JOÃO RICARDO FREIRE
João Freire is a brand consultant at Brandia Central, a branding consulting firm based in Lisbon. João holds a PhD in Marketing from London Metropolitan University, where he is also a guest lecturer in Marketing. He is also the founder of Ecoterra, a company specialised in the marketing of natural food products.
Branding has become one of the most powerful tools in marketing strategy and its application has reach undreamed of areas. There has been a general agreement among academics and practitioners that places can be branded in the same way as consumer goods and services. Place branding is, however, a relatively new concept and there is a lack of empirical academic research on the topic. It can be assumed that place brands will have some unique characteristics that are quite different from products or services. This exploratory research reveals that local people are relevant and important for a destination brand-building process. Consumers use this factor to evaluate differences in destinations and to support their decisions about tourism consumption. It can be concluded that much of a place ’ s image is likely to be created by stereotyping the ‘ typical ’ local people.
Journal of Brand Management advance online publication, 17 May 2007;
The application of branding management philosophy has recently been evolving and reaching undreamed of areas. Today it is argued that not only should products and services develop a system of brand management focused on their identity, which helps develop a coherent execution, but places should also develop a similar brand management system. There is a general agreement among academics and practitioners that places can be branded in much the same way as consumer goods and services. The relevance of place branding concept is made clear by Morgan and Pritchard 12 who argue that ‘ the battle for customers in the tourism industry will be fought not over price but over the hearts and minds — in essence, branding … will be the key to success ’ .
But, can we really talk about branding places? Is it nonsense to talk about place branding as Professor Michel Girard 13 argues? Freire 14 defended that indeed it is not only possible but also desirable to talk about place brands or geo-brands (brands applied to places — countries, regions or cities). His initial argument is based on the idea that places will always mean something to consumers; that is, places are embedded with meaning and ‘ will function as a brand even if not managed under a branding conceptual framework ’ . 15 Consumer ’ s place images are based on stereotypes, which are not static but dynamic. The fl uid nature of stereotypes indicates that it is possible to manage images, which implies that, for example, National Tourism Organisations should intervene and develop active strategies to monitor and infl uence geo-brand image. 16
If a place can be managed as a brand, it is therefore essential to understand which dimensions are involved in the brand ’ s construction. It is reasonable to assume that geo-brands will have some unique characteristics that will be quite different from product or services brands. It is critical, for example, to identify market segments because it is assumed that geobrand construction differs and is dependent on the target audience. Basically, each segment is motivated by distinct needs and desires. For example, while investors will look for infrastructures, local government, taxes, cost and availability of labour, 17 tourists might not be so worried about these aspects and might be looking for other things such as natural beauty, sun, adventure, gaming, events / sports, cultural / history or even a certain level of lifestyle and fashion. 18 Therefore, when research is about place branding, decisions have to be taken concerning target audiences.
This research was focused exclusively on one type of audience, British consumers (tourists).
Essentially, if a place can be managed under a branding philosophy framework then managers should be made aware of the dimensions that comprise the place brand and which factors infl uence its image. This paper seeks to give an answer to these questions and is the result of a much broader investigation.
In the tourism fi eld, destination image has been defi ned as being a ‘ set of beliefs, ideas, and impressions that people have of a place or destination ’ . 19 Because this research is contextualised within the tourism and management fi elds, destinations and geo-brands are treated as synonymous and those two concepts will be used interchangeably.
Destination image, similar to the image of products and services can be seen as a multi-item construct, 20 implying that the sum of the attributes, are the elements of final composite image. 21 This comes in line with Gensch 22 who argues that product image is evaluated by its attributes. Both Ahmed (in a tourism destination context) and Gensch (in a product context) also, however, recognise that brand image, which is not a product attribute, might infl uence perceptions of attributes infl uencing the overall image.
Basically destination images are the result of individual attributes plus a more holistic image. 24,25 This line of thought can be traced to MacInnis and Price 26 who argued that products are not only composed by pieces of information on its individual characteristics but also by amore gestalt or holistic impression. So a geo-brand can be seen as an output in itself, not only its individual attributes have an impact on image but also a more general image will impact on the final destination image. 27 There is as well the realisation that the characteristics of the geo-brand ’ s attributes can be regrouped depending on its nature; they can be either functional or psychological.
