Residents as destination advocates: the role of attraction familiarity on destination image

Muhammet Kesgin (Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York, USA)
Rajendran S. Murthy (Saunders College of Business, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York, USA)
Linden W. Pohland (Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York, USA)

Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Insights

ISSN: 2514-9792

Article publication date: 12 March 2019

Issue publication date: 16 April 2019



Emphasizing the role of residents as destination advocates, the purpose of this paper is to investigate the influence of residents’ familiarity with, and, favorability of attractions on destination image.


A mixed methods research strategy was employed using 15 individual in-depth interviews and a survey questionnaire with a sample of n=364. The study utilizes an attraction familiarity index to classify respondents into four groups based on high, average, and low familiarity and examines the characteristics of each in the relationship between informational familiarity, experiential familiarity, and favorability and destination image.


The study reveals resident perceptions of attractions within the tourism product assembly framework and illustrates the positive relationship between the residents’ level of familiarity with, and favorability of visitor attractions and destination image. Further, the findings also demonstrate the significant role of demographic characteristics such as gender and length of residency in the area. The study findings suggest that temporary residents can function as destination advocates.

Research limitations/implications

Employees and students from a prominent northeastern university were sampled, representing local residents and temporary residents respectively. While appropriate and fairly representative of the target market for the research questions in this investigation, more work is required to replicate this study utilizing representative samples across different locations.

Practical implications

Evidence from the study indicates the importance of marketing to residents as they serve as destination advocates. In particular, the residents’ familiarity with and favorability of attractions is critical to positive destination image. The research offers insights into the identification of potential segments of residents that require special attention.


Limited existing research investigates the role of residents as destination advocates, especially in the context of destinations that lack a primary tourism attraction but have a well-balanced mix of attractions.



Kesgin, M., Murthy, R.S. and Pohland, L.W. (2019), "Residents as destination advocates: the role of attraction familiarity on destination image", Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Insights, Vol. 2 No. 1, pp. 55-74.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited


Scholars examine the marketing efforts of locations as destinations (Kumar and Kaushik, 2017; Zenker et al., 2017), cities (Hultman et al., 2016; Lucarelli and Berg, 2011) and places (Braun et al., 2013; Kemp et al., 2012). The role of residents as a key stakeholder in the curation of destination image is a recurring theme across these varied research efforts (Sharpley, 2014; Van Niekerk, 2014). Research asserts that collaboration, participation, and advocacy among all stakeholders, including residents, is vital to the success of a destination (Almeida-García et al., 2016; Garrod et al., 2012; Vollero et al., 2018). Surprisingly, limited research investigates residents’ involvement and engagement with destination brands (Insch and Stuart, 2015; Rehmet and Dinnie, 2013). Few studies examine the role of residents as “ambassadors of knowledge sharing” (Edwards et al., 2017) via online (Arsal et al., 2010) and offline platforms (Thompson et al., 2017). Overall, research notes the value of both local residents and temporary residents (Choi and Fu, 2018) as destination advocates and ambassadors and suggests that destination management organizations (DMOs) should utilize residents as destination advocates and information providers. Residents as information providers are especially important in the case of destinations without a major flagship attraction, or with limited comparative advantages (Hsu et al., 2004; Van Niekerk, 2014).

A prerequisite condition for destination advocacy is the ability of attractions, individually or in clusters, to draw visitors to the destination and contribute to residents’ quality of life (Benur and Bramwell, 2015; Uysal et al., 2016). Residents’ role is also important in the context of the visiting friends and relatives (VFR) market (Backer et al., 2017; Choi and Fu, 2018; Young et al., 2007). Recent evidence demonstrates the vital role of friends and relatives who live in the destination in pulling visitors to the destination and providing destination information (Thompson et al., 2017). Much of the extant research assumes that residents are knowledgeable about the destination’s attractions. However, research demonstrates that a significant number of attractions suffer from poor awareness among residents (Schroeder, 1996). In order to fulfill their role as information providers, residents must first be familiar with the local attractions.

There has been little empirical research that examines resident perceptions of tourist attractions and the role of attractions on quality of life perceptions and destination image (Lawton, 2005; Vollero et al., 2018). This study addresses this gap by examining the role of residents as destination advocates and investigating the relationship between residents’ familiarity with and favorability of attractions and destination image. In essence, this paper emphasizes the contribution of residents in enhancing the destination’s pulling power (Van Niekerk, 2014).

Literature review

Tourism destination development

“A nice place to live is a nice place to visit” exemplifies the relationship between the resident-tourist dyad (Jafari, 2012). Being a nice place to live is important for residents, whereas being a nice place to visit is important for tourists. While being a nice place to visit depends on destination-focused attributes, being a nice place to live depends on community-focused attributes (Uysal et al., 2016). Research shows that successful tourism development is associated with both destination and community focused attributes (Lawton, 2005; Merrilees et al., 2009; Uysal et al., 2016). There are four key determinants of destination success: destination components; location and accessibility; quality of visitor experience; and community support (Bornhorst et al., 2010). Arguably, destination success is related to the DMO’s performance. Similarly, success in tourism depends on three distinct, but interrelated areas: destination success, DMO success and community buy-in (Bornhorst et al., 2010). Therefore, destinations should be future oriented in their tourism development efforts requiring both destination and community focused attributes as they are common to both destination success and tourism success (Formica and Uysal, 2006; Rosentraub and Joo, 2009; Williams and McIntyre, 2012).

This study utilizes the Jansen-Verbeke (1986) supply-side classification scheme modeled after Rosentraub and Joo (2009) where destination components are categorized into three groups: primary, secondary and additional elements as shown in Figure 1 (Jansen-Verbeke, 1986; Rosentraub and Joo, 2009).

The total collection of attractions at a destination is conceptualized as its “tourism product assembly” (Benur and Bramwell, 2015). Research assesses the importance and performance of tourism product assembly components when determining a destination’s pulling power for visitors (Formica and Uysal, 2006) and enhancing the quality of life for locals (Garrod et al., 2012). Research demonstrates that primary destination components are critical determinants of resident and visitor perceptions. For e.g., cities rely on flagship attractions, referred to as primary components to become a successful tourist destination (Heeley, 2016). This study begins by identifying the flagship attractions in an area from the local residents’ perspective and reveals the familiarity levels of tourism product assembly components among residents:


What are the major attractions in the area from the local residents’ perspective?

