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Journal of Destination Marketing & Management 11 (2019) 192–199

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Journal of Destination Marketing & Management


journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jdmm

Research Paper

Understanding the web maturity of Polish DMOs T


a,⁎
Łukasz Stokłosa , Elena Marchiori , Lorenzo Cantoni b b

a
University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow, Sucharskiego Street 2, 35-225 Rzeszow, Poland
b
Università della Svizzera italiana, Giuseppe Buffi Street 13, CH-6904 Lugano, Switzerland

A R T I C L E I N F O A B S T R A C T

Keywords: In recent years, online communication has become an integral part of the functioning of different institutions and
eTourism enterprises. This includes the area of tourism. Due to the immense marketing opportunities offered by in-
Web maturity formation and communication technologies, it can be argued that destination management organizations
Online marketing (DMOs) around the world should rise to the challenge of climbing to the next level of ‘web maturity’. The aims of
DMOs
this study are focused on investigating and comparing the online marketing activities of selected Polish DMOs in
Poland
the years 2012 and 2016, as well as discovering and explaining the main motivations, facilitators and barriers to
conducting such activities. The study is also an attempt to identify how any barriers encountered that are en-
countered may be overcome, and presents some potential solutions and good practices for DMOs to learn from.
The results of the study show that Facebook is still the most popular social media platform used by Polish tourist
organizations. Current trends are mainly focused on mobile applications development. In turn, there is a lack of
relevant skills, financial and human resources, which are the main barriers related to the increased use of web
marketing.

1. Introduction a good online relationship with their potential and actual customers. In
particular, official DMO websites have undergone a rapid development,
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are having and constitute an essential channel for destination marketing and
more and more influence on the way tourism destinations communicate communication (Choi, Lehto, & Oleary, 2007; Fernández-Cavia,
with their potential and actual customers. Hence, tourism managers in Marchiori, Haven-Tang, & Cantoni, 2016; Li & Wang, 2010; Palmer,
charge of promoting destinations should take up the challenge of using 2005; Park & Gretzel, 2007). Depending on their content, resources and
online channels and tools (e.g. websites, blogs, social media pages, design, websites can contribute to conveying place strengths and
mobile apps, etc) in order to increase the stature of their brand by emotional values (Fernández-Cavia et al., 2016), this may be accom-
enhancing online communication processes. Moreover, such tools can plished by providing virtual experiences and seizing the attention of the
be a useful resource in managing the reputation of destinations in on- user (Lee & Gretzel, 2012; Luna-Nevarez & Hyman, 2012).
line media (Marchiori, Pavese, & Cantoni, 2012; Munro & Richards, Official websites are not the only online channels a DMO can use for
2011), as they allow for an increase in the online presence of the des- interacting with (potential) customers. More and more attention is
tination. being given to social media, which are intended to act as platforms
Through online channels, tourists can find favorable and easy clues where people can easily connect and share their experiences. Social
to guide their decision-making and purchase processes (Buhalis & Law, media are apparently challenging more traditional forms of tourism
2008), this process should generate favorable perceptions before the communication and destination branding (Xiang & Gretzel, 2010). By
visit has taken place, and complement the organic perceptions experi- facilitating two-way communication and dialogical relationships among
enced during the visit (Gunn, 1988). Moreover, online communication the users themselves, social media are composed of a bundle of chan-
contributes towards establishing relationships between destinations nels that transform users from the passive recipients of content into the
and visitors by developing perceptions that might influence a visitors’ creators of their own content. Travelers can upload and share images
decisions prior to travelling to the destination and creating additional and videos related to their experiences quickly, easily and in an at-
value for brands. tractive layout (Lim, Chung, & Weaver, 2012). The shift from in-
In this context, destination management organizations (DMOs) have formation culture to mass communication conversation culture allows
to manage their official tourism destination websites in order to ensure for the exchange of comments concerning destinations, services and


Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: lstoklosa@wsiz.rzeszow.pl (Ł. Stokłosa), elena.marchiori@usi.ch (E. Marchiori), lorenzo.cantoni@usi.ch (L. Cantoni).