Researchers also argue that the individual attributes of a destination have cognitive and emotional content. 29 – 31 In this context, the cognitive component refers to beliefs and knowledge about the place ’ s attributes, whereas the emotional / affective refers to beliefs and feelings about it. 32,33 Although it is possible to separate the emotional and the physical component of image 34,35 those two dimensions are interrelated, 36 which means it will be both perceptual / cognitive and affective evaluation that will form place ’ s overall image. 37,38 The implication of the notion that geo-brand image is the result of both cognitive and emotional constructions, isthat consumer ’ s personal characteristics will have a major impact on image evaluation and therefore, geo-brand image evaluation and formation is dependent on tourists ’ motivations to travel. 39 This means that destination image is not just determined by the physical properties of the place 40 but also by symbolic elements, 41,42 which are interrelated and will be dependent on the tourist ’ s motivations.
Although the rich body of literature on the destination image formation process, it seems that ‘ most studies have largely focused on its static structure … but not in its dynamics nature ’ . 51 It seems there is neglect on understanding ‘ the complex image formation process itself ’ . 52 Basically there is no consensus about the process of destination image formation. 53 – 55 It is in this context that it was felt that more empirical research was needed to enhance the understanding of geo-brands ’ nature.
The main objective of this investigation is to provide a deeper understanding of the different dimensions that compose a geo-brand. This research is relevant to the organisations that deal with the diffi cult task of geo-brand identity construction.
Although several important dimensions emerged from the research, due to space restrictions, only one dimension is analysed and reviewed in this paper. This dimension was defi ned and labelled ‘ Local People ’ . 56
In order to have a meaningful answer to the research problem, the factors consumers use to evaluate geo-brands, a qualitative methodology based on in-depth interviews was employed. This research was set up in a naturalist paradigm, which with the applied methodology, was thought as being the most appropriate way to researchthis type of problem. The methodology applied allows the free emergence of attributes and gain a deeper understanding about the impact of the dimension ‘ Local People ’ on geo-brand image.
The current research used the Algarve, a region in the south of Portugal, as the main empirical geo-brand. It was relevant to carefully distinguish Portugal from the Algarve and, likewise and where required, other geo-brands such as Costa del Sol from Spain because the dimensions consumers use to evaluate each type of geo-brand might differ. These expectations were based on Caldwell and Freire ’ s 57 findings, which argued that there are differences in branding a city, a region or a country.
‘ The factors that infl uence the image of a country are different from the factors that affect a region and city. In this sense, the work of branding a country is different from that of branding a region or city. ’
Yet other regions that were perceived as functionally similar to the Algarve wereinvolved in the research. The interviewer routinely asked interviewees to compare the Algarve with destinations such as Costa del Sol and French Riviera. The main objective of involving other regions was to understand which dimensions consumers would use to evaluate and differentiate geo-brands.
Moreover, the data were collected in several locations as opposed to just one; accordingly data were collected in Portugal — Algarve, Spain — Costa del Sol and UK — London. The decision for interviewing British consumers in different contexts was based on the perception that this would enhance the emergence of diverse relevant factors and facilitated the understanding of the geo-brands ’ dimensions. Essentially, the sample was divided into three distinct groups. Tourists who were in fact consuming the Algarve geobrand composed the fi rst group. Participants in this group had different levels of experience with the geo-brand — owners of property (who spend several months per year in the Algarve), fi rst time visitors and repeated visitors. The second group was composed by people who chose (directly or indirectly) not to consume the Algarve brand. The author wanted to interview individuals who, in some way, chose not to consume the Algarve brand and decided on a competing offer, in this case Costa del Sol, Spain. Costa del Sol was selected because it is a popular destination among the British and shares many functional attributes with the Algarve brand — both regions have extensive popular resorts with a strong sun, beach and family holidays appeal — and the distance between the UK and both regions is similar. The third group was comprised of British people who were in the UK. In this case, a third battery of interviews was conducted in London. It was expected that new and different dimensions would emerge when people were interviewed who were not on holiday and were in their home environment.
