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Journal of Hospitality Marketing & Management, 21:421439, 2012

Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLC


ISSN: 1936-8623 print/1936-8631 online
DOI: 10.1080/19368623.2012.624297

Travel Blogs: A Reflection


of Positioning Strategies?
MARIA BANYAI
School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Centre for Hospitality
and Culinary Arts, George Brown College, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The growth and popularity of travel blogs on the Internet


influenced tourism researchers to see the online narratives as
valuable sources of information for destination marketing. This
research analyzed the content of travel blogs related to trips to
Stratford, Canada to establish the most popular topics of discussion, and the tourists perceptions of the destination as compared
to the current marketing strategies. Three phases of data analysis
were completed to achieve both quantifiable and qualitative results
reflecting the travel experiences. CATPAC II was used to generate a
frequency output as well as neural network analysis, which provided the base for a deductive qualitative content analysis. The
findings suggest that Stratford is primarily seen as a cultural and
culinary destination, representing only two of the destination identities promoted by the destination. Methodological and practical
implications are discussed.
KEYWORDS travel
positioning strategy

blogs,

destination

marketing,

CATPAC,

The author would like to acknowledge the support of Eugene Zakreski, Executive
Director, Stratford Tourism Alliance in providing the information needed to complete this
research.
Address correspondence to Maria Banyai, School of Hospitality and Tourism
Management, Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts, George Brown College, 300 Adelaide
Street East, PO Box 1015, Station B, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5T 2T9. E-mail: mbanyai@
georgebrown.ca
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M. Banyai

INTRODUCTION
The growth of travel-blogging sites, such as TravelBlog.org and Travel
Post.com, facilitates powerful discussions impacting consumers decision
making, affecting destination images, and even reshaping the communication networks which have been previously dominated by traditional
information suppliers (Wenger, 2008; Xiang & Gretzel, 2010). With over
100 million Weblogs, or blogs, indexed, Technorati announced in the
2010 State of Blogosphere Report that 20% of bloggers surveyed were
blogging about travel experiences (Technorati, 2010). Also, TravelBlog.org
has more than 150,000 members, hosting over 450,000 travel blog entries
(TravelBlog, 2010). Blogs are a new important form of digitized world-ofmouth communication, and are becoming a more important mechanism for
exchanging information among tourists, and for destinations and businesses
to learn about the attitudes of their markets (Wenger, 2008, p. 169).
While online communities are a popular research area, few studies to
date have examined the business use of these communities (Syed-Ahmad &
Murphy, 2010). Because travel blogs are stories that reflect the tourists
experience at a specific destination, tourism marketers need to understand
blogs as a new technological phenomenon with implications for marketing
and promotion of a destination (Pan, MacLaurin, & Crotts, 2007, p. 38).
In an attempt to learn about the online traveler and understand how the
information generated can aid in business management, researchers have
analyzed the content of such online word-of-mouth, finding it to be a significant source of marketing information. The content of travel blogs can offer
destination marketers with a deeper understanding of bloggers production
and consumption of tourism products (Bosangit, McCabe, & Hibbert, 2009;
Tussyadiah & Fesenmaier, 2008). The online narratives can also be useful for
various marketing strategies such as improving and monitoring destination
images and products by responding to tourists demands and expectations,
and also adjusting competitive and positioning strategies (Carson, 2008;
Litvin, Goldsmith, & Pan, 2008, Pan et al., 2007; Wenger, 2008). Akehurst
(2009) argued that, if market research would focus more on travel blogs,
the results may provide the greatest and most long-lasting impact as compared to more traditional marketing tools which may not assess hard to
reach market segments. Thus, travel blogs do not only represent a source
of information for potential tourists, but they are also useful for destination marketers and managers looking to learn about visitors experiences
and perceptions of the destination. Previous research suggested that there is
often a mismatch between tourists impressions and perceptions of a destination and the positioning strategies put forward by a destination, mostly
because a number of contextual and situational factors impact tourists
perceptions (Andreu, Bigne, & Cooper, 2000; Choi, Lehto, & Morrison,
2007).