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jdmm.2018.01.010
Received 25 January 2017; Received in revised form 21 January 2018; Accepted 22 January 2018
Available online 22 February 2018
2212-571X/ © 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Ł. Stokłosa et al. Journal of Destination Marketing & Management 11 (2019) 192–199

personal experiences (Jacobsen & Munar, 2012). This range of content Poland. The new version of the website was created based on the latest
originates from the users themselves who want to exchange experi- trends. It is more functional and user friendly as opposed to the old
ences, opinions and information with others (Bronner & Hoog, 2011). system that was based on catalogs for searching for information and
Social media allows users to easily produce user-generated content, contained very few movies, photos and other promotional materials, as
intended as a digital counterpart to word-of-mouth (referred as eWOM, well as ways of communicating with tourists such as different language
electronic-Word-of-Mouth), which tends to create (for the reader of versions of the site, social media plugins and mobile applications
such content) a higher degree of confidence, reliability and credibility (Stokłosa, Krupa, & Wątroba, 2013).
than the usual destination communication messages. To this extent, It should be added that the role of DMOs in the tourism system in
destinations are constantly determined through networked dialogues Poland is fulfilled mainly by regional and local tourist organizations
within the online communities. (Stokłosa et al., 2013). They are organizations of cooperation of local
Interpersonal interaction and word-of-mouth are presently among government and the tourism industry in the area of promoting in-
the most influential information resources and channels, and are highly dividual regions and creating tourism products founded in the form of
relevant to tourism-related purchase decisions (Ayeh, Au, & Law, associations. There are 16 regional tourist organizations corresponding
2013). One of the reasons for this is the fact that tourism services are to the 16 provinces in Poland as well as 126 local tourist organizations
generally intangible and can only be evaluated once they have been covering smaller areas (Polish Tourist Organization, 2017).
consumed. Moreover, traveling is among the most costly activities The topics covered in this introduction are the background of this
within an individual's annual budget. Hence, interpersonal commu- research whose aim is to contribute to the body of knowledge on ICTs
nication, such as the exchange of personal experiences and opinions and DMOs. Therefore, the following research questions have been for-
have a primary role in reducing the degree of risk perception and un- mulated:
certainty and in influencing the decision making process of potential or
current visitors to a destination (Litvin, Goldsmith, & Pan, 2008). On (1) Whic online marketing activities have already been implemented,
the other hand, negative comments among users tend to be a threat to are part of a plan for future implementation or are not taken into
DMOs, since they carry the potential of harming the destination's image account by Polish DMOs, and what are the differences between the
and reputation. years 2012 and 2016 in terms of their usage?
The increased use of mobile devices poses another important chal- (2) What are the main motivations, facilitators, and barriers to the use
lenge in the area of destination management (Tussyadiah, 2013). of online marketing activities by Polish regional and local tourist
Smartphones and tablets constitute an important input during any stage organizations?
of the entire ‘customer journey’, namely before, during and after the (3) How can Polish DMOs overcome these barriers and take advantage
trip to a destination. This is why DMOs should pay special attention to of the opportunities offered by new technologies to a greater ex-
this communication channel (Hyun, Lee, & Hu, 2009; Stienmetz, Levy, tent?
& Boo, 2012; Wang, Park, & Fesenmaier, 2012). Even though their
utilization has not reached its full potential yet (Fernández-Cavia & 2. Literature review
López, 2013; Kwon, Bae, & Blum, 2013), mobile applications are among
the most potent communication platforms of the future. 2.1. eTourism and DMOs
To deal with these challenges, it can be argued that DMOs should try
to adapt their communication strategies by increasing their presence by eTourism can be considered to be the domain in which the appli-
utilizing means that are popular with their potential customers. cations related to the ICTs are applicable in the field of tourism
Youtube channels, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram institutional ac- (Buhalis, 2003). From a strategic perspective, eTourism includes
counts, interactive websites and mobile applications are among the eCommerce, through which the use of ICTs maximizes the efficiency
most common means of communication between the promoters of and effectiveness of the organization. However, at the strategic level
destinations and their potential or current visitors. eTourism revolutionizes the entire value chain and the strategic con-
Despite their high level of importance, there is still a lack of wider tacts between all stakeholders.
knowledge (Hays, Page, & Buhalis, 2013; Xiang & Gretzel, 2010) re- Tourism has always been conceived of as eminently part of the in-
garding how DMOs perceive all these new tools, how they think they formation domain (Sheldon, 1997). According to Inversini and Cantoni
should be used, as well as the level of development and sophistication (2009), it is an experience that needs to be communicated. Nowadays,
particular organizations are at in the context of the adoption of new ICT allows the dissemination of the communication and information
technologies. The last aspect is related to the concept of ‘web maturity’ within the domain of tourism to a larger scale (Buhalis, 2003;
which is intended to allow for a kind of self-determination and com- Steinbauer & Werthner, 2007).
parison with competitors in order to facilitate self-improvement and Tourists usually search for information when it comes to making a
provide better services for tourists. The concept is explained in detail purchase decision (Vogt & Fesenmaier, 1998) or to learn more about
later in this study. specific attractions (Moorthy, Ratchford, & Talukdar, 1997). Potential
Until now, the research outlined above has mainly been carried out travelers seek out information on the Internet mainly reviewing social
in developed countries, highly advanced in the use of new technologies media platforms and looking through search engines. They prefer to
in tourism, such as the US and Switzerland. However, there is still room gather information online instead of going to traditional tour operators
for studies involving emerging destinations. This study focuses on the or travel agencies (Xiang & Gretzel, 2010). For many people it is easier
specific case of one of them – Poland, and its various DMOs. The and more convenient to gather information online. Potential travelers
country is a European destination receiving more and more attention can also find on the web a wider range of alternative products (Yoon,
from a tourism flow perspective. In 2015 about 77.7 million foreigners 2002) and use the Internet to diminish the perceived risks related to
visited Poland, 5.4% more than in 2014 (Tourism in 2015, 2016). their purchases (O’Connor & Frew, 2002). According to Beldona (2005)
Therefore, the case of Polish DMOs seems to be relevant to any com- such factors as diffusion of innovation, an increase in rapid Internet
prehensive analysis of online communication development in Europe services as well as the maturation of Internet-related technologies have
under the conditions of a growing tourism economy. contributed to the acceleration of the pace at which tourists search for
There is some evidence that Polish DMOs are trying to keep up the information and make travel arrangements online.
pace in terms of the use of online marketing. One example of this is the The appearance of so-called Web 2.0 (O’Reilly, 2005) and different
official regional tourist website of Podkarpackie voivodeship – kinds of social media based on user-generated content (Brake & Safko,
‘Podkarpackie.travel’, which represents the south-eastern region of 2009) has changed the behavior of Internet users, especially how they