Tourism growth in cities involves substantial resources (Zehrer et al., 2017). Cities need to possess rare features such as the designation of a top-tier city or have primary attractions in their portfolio to become a tourist destination (Heeley, 2016). Some cities are naturally endowed and advantageous in their level of distinctiveness and attractiveness while others need to strengthen their resource base to be considered a nice place to live and visit through developing a variety of activities and attractions resulting in improvements to residents’ and tourists’ quality of life (Benur and Bramwell, 2015; Formica and Uysal, 2006; Rosentraub and Joo, 2009). Cities invest in cultural attractions such as museums, theaters, sport complexes, and events (Gullion et al., 2015; Heeley, 2016). Through extensive revitalization plans, some cities aim to attract new businesses and entrepreneurs, members of the creative class, which form the human capital needed to fuel the tourism supply structure and economic growth (Merrilees et al., 2009). In achieving revitalization, the tourism industry is of main focus, calling for interaction between stakeholders in the tourism supply structure (Van Niekerk, 2014). This relationship is of importance because resources need to be utilized to their full potential, which occurs through the collaboration of multiple stakeholders. The development of primary attractions is highly complex due to the large number of components (Benur and Bramwell, 2015) and requires the local community’s buy-in, involvement, advocacy and support (Vollero et al., 2018).

Residents experience of the city as a tourist destination

The evaluation of destination- and community-focused attributes differs between tourists and local residents. For example Merrilees et al. (2009) show that community-focused attributes are more important to residents. Findings from Backer et al. (2017) indicate that like tourists, local residents also evaluate the destination at the functional and psychological levels. Investigating residents’ destination perceptions in North Dakota, Schroeder (1996) demonstrates the role and importance of residents’ perceptions of a destination, identifying three groups with different destination perceptions: most positive, average and least positive. The study shows that residents’ engagement with recreational and tourist activities in the state has positive effects on destination image. The study also indicates that residents who have positive perceptions have a strong tendency to recommend the destination to others. Residents who choose to travel to other states for recreation held the least positive perceptions and do not recommend the destination to others (Schroeder, 1996).

Lawton (2005) examines residents’ perceptions of, and attitudes toward, a set of tourist attractions in Australia, confirming the positive influence of tourist attractions on resident’s quality of life and the destination perception. Further, the construct of familiarity is significant for studying resident and visitor attitudes toward attractions and destinations (Baloglu, 2001; Prentice, 2004; Söderlund, 2002). Residents who are familiar with attractions exhibit positive association with the attractions’ and destinations’ image (Lawton, 2005; Schroeder, 1996). Much of the literature on familiarity is concerned with destination level analysis (Artigas et al., 2015; Milman and Pizam, 1995). In the literature the term “familiarity” refers to awareness (Milman and Pizam, 1995). Other studies relate familiarity to previous visitation. For e.g., Baloglu (2001) states that destination familiarity is not only based on past visitations (experiential familiarity) but also on exposure and knowledge of destination-related information (informational familiarity). Furthermore, Prentice (2004) notes several types of familiarity (such as proximate, self-directed and educational) in addition to informational familiarity. This study examines residents’ informational and experiential familiarity with museum attractions. Additionally, the study identifies museum popularity in comparison to other attractions and the favorability of museum experiences. Responses to these questions assess the performance of museums regarding awareness and image. Thus, the second research question addressed in the present study is:


What is the level of familiarity with, and, favorability of museum attractions and their popularity among different groups of residents?

Recently, Gullion et al. (2015) investigated local residents’ perceptions of further investments in cultural tourism development on local resident perceptions of quality of life in Indianapolis, Indiana. Notably, the study reveals that not all local residents support investments in cultural tourism. Specifically, those who indicated low levels of quality-of-life perceptions did not support investments in cultural attractions. The authors recommend that managers improve the local residents’ awareness of the benefits brought to the city by cultural tourism investments. The study shows the importance of community relations planning, involving and educating the community, and building community relations with local residents as part of DMO roles.

Research has emphasized the relationship between tourism development and its impact on residents’ quality of life and tourists’ destination experience (Uysal et al., 2016; Wheeler and Laing, 2008). However, limited research investigates the effect of tourism development on residents’ quality of life perceptions (Ridderstaat et al., 2016). Tourists and local residents may perceive a destination differently, primarily due to a tourists’ temporary stay at the destination (Merrilees et al., 2009). Studies show that the relative importance of destination components differs among tourists, local residents and other tourism stakeholders (Braun et al., 2013). For example, Stylidis et al. (2016) demonstrate that 90 percent of destination attributes are perceived significantly different among stakeholder groups. Residents may be of two types: those original to the location and those who moved from elsewhere (Freire, 2009). The length and quality of time experiencing a destination is considered as a major determinant of how locals and non-locals perceive the destination (Schroeder, 1996; Smith, 2015). Further, demographic characteristics such as age are shown to influence how destinations are experienced and perceived by different groups of residents (Martínez González et al., 2017). Therefore, the third research question is:


What is the role of familiarity with, and favorability of, museum attractions and socio-demographic characteristics in residents’ destination image?

Residents as destination advocates

Research studies have considered the destination advocacy, indicating the importance of the relationship between the tourist experience and positive destination perceptions leading to potential destination advocacy behavior (Kumar and Kaushik, 2017). Tourists constitute the primary target market of tourist destinations, but local residents as domestic tourists should not be omitted (Martínez González et al., 2017). Therefore, like tourist destination development, marketing to residents is also important to connect residents with a destination and its attractions. This facilitates residents’ appreciation of the positive characteristics of their community and helps capture their support as advocates (Gursoy and Rutherford, 2004). Local residents are a set of heterogeneous individuals often belonging to multiple stakeholder groups such as local businesses, employees and local community. Therefore, residents are the largest stakeholder in a destinations’ brand and can be beneficial to the development and promotion of the brand through advocacy and ambassadorship behavior.

