Heritage Visitor Attractions (HVAs) comprise the most vital part of the tourism industry. This is because they attract many tourists, and there is a lot of revenue created by the sites (Garrod & Wanhill, 2012). Malta is located at the center of the Mediterranean. The heritage of Malta tourism is dated 7000 years. These pre-historic sites feature amongst the world heritage sites (UNESCO, 2012).
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Therefore, Malta tourism industry requires much promotion/marketing locally and abroad. In this respect, more attention and efforts have been devoted to the use of media to promote the site. For example, the use of the internet to promote the site has been applied in the recent past. The use of online marketing in heritage visitor/tourist attractions has fuelled enormous growth in the tourism industry (Leask & Yeoman, 2002).
Online marketing has become a crucial means for promoting tourists destinations and services. Internet has been enhancing the ways in which consumers make their travel arrangements (Dholakia, Dholakia, Fritz & Mundorf, 2002). The increasing use of the internet by consumers expands the possibility of having information about different products and purchasing of the products, as well.
Online social networks have also provided platforms where tourists share experiences about the places they have travelled. The internet is mostly preferred by travelers/visitors because it is easy to access, use, saves time and it is economical.
By mid 2012, there were close to about 518,512,109 internet users in Europe which represented 63.5 per cent of the entire European population and 21.6 per cent of the world’s internet users (Miniwatts Marketing Group, 2012). As noted in the Internet World Stats, Germany, Italy, UK, France and Russia were amongst the European countries with large numbers of the internet users (Miniwatts Marketing Group, 2012).
On the other hand, the internet is employed to learn the prices of various destinations based on flight and accommodation rates. Malta, a small country in Europe, has a wide range of heritage tourist attractions mostly popular in the world. In addition, it is widely acknowledged for embracing online marketing in its tourism industry.
The number of internet users in Malta’s tourism market has been rising each year since 2000 and 2010 recorded 59.2 per cent of the internet users.
As portrayed in a survey by Malta’s National Statistics Office (2011) about internet usage in households and enterprises in 2010, 55.8 per cent represented internet users related to travel planning. Hotel accommodation stood third amongst the items commonly sought online by 29.8% which was an increment of 4% compared with the 2009 figure (Malta National Statistics Office 2011).
This research will use a deductive approach where both qualitative and quantitative research methods will be used. It will be based on primary as well as secondary data. Primary data will be collected from various selected HVAs through semi-structured interview and quantitative self-completion surveys.
The semi-structured interviews will target the management personnel of the selected HVAs. On the other hand, quantitative self-completed surveys will target the visitors.
This research will assess online marketing framework in Malta’s tourism industry in the context of its heritage visitor attractions. The study will display a comprehensive stand about the connection online marketing has on the tourist travel/visits to heritage sites in Malta.
This research will assess the use of online marketing in Malta since 1996. In addition, the research will uncover the Heritage Visitor Attractions in Malta. The result of this research will offer a clear understanding about online marketing of HVAs in Malta.
Aim and Objectives
This research will aim to assess the use of online marketing of Heritage Visitor Attractions in Malta.
The following questions underpin the research on this subject: What ways has online marketing impacted tourism sector in Malta on the basis of HVAs.
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Therefore, the specific objectives of this research will be:
- To conduct a comprehensive review of existing literature in relation to the online marketing of heritage visitor attractions
- To identify the current supply and demand for heritage visitor attractions in Malta
- To establish the current use of online marketing by heritage visitor attractions in Malta
- To investigate the relationship between the use of online marketing and visitors to Maltese heritage visitor attractions
- To draw conclusions and recommendations on the future use of online marketing in the management of Maltese heritage visitor attractions.
The objectives of this research are established in a manner that they support the logical flow of the research. The literature of this will be instrumental in identifying the contemporary issues relating to online marketing of Heritage Visitors Attractions. This will assist in providing a clear guideline for this research by focusing on the influences, trends and factors applying to online marketing of Heritage Visitors Attractions.
Key Literature Review
Significance and scope of the research
There are minimal studies that have been carried about online marketing strategies of Malta’s Heritage Tourist Visitor Attractions. The majority of the studies has concentrated on the impact of marketing on Malta’s heritage visitor attractions. Amongst them is Farrugia’s (2006) study which overlooked on the influence of the sustainable tourism marketing on Malta’s Heritage Visitor Sites.
Her study aimed to identify ways in which tourism marketing of Maltese heritage sites could be achieved. The outcome of her study showed several emergent factors which could lead to successful tourism market in Malta. Majority of factors emphasized on the enhancing the marketing strategies to incorporate more communication, networking and partnerships with the heritage organizations and the visitors both local and international.
On the part of local visitors, this would integrate the sense of ownership which would otherwise promote protection of the heritage sites for their own benefit and others.
