Kim, H. and Richardson, S  (2003)  'Motion Picture Impacts on Destination Images', in Annals of Tourism Research, Vol 30, No 1: 216 - 37.

[After a quite interesting review of earlier research and argument suggesting that viewing movies can lead to increased tourism to the locations involved, the authors develop a highly limited experimental study of their own, involving showing an experimental group just one movie and trying to measure any effects.]

The marketing of tourism depends increasingly on image, and there has been some considerable work on how these images are formed, and how they might relate to destination choice [summarised page 216 - 7]. For example, Gunn has suggested that there are both organic and induced images, the first related to popular culture in general, and the second to specific promotional materials, and this basic distinction has been further subdivided into eight possible types. Previous work seems to suggest that it is news coverage and popular culture that seems to have a particular effect, especially as it is seen as less strategic in intent. One study suggests that Disney representations of nature  'has impacted Americans' way of seeing nature and place' (217) (Margaret, J (1996) 'The Audience in the Wilderness', in Journal of Popular Film and Television, Vol 24, No 2:60--8 -- must have a look). Movie-going is popular, and maybe even more important than print media, and this is confirmed by an apparent increase in tourist interest following particular films -- increased tourism to Scotland following Braveheart, for example  [the authors recognise that the film was actually shot mostly in Ireland].

Research still needs to be done into the mechanisms involved. For example, the notion of  'image' can be further refined as a matter if  'beliefs, impressions, ideas, and perceptions that people hold of objects, behaviours, and events' (218). Favourable perceptions of areas do seem to be connected to choosing destinations, and again there has been some extensive research on this  [218 - 9]. Urry, for example, refers to tourist anticipations as well as direct influences on organised gazes. The effects of literature, both directly and as leading to subsequent movies, has also been seen as important. Film representations can also have an effect in leading to  '"the recreation of places as living environments and tourism sites"' (219, quoting Morgan and Pritchard). This is an example of what Hall refers to as  '"the circuit of culture"' [for an early formulation this view, click here].

The actual ways in which these effects develop has been little investigated. The model in this piece suggest that destination images have both a cognitive and an affective or emotional dimension, and that movies might stimulate both familiarity with an interest in visiting certain destinations. In particular  'The concept of empathy, which provides for vicarious experience with a place' is explored  (220). This model is justified with reference to the background literature as before. Most earlier studies have tended to emphasise the cognitive rather than the emotional, however. Some studies have also assumed that only an actual visit can lead to the gaining of knowledge about the place. However, some basic film theory  [including Metz, curiously] suggests that viewers can indeed identify with aspects of the film, including the characters in the film  [which presumably is what privileges the concept of empathy here as a major form of identification].

Empathic responses involve identification with plot and character, and can be such as to involve complete immersion in the action. Advertising research has long realised this, apparently.  [One study, cited on page 221, refers to the role of  'advertising dramas and the measurement of their effectiveness by asking how much viewers were able to identify with the characters]. Some of this action can clearly be  'place-oriented'. This kind of active interpretation  [but not the more critical kind which fails to identify in this immediate way?] is what might lead to vicarious experience which affect the choice of tourist destinations: thus the level of empathic involvement  'can affect the perceptions viewers have of the place depicted in the film' (222).

Familiarity is also important, and viewing movies can help develop this quality which reduces anxiety and increases specific knowledge. At the same time, excessive familiarity can reduce the novelty of travel -- so the level has to be optimal. Again, advertising literature is cited in support of the importance of familiarity with the brand. There is a controversy about how to measure familiarity, and a need to separate cognitive and affective dimensions.

Overall, five hypotheses were measured  [and I move straight to the findings on each one before noting some more details of the methodology]:

(1) Exposure to a film will cause a significant difference in perceptions of a tourist destination. Here, measures of cognitive and affective component did show statistically significant differences, but by no means evenly: four out of seven variables showed significant differences. The most important affective variable was the  'relaxing - distressing dimension' (228) .
(2) It will also affect interest in visiting a place. There was an overall statistical difference between the groups.
(3) 'The degree of empathic involvement with film characters will be significantly related to perceived destination images'. Only two out of the seven variables measuring empathic involvement were statistically significant -- none of the cognitive variables, and only two of the affected variables  'arousing - sleepy... and exciting - boring' (230) .
(4) The degree of empathic involvement will also be related to the degree of perceived familiarity. There was no statistical evidence to support this view.
(5) The perceived degree of familiarity will be affected by having viewed a selected film. There was no statistical evidence to support this view either.