Insch and Stuart (2015) identify factors influencing residents’ disengagement behavior from their city brands. The study shows a lack of familiarity and knowledge among interviewees toward the city brand as the primary reason for disengagement. Interviewees had difficulty correctly identifying the city’s current brand identity. More critically, this study demonstrates that discontentment with local authorities’ activities and pessimistic attitudes toward involvement causes residents to exhibit disengagement behavior toward city branding efforts. These findings show that though residents are recognized as active participants of place branding, their engagement continues to be at low levels. Other studies discuss the effectiveness of place brand communication and criticize use of the top-down approach rather than bottom-up efforts (Braun et al., 2014; Freire, 2009).

Evidenced by the VFR market, local residents can be tourists (Backer et al., 2017) and their engagement yields supplementary benefits, especially as they patronize restaurants, local accommodation, attractions and other tourist-related activities, contributing to tourism receipts, particularly when residents accompany their guests, thereby increasing the economic impact (Young et al., 2007). Destination planners need to recognize the salience of local residents and their economic impact on individual attractions and the tourism economy as a whole. The economic benefits are multiplied when local residents use word-of-mouth marketing, one of the most influential information sources, to actively promote the destination to other residents, current visitors and future visitors (Litvin et al., 2008). Residents identification with destination attractions, will increase the likelihood that local residents will advocate for their destination to inbound tourists (Palmer et al., 2013).

The growing emphasis on local residents as destination advocates stresses their integral role in destination marketing and branding (Braun et al., 2013). Marketing to local residents encourages residents to be familiar with visitor attractions in their destination (Bornhorst et al., 2010; Young et al., 2007). Then, enlisting local residents as destination advocates may enhance destination performance, justifying the need for interaction between individual attractions, local residents and all stakeholder groups, known as the stakeholder approach (Sharpley, 2014). Though positive benefits are derived, destinations need to bear in mind that these stakeholders are not paid and their engagement in destination branding depends on how the brand is communicated to them. This requires the destination to employ effective communication and assess and monitor local residents’ engagement on a consistent basis (Sartori et al., 2012). Destination advocacy enhances performance if the economic gain is enticing, encouraging local residents to engage with and welcome visitors to the destination (Freire, 2009; Hultman et al., 2016; Insch and Stuart, 2015; Martínez González et al., 2017; Sartori et al., 2012). Thus, deep identification with the destination and positive feelings will lead to gains in local resident participation at local attractions (Palmer et al., 2013; Van Niekerk, 2014). Therefore, local residents are vital to promote attractions to individuals in their social network, current visitors to the destination and potential future visitors as local destination experts and information providers (Backer et al., 2017; Choi and Fu, 2018; Garrod et al., 2012).


Study setting

The study is set in one of the largest cities in New York (NY) state and welcomes over two million visitors annually. The city’s tourism supply structure is composed of cultural, sport, and amusement attractions; physical characteristics; and additional elements supporting the tourism infrastructure (Rosentraub and Joo, 2009). The city has various cultural attractions including a nationally recognized children’s museum, cultural museums for adults, a science museum and highly regarded art galleries. Furthermore, the city has several theatres, multiple sporting venues, a zoo and an amusement park. Of the numerous seasonal festivals, an international music festival in summer is considered among the best in the state ( The city contains a wealth of physical characteristics, including waterfalls, beaches, and a state park. Additionally, the city offers numerous full-service hotels, inns, bed and breakfast as well as motels ( The city’s many restaurants, bistros and cafes feature a wide range of culinary styles and ethnic flavors (

Research design

This study employed a mixed methods strategy to add rigor to the research design. In the first phase, semi-structured interviews were conducted using an interview aid with open-ended questions, which included probes to solicit further details. The topics addressed during the interviews included: places the interviewee would take visitors to the city; facilitating and constraining factors of visitation to visitor attractions in the city; the city as a place to live and visit; and use of discretionary time. The researchers aimed to maximize diversity among the interview participants on the basis of demographic characteristic. To ensure a diverse interview sample, and facilitate saturation in the responses, a total of 15 participants were interviewed and ranged from 17 to 40 min in length. During the interviews, a digital recorder was used with the consent of the participant. Table I shows the profile of interview participants, demographic characteristics, popular attractions, familiarity with and favorability of attractions and destination image.

Guided by the interviews, a questionnaire survey was designed and included primarily closed-ended questions with two open-ended questions for additional input. To identify the most popular activities and attractions in the city, respondents were provided a short scenario and asked to list places they would take visitors in the area. Respondents were asked to indicate their agreement with three destination image statements using a five-point Likert scale (Artigas et al., 2015; Lawton, 2005). To investigate residents’ familiarity with, and favorability of attractions, the study selected six local museums as cultural attractions for this study. The six museums were selected because they were featured in the city’s official visitor guide distributed by the primary tourism promotion agency of the county. The familiarity and favorability measurements were adopted from Andreasan and Kotler (2008).

A university located in the city was chosen for the survey data collection. The entire population of students, faculty, and staff were invited to participate in the study. The researchers acknowledge that this sample is not fully representative of the city’s residents, however, college students are the current and future core visitors of cultural attractions. Further, highly educated individuals are most likely to visit museums. It could be argued that some students and/or employees do not have similar levels of knowledge of the destination, however, residents and temporary residents (such as students or new employees) still serve as information providers, specifically for their social networks. This is particularly true for the VFR market. Further, students typically spend between three and five years in the city and in a sense represent a captive audience for receiving marketing information on attractions. The state of NY also considers anyone to be a permanent resident if they spend more than 183 days in a calendar year in the state ( Furthermore, literature provides support for viewing temporary residents as sojourners, lending further support to their role as destination experts (Lee et al., 2008). This reinforces the need to consider residents as expert sources of information. To avoid any potential bias in the data, the permanent addresses and current addresses of participants were examined to further classify all participants as temporary and permanent residents.