However, this study did not indicate how these factors are to be incorporated in marketing. Online marketing can be instrumental in ensuring communication, networking and partnership. This research will aim to assess online marketing of Malta’s heritage visitor attractions.
Online Marketing, Heritage Visitor Attractions
Heritage Visitor Attraction is a crucial element of tourist products that determine the choices that visitors/tourists make to visit a certain destination over the other (Leask & Yeoman, 2002). It is the most important component amongst the three basic components of tourist products.
Malta, despite being a small country, it is well known worldwide due to its vast HVAs ranging from the archaeological and historical sites to natural sites. Valletta, the historical Malta’s capital, is one of the earliest most renowned HVA sites listed among the World’s Heritage by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization-UNESCO (UNESCO 2009; World Tourist Attractions 2011).
This is a thriving visitor attraction that is in the culture and heritage of various national buildings, monuments, artifacts and many more. Megalithic Temples (Ggantija, Hagar Qim, Tarxien and Mnajdra) and Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, a subterranean neolithic structure are the other great UNESCO World Heritage Sites-WHS in Malta (Leask & Fyall 2012).
WHS are attractions of high profile and they are usually designated as iconic and unique (Leask &Yeoman, 2002). Most often, they are owned by the government thus they are very significant in the national tourism industry. In addition, WHS/HVAs have other features which include quality, authenticity, activity options and drawing power (Leask & Yeoman 2002).
Relative to the quality, HVAs are of high quality as they provide a pleasant and clean environment, smooth tourist oriented procedures and operations, security and friendly hospitality. The majority of visitors concentrates on the sites, buildings and facilities offered by the HVAs while making their travel decisions. Besides this is very important to also consider the activities which keep the visitors busy and enjoying.
Good HVAs should provide varied and changing options of activities to the visitors. Lastly about the drawing power, this is measured by the potential number of visitors visiting a particular destination and their likelihood of visiting the destination again. WHS is endorsed by high drawing power.
On top of this, WHS/HVAs are the primary visitor attractions. This is attributed to the fact that they highly influence visitors’ decisions regarding where to visit.
Apart from the WHS mentioned above, Malta has another enormous heritage tourist attractions like Mdina, Gozo Islands, Sunny and Sandy beaches and Mediterranean hotels for dining and nightlife amongst others. Another important attraction site for tourists in Malta is the diving activity in the Mediterranean Sea around the Maltese islands (Leask & Fyall 2012).
Therefore, the marketing of such destinations that are most preferred by visitors is very essential in the tourism industry (Fyall & Garrod 2005). Online marketing has inspired the growth of the tourism industry by enhancing consumers’ exploration of attractive destinations back from the comforts of their homes in order to reach an informed decision prior to their visitations.
In addition, the internet has enabled visitors to scrutinize the HVAs, check weather conditions as well as communicate with other visitors over the world regarding their experience for a particular chosen destination. Online marketing is the promotion of tourist products or services using the internet. There are various forms of promoting tourist products or services through the internet.
This includes designing of company’s websites, social media networks, mobile phones and many other interactive media. Therefore, online marketing of heritage visitor attractions is successful online communication with the potential visitors and convincing them that you are offering tourist products or services that they require or will benefit from better than others.
The Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) embraced the use of internet in marketing tourist products back in 1996 when it’s first online tourist marketing website was launched. By this time, the internet was in its infancy and has not well established globally.
Over the years, online marketing of Malta’s HVAs was mainly based on the visitmalta.com website, that has since then been redesigned and re-launched severally, corporate website amongst other special interest online sites.
With the introduction of Web 2.0, social networking took center stage in online marketing in tourism and other sectors.
In this respect, MTA developed its official pages on the most renowned Web 2.0 sites including social media networks like Facebook and Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, blogs, video sharing websites and so forth (Debattista 2011). These social networks are more influential to young travelers, 18 to 24 years old (Debattista 2011).
Moreover, MTA established multi-lingual e-newsletters which are sent to the ever-growing consumers’ database in every 2 months to keep in touch and enlighten them about the HVAs events and aspects which are of interest.
Furthermore, MTA launched applications for mobile phones and iPads, Apple iPhone Smartphone and Apple iPad tablet respectively. One of the applications is a mobile destination guide written in English, Italian and German whereas the other focuses on Malta’s cultural offers.
On the other hand, MTA initiated a text to speech feature on the visitmalta.com site to enable consumers with reading problems or visual impairments to access information in the form of a speech. Because of the rapid changes in the technology, Malta’s tourism industry initiated redesigning of the visitmalta.com portal in 2011 to accommodate these technologies like the geographical information system (Debattista 2011).
As of 2011, Expedia.com, one amongst the most known global travel websites, awarded the MTA as the Best Partner Innovator because of its marketing strategies. Indeed, Malta was the first Mediterranean country to receive such an honor due its efforts in online marketing in the widely diversifying tourism industry. The United Kingdom is one of the potential markets for Malta’s tourism.