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Researchers have advocated that effective destination positioning


strategies require the measurement of existing images because perceptions
can change based on experiences at the destination (Fakeye & Crompton,
1991), however, little research has been done so far on online travel narratives within this context. The objective of this study is to examine the
potential gap between tourists perceptions and impressions of a destination
and current positioning strategies using online travel blogs. The study examines and analyzes travel bloggers impressions and perceptions of Stratford,
Canada as described on personal blogs, and compares the findings with the
current positioning strategy of the Stratford Tourism Alliance (STA). While
researchers interest in travel blogs as narratives reflecting tourists experiences is growing, the data gathered from the online narratives is oftentimes
used to gain information on travel routes and visiting tourists. Little research
focused on and examined the possible gaps between what tourists impressions and perceptions are, as expressed on their travel blogs, and actual
marketing strategies. Thus, this study does not only contribute to the growing interest in travel blog research, but it provides destination marketers with
an example of how the information gathered from travel blogs can be used
to examine the success of their positioning strategies.

REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Tourists Perceptions and Impressions
Destination image has been the subject of research by tourism scholars for
more than three decades now, being recognized as one of the most practical
concepts in the management and marketing of tourism destinations (Pike,
2002; Stepchenkova & Mills, 2010). Stepchenkova and Mills (2010) noted
that researching destination image can aid destination marketing organizations to better understand how to control existing DIs [destination images],
to repair damage inflicted by negative events occurring at a destination, and
ultimately, to project desirable images of the destination in economically
important markets (p. 576). Marketing strategies, such as positioning strategies, are largely dependent on tourists impressions and perceptions of the
tourism destination, making image a key construct in destination positioning (Pike & Ryan, 2004; Ramkissoon, Uysal, & Brown, 2011). Pike and Ryan
(2004) believed that for positioning strategies to be effective, destination
marketers must understand how the destination is perceived.
While the definition of destination image somewhat varies amongst
tourism researchers, it is generally defined as the sum of impressions and
perceptions tourists hold about a destination, encompassing beliefs and
ideas that are selected from a variety sources of information, elaborated
and embellished in the mind of travelers in order to create meanings
(Baloglu & McCleary, 1999; Echtner & Ritchie, 1991; San Martin & del

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Bosque, 2008; Tasci & Gartner, 2007). Tasci and Gartner (2007) argued that,
while destination marketers engage in the promotion and manipulation of
destination images to influence the adoption of tourism products, the projected images are not always the same as the images received by current
and potential visitors. This is because the images received by the tourists
could be influenced by a variety of factors or agents outside of the reach of
destination marketing organizations.
To address the various factors involved in the formation of destination
images, Gartner (1993) compiled a list of eight image formation agents ranging from traditional forms of advertising to information gathered from friends
and family. The agents differ in the way the messages sent are received
and perceived by individuals. Specifically, overt induced I agents are considered to be traditional forms of advertising, where the recipient is not
confused about who is sending the message. To overcome any credibility issues, covert induced I agents, such as a recognizable and trusted
spokesperson can be used. With covert induced II agents, the recipient
might not know the involvement of destination marketers in the development and promotion of tourism images, while overt induced II agents are
travel service providers such as tour operators, agents which are not directly
associated with the travel destination. Autonomous image formation agents
are independent promotional materials over which the destination has no
control such as news broadcasts and popular culture. Unsolicited organic
agents include information received from people with previous experience
but not requested. When information is requested from individuals with no
interest in the decision outcome, solicited organic agents are involved in
the formation of destination images. Lastly, organic agents are represented
by previous knowledge and travel to the destination. Organic images originate from interaction with unbiased sources such as education or personal
experiences, while induced images are those that are based on marketing
materials promoting and selling the destination. Gartner noted that what
differentiates the organic from the induced image formation agents is the
amount of control destination marketers and managers have over what is
being promoted. These agents differ by the degree of control by destination
marketers, the level of market penetration, and the credibility they invoke in
consumers (Tasci & Gartner, 2007).
Various destination image frameworks have been proposed by
researchers. Tourists impressions and perceptions of the destination, and
therefore their expectations of what they would find at the place, are based
on personal characteristics and social environment, but also on stimulus
factors such as information sources (Baloglu & McCleary, 1999). While traditional destination image research focused on the cognitive dimension,
earlier studies join the cognitive and affective dimensions to capture the
image of tourism destinations (Baloglu & McCleary, 1999; San Martin & del
Bosque, 2008). The cognitive component refers to beliefs and knowledge

