ attitudes demonstrate that residents in areas with sustainable tourism tend to support tourism (Strzelecka and Okulicz-Kozaryn, 2018). Being one of the most important tourism stakeholders, the local community influences tourism as much as they are influenced by it. Acceptance of tourists by the local community, local residents’ treatment with tourists and their attitudes toward tourism considerably affect the quality of tourists’ experience, destination attractiveness and tourism development process in a destination. From the economic point of view, tourism and tourists are mainly favored by residents who can get economic benefits from the development of tourism; however, sometimes residents can give a priority to the environmental benefits rather than the economic ones (Janusz et al., 2017). The host community’s performance in terms of environmental behaviors, hospitality, welcoming tourists, participation and supporting tourism development or in terms of conflicts, dissatisfaction and not supporting tourism development have a significant influence on tourists’ evaluation of the overall performance of a destination.
4.7 Tourism business’s performance
Businesses’ performance has a significant influence on the overall performance of a destination and consequently on the amount of its attractiveness and competitiveness. Today, there exist various SMEs in the destinations forming the main part of tourism supply side. Undoubtedly, the quality of businesses’ performances plays a key role in tourists’ experiences and perceptions on quality of tourism products, and as a result, in their evaluation of destination competitiveness. Considering tourism businesses’ performance is both useful and necessary when evaluating destinations’ competitiveness. Various criteria have been recently applied for analyzing businesses’ performance. These criteria can be classified into different dimensions such as financial, customer, internal process, growth and learning.
4.8 Destination management organizations performance
Some conceptual studies have explored the roles and tasks of DMOs. Ritchie and Crouch (2003) and Presenza et al. (2005), for example, identified two core competencies of successful DMOs: the first one is marketing, which refers to external performance, and the second is to coordinate destination stakeholders, which refers to the internal performance of DMOs. They refer to the quality of visitor’s experience as an indicator of DMO’s success (Volgger and Pechlaner, 2014). Heath and Wall (1992) believe that DMOs have four tasks: to formulate strategies, to represent stakeholders’ interests, to develop products and to market. Performing these tasks are accompanied by sustainable resource planning (Butler, 1980; cited in Volgger and Pechlaner, 2014). As a number of authors have suggested:
[…] enhancing customer satisfaction should be one of the initial tasks of a DMO and a prerequisite for developing a proper strategy to enhance destination attractiveness and its competitive positioning (Dmitrovic et al., 2009).
According to Mihalic (2000), destination competitiveness could be enhanced through DMOs capabilities and efforts. As Crouch and Ritchie (1999) argue, DMOs role should be recognized as total management rather than marketing. Destination managers and planners, therefore, require an understanding of this issue that what combinations or matches of tourism attractions or resources and destination competitive strategies must be adopted to make tourist destinations more competitive (Goffi, 2013).
It is necessary for future tourism development plans to be environmental friendly so that the industry is able to keep competitiveness in the market. Therefore, tourism marketers should focus on those types of tourism that are sensitive to keep sustainability and integration of natural and cultural resources. As Pechlaner et al. (2012) argue, DMOs play an important role in integrating destination networks and in creating a concentration in the governance of tourism systems. Regarding destination marketing, there exist some discussions on the differences among government, governance and management (Hall, 2011). In this scheme, governance is located somewhere between government and management and includes – as Slocum and Backman argue – coordination of economies, public/private partnership and reforming goals that follow collective interests (Pechlaner et al. (2012)). Not only there exist always conflicts between different groups of stakeholders but also, even worse, there are some conflicts within these groups (Sheehan et al., 2007). Thus, destinations are those institutions that are hard to manage and to market (Sautter and Leisen, 1999). Destination management and marketing task almost are given to a central tourism organization called DMO, which is active as a representative of stakeholder groups (Ritchie and Crouch, 2003). This organization also follows a set of strategic objectives such as maximizing customer satisfaction, local businesses profitability, community long-term prosperity and optimizing available resources through destination sustainable development (Buhalis, 2000). According to Pearce (1992), a successful DMO realizes its goals, possesses enough resources and is identified in terms of its goal. Bornhorst et al. (2009) in a study on success indicators of DMO mention four indicators as follows:
internal stakeholder relations, including participatory marketing, working with stakeholders, listening to suppliers, cooperation with stakeholders, a gathering center for internal stakeholders and lobbying for political issues;
operational activity, including management, marketing and to some extent development of product and services;
resources, including financial and human resources; and
performance measures, with most important of which being identified as destination visitor by Bornhorst et al. (2009).