The UK tourists were the first to adopt online travel services in Europe. And as earlier mentioned, Europe consists of a huge percentage of internet users. This prompted Malta to change and adopt online marketing services offered by Expedia.com and other online travel agencies to enhance its tourism sector. The European countries, UK, Italy, Germany and France have been the five potential source markets for Malta’s HVAs.
To 2010, visitors from UK amounted to 415, 120, Italy, 214, 259, Germany, 126, 097 and France, 86, 475 (Debattista 2011). Expedia enabled Malta tourism sector to implement online distribution with its HVAs which boosted its sales. A substantial number of visitors employ the internet in their research about holidays, making travel arrangements, booking and paying.
Malta’s partnership with Expedia has contributed to the major benefits of its tourism industry. In 2011, Malta was able to offer more accommodation to visitors thus making more profits, even during crisis time. The average profit rate on daily basis rose by 5 per cent compared to that of 2010. Additionally, the number of independent visitors increased steadily by about 46 per cent.
This relationship also influenced rapid changes in the Maltese tourism sector like opening of more new routes, emphasized growth of internet marketing, establishment of cheap carriers and strategies to lure young, affluent and most adventurous tourists with shorter holidays but massive travels especially during the off-peak periods. In regards to the carriers, reducing of the carrier traffic and cost increased the number of visitors in Malta.
To ensure the progress in online marketing in Malta is maintained and enhanced, Expedia offers education to Malta’s tourism industry (Debattista 2011). Additionally, Expedia also awarded Malta’s hotel, the Juliani, back in 2009, which was ranked 11th in Europe and 29th globally.
By that time, close to about 85, 000 hotels in the world had registered with Expedia. The Expedia World Heritage Insider list featured only one percent of hotels. Five of the Maltese hotels had made it to the list, however, Juliani hotel was the fortunate to be awarded. Because of this impact of online marketing in Malta’s HVAs, the MTA had proposed to invest €800,000 in online marketing in 2009 (Timesofmalta.com 2009).
The year 2006 saw the entrance of Izzicarhire.com, an online car rental service, in the Maltese tourism market. The online firm linked the companies dealing with car rental with tourists. The company offered the suppliers the opportunity to access and compare the rates. Customers could also book thee rental cars. This was a great boost to Malta’s HVAs leading to a convenient and comprehensive service to its visitors.
This service is connected with Malta’s International Airport (Izzicarhire.com 2012). Malta has gone a long way with its carrier system, main airline-Air Malta. Major changes and improvements have been incorporated in its online marketing strategies. Recently, this international Malta airline launched its new interactive website that mostly targeted tourists. This was to supplement its old website which had been in place for 14 years.
This site is followed by millions of visitors annually. It has been the most known sites in Malta and Europe at large. The enhanced new site will offer more features and information pertaining to flights, weather conditions and services like live destinations and terminal maps. In touring Malta heritage attractions.
Additionally, the new site was set to increase the traffic of checking both the incoming and outgoing flights and surveying of Malta’s weather condition. This has helped more visitors to plan their travel arrangements mostly for leisure.
The Malta tourism industry has also introduced a new online media library, viewingmalta.com, where the majority of up to date photo and video collections about Maltese HVAs are being posted. This online library is subdivided into three, Malta Islands, Gozo and Comino. In regards to the Malta Islands sector, images reflecting the Malta’s heritage, culture and diversity are posted.
On top of this Malta tourism industry has embraced the TripAdvisor.com, a more comprehensive social network to connect with visitors and collect information about the strongholds and weaknesses of various HVAs in order to improve the performance of these destinations.
This is attributed to the fact that understanding visitors’ preferences, opinions, and perceptions about the HVAs is the starting point of developing a more effective online marketing (Fedele 2012).
The majority of visitors relies on the internet to access information and services about HVAs by frequently seeking assistance or suggestions from visitors who have previously visited the destinations. Recent studies have concurred with this that visitors/tourist prior to choosing or visiting a destination, they prefer to seek recommendations from touring with the experience of such HVAs.
For this reason they check more for online comments, opinions and preferences to help them reach a sound decision. Utmost all people leave alone tourist tend to believe a word of mouth from people of their status say other tourists rather than advice from experts. MTA is utilizing the information contained in such online comments and feedbacks from visitors, user generated content, to enhance the online of their HVAs.
Data collected from TripAdvissor.com is transferred to other sister websites whilst translated in the respective language of the targeted visitors. Malta tourism industry mostly translates UGC in five different languages namely English, German, Italian, Spanish and French. The above languages represent Malta’s primary HVAs markets (Fedele 2012).