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of the tourism destination, while the affective component is represented by


the emotions toward the destination. Thus, an overall image of a place is
formed as a result of both perceptual/cognitive and affective evaluations of
that place (Baloglu & McCleary, 2008, p. 870).
The multidimensionality of the destination image formation process was
addressed by Echtner and Ritchie (1991, 1993). Their framework is based on
three different sets of components: attribute-holistic (perceptions of individual attributes and holistic impressions of place), functional-psychological
(observable elements and less tangible characteristics), and common-unique
set (common elements and more unique specific to a destination). Although
their model appears to divide the concept of image in three different and
independent components, there is overlap among the three. As such, functional attributes could be cool climate and poor nightlife, functional
holistic could be perceptions of physical characteristics such as mountainous destination, psychological attributes would be impressions of the
tangible characteristics such as friendly people, and psychological holistic image components represent the overall impressions of the atmosphere
such as mystic (Echtner & Ritchie, 1991).
However, Govers, Go, and Kumar (2007) argued that previous frameworks are static in nature, concentrating mostly on relationships between
the destination image and a variety of agents. Their framework is aimed at
identifying the actual elements that have a dynamic role in the formation of
destination images. Their 3-gap tourism destination image formation model
is based on the deconstruction of the image formation process and the inclusion of several agents, such as the local tourism industry and the marketing
mix used to promote the destination. By addressing specific gaps between
marketing strategies and tourists perceptions and impressions, destination
marketers can increase the likelihood of visits and increase tourists satisfaction with the destination. To do so, researchers have recently turned their
attention to the information posted online by tourists who have visited the
destination and narrated about their experiences.

Blogs in Tourism
The image of tourism destinations as projected on travel blogs has been
a topic of interest for a number of tourism researchers. Choi et al.s
(2007) study, for instance, examined Macaus destination image on the
Internet to identify image representations and to assess consistency over
various online information sources, including travel blogs. The analysis of
visual and textual information posted online revealed that Macaus tourism
image was reflected differently by the Web sites. While many Web sites were
still promoting Macau as a gambling and casino destination, the Macau official tourism Web site (MGTO) chose to portray Macau as an international
city with cultural and heritage resources. Thus, the images portrayed by the

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MGTO differed from those projected by various tourism stakeholders, gaps


that could be due to the different communication objectives and targets
(Choi et al., 2007).
Regarding perceptions of Hong Kong, Law and Cheung (2010) analyzed 120 travel blog entries to gain insights into Chinese tourists overall
perceived image of the destination. Results showed that Hong Kong was
perceived as the gateway to China, an international city offering a wide
range of cuisine and attractions. Similarly, Leung, Law, and Lees (2011)
research on the perceived destination images of Hong Kong examined more
than 2,000 blog entries from Ctrip.com. The findings showed that mainland
visitors perceived destination image of Hong Kong is that of a superior
shopping and sightseeing destination with convenient transportation and a
variety of tourist attractions (p. 135). Lastly, Banyais (2010) examination
of destination images related to Dracula tourism, revealed that perceptions
of Western tourists visiting Draculas Castle differ considerably from those
images of Dracula held by tour guides at the castle. While the majority of
tourists visiting Draculas Castle hoped to find vampires, bats, and rooms of
horror based on popular culture, the castle and the tour guides informed
them of the castles history and the real Dracula.
Research on travel blogs has also focused on identifying positive and
negative perceptions of tourism destinations (Carson, 2008; Pan et al., 2007;
Wenger, 2008). Attention was paid to travel bloggers comments related to
locations, activities, tourism products, events, and transportation. The travel
information offered by bloggers on Austria-related blogs revealed that the
most visited cities were Vienna and Salzburg, where tourists would visit the
town centers and architectural buildings such as cathedrals and fortresses;
while the activities undertaken included dining, attending classical music
concerts, and taking tours (Wenger, 2008). Blogs related to visits to Australias
Northern Territory contained information about the south and center of the
Territory, and about various outdoor and wildlife activities such as the rim
walk at Kings Canyon and taking tours to see the jumping crocodiles in the
Mary River near Darwin (Carson, 2008). It was also found that travel blogs
could be a source of negative information. For example, reviews of travel
blogs by previous researchers revealed that tourists complaints were related
to opening hours of shops, poor signage and accommodation services, the
weather, high prices, accessibility, food quality and service, and parking
(Carson, 2008; Pan et al., 2007; Wenger, 2008).
Furthermore, researchers interested in tourists meaning creation process examined travel blogs to better understand how tourists construct
identities, how they make meaning from their experiences, and to examine the temporal and spatial characteristics of travel experiences. Berger and
Greenspan (2008) examined the blog diaries of the 2005 Canadian Everest
Expedition to gain insight into climbers experiences and their involvement
with online storytelling in creating and manifesting their identities. The