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create, exchange and use information (O’Connor, 2008). Furthermore, into operational areas encompassed by the model: (1) Staff training, (2)
online conversations within social media about a tourist destination Promotion activities using search engines, (3) Promotion activities
may have an impact on building the place brand of the destination using back-links, (4) Usage analysis and (5) e-word of mouth analysis.
(Govers & Go, 2009). Therefore, as Buhalis and Law (2008) have stated, Each of the operational areas can be evaluated based on five levels of
DMOs should monitor and capture changes occurring in the field of web maturity: (I) Unrecognized level, (II) Recognized level, (III) Considered
communication as well as developing customized services in order to level, (IV) Implemented level, as well as (V) Integrated /level. In order
meet the growing expectations and needs of tourists. Nowadays tourism to evaluate a certain operational area each level has its own attributes
organizations need to be more dynamic and competitive because the of maturity. The attributes are measurement indicators whose existence
constant innovation of hardware and software as well as the develop- confirms that given activities are taking place within a process. They
ment of networks have made the tourism market more and more de- are measured based on the level of each attribute.
manding.
3. Methodology
2.2. Web marketing of tourism destinations; adoption and maturity
This study was conceived in 2012, on the basis of a previous study
The concept of maturity derives from stage theories, where the main carried out in Switzerland (Zach, Marchiori, & Cantoni, 2012). The
assumption is that there are organizational elements in a system, which present study was based on the same questionnaire. The areas of ex-
move toward different levels of development in a certain period of time. pertise (which consist of several web marketing activities) used in the
By definition, maturity is intended to fit into a scale composed of survey comes from the eTcoMM (eTourism Communication Maturity
evolutionary levels where organizations can be classified, according to Model, Marchiori et al., 2012) but they were adapted for research
their preparation concerning processes performed within a specific purposes, e.g. the area of mobile applications was added.
operational area (Nolan, 1973). Likewise, a maturity model is a sche- This study was conducted with the support of the Polish Tourist
matic framework, structured in pre-defined evolutionary levels, which Organization. At the beginning of 2012 the survey was translated into
describes the development of an organization, along the lines of certain Polish (and translated back into English for validity) and distributed
tasks, competencies and behaviors within a time period (Mandelli, electronically to all 142 Polish regional and local tourist organizations’
Marchiori, & Cantoni, 2012). directors/CEOs. Two reminders were sent six days after the initial
Within an organization, the concept of maturity, as well as related distribution and after the first reminder, with a last call following two
models, can be used to implement prescriptive analyses for the future days after the second reminder. A total of 34 usable responses (24%
development of information technology and information systems. response rate) were obtained.
Studies of maturity within the electronic environment, related to the The observable rapid growth of the use of new technologies in
tourism industry, have taken note of the similarities between e- tourism in the recent years, as well as visible online activities (devel-
Commerce and e-Government domains, regarding both functional and opment of websites, increased use of social media, also new ones) un-
institutional aspects (Kalbaska, Janowski, Estevez, & Cantoni, 2017). dertaken by Polish tourist organizations – as in case of the portal
In the e-Tourism domain various applications of maturity models ‘Podkarpackie.travel’ mentioned in the Section 1 (Stokłosa et al., 2013)
can be found. An example of such an application is the Doolin, Burgess – allowed for the assumption that significant changes have occurred in
and Cooper Model, which was developed in 2000. Within this model, the field of Polish DMOs and that the results of comparative studies
the research interest focuses on content and site functionalities, rather between the years 2012 and 2016 which could illustrate these changes
than on the analysis of managerial processes, confirming the applic- would be of interest.
ability of the staged approach to the analysis of a tourism-related Based on these premises, the idea of repeating the research was
website. The model, apart from allowing the investigation of the developed in 2016. The same survey and method of distribution was
functionality levels offered by a certain website, also provides a useful used. Moreover the questionnaire was enriched with three additional
tool to evaluate the level of development of the website compared to its questions related to motivations, barriers and facilitators of web mar-
competitors (Doolin, Burgess, & Cooper, 2002). keting use adapted from the studies conducted in Switzerland
Gretzel and Fesenmaier (2004) carried out a similar study in the (Adukaite, Marchiori, Fabi, & Cantoni, 2013) and in Italy (Fabi,
field of knowledge management in the tourism domain. The authors Marchiori, & Cantoni, 2014).
used a systems perspective to build the Illinois Tourism Network, an Compared to 2012, the total number of organizations has not
interorganizational knowledge-based tourism information system/ changed. However, some local tourist organizations were liquidated
community that integrates the knowledge flows and the management of and new ones have been created. To trace the changes that have taken
information in different stages of effective technology use within the place within four years, in 2016, the survey was only sent to those
tourism organization, and enhanced capacity building within the organizations that responded in 2012. Some of them were unreachable
community (Gretzel & Fesenmaier, 2004). (they no longer existed or it was not possible to contact them)(: thus
For the analysis of technology adoption and use in tourism organi- only 22 organizations were selected and the same number of surveys
zations, three different levels have been identified: Level 1, low level were sent. Finally ten responses were received (around 45% response
adoption/use of IT and knowledge management; Level 2, moderate rate), and used to make a comparison with the data gathered in 2012.
adoption/use of IT and knowledge management; Level 3, high level The main focus of the survey was on the use of the Internet and web
adoption/use of IT and knowledge management. At the third level, maturity regarding the DMOs' approaches to web activities and eWOM.
functions are quite interactive and more likely to support the strategic In particular, DMO directors were asked to identify if several web
goals of the organization. promotion operational areas were implemented, if implementations
A more recent study, contributing to the investigation of the concept were planned or if they were not taken into account. The web promo-
of maturity in the online tourism domain proposes the eTcoMM tion operational areas investigated were: social media (which platforms
(eTourism Communication Maturity Model, Marchiori et al., 2012). In are used or planned to be used), eWord of Mouth activities (such as
particular, the eTcoMM applies the maturity framework as a tool monitoring and interaction with followers), promotion activities using
needed for the systematic investigation of the online communication search engines, website usages analysis, as well as the presence of
processes within a DMO. This perspective assumes that in order to reach mobile applications (Fabi et al., 2014; Marchiori et al., 2012).
a level of maturity, an organization should take into consideration the The results were presented on tables and divided into three options:
usefulness of the adoption of a certain activity, and the defined man- (1) Adopted – activities implemented within the past 12 months or
agerial processes. These activities and managerial processes are divided more, (2) Will plan to adopt – activities the organization planned to