The survey was administrated using the Qualtrics online survey platform. The survey participants were recruited utilizing the distribution function of the Qualtrics platform, e-mails and visits by researchers to various outlets on campus to ask students to voluntarily participate in the study. Those who accepted to participate were provided the link to the survey. Data collection lasted approximately 45 days beginning with a pilot test of the survey. A total of 374 questionnaire surveys were completed. Ten surveys were eliminated due to missing data resulting in 364 usable cases. Respondents were 60 percent female and greater than two-thirds of participants were age 40 or younger (66 percent). In total, 60 percent were permanent residents of the county and more than half were unmarried (56 percent) and having lived in the area for more than five years (56 percent). A majority of participants held at least a bachelor’s degree (73 percent). Table VIII lists the full demographic profile of the sample. SPSS 22 was used for all quantitative analyses. The study employed descriptive and inferential statistical analysis. Direct quotations supporting the quantitative results from the open-ended responses are used for illustration.


Major attractions in the area

The survey asked participants to list up to five attractions or activities (RQ1) to which they would take a visitor to the area. The total number of items listed was 1,584. Table II captures the frequency (0–5 attractions or activities) mentioned by the participants. Whilst a majority of participants (70 percent) stated five most popular attractions or activities, nine participants did not list any.

Table III shows the supply-side classification of the mentioned attractions by total frequency and number of mentions by participants from zero to five times. In total, 117 participants mentioned one cultural attraction, 89 mentioned two cultural attractions and 48 participants mentioned at least three cultural attractions. The majority of the participants (70 percent) included at least one cultural attraction. Physical characteristics were mentioned at least one time by 77 percent of participants and 50 percent of participants referred to at least two physical characteristics. Of the 1,584 total mentions, 37 percent were from the physical characteristics category (n=588), followed by 28 percent from the cultural attractions category. The third most popular category was secondary elements (n=311) accounting for 19 percent of the total mentions.

In total, 80 percent of total mentions were from the primary elements. The primary elements were represented evenly between activity place (49 percent) and leisure setting (51 percent). Cultural attractions such as museums, art galleries and theaters, were considered the most important activity places. Amusement attractions such as festivals, zoos and theme parks were also considered among popular attractions. A variety of local festivals were among the most popular activities in the area. Sport facilities such as a baseball field, hockey arena, and golf and country clubs were also mentioned as activity places. As part of the leisure setting, physical characteristics such as the lakefront, waterfalls, state parks, local natural parks, canals and beaches were the most popular settings mentioned. Social and cultural characteristics such as farmers markets were also mentioned by participants. Secondary elements accounted for 20 percent of mentions and included catering facilities such as restaurants, wineries, breweries and distilleries. Shopping facilities were also mentioned consisting of grocery stores, malls and local gift shops. Additional elements such as the local tourism promotion office and tourism information centers were also mentioned by some participants.

Familiarity with, and favorability of museum attractions in the area

Table IV compares familiarity and favorability ratings of the six museums (RQ2). On average, all museums had higher favorability ratings, ranging from M=3.85 to M=4.35, than their familiarity ratings ranging from M=2.66 to M=3.61. The highest favorability and familiarity scores were not from the same museums, whereas the lowest familiarity and favorability scores were from the same museum.

Table V compares the average mean scores of familiarity and favorability among participants on various demographic characteristics. Women (M=3.54 and M=4.32) had significantly higher average familiarity, t (319)=4.902, p=0.009 and average favorability, t (104)=2.633, p=0.000 compared to men (M=3.07 and M=3.71). As can be seen from the table, overall the older the participant, the higher their familiarity and favorability scores, though the Generation X (M=4.45) cohort had higher favorability scores than Baby Boomers (M=4.48). The results of the ANOVA and post hoc tests confirmed the significance of these differences F (3, 306)=82.209, p=0.000 and favorability scores F (3, 966)=19.650, p=0.000. Generation Z (M=3.28) had significantly lower favorability scores than Baby Boomers (M=4.48) and Generation X (M=4.55). In the case of familiarity, the score for Generation Z (M=2.65) was significantly lower than the scores of the Generation Y (M=3.25), Generation X (M=3.95) and Baby Boomer (M=4.00) cohorts. Married participants had higher familiarity and favorability scores. T-tests confirmed that the difference in their scores was significant for both familiarity, t (313)=20.651, p=0.000 and favorability, t (100)=10.005, p=0.001.

The influence of employment status is noteworthy. Full time employees had higher familiarity and favorability scores than students. Results indicated that the differences in their scores were significant for both familiarity, t (318)=32.350, p=0.000, and favorability, t (103)=31.198, p=0.000. Familiarity and favorability scores were also significantly different among participants by their permanent residency. Overall, participants from the same county and state had higher ratings. ANOVA and post hoc tests confirmed that the differences in familiarity scores, F (3, 318)=53.681, p=0.000, and favorability scores, F (3, 102)=15.044, p=0.016, were significant. The participants from the county had significantly higher familiarity scores (M=3.85) and favorability scores (M=4.35) than their counterparts. Finally, the results also indicate that length of residency also plays a significant role in participants’ familiarity scores, F (3, 313)=93.881, p=0.000, and favorability scores, F (3, 100)=23.202, p=0.000. Participants who resided in the city for more than five years had significantly higher familiarity scores (M=4.00) than all counterparts with scores ranging from M=2.15 to M=2.74. Participants who resided in the city for more than five years had significantly higher favorability scores (M=4.42) than participants who resided one to three years (M=3.08) and less than a year (M=2.45).

The role of attractions familiarity and destination image

Table VI shows the summary statistics from the three questions related to destination image (RQ3). The mean scores ranged from 4.21 to 3.53 on a five-point Likert-scale. Overall, the city is rated high as nice place to live, whereas the city is rated less favorably as a nice place to visit.