The DMOs role can be briefly described as an effort toward increasing residents’ welfare, doing any work to ensure satisfactory and memorable experiences for visitors and simultaneously ensure effective management and control of a destination (Bornhorst et al., 2009). As Pike (2004) argues, the rationale for establishing a DMO has been usually increasing and improving destination competitiveness. Ritchie and Crouch (1993) in their model on tourism competitiveness developed for Calgary put an emphasis on destination management plans. According to these authors, a destination sustainable management plan that is properly selected and implemented can improve destination competitiveness. They believe that tourism marketing efforts have high potentials to increase the perceived attractiveness of a destination (e.g. destination image). Managerial affairs also can improve destination competitive position. According to the Ritchie and Crouch model, the information system is a base for decision-making where management information provides the possibility of a better management of destination product. Stakeholders’ perception and attitudes toward tourism affect tourism development and, like other methods of development, change life experience of residents in a given society. When tourism develops in a destination, the host community’s life is affected. Studies on local community’s perception and attitudes toward tourism effects focus on collective beliefs of local residents. Tourism development almost is associated with both negative and positive effects for local communities. These effects are generally categorized in terms of economic, sociocultural and environmental effects. Researchers have found that attitudes toward tourism and its impacts are influenced by several factors such as demographic characteristics; economic dependency on the tourism industry; attitudes toward environmental issues; and type, scale and scope of tourism development. In addition, Davis et al. (1988) believe that those groups of residents who are more aware of tourism use a different set of measures to evaluate tourism costs and benefits (Jackson, 2008). According to previous studies, residents’ satisfaction and attitudes toward tourism depend on their perception of tourism effects. For example, Perdue et al. (1990) in their study on assessment of tourism positive and negative effects in 16 societies in Colorado in the USA found that, if residents find tourism effects positive, then they will adopt positive attitudes toward tourism. Similarly, Chen (2000) is of the opinion that those who perceived tourism benefits rather than its costs have a stronger tendency to be as loyal supporters for tourism future development. Overall, residents who benefit from the tourism industry support it, while those who gain a little benefit or basically no benefit disagree with it. Pizam (1978) in one of the earliest studies on multiple stakeholders recognized that, in some cases, residents’ attitudes toward and perception of tourism effects are different from those of tourism businesses. Murphy (1983) and Lankford (1994) studied three groups, including residents, business sector and administration. Morphy recognized that these three groups are different in terms of their attitudes toward tourism effects. In addition, Lankford found that residents’ attitudes are different from businesses and officials’ attitudes, but businesses and officials to some extent have similar attitudes. These differences between attitudes can result in raising conflict. Therefore, it is necessary to consider attitudes and perceptions of all stakeholders (Byrd et al., 2009). Residents’ perceptions of tourism development and its consequences considerably affect tourism sustainable development. Min et al. (2012) in their study on residents’ attitudes and perceptions on tourism effects in Pingyao historical city found that residents do not have a high level of satisfaction, and there is a degree of dissatisfaction and opposition. In addition, residents participating in tourism had different attitudes toward tourism effects. In this connection, social development can be used for describing differences between residents’ perceptions. However, the common question that destinations face is how to plan for the optimal development of tourism while minimizing negative effects of this development for local residents. One approach is to supervise residents’ opinions on perceived effect as a tool for considering the community’s reaction to tourism planning and development process (Jackson, 2008). Henry and Jackson (1996), while mentioning that assessing environmental impact or project appraisal is one the key tools for environmental managers, emphasize appraisal techniques of this project are not limited to estimation of environmental effects, but also refers to assessment of physical, cultural, economic and sociostructural and managerial/employment impacts (Ritchie and Crouch, 2003).