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implement within 12 months or beyond, (3) No plans to adopt – ac- local and regional tourist organizations (around 80% of organizations
tivities that are not to be implemented. Thus, unlike in the eTcoMM, the had their profiles on this social networking site). YouTube and Google
levels of maturity were not calculated and clearly specified but the main + were also used, but in the case of the latter, 50% of the DMOs did not
attention was focused on the differences between 2012 and 2016 within plan to use it. The percentage of organizations that had adopted,
particular operational areas. planned to adopt and had no plan to adopt Twitter in their online
Furthermore, previously mentioned motivations as well as barriers marketing activities in 2012 and 2016 is similar. Many organizations
and facilitators of web marketing use were investigated. Categories of declared and continue to declare that they do not plan to use tools such
these three issues of study come from similar research conducted in as Linkedin, Foursquare, MySpace, Flickr and Tumblr. IgoUgo, SCVNGR
Switzerland (Adukaite et al., 2013), and Italy (Fabi et al., 2014). Re- and Gowalla have never been popular in Poland thus it is not surprising
spondents were asked to choose the most relevant answers from a list of that these social media attracted little interest. Furthermore, now they
six motivations, 11 facilitators and 9 barriers. Moreover, for each redirect to other websites (IgoUgo to Travelocity, SCVNGR to LevelUp)
question there was the possibility of adding an answer that was not or were closed (Gowalla). In the second survey, four new social media
listed. platforms were included in the list as they emerged during recent years:
Due to the fact that the sample size considered was constituted by namely, the use of destination blogs, which appeared to receive a re-
just ten DMOs gathered in 2016 which represented a relatively small levant level of interest (43% of respondents declared that the organi-
sample, it was decided to conduct additional research to collect quali- zation adopted blogs). Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat are examples
tative data. These studies were carried out in the spring of 2017 in the of the growing platforms of social media. Indeed, one quarter of Polish
form of individual telephone interviews with DMOs’ directors or em- local and regional tourist organizations use Instagram and Pinterest,
ployees responsible for internet marketing. Of the 22 organizations that however, Snapchat is not yet used, but 43% of respondents plan to
the survey was sent out to in 2012 and 2016, 15 were available and adopt this application in their future promotional activities.
agreed to conduct an interview. Among them were both local and re- Telephone interview respondents confirmed the dominant role of
gional tourist organizations. To validate the data gathered through the Facebook among social media used by Polish regional and local tourist
online survey in 2016, the organizations were asked to describe their organizations. Some of them have highlighted a significant increase in
development in terms of types of social media used, eWord of Mouth ‘likes’, comments and fanpage tracking in recent years, especially since
activities, promotion activities using search engines, website usages 2014. More and more organizations are also planning to take advantage
analysis as well as the presence of mobile applications over the past of Instagram and Pinterest, but in general, they are not willing to use
years (if possible starting from 2012). They were also asked to try to many social media platforms because they claim that functioning in the
estimate their web maturity level on a scale from 1 to 5 corresponding most popular ones is sufficient.
with the scale from the eTcoMM. Then the organizations had to list the As for activities related to social media and eWOM, DMOs responses
main barriers inhibiting the implementation of web marketing activities from 2012 were very similar to those of 2016 (Table 2). Particularly in
and potential solutions that they recommend to overcome the indicated the case of monitoring social media for conversations about a given
barriers. The final question was related to plans for the future in terms destination, interaction with virtual friends as well as using findings
of online marketing use and how their strategy will be developed. from social media to improve organization's strategy. Only one major
Final conclusions and recommendations were elaborated on the change was observed in the case of monitoring what others post about
basis of similar studies conducted in Switzerland (Adukaite et al., the destination: the percentage of DMOs that have adopted this activity
2013), and Italy (Fabi et al., 2014), the eTcoMM framework and has increased from 70% to 90%.
especially its guidelines for the highest levels of maturity, as well as Interviews with DMO representatives also confirmed that the or-
comments of the telephone interview respondents. ganizations try to monitor and investigate the web as well as being
active in this area. However, most DMOs do this simply by browsing
different websites and social media. Only some organizations, espe-
4. Results
cially regional, use special analytical tools. Additional questions asked
during the survey studies and telephone interviews have proven that
Among the social media platforms used by Polish DMOs (Table 1),
social media and eWord of mouth activities are not formalized, but
Facebook appeared to be the most popular social media used by Polish
implemented in a rather ad hoc fashion. Also, the results and findings
harvested from this source are not always integrated into organization's
Table 1
Adoption of social media applications by Polish DMOs.
web marketing processes and used for strategic business decisions.
Table 3 shows that search engine activities are not fully im-
DMOs' responses in 2012 (%) DMOs' responses in 2016 (%) plemented by Polish tourist organizations. Moreover, there are sig-
nificant differences between them, taking into account mainly their
Social media Adopted Will No plan to Adopted Will No plan to
type. The most common (more than 50% adopted) activities related to
adopt adopt adopt adopt
search engines observed in 2012 and 2016 are SEO (Search Engine
Facebook 83 13 4 80 0 20 Optimization), monitoring the search result ranking of websites, free
YouTube 43 30 26 29 43 29 placement of the website URL on other websites as well as link ex-
Google+ 30 30 40 38 13 50
change with other websites. Besides, attention should be paid to a
Twitter 9 22 69 14 29 57
Linkedin 4 9 87 0 29 71 significant increase in the use of such activities as monitoring compe-
Foursquare 4 9 87 0 14 86 titors' website search result rankings (an increase of 20 percentage
MySpace 0 17 83 0 14 86 points) and analyzing keywords used to search for the destination (an
Flickr 0 13 87 0 14 86 increase of 33 percentage points). Finally, the results clearly show that
Tumblr 0 13 87 0 14 86
IgoUgo 0 9 91 0 0 100
paid activities such as purchasing of ad space in search engines and paid
SCVNGR 0 9 91 0 0 100 placement of the website URL on websites other than search engines are
Gowalla 0 9 91 0 0 100 used very rarely (research from 2012) or not at all (2016).
Blogsa – – – 43 14 43 Most of the telephone interview respondents declared that the or-
Instagrama – – – 25 38 38
ganization's website is well positioned and that the DMO does not need
Pinteresta – – – 25 13 63
Snapchata – – – 0 43 57 to take any further action in this regard. However, unlike the survey
results, one of the regional tourist organizations admitted to using paid
a
Social media not included in the survey in 2012. campaigns on the Internet through Google AdWords as well as