The composite mean score of destination image is used in further analysis to compare group differences regarding the familiarity index, explained below and socio-demographic characteristics. The study utilized a three-step approach to measure familiarity. First, residents rated their familiarity with six museums (informational familiarity). The percentage of residents who never heard of each museum differed significantly among the six museums ranging from 12 to 39 percent. Following Baloglu (2001), residents who indicated “heard of” or “know a little bit” were assigned a score of 1 and categorized in the low-familiarity group. The high-familiarity group was assigned a score of 2, which consists of residents who indicated “know a fair amount” or “know very well.” Second, respondents were asked to report how many times they visited each museum (experiential familiarity). This dimension classified respondents in three groups: non-visitors, one-time visitors and repeat visitors (two or more visits) and were assigned scores of 0, 1 and 2, respectively. Familiarity with each museum and the previous number of visits to each museum were summed for each respondent to form a familiarity index: low familiarity (scores 1–6), medium familiarity (scores 7–12) and high-familiarity (scores 13–24).

The largest group, high familiarity, consisted of 42 percent (n=151) of the sample whereas the medium familiarity group consisted of 28 percent (n=103), and the low familiarity group consisted of 30 percent (n=110). Table VII lists the summary of descriptive and ANOVA statistics regarding destination image by familiarity groups. The high familiarity group had the most favorable destination image M=4.25 (SD=0.79). By comparison, the low familiarity and medium familiarity groups rated destination image with lower scores M=3.39 (SD=0.94) and M=3.79 (SD=0.80), respectively. The assumption of homogeneity of variances was tested and satisfied via the Levene’s F test, F (3, 359)=24.485, p<0.001. Post hoc tests confirmed that the differences were significant between the high familiarity group and the other two groups and between medium familiarity group and low familiarity group. Results of ANOVA and post hoc tests indicated that when local residents, F (2, 194)=11.625, p<0.000 and temporary residents F (2, 141)=13.562, p<0.000 were analyzed separately, the differences between familiarity groups were significant, similar to the combined sample, further supporting the significant role of temporary residents as destination advocates.

Table VIII exhibits the mean scores of the familiarity index and destination image based on demographic characteristics. Female residents indicated more favorable destination image scores (M=4.03). The vast majority of females were in the medium and high familiarity groups (82 percent). By comparison, men had a lower destination image score (M=3.63) and two-thirds of men were in the medium and high familiarity groups (65 percent). The independent samples t-test (not equal variance) indicated a statistically significant difference in gender groups, t (251)=−3.717 p<0.001. Thus, women were associated with a significantly higher destination image than men in this study. Baby Boomers (M=4.43) and Generation X (M=4.15) had significantly higher destination image scores than the Generation Y (M=3.72) and Generation Z (M=3.56) cohorts, F (3, 310)=10.744 p<0.001. The majority of both Baby Boomers (85 percent) and Generation X (73 percent) respondents were in the high familiarity group. By comparison, marital status t (317)=−5.352 p<0.001 also resulted in significant differences, indicating higher destination image among married respondents (M=4.17) than never married respondents (M=3.62). The majority of married respondents were also in the high-familiarity group (73 percent). Respondents in the high school group (M=3.50) had lower destination image ratings than respondents in the undergraduate (M=3.88) and graduate (M=4.10) groups. This difference in education status groups was significant F (2, 322)=11.366 p<0.001. The difference in the mean scores between full-time employees (M=4.21) and full-time students (M=3.54) was also significant t (320)=−6.717 p<0.001. Almost all full-time employees were in the medium and high familiarity groups (95 percent). The influence of permanent residency was also significant, F (3, 322)=13.200 p<0.001. Respondents who reside in the county (M=4.06) and state (M=3.90) rated the destination image higher than those respondents whose permanent residency was in another state (M=3.29) or abroad (M=2.94). In total, 76 percent of respondents who resided in the area more than five years were in the medium and high familiarity groups. Low familiarity constituted the majority of the respondents who resided in the area less than a year (77 percent). The destination image of those respondents who resided in the area more than five years (M=4.17) was significantly, F (95, 148)=17.029 p<0.001, higher than those respondents whose length of residency was less than a year (M=3.19), 1–3 years (M=3.60) and 4–5 years (M=3.61).

Finally, local residents and temporary residents may have significantly different views of the destination and differing familiarity levels. To test this, we conducted an independent sample t-test splitting the participants by residency. No significant differences were found which confirms our original decision to analyze the data together, which is consistent with the recommendations of Lee et al. (2008). Further, the length of time spent in the city positively impacts the city image (Simpson and Siguaw, 2008). For clarity and rigor, Tables VII and VIII provide analyses based on temporary and permanent residency classifications.


This study examined residents’ perception of destination image of a large metropolitan city as a nice place to live and visit and provided information about the three core components of destination success: attraction offerings, marketing effectiveness and quality of visitor experiences. Residents, both local and temporary, are integral to the destination brand (Freire, 2009) and their positive attitude is essential to becoming a successful destination. Successful destinations provide visitors and residents satisfactory and enjoyable visitation experiences through their attraction offerings (Bornhorst et al., 2010).

Responding to the first research question, the majority of the popular attractions to take visitors are primary destination components in the leisure setting and activity place categories (Rosentraub and Joo, 2009). Physical characteristics are the most favorite attractions under the leisure setting, whereas cultural attractions are the most favorite attractions under the activity place. Catering and shopping-related components also play an important role (Formica and Uysal, 2006; Smith, 2015). The results show that despite the popularity of destination’s natural and cultural attractions, a combination of destination components constitute the destination’s tourism product assembly. Consistent with the literature, sport and amusement attractions, and especially festivals are among the most important components (Derrett, 2003; Rosentraub and Joo, 2009) as are the physical and social environment (Campelo et al., 2014; Smith, 2015). Although the city lacks a primary attraction, it has an extensive supply of destination components, as previously demonstrated. Through utilizing the existing tourism supply structure to its fullest potential, the city can increase the drawing power of the destination, thus attracting new residents and tourists to the city.