Perception includes attitudes (Lindberg and Lawson, 2008) or reactions (Fredline and Folkner, 2000). Overall, a local community’s perception is a contributory factor to tourists’ satisfaction and is essential for the success of the tourism industry (Andriotis and Vaughan; cited in Fun et al., 2014). Tourists’ perception of destination competitiveness is a process by which individuals select, organize and interpret information to create a meaningful picture of the universe. When consumers experience a product, they involve their perception in a frame of experience that can influence their future decisions (Kotler et al., 1999). Perceived attractiveness, as approved by Kozak and Rimmington (1999), is among the important factors contributing to the overall satisfaction of the visitor. It is of note that destination attractiveness is the most important factor for intention to revisit. If the image is a key factor in selecting a destination for the first time, perceived attractiveness may be a key factor for repeated visits. After visiting a destination, perceived attractiveness, rather than destination image, influences intention to revisit (Um et al., 2006). Interpretation of destination competitiveness focuses on the level of price and volume of demand. However, several researchers have been looking for something beyond price competitiveness to conduct experiential studies such that to understand influences of other competitiveness variables (Andrades-Caldito et al., 2013). One of the contributory factors to tourists’ perception on destination competitiveness and attractiveness is the level of tourists’ involvement. Tourists’ involvement refers to the level of consumer’s participation in consumption process, and it, therefore, shows a measure that can influence tourists’ perception of destination experience and competitiveness (Gnoth, 1997). A tourist with a high level of involvement in tourism activities compared to a tourist with a low level of involvement is assumed to have a different perception. Tourists’ participation can play a key role in their perception on destination competitiveness, as well as influencing their decision-making, image and future behavioral intentions (Dwyer and Kim, 2003: cited in Zainuddin et al., 2013, p. 804). Undoubtedly, tourists’ interaction with overall environment of destination and internalization of what they see and feel can play key roles in their overall satisfaction of travel (Lue et al., 1993; Cited in Kirillova et al., 2014). In this regard, Müller et al. (2013) investigated the relationship between stakeholders’ perception of destination competitiveness and tourists’ satisfaction in winter tourism destinations and found a meaningful relationship between “satisfaction” and “competitiveness” in both the demand and supply sides.
4.9 Tourist’s loyalty
Tourist’s loyalty is actually a generalization of the concept of customer loyalty in the tourism field (Backman and Crompton, 1991). Tourist’s loyalty is defined in terms of three approaches: behavioral loyalty, attitudinal loyalty and a mix of both behavioral and attitudinal loyalties (Jacoby and Chestnut, 1978). Behavioral loyalty (Yoon and Uysal, 2005) refers to behavioral reactions such as revisit. Attitudinal loyalty implies tourists’ psychological reactions such as intention to visit a destination or recommend it to other potential tourists. Finally, as authors such as Backman and Crompton (1991) suggest, the mixed approach of loyalty refers to the integration of both behavior and attitudes. It means that a tourist with behavioral loyalty to a given destination tends to adopt positive attitudes toward that destination. However, as some researchers suggest, intention to revisit and recommendations to others are the most common methods for measuring tourist’s loyalty (Alcañiz et al., 2009). Lau and McKercher (2004) are of the opinion that, for most tourist destinations, repeated visitors are representative of a desired segment of the market. They intend to spend more time in a destination (Oppermann, 1998), and they prefer to consume more (Lehto et al., 2004), as well as having positive word-of-mouth (Oppermann, 2000; Shoemaker and Lewis, 1999).
As reported by Shoemaker and Lewis (1999), repeat visitors are cost-effective because less marketing cost is needed to absorb them compared to the new visitors. According to Mohaidin et al. (2017), a number of empirical studies have been recently conducted on visitors’ intentions to visit or revisit a destination. Intention to revisit is an indicator of tourist’s satisfaction rather than being a start point to decide on revisit (Um et al., 2006).