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creation and expression of tourists identities was also examined by Bosangit


et al. (2009). The researchers analyzed 30 travel blogs on three different
travel blog Web sites: travelpod.com, travelblog.org and travbuddy.com.
Their study aimed at understanding how tourists construct order and make
meaning from their experiences. The results revealed that most bloggers
had a desire to communicate with an audience in that they used terms
such as you, and included personal characteristics in the narrative which
shows that the bloggers had a historical social relationship with the readers (Bosangit et al., 2009). The narrative analysis of blogs revealed most
bloggers told their stories chronologically: their narratives started from the
beginning of their trip, when they left their home, included their travel
towards a destination, their various activities in the destination and finished
with the end of their trip (Bosangit et al., 2009, p. 68). Moreover, an analysis
of the meanings of narratives revealed that bloggers gave meanings to their
experiences based on previous occurrences and expectations.
Tussyadiah and Fesenmaier (2008) used narrative structure analysis
to identify key marketing elements from tourists blogs, which can aid
destination-marketing organizations in facilitating and managing travel blogs.
The data sample was selected from tourists blogs posted on Pennsylvania
Tourism Office Web site. The narrative structure analysis of the Pennsylvania
blogs included characterization, temporal dimension, relational organization
and space categorization. The creation and introduction of different characters by the Pennsylvania Roadtripper Blog allowed the individual bloggers
to relate to the character in real life and feel more comfortable narrating. The
characters also provided potential travellers with an informative tool, making
it easier to search for information related to their travel interests. Tussyadiah
and Fesenmaier collected stories from three different travel genres: History
Buff, Culture Vultures, and Hipster Roadtrippers. In terms of positioning
strategies, the travel blog characters have been created by the Pennsylvania
tourism office to reflect the products they are promoting and trying to sell.
For example, the History Buff character is represented by keywords such
as: book, history, tradition, and kids. This technique further provided destination marketers with the opportunity to manage the destination image and
identities projected. While travel blogs are becoming a reflection of the travel
experiences and the travel identities, little research focused on examining if
these stories are reflective of the destination images already projected and
promoted by tourism destinations.

RESEARCH DESIGN
Contextual Setting
The destination providing the context for this study was Stratford, Ontario,
Canada. Located a few short hours from Toronto and the United States,

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Stratford, Ontario is a destination internationally renowned as one of North


Americas great arts towns (STA, 2010). Stratfords destination marketing
organization, The STA, was established in 2007 as a private nonprofit organization. The STAs objective is to expand awareness and consideration
of Stratford as a multiexperiential gateway destination (2010 Marketing
Plan). In the 2010 Marketing Plan, the STA identified that the majority of
visitors to Stratford came for cultural performances (82%), shopping (77%)
and site-seeing and historic sites (52%). However, only 27% of the time
spent at the destination was spent at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
This led the destination to develop a market focus based on a broader
range of cultural interests including those looking to expand their knowledge, to engage in social interactions with the locals through food, art, and
heritage. Thus, the primary objective became to position Stratford as a multiexperiential gateway destination. Specifically, the STAs positioning strategy
focuses on three identities: character (heritage, bucolic, pastoral, dynamic,
inspirational); culture (drama, music, artistry, design, community) and cuisine (creativity, style, cultivation, artisans, locality). Thus, holistically, the
Stratford experience includes all of the above identities along with their specific characteristics, with its reputation for theatre influencing perceptions of
the destination as a multiexperiential getaway.