This research will rely on both primary and secondary data. Primary data will be available from questionnaires whereas secondary data will be obtained from textbooks, journal articles, newspaper articles, international sources like UNESCO and ETC, government sources, internet sources and websites.
Relative to the qualitative method, it will be used to overlook the outcomes of the research hypothesis and also to develop further study to test and support the research. In regards to the quantitative approach, customer questionnaires will the primary tool of research.
The design approach will be carried through an explanatory approach. Here, the variables involved in the research, online marketing and heritage visitor attractions will be related.
Questionnaires are most preferred in research because they eliminate biases and partiality in data collection due to interviewer absence and questions delivery. However, the questionnaires require being more defined and precise before data collection. The questionnaires will purpose to assess online marketing of Malta’s HVAs.
The validity and reliability of the data to be collected together with response rate will rely largely on the questions design, questionnaire structure and efforts applied in pilot testing (Conradi & Wang, 2003). As far as data validity is concerned, the research questions must be carefully defined based on the literature reviewed, where appropriate discussions may be encouraged in the pilot phase.
This will be directed to ensure the questionnaires cover the investigative research questions adequately to the extent that the questions will measure the constraints required deeply and appropriately.
On the other hand, reliability enhances robustness of the questionnaire in respect to production of consistent results based on different conditions or timing. Reliability can be determined using several methods like the test-retest and split half methods. Nevertheless, development of the questionnaire determines the reliability method to be adopted.
An online questionnaire will be used for this research due to the limited number of direct visitors. The sample will consist of all the people visiting online tourist sites in a given time. The sampling will be done by taking samples of people in cyber cafes. Besides the number limitation online questionnaires will target a wide variety of tourists from different countries as well as save a lot of time.
Furthermore, the questionnaires will be simplified and based on a closed format. This is will aim to enhance the response rate and time management. Open question format consumes more time because of the coding process, hence delaying the response. Rating scales like the Likert scale will be used to rate the questions in order to obtain data of varied attributes depending the question statement.
Processing and analysis of the data collected will employ the use of statistical tools and software like the Microsoft excel. Such software’s will enable input and coding of data in the correct layout where both the categorical and numerical data can be processed and presented using the appropriate formats like charts, tables, graphs and so forth.
Further support the research questions based on the questionnaire and facilitate data analysis, qualitative interviews will be taken based on the managers of the respective online questionnaire services. The interview will be self administered based on the questions developed from the outcomes of respondent questionnaires and the research literature as well.
Unlike the previous questionnaire format, this will take an open format to ensure the respondents provide extensive information which may be of help in obtaining various facts. This interview will be complemented through recording to eliminate information biases that may arise during or after the interview. These results will be coded and interrelated with the previous data submitted these online services.
Finally, comparison of primary and secondary data will be examined to identify the trends and the relationship of the variables of research. This will be done by comparing and contrasting various theories.
The primary research will provide the actual data collected from the field. Secondary data will provide previous theories (Shaffer, 2009). On the part of ethical Issues, this research will uphold accuracy and privacy of the data collected more so in collection of primary data.
Organization of the research
This primary research will be assembled in the following manner;
It entails the introduction and background information regarding the variables of this study, online marketing and heritage visitor attractions. Definition of the variable used in the research will be explained in this section. The chapter will also contain the objectives of the study.
The research questions will also be provided. The rationale of the research will be explained in this chapter. In addition, the hypothesis of the research will be developed in this chapter.
It uncovers the theoretical as well as the empirical literature about these two variables of the study. The literature review will explore various concepts and ideas developed various authors. The literature will be linked, and differences in ideas will be identified. In addition, a theoretical model will be developed.
The model will contain the variables used in the research, and it will identify the relationship between the dependent and independent variables. Therefore, theoretical model will be a summary of the concepts and ideas in the research paper.
It presents the research methods, variables definition and data description. The chapter will explore the various methodological tools applied during the research. As such, the data collection process will be explained. The population will be explained. Additionally, the sample will be developed from the population. The various aspects and characteristics of the sample will be explored.
It provides the outcome coverage, estimation, analysis, discussion and formulate the required recommendations. Statistical knowledge will be applied in explaining the chapter. The findings obtained in the research will be examined, and appropriate conclusions drawn from the findings. The level of significance of the statistical data collected will be explored.
An interpretation of the statistical data will be provided so that a link can be created between the statistical data and the real life scenario. Therefore, this chapter will develop appropriate models and characteristics of the sample. An inference to the sample will be made so that the characteristics of the population can be developed.
The planning and preparation of this research starting with simple tasks to the difficult ones is of much significance. The Ganttt chart will provide an effective approach to plan as well as track this research.
In addition, the chart will assist in the identification of tasks in accordance to their urgency to ensure the research is carried out effectively and systematically within the stipulated schedule. The formulation of the research aims and objectives, establishing of the literature for the research and selecting the research method took place from mid October until the end of October.
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