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Table 2
Adoption of social media and eWOM activities by Polish DMOs.

DMOs' responses in 2012 (%) DMOs' responses in 2016 (%)

Social media and eWOM activities Adopted Will adopt No plan to adopt Adopted Will adopt No plan to adopt

We monitor social media for conversations about our destination 74 9 17 78 11 11


We participate in conversations about our destination 61 17 22 50 20 30
We interact with our virtual friends through social media websites 65 17 17 70 10 20
We monitor what others post about our destination 70 17 13 90 10 0
Findings from social media conversations are used to improve our web promotion strategy 65 17 17 60 20 20

informing the interviewer that it also helps local tourist organizations in Referring to the question about self evaluation of the level of web
this area. maturity, organizations were rather reluctant to estimate their position,
Regarding the adoption of website usage statistics (Table 4), the first but usually located themselves at Level 3 or 4 (on a 1–5 scale). This
activity, monitoring page views, is fairly constant comparing the results shows that there is still an untapped potential in the field of online
from 2012 and 2016. On the other hand, other activities recorded a marketing use in Polish local and regional tourist organizations and that
significant increase in the last four years. However, most organizations DMOs are aware of this fact.
still do not plan to adopt click-through from paid advertisements. As in During the study motivations, barriers and facilitators related to the
the case of activities related to search engines, there is a noticeable use of web marketing activities were also investigated. Among their
reluctance to adopt activities that require payment. The telephone in- motivating factors, each of them marked ‘market imposes a greater
terview showed that most of regional and local tourist organizations in online presence’. The next most frequently mentioned answers were
Poland use Google Analytics to check their website's usage statistics. ‘thanks to them (web marketing activities) we better understand the
As can be seen in Table 5, at the time under consideration, the expectations of our customers’ (60%) and ‘to increase the profits of my
percentage of organizations that adopted activities related to mobile organization’ (40%). When it comes to the facilitators, the most
applications in each case increased almost three times. This is the most common were: ‘keeping updated, informed’ (80%), ‘benefits for the
significant change of all web marketing activities considered in this organization’ (70%), ‘more training’ (60%), ‘more HR’ as well as ‘ben-
study. It is striking that a large percentage of local and regional tourist efits for destination’ (50%). These results indicate that respondents are
organizations in Poland still do not plan to implement mobile appli- aware of the large role that new technologies play in the management
cations for smartphones and table PCs. This may be related to the of tourist destinations.
higher costs of such projects. Telephone interviews indicated that or- However, of particular interest are the results associated with the
ganizations, however, plan to adopt mobile applications to a greater barriers. Table 6 demonstrates which factors most limit the im-
extent and even if the costs of such investments are high, there are some plementation of web marketing activities in Polish DMOs. As can be
possibilities to solve the problems, such as using EU funding or devel- seen, there are four main barriers and among them, the most frequently
oping applications in collaboration with other stakeholders, for ex- specified were a lack of sufficient skills and a lack of financial resources
ample, creating one application within a few local tourist organizations. (both factors at a level of 67%). The next most frequently cited barriers
This approach may be considered as similar to the model presented in are a lack of sufficient human resources (56%) and a lack of time (44%).
the Section 2 – Illinois Tourism Network (Gretzel & Fesenmaier, 2004) Furthermore, the decision making process and bureaucratic issues have
but on a small-scale. a vestigial significance. It is important to note that no organization has

Table 3
Adoption of search engine activities by Polish DMOs.