Methodology
Given the relatively new nature of travel blog research, this study follows an
exploratory design to gain a better understanding of what tourists reveal in
travel blogs and how tourists perceptions can be compared to positioning
strategies. The study sample, collected in October 2010, consists of 13 independent travel blogs written by tourists who have visited Stratford and
documented their experiences online on personal blogs. Hookway (2008)
noted that the search feature on blogging communities can aid purposive
sampling (p. 99). The sample for this study was drawn by performing
a search query on Google Blogs using the keywords Stratford Ontario.
Although the blogs included additional information posted by fans, such as
pictures and videos, only the text content was selected and saved in a text
file for analysis.
Recent research related to the analysis methods most frequently used
to examine the content of travel blogs revealed that researchers generally
employed narrative analysis and content analysis (Banyai & Glover, 2011).
The use of content analysis to analyze travel blogs enabled researchers to
gain access to various information related to the characteristics of the travel
bloggers, along with information related to their travel experiences, attractions visited, modes of accommodation and transportation, and impressions
and perceptions of tourism destinations (Carson, 2008; Pan et al., 2007;
Wenger, 2008). Content analysis has been previously used by researchers

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to assess gaps in the promotion of online destination images of Macau (Choi


et al., 2007), and to examine the gap between positioning strategies and
tourists impressions and perceptions of Dracula tourism attractions (Banyai,
2010). Also, current research by Stepchenkova and Mills (2010) examining
the various analyses used in 152 studies between 2000 and 2007 to determine the image of tourism destinations, revealed that some researchers relied
on computer software to content analyze textual information. Specifically,
CAPTAC was used to measure the images of various destinations such as
cities in Middle East, Australia, and Russia (Govers et al., 2007, Ryan &
Cave, 2005; Stepchenkova & Morrison, 2006). The software was found by
researchers to be a valuable tool that can be used to minimize the ambiguity and subjectivity of qualitative data analysis (Stepchenkova & Morrison,
2008).
A multimethod approach to data analysis was used to gain insight into
travel bloggers experiences at the destination. In the first phase, CATPAC
II was used to content-analyze the qualitative data. CATPAC II identifies the
most frequently used words in the text and determines the patterns between
words by performing neural network analysis (Woelfel, 1998). It has been
recognized by tourism researchers as a useful computer software for identifying destination image representations over a variety of electronic media from
tourism official Web sites and review sites to travel blog sites (Choi et al.,
2007; Govers et al., 2007; Pan et al., 2007; Tang, Choi, Morrison, & Lehto,
2007). Numerous runs of CATPAC II program were conducted to ensure that
no meaningless words were included in the analysis. When the research is
exploratory in nature, it is recommended that the analysis include 40 unique
words because the resulting dendogram will be easily interpreted (Woelfel,
1998). In a second phase, the 40 most frequently used words were used to
conduct neural network analysis, to show the relationships between these
most commonly occurring words. The third, and last phase of data analysis involved a deductive qualitative content analysis, connecting already
established categories, based on the most frequently words, with the text
(Mayring, 2000). Krippendorff (2004) argued that the meaning of the text
is dependent on the surrounding environment and the reader, and that it
is the researchers job to make inferences from texts based on the research
context and objectives. The use of quotes to support the most frequently
used words allows for a better understanding of the travel situation and
environment.

FINDINGS
This study focuses on examining visitors perceptions and impressions of
Stratford, Canada, and on comparing these with the current positioning strategy put forward by the local destination marketing organization. Nine of the

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13 sampled travel blogs were written between June 2010 and October 2010,
with the majority of bloggers being females (8 out of 13). Most blogs were
written by Canadians and Americans (5 from Canada, 4 from the United
States). The results of the three steps taken to analyze the data reveal the
most talked about topics, which are supported by quotes from the sampled
blogs to bring travel experiences to life.

Frequency Analysis and Neural Network Analysis


Table 1 illustrates the 40 most frequently used words by the Stratford travel
bloggers. As it was expected, bloggers experiences are described the most
in terms of the Shakespeare Festival, cultural experiences reinforced
by other words such as play, theatre, and show. References to the
citys culinary offerings are also popular descriptors of the travel experiences. Words such as chocolate, garlic, food, cheese, and fudge
are within the top 40 most frequently used words. Tourists describe their
travel experiences in terms of the gardens visited, and the ducks and
swans of the Avon River. The analysis also revealed tourists are oftentimes driving into Stratford, while others are taking the train or the bus.
However, to gain a better understanding of what visitors value, CATPAC II
was used to provide a dendogram displaying frequent co-occurrences of
words.
TABLE 1 Most frequently used words
Total words = 455
Keyword
Stratford
Festival
Shakespeare
Chocolate
Play
Theatre
Garlic
Town
Place
Trip
People
Canada
Plays
River
Show
Food
Train
Beautiful
Breakfast
Cheese

Total unique words = 40

Frequency

Keyword

Frequency

52
36
24
21
21
18
17
14
13
13
11
10
10
10
10
9
9
8
8
8

Ducks
Great
Love
Swans
City
Driving
Gardens
Good
Morning
Bus
Cool
Dinner
Enjoy
Feel
Fudge
Life
Local
Old
Ontario
Photos

8
8
8
8
7
7
7
7
7
6
6
6
6
6
6
6
6
6
6
6

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FIGURE 1 Wards clustering.

