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8 Jul, 2002

Marketing Via Movies Can Backfire, Says Study

While national tourism organisations are falling over themselves to promote movies being made in their destinations, they are paying little attention to the consequences of the success of the policy and the destination management problems that may result, according to a study by an Australian researcher.

Sue Beeton, senior lecturer in tourism at La Trobe University, said in a study presented at a recent conference of global tourism researchers that tourism managers and destination marketing organisations need to start considering a “marketing-demarketing” strategy that will give the destinations adequate publicity and still safeguard them from being over-run by visitors.

The study has much relevance in Thailand. While movies like the “Bridge over the River Kwai” and “The King and I” have helped Thai tourism by creating a long-standing aura of mystique and adventure, others like “The Beach” have put once pristine destinations like Krabi on the map, and created precisely the very problems cited in the study.

Says the study, “Film is a potent imaging medium, and such images are often retained for many years. While destinations now recognise the potential of film to induce tourism and create a powerful destination image, few have retained control over how and to whom the destination is presented through commercial films (in particular, movies and TV series).

“This lack of control has resulted in unplanned tourism growth that many small communities are unable to handle due to limited infrastructure, and has severely impacted on the privacy of residents.”

After looking at popular film-induced tourism sites that are experiencing large numbers of visitors, it says, “There is evidence of resident dissatisfaction regarding the increased pressures on infrastructure and lifestyle at many of the sites as well as some concerns over images portrayed in some storylines.

“While problems are evident, little is being done to proactively manage the sites, with tourism managers and destination marketing organisations still focussing primarily on economic benefits.”

Most of the films researched were shot in the US and UK but the study indicated that the location makes no difference to the issues, as the attitudes of both the film-makers and the tourism industry do not appear to be very different from one place to another.

“When film-induced tourism is considered with regard to the communities in which the films are shot, often crucial stages of community consultation are overlooked in the tourism planning process, due in part to the very nature of the film industry itself,” the study says.

“A director of a movie or television programme is interested in producing the best product possible and is not duly concerned about the legacy with which the community may be left, such as a sudden surge in tourist numbers and changed environment (socially, economically and physically).

“Also, there are aspects related to film-induced tourism, especially socially, that individuals may not wish for their community. However, if these communities are left out of any real discussion or consultation, as is often the case, they are unable to contribute to or choose the type of community they live in — a critical aspect of community planning.

“Such disenfranchisement and loss of community control can have dramatic long-term social effects,” Ms Beeton says.

Questioning the claim that any publicity is good publicity, the study identified three basic types of image that can be considered ‘undesirable’ by a community: 1) the image created by a negative storyline, such as criminal or bizarre activities; 2) an image that is too successful in attracting visitors and creates negative community impacts; and 3) the creation of unrealistic visitor expectations and aspects of authenticity.

For example, Ms Beeton reported, visitors to some sites have been disappointed that the community does not behave or dress in the manner described in a film. There is also the issue of mistaken identity, when a story may be set in a particular region, but filmed somewhere else. This has become more prevalent with the growth of ‘runaway production’ where sites are chosen on the basis of cost rather than authenticity.

To alter such adverse images, the study suggested that local communities and national tourism organisations apply a demarketing theory as the basis of a remarketing/re-imaging strategy.

“Demarketing in tourism is a powerful tool as it is able to incorporate visitor management techniques at the marketing stage of an operation, before people visit — the stage when expectations are created and decisions on destinations and activities made. Tourism demarketing strategies range from pricing strategies and entry controls, to behavioural education and even a total reduction in marketing and promotion” by the national tourism organisation.

Other strategies include: Increasing or introducing entry fees; Increasing advertising that warns of capacity limitations; Reducing sales and promotion expenditure; Separate management of large groups; Educating potential visitors and journalists regarding appropriate behaviour in promotional literature; Encouraging only ‘desirable’ markets through the image presented in promotional material; Notifying visitors of banned activities and access at the point of information gathering; and permitting certain activities or access only under supervision.

The study said, “When questioned regarding visitor management techniques, tourism offices were reluctant to discuss any negative aspects of the popularity of the sites featured, apart from some of the strategies described above. Yet, there is evidence from numerous media reports of resident dissatisfaction regarding the increased pressures on infrastructure and lifestyle at many of the sites as well as some concerns over images portrayed in some storylines.”

She suggests that tourism researchers maintain a watchful eye on the subject through additional research. “Comparison between different countries and visitor cultures will also provide indications of future issues as this particular tourism niche expands throughout the world,” she said.

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