Destination nostalgia also increased the intention to spread positive word-of-mouth, suggesting the potential to attract new tourists.
Virtual trips are a valuable way to attract new tourists, but what about returning tourists? Recent research by Dr. Hyejo Hailey Shin and a co-author from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University sheds light on the essential elements of virtual trips and how they can encourage returning tourists' intentions. By immersing returning tourists and evoking nostalgia, destinations can increase revisit intentions, promote positive word-of-mouth, and boost tourism in the post-COVID-19 era.
Virtual reality is an exciting technological advancement with numerous applications, including tourism. Many tourism organizations have utilized virtual trips, combining virtual reality and tourism content, to promote themselves as travel destinations in the post-pandemic era.
While virtual previews are effective in attracting first-time visitors, it is crucial to engage returning tourists who have already experienced the destination. By promoting positive feelings about past memories, destinations can increase revisit intentions. Virtual reality provides an opportunity to achieve this goal.
For virtual trips to appeal to returning tourists, they must trigger fond memories of previous travel experiences. The researchers hypothesized that high-quality interactivity, usability, sensorial appeal, and realistic representations would enhance immersion. True immersion elicits emotional responses, which are strengthened when travelers feel deeply immersed.
Nostalgia, intense positive feelings about personal memories, holds a special place in tourism research. Three types of tourist nostalgia are recognized: destination nostalgia, nostalgia for past lives, and nostalgia for social activities. The researchers predicted that immersion in virtual trips would positively influence all three types of nostalgia.
Emotions play a crucial role in the stimulus-organism-response paradigm, where emotions drive behavior. As an affective response, nostalgia influences travelers' behavioral intentions. The researchers tested whether nostalgia increased intentions to revisit a destination, visit similar destinations, and share memories with others. These indicators reflect travelers' favorable attitudes toward a destination.
The researchers also explored the moderating effect of travelers' personalities on the relationship between nostalgia and behavioral intentions. Allocentric tourists, who are self-confident and daring, may prefer discovering new destinations, while psychocentric tourists, who seek comfort and convenience, may be inclined to revisit familiar places.
To conduct the study, the researchers selected Orlando, Florida, as the theme park capital of the world and contacted 303 individuals who had visited the destination since 2015. Participants took a virtual trip and completed a comprehensive survey measuring interactivity, usability, sensorial appeal, authenticity, immersion, nostalgia, behavioral intentions, and travel personality.
The study found that immersion in virtual trips depended on authenticity and sensorial appeal, emphasizing the importance of high-quality content for engagement. Increasing immersion aroused nostalgia for the destination, which significantly increased intentions to revisit and visit similar destinations.
Destination nostalgia also increased the intention to spread positive word-of-mouth, suggesting the potential to attract new tourists. The researchers recommend strategic alliances between destinations with similar characteristics to offer virtual trips and attract potential visitors.
While the study revealed no significant effects of nostalgia for past lives or social activities on behavioral intentions, even allocentric travelers expressed willingness to revisit a destination due to nostalgia. This is encouraging news for destination marketing organizations.
These insights highlight the significance of technology in the tourism sector. Virtual trips can evoke nostalgia, leading to behavioral intentions that benefit the tourism industry. However, the participants' travel intentions may have been influenced by COVID-19 travel restrictions. As travel restrictions ease, the findings may differ. The tourism industry requires innovative tools to recover, and this research provides valuable guidance for destination marketing organizations.
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