DMOs' responses in 2012 (%) DMOs' responses in 2016 (%)

Search engine activities Adopted Will adopt No plan to adopt Adopted Will adopt No plan to adopt

Search engine optimization 64 14 23 56 22 22


Monitoring our website's search result ranking 68 14 18 78 11 11
Monitoring competitors' website search result rankings 36 32 32 56 22 22
Analyzing keywords used to search for our destination 45 32 23 78 11 11
Purchase of ad space (e.g. Google AdWords) in search engines 23 23 55 0 22 78
Paid placement of our website URL on websites other than search engines 18 18 64 0 22 78
Free placement of our website URL on other websites 55 32 14 67 11 22
Link exchange with other websites 77 14 9 78 22 0

Table 4
Adoption of website usage statistics by Polish DMOs.

DMOs' responses in 2012 (%) DMOs' responses in 2016 (%)

Website usage statistics Adopted Will adopt No plan to adopt Adopted Will adopt No plan to adopt

Page views 73 18 9 78 11 11
Time spent on web pages 55 27 18 78 11 11
Repeat visitation 50 36 14 78 11 11
Origin of visitors (by region, country etc.) 55 23 23 89 0 11
Click through from paid advertisements 18 27 55 33 0 67
We use usage statistics to improve our website 55 23 23 78 22 0

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Table 5
Adoption of mobile applications by Polish DMOs.

DMOs' responses in 2012 (%) DMOs' responses in 2016 (%)

Mobile applications Adopted Will adopt No plan to adopt Adopted Will adopt No plan to adopt

We have a mobile version of our website 23 36 41 60 20 20


We have an app for smartphones (e.g. Iphone) 14 45 41 40 30 30
We have an app for tablets (e.g. Ipad) 14 41 45 40 20 40

Table 6 Overall, it can be stated that as the advances in technologies are con-
Barriers inhibiting the implementation of web marketing activities in Polish DMOs. tinuous (i.e. as the recent virtual and augmented reality solutions in
tourism), the level of maturity might vary every year (as new digital
Barriers Response rate 2016 (%)
activities need to be added and tracked), and needs to be adapted and
Lack of sufficient skills 67 reconsidered accordingly for each country.
Lack of sufficient HR 56
Lack of time 44
5. Discussion and conclusion
Lack of financial resources 67
Not suitable for our business 0
No interest/no need 0 Summing up the results of the research presented in the previous
Everything already implemented 0 section, it is concluded that in most cases, the data obtained in 2012 are
Decision making process 11 similar to those of 2016. Thus, given the researched group of organi-
Bureaucratic issues 11
zations, it can be said that their web maturity has not significantly
Other 0
evolved over the years. Nevertheless, significant differences exist in the
case of mobile applications and most activities related to the usage of
statistics as well as certain parameters from other activities, such as
chosen the response related to the interest/need or suitability of web monitoring of what others post about the destination, monitoring
marketing usage or responded that ‘everything is already implemented’. competitors' website search result rankings and analyzing keywords
This shows that organizations are aware of the important role of new used to search for the destination. In these cases, the increase of im-
technologies in tourist destinations management. Although the re- plementation between 2012 and 2016 is observable. These results
spondents could introduce additional, not listed barriers, none of them suggest that Polish DMOs understand the importance of monitoring
opted for this possibility. online dynamics (e.g. an increase in the usage of statics and eWOM
Qualitative research has shown that the biggest problems facing monitoring), and an overall exploration of the new channel represented
organizations in terms of online marketing are indeed financial issues by mobile applications. It is also noted that paid activities are still not
and a lack of skills and knowledge. Some of the organizations also widely used. This can be explained by the results of research conducted
mentioned a lack of time and insufficient human resources. There were by Zach et al. (2012), who found that paid activities do not achieve
