The purpose of this paper is to focus on social representations of Warsaw (Poland) as a tourist destination of 210 first visitors from seven EU and extra-EU countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, United Kingdom and United States of America) interviewed before and after their visit. In the framework of the social representations theory, the “cultural baggage”, rooted in the collective and social memory, forms anticipatory representations of the imagined places that may undergo transformations after the visit. How does this transformation occur?
The authors consider the transformation of social representations as detected by means of a self-administered questionnaire that comprised the following tools: scales to measure the strength of various information sources about Warsaw (school, literature, movies, songs, internet, press, tourist guides, documentaries, interpersonal communication and other); associative networks (de Rosa, 2002) with the stimulus word “Warsaw”; a list of adjectives describing the city and its centre, as well as a list of the most important places in Warsaw. The questionnaires were coded to ensure anonymity of participants while enabling the researcher to administer them for the second time (after the visit). According to the modelling approach to social representations (de Rosa, 2013a), the research was guided by three related hypotheses concerning transformation of social representations of Warsaw.
The results confirmed the hypotheses of potential changes in the representations that shift the focus from Warsaw as “communist” to “green” capital city, and of the role of the Polish language as a “communicative barrier” for recalling specific names of city-places after their visit.
Social representations exist in people’s minds, and they include images that are further interpreted (Howarth, 2011). Especially when visitors are asked about places, it is likely that they recall specific images, but not their names. Since the questionnaires required them to write down the answers, words often did not correspond to the volatile and dynamic images that the human mind creates. In spite of recalling a specific park or fountain, participants resorted to general categories and simply wrote “park” or “fountain”. However, this limitation is familiar to the majority of social psychological researchers and very difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. The new research directions launched to integrate the research line of field studies with investigations based on new media offer complementary insights and opportunities (de Rosa and Bocci, 2014).
Destination branding has numerous practical implications. According to Ekinci and Hosany (2006), developing efficient communication methods is crucial to launching a distinctive and attractive destination personality. Hosany et al. (2006) have demonstrated that personality traits are ubiquitous in consumers’ evaluations of tourism destinations and therefore promotional campaigns should emphasize the distinctive personality of tourism destinations, based on the emotional components of destination image. European capital cities compete for visitors in the mature and saturated market, where brand strength is positively related to tourism intensity (Mikulić et al., 2016).
Examining how social representations of a city are transformed by the visit from the perspective of the supra-disciplinary theory of Moscovici constitutes an original way to link imagery and tourist practices. The major cultural issues, such as history, language, art and traditions affect the theory and practice of urban tourism. For the first time, this theoretical framework is being used in case of a post-communist European destination such as Warsaw.
de Rosa, A. and Dryjanska, L. (2017), "Visiting Warsaw for the first time: imagined and experienced urban places", International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 321-340. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCTHR-07-2016-0074Download as .RIS
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