Within each region (Algarve and Costa del Sol) several locations were selected as appropriate to conduct the interviews. In the Algarve people were interviewed at a 4-Star resort near Albufeira, and at bars in Carvoeiro and Praia da Rocha. The sample was not selected randomly but by either previous selection or by observation — purposeful sampling. 58 In Albufeira and, at the 4-Star resort it was possible to conduct the interviews with the target sample (property owners) thanks to the resort ’ s extremely effi cient and reliable management. They kindly assisted the researcher by contacting and booking interviews with resort ’ s British homeowners. In all the other areas, Carvoeiro and Praia da Rocha, the selection process was based on observation. A random British person seated in a bar would be approached and asked about his or her availability to be interviewed. In-depth interviews were conducted with 35 people in the Algarve. This strategy of interviewing people in different locations was effective, since it was possible to collect data from people with different ages, income, lifestyle, lifecycle and motivations.
In Costa del Sol, the sample selection was similar to the one in the Algarve and people were also interviewed in several cities within the region: Marbella, Torremelinos and Fuengirola. As in the Algarve the selected participants were British consumers who were seated at bars. In total, 14 people were interviewed. Once more individual ’ s personal characteristics varied extensively, from retired couples to young couples. Likewise, in London people from different backgrounds, lifestyles, family lifecycle, age, education and occupation comprised the interviewee sample. Experience with the Algarve brand was not a set criterion. Actually, it was only during the interview that the researcher would learn if the interviewee had previously consumed the Algarve brand or not. Once again, the sampling technique used was of nonprobabilistic nature. The sample was not chosen by random methods but by the researcher ’ s personal judgment and following a snowball process. The researcher wanted a diversifi ed sample, so in order to have such a sample interviewees in London were selected because of the nature of their occupation and age. Overall, nine people were interviewed.
For each interviewee a code was created. This code had the objective of pointing out where the interview took place and giving some indication about individuals ’ characteristics such as gender and relation with the brand (visitors, residents). The codes were as follows: A — Algarve, S — Costa del Sol, L — London, P — property owners, T — tourists, F — female, M — male. For example, if a female interviewee had a house in the Algarve she would be codifi ed as APF3. The number was used to distinguish different interviewees. The interviews took on average 30 min and were tape-recorded. After recording, the interviews were transcribed for later analysis. The data were collected between May and October 2004.
ANALYSIS OF RESULTS
Local people used as a cue to evaluate geo-brands
Geo-brand ’ s local people, was often mentioned as a relevant variable infl uencing decisions and impacting behaviour. From these fi ndings, it was concluded that ‘ Local People ’ was one of the dimensions that compose a geo-brand. A great number of interviewees made use of this dimension in one way or another to evaluate and / or to differentiate geo-brands. The ‘ Local People ’ dimension was used to support and justify actions. Interestingly, it seems that the relevance of this factor was dependent on where the interviews took place. When the interviews were conducted in the Algarve, and regardless if the interviewees were tourists or residents, the factor ‘ Local People ’ emerged quite often and was always linked to positive impressions. On the other hand, in Costa del Sol (except for the permanent residents who justifi ed their decision to move to Costa del Sol partly because of the local people) the factor ‘ Local People ’ , when present, was usually used to evaluate negatively the local geo-brand. Some people interviewed in London also mentioned ‘ Local People ’ as a relevant factor in making decisions about consumption. Nevertheless, in London the concept seemed to be less immediate or more abstract, which may be partly explained by the fact that people were being interviewed in their working place. The ‘ Local People ’ factor was used on several occasions, with several different purposes. It was used to justify an action, such as buying a house in the Algarve or a holiday, or it was used to differentiate distinct geo-brands. Based on these fi ndings, it was concluded that ‘ Local People ’ is a relevant factor for any geo-brand. This should not come as a surprise. Tourism activities and geo-brands usually involve consumption of services where the degree of satisfaction is intimately linked to the behaviour and attitudes of employees that provide the service. 59 – 61 This argument provided the fi rst hint for the relevance of the factor ‘ Local People ’ to a geo-brand. The relevance and the role of the ‘ Local
People ’ factor on the Algarve ’ s brand became obvious when the author asked interviewees to defi ne the Algarve in five words. From the words chosen, it is clear that ‘ Local People ’ is a relevant factor for the geo-brand image:
‘ AT1M) Of course … It ’ s nice weather, there ’ s a nice breeze as well here, which because it ’ s on the Atlantic. We ’ ve been going to the Mediterranean and people are very friendly, especially here.