also comments about the lack of support in this regard from the Polish desired outcomes. Besides, web marketing success is driven mostly by
Tourist Organization as well as a lack of understanding of tourism is- eWOM and search engine monitoring activities. Moreover, according to
sues by local authorities – marshals of voivodeships, mayors of cities, Hays et al. (2013) nowadays social media are an important element of
etc and unreasonably spent money (according to the interviewees too the marketing strategy of DMOs, especially when the public sector is
much money is spent, e.g. on leaflets, gadgets). During interviews the faced with cuts in their funding and they are required to seek greater
respondents also claimed that knowledge is available at conferences, value as well as reach a global audience with limited resources.
training sessions, as well as on the Internet. However, in their opinion However, understanding the cause of missed opportunities asso-
more tailored and in-depth training sessions related to the promotion of ciated with social media and eWOM use in the Polish regional and local
tourist regions as well as ready-made solutions, for example, how to run tourist organizations is still an open question. The investigation con-
a profile in social media, could be very useful because self-education cerning the barriers to web marketing adoption performed in 2016
and ‘own experiments’ requires a lot of time and can expose organi- underlined how the lack of financial resources should not be considered
zations to making mistakes. On the other hand, raising funds from EU as the main reason for not using such web resources. Indeed, it emerged
programs or working with other entities may, to some extent, solve from the results that there is an overall lack of sufficient skills by cur-
problems related to insufficient funding for the organizations. rent DMO managers in charge of the online channel, lack of human
Comparing the results of research conducted in Polish DMOs with resources, and an overall lack of time to devote to web activities. These
those in Swiss and United States DMOs (using the same survey ques- three reasons together with the financial issue were also most often
tionnaire), as in the previous research done by Milwood, Marchiori, and mentioned by the respondents participating in the similar studies con-
Zach (2013), Zach et al. (2012), and Fabi et al. (2014), it may be stated ducted in Switzerland (Adukaite et al., 2013), and Italy (Fabi et al.,
that while all Polish, Swiss, and US DMOs are generally financed 2014). This shows that Polish tourist organizations encounter the same
through bed taxes or their members and private-public contributions problems as DMOs elsewhere.
and thus all have similar operating conditions, US organizations ap- Since the answers to the first two research questions (related to the
peared to be in 2013 the most active ones in implementing and in- use of online marketing in 2012 and 2016 as well as motivations, fa-
tegrating social media activities in their businesses (especially in terms cilitators, and barriers to its use by Polish DMOs) were already given
of the diversity of social media used, top management support and above, the next question arises: how can DMOs overcome the barriers
created procedures). Most of the DMOs also declared their desire to encountered? Are there any developed solutions and good practices that
increase their web marketing activities in the future. However, in recent could be implemented by DMOs (not only Polish but worldwide) to deal
years, Swiss organizations have been active in implementing several with these problems?
advanced solutions, from virtual reality to the offer of a free open A good example of cost reduction and optimization of the available
eLearning course for travel agents which has been promoted by the resources in the processes related to web marketing is the creation of
Swiss national tourism organization. Therefore, it is argued that in ‘regional centers of expertise’ which could represent several smaller
2017, Swiss (and US organizations) increased their activities online. (local) DMOs and help them to implement web activities as well as

