A model of destination loyalty: integrating destination image and sustainable tourism

GreenExecutive-Blog-Cover-phot_20200209-164237_1 © Say Wah Lee

According to the United Nations, 68% of the world population is projected to live in the cities by 2050. China, India, and Nigeria collectively are projected to constitute 35% of total growth in urban population from 2018 to 2050, with China alone adding 255 million urban dwellers. Shanghai happens to be the most populated city in China as well as the world's third most populated city. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure the sustainability of Shanghai in order to keep up with further population growth.

Tourist destinations in China have been adversely affected by the increasing usage of tourism resources following rapid tourism industry development since the 1980s. These negative impacts would in turn aggravate the destinations' images. Shanghai may be well-known for its economic development, but in order to become a sustainable tourism city, it needs to satisfy the tourists in all aspects of developments, which involve the city's economic, social, environmental, and cultural dimensions.

On these accounts, I conducted a research in Shanghai last year to develop and test a destination loyalty model that integrates the concept of sustainable tourism. The objective of the research was to investigate the associations between tourist profiles, destination image of Shanghai (environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural images), satisfaction and loyalty intention among tourists in the city. Survey data were collected from tourists in five tourist destinations of Shanghai and analyzed using statistical research methods.

Destination image, which refers to people's perceptions of a destination, has the power to influence tourist behaviour as well as the success (or failure) of a destination. This research hypothesized that problems with the environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural aspects of Shanghai as perceived by the tourists would lead to their dissatisfaction and subsequently, lower intentions to revisit and recommend the city. Through an understanding of the tourists' perspectives, Shanghai can be improved to reach the status of sustainability.

The results show that the most favourable destination image of Shanghai was socioeconomic image, followed by cultural image, and lastly, environmental image. Tourists in Shanghai perceived the infrastructure and commercial image of the city most favourably under the socioeconomic variable. On the other hand, the tourists rated the city's ambience, which includes factors related to congestion and pollution, poorly below the neutral level. Overall, the tourists were fairly satisfied with Shanghai and somewhat loyal toward the city.

In order for Shanghai to become a sustainable city, none of the sustainability dimensions should be compromised. The authorities have to work on reducing negative environmental impacts in the city for the wellbeing of the tourists and the residents. Advanced technologies developed using cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and big data can be implemented to reduce congestion in the city, as reductions in people and traffic could facilitate efficient environmental management, bringing about positive environmental impacts.

Furthermore, due to increasing competition in the industry, the government and tourism players in Shanghai should work toward developing quality and differentiated tourism offerings to establish greater tourist satisfaction and loyalty. Destination marketers should promote Shanghai's competitive advantages, particularly its socioeconomic strengths, to create impactful images of the city in the minds of the tourists. A destination should be positioned based on the aspects that it can satisfy in a superior manner for effective marketing communications.

Since the tourism industry plays a major part in ensuring the sustainable development of a destination, ongoing efforts by all stakeholders, including researchers, to achieve sustainable tourism should be strongly encouraged, whether in Shanghai or in other places around the world. The measurement items of this study could be used by governments, destination organizations, and researchers as sustainable urban tourism indicators. It is recommended that tourists are surveyed from time to time to monitor and ensure the sustainability of a destination.


Say Wah Lee is a PhD student of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. She has published a paper in an SSCI-indexed journal, the Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research. She is set to present another paper at the International Communication Association Conference in Gold Coast this year. Her research interests include management, marketing, tourism, communication, and e-commerce.

Note: This article is written based on the author's original work published by Taylor & Francis in the Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research on 17/01/2020, which is accessible here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10941665.2020.1713185.


Any opinions or views expressed in this blog post are those of the individual author, unless explicitly stated to be those of GreenExecutive.

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