Augmented-reality tourism as a marketing tool for the real thing

Study by IFTM team investigates the use of augmented reality for virtual tourism, and how it can spur people to visit the real-life place

Research Corner | A partnership between Macau Business and the Macau Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM)

A team of researchers from the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM) has published new research with suggestions on the use of augmented reality as a marketing tool for in-person visits. The work focused on the varied dimensions of authenticity, taking as a base scenario an augmented reality, at-home, tourism experience.

The researchers pointed out that online, armchair tourism had grown in popularity recently, due to travel restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the linkage of information technology to tourism “continues to accelerate”, consumers’ demand for “authenticity in information technology experiences is further increasing,” the authors said.

The study was carried out by IFTM researchers Mr Chris Zhu Zhengan, Dr Yan Io Man U, Dr Henrique Fátima Boyol Ngan and Ms Rachel Luna Peralta. The findings were featured in the academic paper “Understanding augmented reality marketing in world cultural heritage site, the lens of authenticity perspective”. It was published last month in the online version of the Journal of Vacation Marketing.

The research results were based on an online questionnaire that had 240 respondents, all from Mainland China. To be eligible for participation, respondents had to confirm personal use of an augmented reality application featuring China’s Mount Tai, but also had to confirm they had never visited the location in person. The mountain, in Shandong province in Mainland China, is of historical and cultural significance, and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Spurring real-life tourism

The purpose of the study was to identify the relationship between different dimensions of authenticity in the context an augmented reality, at-home, tourism experience, and how it could impact virtual tourists’ willingness to make an in-person visit to the place.

According to the authors, authenticity in tourism generically falls under three headings. The first, defined as ‘objective authenticity’, refers to a tourist’s perception of the attributes of a place.

The second, ‘constructive authenticity’, is a tourist’s own projected notion of the attributes of a toured place. “Thus, constructive authenticity is not necessarily associated with reality, but may come from stakeholders’ shared interpretation and construction” of it, the IFTM team pointed out.

The third heading is ‘existential authenticity’. This puts “more emphasis on a subjective psychological feeling, which is influenced by factors such as the interactivity of the experiential process”.

Findings from the study indicated that respondents’ perceptions related to constructive and existential authenticity “positively” predicted satisfaction regarding their at-home tourism experience, and hence their willingness to visit the actual destination. Perceptions of objective authenticity, on the other hand, had “no significant impact” on respondent satisfaction in the context of an augmented-reality, at-home, tourism experience.

The study also found that respondent satisfaction was higher when participants reported good levels of existential authenticity, as compared with constructive authenticity. “Considering that existential authenticity places more emphasis on a subjective perception of the tourism experience, it is important for destination managers to consider how to enhance” the user’s experience of augmented reality tools, the IFTM team said. To achieve that, the researchers suggest resorting to “interesting storytelling” or addition of interactive elements.

The authors noted that, “given the richness of the information technology tourism experience”, users may not be in pursuit of absolute objectivity when embarking in an augmented reality, at-home, tourism experience: instead, people might “be more concerned with how they feel” during the activity.

– The researchers

Mr Chris Zhu Zhengan is a PhD student at the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM). He joined IFTM’s doctoral degree program in 2021, fresh from completing the Master of International Hospitality and Tourism Management Program at City University of Macau. His doctoral research is focused on the use of augmented reality as part of tourism experiences.

IFTM assistant professor Dr Yan Io Man U holds a PhD from the University of South Australia. She started her higher education studies with a bachelor’s degree from IFTM. Her research includes interests tourist experience and behavior in relation to heritage tourism, hospitality and nostalgia tourism. Dr. Io also serves on a range of academic and industry-related committees.

Dr Henrique Fatima Boyol Ngan is an assistant professor at IFTM, and specializes in psychology. He holds a PhD in that field from Macau’s University of Saint Joseph. Prior to joining IFTM, Dr. Boyol Ngan worked on projects related to training and organizational culture in the gaming industry.

IFTM reader Ms Rachel Luna Peralta has a master’s degree in English from the Abra State Institute of Sciences and Technology, in the Philippines. She holds a second master’s degree, in management, from the Divine Word College of Bangued, also in the Philippines. Her academic research interests are related to second-language writing, cognitive processes of writing, English-language studies, campus journalism, destination image, and intangible cultural heritage.

– The paper

Chris Zhu, Man-U Io, Henrique Fátima Boyol Ngan and Rachel Luna Peralta: “Understanding augmented reality marketing in world cultural heritage site, the lens of authenticity perspective”, Journal of Vacation Marketing, published online, 2022.

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