The results show that attractions provide quality visitor experiences and do not have image problems, rather awareness problems as they are not known by all visitors, answering the second research question. The high levels of unfamiliarity with some of the museum attractions indicate the need to improve marketing effectiveness. Some sample quotations are provided for illustration. The profile of each interviewee can be found in Table I using the corresponding identification number:

The city does not market itself well. A lot of potential […] needs to visit with someone who knows the hidden gems


I am not sure if the city is known outside the region. 50/50 chance of people knowing it


Responding to the third research question, a majority of the respondents perceive the city as a nice place to live and visit with a variety of attractions. Respondents rate the city higher in terms of a place to live rather than as a place to visit. This may be attributed to an issue of perception due to the lack of a flagship attraction. The results suggest that the destinations’ residents hold a favorable perception of quality of life, also evidenced in the comments from interview respondents:

The city doesn’t really have much to pull other people to visit but it’s got plenty to do for people that are already here, not just limited to museums


I love the city. I moved here as an undergraduate student and am still here 10 years later. There is something for everyone and I encourage all efforts to support tourism here


I love the city, but do not think it’s a destination for vacation. Good for family and friends to visit for day trips


Results show an association between destination image, familiarity with and favorability of visitor attractions, which matches findings observed in earlier studies (Lawton, 2005; Schroeder, 1996). Age, origin and length of residency in the area have significant influence on residents’ destination image (Smith, 2015; Stylidis et al., 2016; Williams and McIntyre, 2012). For example, in terms of age and length of residency in the area, the vast majority of those who perceive the destination positively are local residents, Baby Boomers, Generation Y, or those had resided in the area for five or more years. A majority of those who have permanent residency in the county and state responded favorably to the destination appearance question. These results are likely due to residents’ longer length of residency and better quality of experience with the visitor attractions and destination attributes. One respondent (9) revealed how various personal factors may be influential: “A lot of it being [dependent] on the person and what they like to do, there are people from all over the world who have never fully explored [the city] itself,” but also possible barriers to experience available attractions at the destination: “How would it be easier […] to get them to go to the attractions or events if they do not know about [them]? A lot of the ongoing and fun events are mostly for people who are 21 and over […]” This finding supports past research wherein, the evaluators’ characteristics (i.e. the length and quality of their experiences with visitor attractions), and various destination attributes are major determinants of destination image (Smith, 2015).

It is apparent that the city performs better in community-based attributes such as social capital than it does in business creativity-based attributes. As one respondent commented, the city is perceived as a family destination: “It is a great destination for kids and great in the summer time especially for families traveling with children” (15). The results indicate a need to improve the perceptions of those who are single and belong to Generation Y. These findings further support previous research (Braun et al., 2013; Gullion et al., 2015) and suggest that it is important to assess residents’ perceptions of destination mix based on various characteristics. This also accords with earlier observations (e.g. Simpson and Siguaw, 2008), which show that residential status and age are critical predictors of destination image.


Theoretical implications

Similar to Benur and Bramwell (2015) and Vollero et al. (2018), the first aim of this paper was to examine the local residents’ perspective of the major attractions in the area and the level tourist destination development. The paper thus considers destinations’ progress toward becoming an economic engine and establishment of critical destination components and stable relationships with local residents to enhance community well-being. The second aim of the paper stressed that familiarity with tourism experiences play a critical role in determining residents’ destination image and increasing attractions familiarity helps strengthen the relationship residents’ have with their destination (Artigas et al., 2015; Insch and Stuart, 2015; Lawton, 2005). The third aim of this study was to examine the role of attractions familiarity on destination image. The results show that the destination image is highly positive especially for families and baby boomers and temporary residents. The evidence from this study is consistent with other research in that residents’ destination image is positively related to the level of familiarity with, and favorability of visitor attractions at the destination (Baloglu, 2001; Gullion et al., 2015; Hahm and Severt, 2018; Milman and Pizam, 1995; Prentice, 2004; Schroeder, 1996; Söderlund, 2002).

Much of the literature on familiarity is concerned with destination-level analysis. Our results contribute to theory with regard to the role of attraction familiarity on destination image, while also providing strategic and tactical directions to managers in the tourism industry. Unlike other studies, our study has also identified that temporary residents can function as destination advocates. This illustrates the importance of their familiarity with the attractions at the destination. Thus, our study further supports the idea of community marketing in the context of destination management to leverage residents’ commitment to and advocacy for the destination. As noted below, some destinations are encouraging residents to advocate for their destination through specifically designed programs. The findings of this paper will be of interest to destination managers. The results are encouraging for destination managers as residents perceive the city as a nice place to live. From a managerial perspective, it is of paramount importance to market and build awareness of the destination’s attractions to the temporary resident population and the permanent residents. The results of this study indicate the following several practical implications.

Practical implications

This study has identified the critical role of residents’ knowledge utilization of destination components to direct visitors in the VFR market. Managers should note that the destination is perceived favorably on two success requirements, the availability of the attractions and the quality of the experience at these attractions. However, the results indicate that this is not necessarily complemented by marketing efforts, revealing the need for improved and coordinated efforts across the population. Specifically, marketing material and content should emphasize both informational and experiential information as residents evaluate the quality of the experience vicariously for visitations. A potential path to implementation of this experiential information is to add experiential information through the use of vicarious learning tools. Video tours, virtual walkthroughs and encouraging prior visitors to post videos and photos of the attractions are recommended. Despite high favorability of visitor attractions, greater efforts are needed to improve visitor communication and marketing. Irrespective of the target segment, this is best achieved through collaborative marketing. The study demonstrates the importance of marketing and branding to residents, in addition to organizations and visitors. Residents’ engagement with destination is noted in extant research as a reason for destination success (Artigas et al., 2015; Freire, 2009; Hsu et al., 2004; Insch and Stuart, 2015; Van Niekerk, 2014). Managers should note that lack of familiarity is found to be the primary reason for residents’ disengagement with destinations in our study. Therefore, increasing awareness and familiarity of the attractions among the resident population should be the first step in engaging residents.