5. An integrated model of destination sustainable competitiveness
Problems and challenges resulted from the unsustainable development of tourism in the destinations are the reason for forming the doctrine of the current research. Based on the principles of sustainable development, this study focuses on destination competitiveness and aims at developing a model for sustainable competitiveness. Today, competitiveness is a fast-growing phenomenon among destinations. Because the clear evidence of mentioned competitiveness is destinations’ efforts toward attracting a more number of tourists, it is necessary to consider sustainability issue when analyzing destinations’ competitiveness. The objective of this study is to merge critical concepts of sustainable development, tourism development and competitiveness for proposing a framework to sustainable competitiveness. Using such a framework, it is possible to determine contributory factors in a destination’s sustainable competitiveness and their relationships. Figure 2 presents the key concepts of the study.
Following the sustainable tourism development principles, paying a simultaneous attention to economic, sociocultural and environmental dimensions are located in the center of competitiveness. In other words, destination competitiveness can be sustainable if is realized simultaneously in all dimensions. As Crouch and Ritchie (1999) argued, to be competitive, a destination’s tourism development must be sustainable in terms of all economic, sociocultural, environmental and political aspects. In their view, a competitive destination is able to increase tourism expenditure, to attract and satisfy visitors while enhancing the well-being of local communities. They also emphasize on preserving the natural capitals for future generations. It is compatible with Buhalis’s (2000) opinion who identified “enhancing the long-term prosperity of local people”, “maximizing visitors’ satisfaction”, “maximizing the profitability of local businesses” and “generating multiplier effects and optimizing tourism impacts” as four main objectives for a competitive destination. According to Cucculelli and Goffi (2015), it is also consistent with the view of Muller (1994) and Hunter (1995), who believe that a competitive destination establishes the right balance among different objectives, including “optimum satisfaction of guest requirement”, “subjective well-being of the residents”, “economic health”, “unspoilt nature” and “healthy culture”(p. 3). Adopting such an approach, Cucculelli and Goffi (2013, 2015) applied four indicators of “positive economic impacts”, “positive socio-cultural impacts”, “positive environmental impacts” and “tourists’ satisfaction” to investigate influences of sustainability on the competitiveness of small Italian “Destinations of Excellence”.
Based on previous views, we suggest a framework to investigate sustainable competitiveness in tourist destinations. As can be seen in Figure 1, this framework includes five main components which are as follows:
destination economic competitiveness;
destination sociocultural competitiveness;
destination environmental competitiveness;
destination’s sustainable policy-making and management; and
tourists’ satisfaction and behaviors.
Destination sustainable competitiveness is an outcome of competitiveness in economic, socio-cultural and environmental dimensions; sustainable policy and management; and tourists’ satisfaction and behaviors. Considering all these components together is crucial to establish destination development and competitiveness in a sustainable way. Economic competitiveness of the destination has significant impacts on its tourism competitiveness. Here, the economic component includes indicators such as tourism infrastructures and superstructures, tourism enterprises, service quality, financial supports, investment opportunities and positive economic impacts of tourism in terms of income, job opportunities, destination prosperity and community well-being. Destination sociocultural competitiveness includes indicators such as cultural attractions, hospitality, security, social carrying capacity and positive sociocultural impacts of tourism. Visiting sociocultural attractions is one of the primary motivations to travel around the world. As Ritchie and Crouch argued: “[…] the sociocultural appeal of a destination may override all other dimensions in determining its appeal” (2003, p. 5). Environmental competitiveness refers to destination ability to use natural resources and capitals to develop tourism for the present generation while maintaining these capitals and enhancing their quality for future generations. Indicators such as climate, natural attractions, transportation capacity, resource consumption, energy management and environmental cleanness must be considered when analyzing a destination’s environmental competitiveness. Another important factor in this regard, which is rarely considered in debates about destination competitiveness and sustainability, is the demand side of tourism. Tourists’ satisfaction and behaviors considerably influence destination competitiveness and its sustainability. The more tourists are environmentally conscious and responsible, the less negative impacts on the destination they have.
Despite the importance of the mentioned dimensions, “managing and controlling the tourism activity” (Cucculelli and Goffi, 2015, p. 2) is a key factor in creating and sustaining destination competitiveness. There are some prerequisites that should be provided at a macro level for a destination to be competitive (Andrades and Dimanche, 2017). Tourism vision, policies and plans established in a specific destination must be in accordance with sustainability principles. As Weldearegay (2017) argues, “tourism policy is an initial direction pointer to all the activities the tourism institutions endeavors in a given economy” (p. 3). Good management and governance are definitely among the prerequisites to reach sustainable development in any destination (Figure 3).