This was a careful statistical and psychological study, measuring various attributes, dividing the sample into a control group and an experimental group, and showing a film -- Before Sunrise, which is set in Vienna -- only to the control group. The measurement of the attributes, and the subsequent statistical analyses seem to have been carefully done, but, as the authors acknowledge themselves, expecting one showing of one film to have measurable effects seems naive: what a waste of all the subsequent statistical analysis!

To pick up some details:
(a) Instead of doing a pre-test, which can rehearse people, subjects were randomly assigned to each group. Care was taken not to reveal the purpose of the study, and information on whether people had already visited Vienna was only gathered after the test was complete. The control group were shown a neutral film - Groundhog Day.
(b) Care was taken to end with a large enough sample for adequate statistical analysis -- 109 were recruited originally and were randomly assigned to either group, but 17 were dropped from the study sample for various reasons, leaving a workable total of 92.
(c) Possibly significant demographic variables such as gender were tested to see if there were significant differences between the two groups, and there were not.
(d) Various published Likert-type scales from the background literature were used to measure cognitive and affective attributes of destination images. Thus affective dimensions included  'arousing - sleepy, exciting - gloomy, pleasant - unpleasant, and relaxing - distressing' (225). Empathy was measured using a published scale developed in advertising: respondents were invited to rate how they felt in response to statements such as  'While watching the commercial, I felt as if the characters'thoughts and feelings were my own' (225). The wording was modified to fit the movie in question. Familiarity with Vienna was measured using a scale that focused  'on the physical environment and Viennese lifestyle', after discussion with an expert panel.
(e) The responses were first analysed in terms of their adequacy, and some were dropped. The remainder were allocated to 'three factors that accounted for 59.21 per cent of the total variance' (225). Thus cognitive components were described in terms of three underlying factors -- knowledge of  'cultural/natural attractions... community characteristics/infrastructure... basic needs/comfort' (226). Affective components were measured according to the dimensions above. Empathy and familiarity were tested using scaled items, which were highly correlated together. The empathy scale invited response to statements such as how far people understood the characters, got involved with their feelings, could put themselves in the place of the characters, felt as if the characters' thoughts were the same as their own, were able to share in the experience of the characters, and so on  [more details page 228]. Familiarity simply reflected extent to which people agreed they were familiar with aspects such as the lifestyle of people, the cultural./historical attractions, the landscape, the entertainment available [more details 229].

The overall model suggested by the authors after the research is that movies seem to have a statistically significant relationship with empathy, with the cognitive/affective destination image, and with an interest in visiting, but a less significant relationship with familiarity. Annoyingly, empathy itself seems to be not significantly related to familiarity or destination image. [A classically inconclusive finding then: even the statistically significant relationships don't really seem to make sense or to simply confirm the usual views of how movies might affect tourist perceptions.]

Overall, it seems that  'some of the findings were contrary to expectations', and that in particular  'empathic involvement, at least as measured in this study, is not the main cause for viewers to change their perceptions of locations depicted in films', despite what previous literature has suggested, especially the marketing and advertising literature  (231). Instead, movies might have a more direct effect in involving viewers. The evidence does seem to suggest that movies can affect viewers, in general, but  'in both positive and negative directions' (231)  [I have not noted the specific negative findings -- sadness is one possibility, treated here as a negative emotional experience; in the more specific findings negative effects seem to be seen as disagreement with the various items in the scales. Thus showing the film led to an negative effect on  'the basic needs/comfort factor' (228)]. In particular, familiarity with Vienna seems not to have been affected. This could be because familiarity itself needs to be better measured, that familiarity is affected by other elements not just movies, all that one quick exposure will not be sufficient to change it.

The findings do support some aspects of the background literature, including the general one that movies can increase tourist interest. The possibly negative effects of movies may mean that advertisers have to manage those specifically. Movies may attract different audience segments, and should be analysed carefully to see if this is the case. Further research is clearly required, both into the mechanism involved when movies affect people, as well as into clarifying some of the terms such as  'familiarity', and the affective dimensions. Finally  [and a bit late], audience characteristics might be significant, and it is acknowledged that the laboratory experiment may not be the best way of exploring them -- for example, real moviegoers may go deliberately to seek entertainment, which would provide them with an emotion set already. [There are lots of other variables too, not least of which might be the intertextual resources which audiences bring to watching a film -- they may have just seen a documentary on Vienna, or taken an aversion to a popular song about it, or react strongly to recognition of the actors in the film, and lots of other things. These are probbaly never discussed in the literature on advertising and marketing specifically, which is the main source here,because they arenot amenable to direct practice?]. Finally, there is no attempt to estimate any long-term effects. Nevertheless, Braveheart did seem to have an effect...[ no doubt for all sorts of reasons though]

back to key concepts