AT7M) Fantastic beaches, fantastic people.
AT6F) Sun, pleasant people, picturesque.
AP5F) Number one, the people ( … ). ’
This last interviewee had a very strong relationship with the brand, which was partly rooted in the ‘ Local People ’ factor. It became quite evident that this factor was especially relevant for geo-brand construction.
‘ AP5F) I probably thought — I ’ ve been in Spain quite a few times — Portugal was just one of those places I thought about. Greece personally I love, but I prefer Portugal now.
Interviewer) Why is that?
AP5F) Just everyone is so friendly andeverything is so nice, obviously specially here. ’
When the author asked interviewees ’ ,who were visiting the Algarve for the first time, what were their previous images of the Algarve, the relevance of ‘ Local People ’ became apparent once again. Their statements confi rmed that ‘ Local People ’ was a major factor infl uencing the geobrand images and infl uencing related choices.
‘ Interviewer) What did you know about the Algarve before coming here?
AT1F) Nothing, we just knew that it would be very kind people … my son loves it. He has been coming year after year, and then we followed him.
Interviewer) Did you have any specific image of the Algarve?
AT6M) Not really, we just knew that people were friendly towards the English, fair enough … ’
Basically, ‘ Local People ’ is a relevant cue to evaluate geo-brands. In this case, this participant used local people to describe and evaluate her experience with the Algarve brand.
‘ AT6F) It has been very nice, everything has been very positive. The people I ’ ve spoken to, everyday … yes very nice, people are very friendly … not one negative word about Algarve or Portugal, really. ’
Local people used as a factor to justify geo-brand consumption
The factor ‘ Local People ’ is used as a cue to infer quality and helps consumers to select, choose and buy a geo-brand. This supports the idea that tourists use ‘ Local People ’ as a relevant factor to make decisions about competitive offers.
‘ Interviewer) Why do you normally go to Spain?
L1F) I don ’ t know. But I really like the language [Spanish]; it ’ s very easy to learn. I think the people [Spanish] are very easy to get a long, are very friendly.
L2M) From what I heard and if I had time to spare I would like to go to Portugal … ammmm … it is a destination that I would like to go … it ’ s not just a tourist destination such as some parts of Spain. There is enough of local character, you can have the tourists and resorts but you also can have the local flavour. It ’ s a quiet friendly culture and very open, I think it ’ s a characteristic of the Mediterranean Spanish, Italians alike, the social life, social culture … ammmm … you can say a very rich culture. I just think that people from the Mediterranean are deeper.
AT2F) We just come to the Algarve
Interviewer) Why is that?
AT2F) Because we like it, people are lovely ’
An interviewee who owned a timeshare in the Canaries gave one of the most illustrative examples of the relevance of ‘ Local People ’ . Although he had that timeshare, he ceased to go to those islands and became highly loyal to the Algarve brand. Interestingly, the reasons he evoked, for why in the last three years he only considered the Algarve for holidays, were based exclusively in the factor ‘ Local People ’ .
‘ Interviewer) So now you are more oriented to Portugal …
AT4M) Yeah, I much rather come to Portugal than Spain
AT4M) I don ’ t know it is just this place, it seems a nicer place, people seem nicer, the locals seem friendlier and it ’ s just … the thing is that when you have three small children, you want to come to a place that you know it will be suited. ’
For some British interviewees, who had a deeper relationship with the Algarve brand, such as homeowners, ‘ Local People ’ was also identifi ed as an important factor when deciding to buy the property.
‘ AP2F) So I decided to buy in the Algarvebecause of the climate … the scenery, thePortuguese people, the Algarvians arealways very nice and helpful and all theguests that have been to my apartment havethoroughly enjoyed it. Interviewer) What do you experience here that you cannot experience in the UK?