Managers may note that continued efforts are needed to make the destination and its attractions accessible to their residents. Collaborative marketing techniques draw visitation to more than one attraction and can help lesser-known attractions gain further traction through partnerships with more well-known, yet complementary visitor attractions. For example, destination cards are used to provide added value in the form of free or discounted attraction visitation. Such programs may enhance the visibility of individual attractions and reduce awareness problems, which can be more powerful through interpersonal influence (Angeloni, 2016). As suggested, developing resident-focused marketing programs, visitor attractions can greatly improve their drawing power for local residents and their visitors to the destination. Furthermore, there is a need for more marketing efforts aimed at Generation Y and Z (students) regarding both the destination and individual visitor attractions. These results clearly demonstrate that resident-focused programs are indispensable for both current and future residents. For example, visitor attractions may develop programs targeting specific segments (e.g. college student events with free or reduced ticket prices) and packaging by DMOs. At the macro level, the findings also suggest that local authorities should continue to invest in improving the business creativity attributes to meet the expectations of this demographic segment (Generation Y and non-family). As anecdotally suggested in the literature, managers should note that attractions and destinations are not likely to be fully experienced on the first visit. Multiple visits should be encouraged so visitors’ knowledge can be complemented with direct experience to the attractions and the destination.

Residents are the most important information sources for the VFR market in particular. Literature notes the importance of residents as the most influential information source, even more than online sources such as travel blogs and review sites (Thompson et al., 2017). Therefore, our findings emphasize the need for DMOs to target residents and develop a comprehensive understanding of how information is acquired by the residents. Destinations without flagship attractions are especially challenged, reflecting a greater need for marketing effectiveness. While they are not likely to benefit from the reputation of a well-known destination or a flagship attraction, they can utilize their residents as advocates. Residents buy-in is critical to the success of such destinations and attractions.

There is a definite need for residents to become more familiar with their destination and its attractions, as this will improve destination image. There are several examples of programs that encourage destination ambassadorship, such as TidyTowns in Ireland with the aim of residents helping improve the environment to make their community a better place to live, work, and visit. The Colorado Tourism Office recruits tourism professionals to make presentations to local residents about the benefits of tourism in the state, thereby encouraging behavior demonstrated by destination ambassadors. Local residents can receive training and certification to be a tourism ambassador through Visit Wales, which encourages commitment to the community. The “Be Berlin” campaign in Germany is another successful effort in which residents expressed their feelings with the destination brand on a personal level (Braun et al., 2013). Finally, the York Residents Festival allows local residents the opportunity to celebrate the European city, which is a popular tourism destination and a great place to live.

Together these examples outline the use of destination advocacy and ambassador programs in building community relations and marketing the destination to tourists. It therefore is suggested that local authorities and DMOs develop and enrich such programs. Research shows that buy-in tends to be higher if the efforts are bottom-up (Braun et al., 2014; Freire, 2009). Finally, it is also important to reiterate that destination advocates are not paid for their service, so they should be recognized for their contributions. For, e.g. destination and attraction managers may organize special events to show their appreciation to these destination advocates. These events and efforts, help encourage local residents to be more receptive of tourists and promote their city and its attractions and ultimately contribute to destinations branding efforts.

Limitations and future research

Our findings should be viewed in the light of several limitations. The sample was appropriate and fairly representative within the intended population targeting different generational cohorts, however, more research is needed before generalizing these findings across multiple destinations. Further, it could be argued that the sample may not ideally represent the resident population of the area due to the sampling strategy and the cross-sectional nature of the study. Nevertheless, the study offers an opportunity to expand the limited research focused on residents’ perceptions of attractions and destination image. We invite scholars to explore this domain employing longitudinal data. More research is required to improve the knowledge of residents’ perceptions of places as visitor or tourist destinations. Specifically, research is needed to examine both the tourist and resident perspectives in the same study. Future work should explore other antecedents and consequences of familiarity on destination image. For example, it would be interesting to assess the effects of experience-seeking on residents’ visit intentions to attractions. It appears that resident knowledge is a key contributor of positive destination image. Therefore, its role as mediator of destination image in future research should be encouraged (Artigas et al., 2015). Finally, our results should be interpreted within the context of the knowledge-attitude-behavior framework. It is assumed that those who are familiar with attractions and have positive destination image would recommend the destination to others and contribute to the word-of-mouth promotion of the destination and its attractions. Therefore, a future study that assesses resident intentions as part of the study is warranted.


Destination components

Figure 1

Destination components

Profile of the interview participants

ID Age Gender Status Hometown Length of time in city Marital status Popular attractions Familiarity and favorabilitya (context of museums) Place perceptionb
 1 19 Male Student State 3 months Single Cultural, catering, and shopping attractions Low familiarity, average favorability Positive
 2 21 Female Student State 4 years In a relationship Cultural and catering facilities, and physical characteristics Moderately high familiarity, low favorability Positive
 3 53 Female Staff County 53 years Domestic partner Cultural, amusement, catering, and shopping attractions, and physical characteristics High familiarity, moderately high favorability Highly positive
 4 60 Female Staff Other state 13 years Married Cultural, catering, and amusement attractions, and physical characteristics Moderately low familiarity, average favorability Positive
 5 20 Male Student County 20 years Single Cultural and catering facilities Low familiarity, average favorability Somewhat positive
 6 51 Male Staff International 30 years Married Cultural, sport, amusement, and catering facilities, and physical characteristics Average familiarity, average favorability Somewhat positive
 7 34 Male Faculty International 4 years Married Cultural and catering attractions, and physical characteristics Moderately low familiarity, average favorability Positive
 8 37 Male Faculty State 37 years Married Cultural, sport, amusement, and catering facilities, and physical characteristics Moderately high familiarity, average favorability Highly positive
 9 21 Male Student State 2 years Single Sport, amusement, and catering facilities Low familiarity, average favorability Positive
10 28 Male Student International 4 years Married Cultural attractions and physical characteristics Moderately low familiarity, moderately high favorability Somewhat positive
11 18 Male Student County 18 years Single Cultural, sport, amusement, and catering facilities, and physical characteristics High familiarity, high favorability Positive
12 37 Male Staff Other State 3 years Married Cultural attractions and physical characteristics Moderately high familiarity, moderately low favorability Highly positive
13 28 Female Staff State 10 years Single Cultural and catering facilities Moderately high familiarity, average favorability Positive
14 32 Female Staff State 32 years Married Catering facilities and physical characteristics Moderately low familiarity, average favorability Highly positive
15 22 Male Student State 8 months Single Cultural, amusement, and catering facilities Moderately low familiarity, moderately low favorability Positive