The buildings shown in the dendogram (Figure 1) represent the word


clusters, their height illustrating how tightly the corresponding words cluster
together (Woelfel, 1998). The largest cluster suggests visitors trip[s] are
usually focused on the plays offered during the Shakespeare Festival, the
theatre, and on garlic. The strong association between these words is
probably based on the fact that the Garlic Festival takes place during the
Shakespeare Festival, events which allow visitors to experience the theatre
productions but also Stratfords culinary offerings. Nevertheless, the content
of travel blogs also revealed that visitors travel experiences involve discussions of the local food and cheese; of the great [Avon] river, and
also of the affective characteristics of the trip. Bloggers described Stratford
as a beautiful place resembling an old life with a Canad[ian] feel
to it. They also perceive the local people to be cool. The small town is
further described as a tourist destination, a place where visitors who come
on a bus take photos of the destination.

Qualitative Content Analysis


To ensure tourists experiences at the destination are not taken out of context, and to provide a richer description of bloggers travel experiences,
the top most frequently used words are further supported by direct quotes

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from the narratives. To maintain anonymity, bloggers are given pseudonyms.


A search query of the word festival in the global text file revealed the
following perception of Stratford:
It was equal parts delightful and slightly depressing. The delightful parts
had to do with what happens when a small, largely rural community
gives itself over to live theatre for almost half the year . . . Stratford has
a handsome historic downtown of four or five blocks, perched prettily
on a river . . . but its encircled by aging strip malls that are in turn
surrounded by cornfields, and some of the incongruity of the festivals
location was summed up by the sign that ushered us into town (Mary,
2010).

While discussions of the Shakespeare Festival led some bloggers comment


on the incongruity of the small town image, others described the strengths
and weaknesses of the festival itself:
In fact, the best parts of the festival were the most amateurish, in the
best sense of the world: though the actors were all professionals, there
was a palpable sense that they and the audience . . . were there for
the love for the plays, for Shakespeare, and for live theatre. . . . But the
less amateurish stuff was less agreeable. The main stage productionthe
one in the fancy theatre, with the big-name star, and with lots of special
effectwas dreadful (Emily, 2010).

References to the festival included the Shakespeare Festival and other festivals held in Stratford. Bloggers described experiences related to the Stratford
Chocolate Trail and the Garlic Festival:
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival produces world-renowned theatre,
but what I didnt know was that Stratford is also an ideal destination for chocolate lovers. When I heard about the Stratford Chocolate
Trail, I thought it sounded like heaven, and like Halloween for big
kids! The trail consists of 16 stops, including three chocolate shops
and various restaurants and shops with chocolate specialities (Heather,
2010).
On Saturday we headed to the Garlic Festival to see, taste, and smell
all things garlic! Are you already getting a sense of how they find ways
to celebrate everything around here? The whole festival was bigger than
expected, with vendors selling all sorts of garlic produce (Jill, 2009).

Bloggers experiences in Stratford did not only impact their perceptions of


the town as a theatre destination, but also as a culinary destination offering

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exciting celebratory events. Bloggers further described travel experiences at


the Savour Stratford Culinary Festival:
The food available for sale to eat were what impressed me the most.
Nowhere was there a branded food seller (i.e., Pizza Pizza) or typical
festival food vendor (i.e., french fries, fried fish, etc.). All of the food
vendors at the Festival were local not-for-profit organizations preparing food from scratch from local only ingredients. AMAZING!! Any
other place would have perhaps offered the grilled cheese but it would
have been made from processed bread, single slice processed cheese
and margarine. There definitely wouldnt have been made-from-scratch
soup either. There were burgers available through Community Living of
Stratford and area, but they were locally made and served on freshly
baked buns, and topped with locally grown onions and tomatoes from
Oliver Gardens (Carrie, 2010).