Considering the interests and costs of the present and future Stakeholders is among the issues located in the center of sustainable development. According to Manning (1999), sustainable tourism requires involving industry, tourists and host communities to act in determining values and indicators of sustainability (Mohaidin et al., 2017). Reviewing the relevent studies in this regard shows that stakeholders’ attitudes and perception of tourism effects considerably influence shaping their attitudes toward tourism development and consequently effect on destination competitiveness. Destination, where the tourism phenomenon happens, is not only a geographical place but also is an environment within which the most complex human interactions take form. These interactions include both daily interactions of residents and host–guest interactions; therefore, internal stakeholders, including residents, local businesses and governments, and their attitudes and performances, directly and indirectly, affect the attractiveness of a destination. Stakeholders’ attitudes toward positive and negative effects of tourism form their insight of tourism, which eventually affects their reaction to the tourism phenomenon and tourist acceptance. Moreover, what tourist perceives and his/her overall attitudes toward destination’s attractiveness extremely affect his/her loyalty and can provide an opportunity to revisit and positive word-of-mouth about the destination. This perception on attractiveness comes from tourist experiences of places, spaces and individuals in a destination. Finally, performance of local residents in terms of hospitality and support for tourism development or opposition and conflict, performance of businesses in terms of providing qualified products and services and customer-orienting or vice versa and governments’ performance through DMOs’ activities influence the overall performance of a destination and, finally, influence tourists’ perception on the overall attractiveness of a destination. This perception will be a base for subsequent reactions of tourists that affect their behavioral and attitudinal loyalty resulting in revisit and attracting new visitors. Therefore, internal stakeholders’ performance and tourists’ reactions are contributory factors to destination competitiveness. This process implies a type of competitiveness possessing both stability and sustainability. A proper model for destination sustainable competitiveness is illustrated in Figure 4.
Proposing any framework for sustainable tourism development and in particular for its sustainable competitiveness requires considering economic, sociocultural and ecological dimensions on the one hand, and considering all stakeholders participating in tourism process on the other hand. Incorporating all these issues provides bases to shape an integrated system of tourism. Lack of these considerations results in disturbing balance and, therefore, in collapsing this system and consequently, unsustainable development. To be sustainable in tourism competitiveness, a destination must be able to establish a proper balance among above-mentioned dimensions within a frame of sustainable policy and management. A truly competitive destination competes in establishing a green and local-based economy, to attract and satisfy responsible tourists, to create social welfare and to conserve natural capitals with social equity.
The model suggested in the present study can be applied by managers and policymakers in various destinations to investigate true competitiveness situation of their tourist destinations. It also can be theoretically a start point to raise further issues and studies on destination competitiveness by adopting a new sustainability approach.
What differentiates this model from previous ones is the sustainability approach to the competitiveness and taking all stakeholders of competition process into account. It has to be noted that there are various contributory factors to any sustainable competitiveness dimensions (e.g. economic, sociocultural, environmental and political) comprising specific attributes and indicators. Identifying these indicators and applying such a model to investigate sustainable competitiveness in tourist destinations can be deemed as future issues to be conducted. Certainly, this framework can be modified and adjusted to be compatible with the nature and circumstances of any kind of destinations located at any point in the world.
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About the authors
Dr Zahra Nadalipour is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Tourism at the University of Science and Culture, Tehran, Iran. Her areas of interest in research include tourism and travel planning, sustainable tourism, tourism competitiveness, hospitality and issues related to tourism management.
Dr Mohammad Hossein Imani Khoshkhoo is an Associate Professor in the Department of Tourism at the University of Science and Culture, Tehran, Iran. He also is the Head of the Iranian Cultural and Creative Industries Park. He received his PhD in Tourism from Manchester University, England, in 2003. His areas of interest in research include travel and tourism economy, marketing and management.
Dr Abdolreza Roknoddin Eftekhari is a Professor in the Department of Geography, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran. His areas of interest in research include geography and rural planning, spatial planning, tourism and sustainable development.