Notes: aFamiliarity and favorability: low, moderately low, average, moderately high, high; bplace perception: somewhat positive, positive, highly positive

Number of attraction mentions by frequency and percentage of the sample

Number of mentions Frequency Percentage of the sample
5 attractions/activities 253 70
4 attractions/activities 45 12
3 attractions/activities 35 10
2 attractions/activities 14 4
1 attraction/activity 6 2
0 attractions/activities 9 2

Supply-side classification of mentioned attractions

Key destination components Number of mentions None 1 2 3 4 5 Total
Primary elements (80% of mentions) Activity place 624
 Cultural attractions 110 117 89 40 4 4 441
 Sport attractions 322 36 4 0 0 0 44
 Amusement attractions 254 80 22 3 3 0 139
Leisure setting 642
 Physical characteristics 86 97 105 52 15 7 588
 Socio-cultural features 315 42 4 1 0 0 54
Secondary elements (19.6%)  Catering and shopping attractions 145 146 56 8 6 1 311
Additional elements (0.4%)  Additional elements 355 7 0 0 0 0 7

Familiarity and favorability mean scores of museums

Museums Measures n Mean SD
Museum 1 Familiarity 337 2.89 1.592
Favorability 189 4.23 1.046
Museum 2 Familiarity 337 3.61 1.225
Favorability 230 4.34 0.948
Museum 3 Familiarity 335 3.32 1.377
Favorability 220 4.28 0.966
Museum 4 Familiarity 337 3.39 1.184
Favorability 250 4.45 0.994
Museum 5 Familiarity 337 3.55 1.375
Favorability 230 4.33 0.950
Museum 6 Familiarity 336 2.66 1.214
Favorability 135 3.85 1.089

Comparison of familiarity and favorability scores among demographic groups

Museums Measures Familiarity Favorability
Gender Male 3.07 3.71
Female 3.54 4.32
Age Generation Z 2.65 3.28
Generation Y 3.25 3.96
Generation X 3.95 4.55
Baby Boomers 4.00 4.48
Marital status Never married 2.90 3.70
Married 3.90 4.39
Education High school 2.66 3.52
Undergraduate 3.32 3.93
Graduate 3.80 4.42
Employment status Full-time student 2.78 3.52
Full-time employee 3.96 4.44
Permanent resident The county 3.85 4.35
Other counties in the state 2.82 3.50
Other states 2.35 3.08
Abroad 2.61 1.72
Residency length in the city Less than a year 2.15 2.45
1–3 years 2.65 3.08
4–5 years 2.74 3.58
More than 5 years 4.00 4.42

Summary statistics of destination image variables

n Mean SD SE mean
The city is a nice place to live 364 4.21 0.998 0.052
The city is a nice place to visit 364 3.85 1.029 0.054
The city has many attractions 364 3.53 1.115 0.059
Composite score 364 3.86 0.918 0.048

Destination image by familiarity groups

Total sample Residents Temporary residents
Groups n Image SD Post hoc n Image SD Post hoc n Image SD Post hoc
1. Low familiarity 110 3.39 0.940 1<2, 3 17 3.21 0.978 1<2, 3 73 3.33 0.950 1<3
2. Medium familiarity 103 3.79 0.805 2>1
49 3.95 0.806 2>1 52 3.62 0.789 3<4
3. High familiarity 151 4.25 0.796 3>1, 2 131 4.22 0.826 3>1 19 4.47 0.512 3>1, 2
Total 364 3.86 0.918 197 4.07 0.879 144 3.59 0.920

Destination image and familiarity groups by demographic characteristics

Demographic profile Sample profile (n=364) (%) Familiarity index Destination image Low (n=110) (%) Medium (n=103) (%) High (n=151) (%)
Male 40 1.96 3.63 35 29 36
Female 60 2.34 4.03 18 30 52
Generation Z 27 1.65 3.56 50 31 19
Generation Y 39 2.04 3.72 26 42 32
Generation X 17 2.67 4.15 4 23 73
Baby Boomers 17 2.79 4.43 4 11 85
Marital status
Never married 56 1.80 3.62 40 37 23
Married 44 2.66 4.17 7 20 73
High school 27 1.71 3.50 46 35 19
Undergraduate 30 2.15 3.88 25 32 43
Graduate 43 2.51 4.10 11 25 64
Employment status
Full-time student 51 1.70 3.54 44 39 17
Full-time employee 49 2.70 4.21 5 20 75
Permanent resident
The county 60 2.57 4.06 9 24 67
NY state counties 21 1.87 3.90 37 36 27
Other states 15 1.36 3.29 61 39 0
Abroad 4 1.25 2.94 67 33 0
Residency tenure
Less than a year 12 1.26 3.19 77 24 2
1–3 years 15 1.59 3.60 44 45 11
4–5 years 17 1.60 3.61 45 48 7
More than 5 years 56 2.73 4.17 24 30 46


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Corresponding author

Dr Muhammet Kesgin is the corresponding author and can be contacted at:

About the authors

Dr Muhammet Kesgin is Assistant Professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the Rochester Institute of Technology. His research primarily focuses on destination marketing and tourist behavior, with a special emphasis on visitor attractions, visitor experience design and visitor engagement. His prior research focuses on the determinants of success in multi-stakeholder tourism projects. His current interests are in the area of resilient tourism business models.

Dr Rajendran S. Murthy is the J. Warren McClure Research Professor in Marketing in the Saunders College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology. An active business consultant, his research is tied strongly to his experience and his teaching interests in the domain of quantitative analytics, research methods and branding. His primary area of interest is in the design and execution of data driven consumer engagement strategies.

Linden W. Pohland, CHIA, is a recent graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Science degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management and minors in Accounting and Spanish. During his academic career he served as an undergraduate research assistant in the School of International Hospitality and Service Innovation. Additionally, he was honored as an outstanding undergraduate scholar and has presented research at a variety of conferences and symposia. He is currently Finance Manager in training at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai in Hawaii.