Thus, bloggers were surprised by the variety of festivals offered in Stratford,


and by the provision of locally grown and freshly prepared foods offered
at these festivals. Overall, it seems festivals held in Stratford are successful
events, bringing back visitors year after year:
I was at the event last year and thought it was good. This year, it was
superb! I can barely put into words how great the festival was. . . . It was
definitely a great day (despite the crappy on-again-off again rain) and
cannot wait to go back again next year! Great job Stratford! I dont think
there is any other food festival that even compares to this one! (Carrie,
2010)

Other words, such as feel, revealed the affective characteristics of the


travel experiences: This is a town I enjoy as it has a small town feel
and is quite artsy (Diana, 2010). Another bloggers description of the
Stratford feel revealed the perception that the town its the perfect place
to splurge a little and just relax and feeleven for a little whilethat
there are no worries in life to concern yourself with (John, 2010). The
Avon River has also been a topic of discussion, tourists talking about walks
along the river banks: We walked along the Avon River which was beautiful with lots of fall colour along the river bank (Steve, 2009), Relaxing
strolls along the river that winds through downtown is how were enjoying
our time along the river between meals (Diana, 2010). Moreover, bloggers
also described Stratford as a destination where the plays are not the only
reason for visiting this beautiful city, tourists also coming to Stratford to
enjoy the gardens (Elisa, 2010). The gardens in Stratford, such as The
Shakespeare Gardens beside the Avon River. A perfect spot for lunchon a
park bench in the sun (Tom, 2009), are viewed by tourists as special and
famous.

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DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS


This study revealed bloggers travel experiences, along with their
perceptions and impressions of Stratford, Canada by analyzing the textual
information of travel blogs. The frequency analysis revealed the most talked
about topics, while the neural network analysis between the most frequently used words allowed for a better understanding of what visitors
value. However, to bring the travel experience to life, the analysis was
complemented with quotes from the actual blogs. Oftentimes, quantitative
analysis of qualitative data results in the quantification of travel experiences, neglecting the meanings tourists assign to their experiences. Providing
quotes representative of the most talked about topics allowed for the latent
content in the data to arise, offering an understanding of surrounding circumstances that influenced the creation of meanings and impressions of the
travel experiences. The contextual background for the most frequently used
words provided further information into the specific strengths and weaknesses of the destination, most of them related to the Shakespeare Festival,
the food festivals and the holistic impression of the destination.
In terms of the tourists perceptions and impressions, the analysis of
Stratford-related travel blogs revealed that the destination image is primarily
based on cognitive components such as theatre, Shakespeare, and garlic, than on affective components such as beautiful and cool. Bloggers
perceptions of the destination are composed of unique image components
related to the Shakespeare Festival and food celebrations. Nevertheless,
other image components reflect Echtner and Ritchies (1991) framework of
the destination image formation process. Travel bloggers images of Stratford
include psychological elements such as cool people, holistic images such
as beautiful place, common unique characteristics such as great river,
and functional attributes such as breakfast and morning. The results of
the dendogram correspond to Govers et al.s (2007) findings, in that the
most specific, unique image components of the destination are clustered
closely together to the right of the dendogram (Figure 1). Moreover, the
results of the travel blogs analysis support Tasci and Gartners (2007) argument that destination image projected by marketers do not always reflect
tourists perceived images of the destination fully.
When compared to the STAs current positioning strategies, the findings
of this study revealed that travel bloggers experiences in Stratford, Canada
are primarily based on the theatre and culinary offerings. The Stratford
Shakespeare Festival, along with the Garlic Festival, the Stratford Chocolate
Trail, and the Savour Stratford Culinary Festival being the most talked
about travel experiences. While the bloggers exposure to the mass-market
Shakespeare industry has left them with memories of world-renowned
theatre, the narratives were widely focused on the culinary offerings.
Stratford was described as an ideal destination for chocolate lovers, a town