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exploit some of the benefits of online communication. Such an out- Moreover, the maturity models are useful tools for benchmarking re-
sourcing solution was implemented in the area of Canton Ticino search. Thanks to them, the organization can position itself among
(Switzerland) and this good practice may inspire other DMOs to join competitors and be more aware of areas in which it can compete more
forces to improve their online performances (Marchiori et al., 2012). effectively, or where more efforts are needed. The above mentioned
Furthermore, the inclusion of external partners enables organizations to solutions and good practices are only a few possibilities but could
share risks, access usually unattainable resources, develop new services provide valuable suggestions and recommendations for Polish as well as
(Stuart, 2000; Zach et al., 2012) as well as adding value to destination other DMOs around the world which encounter similar problems re-
competitiveness and overall marketing success (Wang & Fesenmaier, lated to web marketing adoption.
2006; Zach et al., 2012). Moreover, cooperation in the field of acquiring This study presents several limitations that need to be addressed.
external sources of funding, such as European funds mentioned during First of all, the sample of 10 DMOs gathered during the online survey in
telephone interviews, may help to solve financial problems. 2016 is very small thus it undoubtedly has an impact upon the com-
Undoubtedly, important issues that emerged during the interviews parability of the data. For this reason, additional qualitative studies in
are barriers related to the understanding of the role of internet mar- the form of telephone interviews were carried out. Nevertheless, the
keting by local authorities as well as unreasonably (in the eyes of the limited size of the sample should be enlarged in future research in order
tourist organizations) spent money. Also, assistance from the Polish to increase the reliability of the findings. In addition, the study only
Tourist Organization in this regard is not sufficient. Research conducted presents the main web marketing areas, however, other activities could
by Zach et al. (2012) indicated that in addition to collaboration with also be undertaken by DMOs. Therefore, future research should further
partners, another major driver of adoption and improvement in orga- analyze the actual online presence of destinations in order to integrate
nizations is just leadership. This factor definitely contributes to orga- all possible activities. There is also a possibility to use eTcoMM to
nizational and destination success providing internal support for new measure the exact level of web maturity of Polish local and regional
products, services and processes through the allocation of resources, top tourist organizations. Moreover, the study investigated only the supply
management support, openness, as well as an understanding of new side, future research may also consider the inclusion of the demand side
technologies (Gretzel, Yuan, & Fesenmaier, 2000; Zach, 2012; Zach, in order to compare what is projected by the destinations and what is
Gretzel, & Xiang, 2010). Therefore, issues such as leadership and top actually perceived by the tourists.
management support are critical for DMOs in terms of the adoption of
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