doxa.comunicación | 30, pp. 265-281 | 267

January-June of 2020

Francisco Manuel Pastor Marín and Francisco Javier Paniagua Rojano

ISSN: 1696-019X / e-ISSN: 2386-3978

compare information about different tourist destinations, and recommend or advise against their experiences thanks to social media (Giraldo and Martínez, 2017).

1.1. The importance of the image of tourist destinations

Therefore, images are now crucial when choosing a tourist destination (Crompton, 1992) since tourists’ experiences in that destination will serve as a recommendation guide for family, friends, and their contacts on different social media. Thus, it is evident that social media is an essential information source for tourists (Xiang and Gretzel, 2010; Miguéns, Baggio, and Costa, 2008), and contributes to changing the communication paradigm.

Nowadays, the tourist is at the centre of this paradigm. Therefore, organised and uniform traditional tourism has given way to experiential tourism (De San Eugenio, 2011). That is why the destination marketing offices (DMOs) are increasingly consolidating their brands so that tourists obtain the best image of these destinations. The concept of the brand is made up of a set of names, logos, symbols, and values that aim to create a positive identity of the territory so that potential audiences have a positive perception of it (Huertas, 2014). Therefore, the brand is adapted by consumers in a complex way (Giraldo and Martínez, 2017).

The tourist destination is an intangible service. Until the tourist enjoys his/her experience there, he or she will not know if it is good or bad (Blain, Levy, and Brent Richie, 2005). As the destinations are intangible, choosing one is always risky, although this risk is now minimised thanks to other tourists’ opinions (Mill and Morrison, 2012; Mendes Thomas, Augusto Biz, and Gândara, 2013). Other tourists’ assessments are considered more than those of the Destination Marketing Offices (DMOs) (Xiang and Gretzel, 2010; Domínguez and Araújo, 2012).

Destinations benefit from this media in the pre-trip phase, when tourists are looking for inspirational information about the place they are going to visit, during the trip itself, when they publish and share information when returning home, and when they share their experiences (Mangold and Faulds, 2009; Mendes Thomaz et al., 2013). Tourists are publishing information about their holiday experience on social media more and more, thus demonstrating a proactive attitude (Santo, 2014).

Currently, tourists can make their decisions based on the information from other tourists who have already visited the destination and not only on what the destination managers can tell them (Curty and Zhang, 2011). In this new tourist communication paradigm, the media offers tourists the opportunity to give their opinions, make points, ask for information on any issue, criticise or praise their experience, make suggestions for improvement or meet other tourists with similar tastes. Thus, tourists can become opinion leaders because of their ability to create or destroy a reputation (Alvarado, 2012).

In this sense, the travel planning process is being reinvented (Sanmartín, 2012). The Internet is the backbone of search, and social media is the “new” tourist agency where experiences are shared. Therefore, there is a new type of traveller who acquires their tourist products directly and without intermediaries (Buhalis and Law, 2008).