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with tons of good food. The travel bloggers narratives also revealed some
discussion reflecting the character and culture identities of the destination,
where visitors narrated about the design, heritage, rusticity, and artistry,
and even inspirational characteristics of the destination. However, tourists
perceptions did not seem to reflect all identity characteristics of the positioning strategy such as the music, and the destination dynamic characteristic.
The cuisine and culture identities seem to overpower the character identity
of the destination. A possible explanation is that tourists knowledge and
experiences of Stratford as a theatre and culinary destination influence their
perceptions of the destinations character. Thus, it could be that the character
identity is actually comprised of the culture and cuisine, and not exclusive
of them. Lastly, the analysis revealed that travel experiences were generally
positive, with little negativity being expressed as related to the towns image
and perceptions of the Shakespeare Festival.
In light of these findings, the STA might consider reassessing its market
perceptions of the destination to ensure effective positioning. Pike and Ryan
(2004) argue that, effective positioning offers destination marketing organizations not only with a better understanding of the consumers unique
needs, but also with competitive advantage in the marketplace. Moreover
a major objective of any destination positioning strategy will be to reinforce positive images already held by the target audience, correct negative
images, or create a new image (Pike & Ryan, 2004, p. 334). Crompton,
Fakeye, and Lue (1992) recommended that for positioning strategies to be
successful, they should focus on a smaller number of differentiating features
to promote a more defined image. The results of this study suggest that the
STA should continue to emphasize on the culture and cuisine identities of
the destination, as the majority of travel bloggers perceptions and impressions of Stratford are related to the theatre and culinary offerings. However,
a redesign of the character identity is needed as its components seem to be
better fitted within the culture and cuisine identities. Moreover, the findings
suggest that the development of positioning identities based on the activities
people engage in at the destination might not be enough. It could be that
Stratford visitors overwhelming involvement in shopping (77%) and their
little time spent at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (27%), does not necessarily mean that visitors perceive Stratford as a shopping destination, but
that the activity is used to pass time between plays.
Lastly, while other researchers have focused on the content of travel
blogs for gathering information about travel bloggers and their travel experiences (Carson, 2008; Wenger, 2008; Pan et al., 2007; Law & Cheung, 2010;
Choi et al., 2007; Tussyadiah & Fesenmaier, 2008; Bosangit et al., 2009),
the methodologies employed so far have either quantified the travel experiences, or have turned to narrative analysis to provide an understanding
of how meanings and identities are created. This study provides an alternative research method for analyzing the content of travel blogs, offering the

436

M. Banyai

opportunity to categorize and quantify the main topics of discussion, but


also to gain an understanding of the situation influencing these discussions.
The use of quotes to support the most talked about topics ensures meanings
are not taken out of context, hence providing the real travel experience.
Moreover, this study offers a window into the potential of using travel blogs
in marketing research, especially for larger destinations looking to improve
or assess the effectiveness of their positioning strategies. The direct quotes
can be a valuable strategic and promotional tool for destination marketing organizations looking to use real people and real experiences in their
communication mix to entice potential visitors.

CONCLUSION
This study revealed that travel bloggers were primarily talking about Stratford
as a cultural and culinary destination, both which were identified by the STA
as Stratford experience identities. However, little discussion was focused
on the character identity, which suggests the STA should reformulate their
positioning strategy to provide a more focused destination image. While this
study is exploratory in nature, meant to offer an understanding on what is
being said on travel blogs, and on how the data could be analyzed for market
research purposes, its main limitation is the data sample. The sample size
is too small to draw any generalizable conclusions about Stratfords travel
bloggers and their lived experiences. Nevertheless, Babbie and Benaquisto
(2002) note that the chief shortcoming of exploratory studies is that they
seldom provide satisfactory answer to research questions, though they can
hint at the answers and can give insights into which research methods could
provide definite answers (p. 79).
To conclude, researchers and tourism marketers should recognize the
uncontaminated and self-revealing content of the blogs due to the
researchers minimal or nonexistent involvement in the data creation and
collection (Hookway, 2008) and capitalize on it when engaging in marketing research. The real time applications of blogs, which give tourists the
opportunity to tell a story as it unfolds while at the same time, allowing
readers to engage in the travel experience, offer researchers and marketers with immediate information about participants lived experiences
(Hookway, 2008). The interactive function of travel blogs can offer destination marketers with real time information compared to data gathered using
traditional research methods. Future research should capitalize on the rich
content of travel blogs which can provide researchers with an understanding
of the effectiveness of current marketing strategies. The content of travel
blogs related to tourists perceptions and impressions can further be used
for destination perception analyses (Crompton et al., 1992; Dolnicar &

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Grabler, 2004) to assess a tourism destinations competitive position in


the marketplace and to provide strategic information for future positioning
decisions.

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