AP4M) Constant sunshine, this is the main difference, yes. Also all [people] laidback here and not stressed comparing to the UK. People there … very … unpleasant
( … )
AP4M) People here are friendlier. People here are more laidback, maybe sometimes too laidback, [laughing] ( … .). ’
This factor was also identifi ed and mentioned by homeowners in Costa del Sol. For them, ‘ Local People ’ was also as a relevant factor to evaluate and support their consumption decision. Basically, and once again, some British in the Costa del Sol justifi ed moving to Spain partly because of the ‘ Local People ’ factor.
‘ SP2M) Here people of our age can go anywhere. You cannot go in England, it ’ s dangerous.
SP2F) Yeah! Dangerous for old people. The law, they are very slack on public offences. We fi nd on the whole the young generation here in Spain do respect old people a little bit more. They do tend to listen to you, to what you say and they don ’ t bother you. You walk at night through Torremelinos at 1 o ’ clock in the morning and it has been packed with young people but you don ’ t feel threatened in any way. They might fi ght with each other, but they don ’ t seem to bother with our age group. It ’ s nice to be able to go out and sit in a bar and have a drink with civilised people and nobody bothers you. You couldn ’ t do that in London, nor in Manchester where I am from. It ’ s not like when I was a girl when you could go about and not feel threat.
( … )
Interviewer) So you are at home?
SP2F) Yeah. I like the Spanish people.
( … )
SP2F) We like to stay here very much. We love the Spanish people.
Similarly, a bar owner in Costa del Sol, also based her decision to move from the UK not only because of the weather but also due to the local people.
Interviewer) Why did you open a bar here in Costa del Sol?
SP1F) I prefer it to England.
SP1F) The weather is not very good. It ’ s not a nice place to live anymore.
SP1F) The people are not nice anymore … it
always rains in Manchester. ’
On the opposite spectrum, however, ‘ Local People ’ was also used as a justifi cation for deciding not to consume a geo-brand. There are strong evidences that some consumers based their decisions about not consuming a geo-brand due to the ‘ Local People ’ factor.
‘ AP1M) I ’ ve never been to France. I don ’ t fancy France.
Interviewer) Why is that?
AP1M) I don ’ t know, I don ’ t like the French. That ’ s being honest I don ’ t like the French. ’
‘ Local People ’ is a relevant factor because it infl uences how consumers experience the geo-brand; it has an impact on consumer ’ s psychological state. In this case, satisfaction with the geo-brand consumption might be dependent on the local people.
‘ AP6F) Sometimes when you go to other countries, people pressing you all the time to try … here you can just relax.
ST4F) More peaceful [comparing Cyprus to Costa del Sol]. To be honest I think people [in the Algarve] will be more friendly. ’ ‘ Local People ’ is also relevant if the tourist likes and is trying to interact with the local communities. In this case if motivation to travel is based on a Seeking dimension (looking for something new), then the relevance of having local people ready to talk and interact with the visitor might be paramount for the tourist ’ s satisfaction. The possibility of interaction and satisfaction
resulting from that will obviously impact the geo-brand ’ s image.
‘ L2M) … trying to go to a place with local people where you can start talking with people and share experiences, be part of a different community rather than taking your own community and your own ideas to a place.
( … )
L2M) Sometimes you want to be isolated in a beautiful place but sometimes you want to be interacting in a place with the local people. ’
For consumers, the factor ‘ Local People ’ is a pertinent and relevant one. This factor is a fundamental cue that helps and facilitates the geo-brands ’ consumption decision process. It appears that tourists will decide about consumption based partly on how local people are perceived. Favourable images of local people will induce geo-brand consumption.
Local people used to differentiate brands
The ‘ Local People ’ factor was also used to compare and differentiate geo-brands. This differentiation was supported by several interviewees who, when asked about the similarities and differences between destinations around the Mediterranean, used ‘ Local People ’ as a factor for differentiation. Generically, participants were being asked if they felt that locations around the Mediterranean were similar or different. The objective was to understand which variables consumers would use to evaluate geo-brands. ‘ Local People ’ was the factor most often used to differentiate geo-brands.
‘ AP3M) No, they are not similar, at least I don ’ t think … we don ’ t know Italy, we know the South of France fairly well and we know Costa Brava and Costa del Sol. And there are considerable differences.
Interviewer) In which aspects?
AP3F) People are nicer in Portugal, much nicer.
Interviewer) Do you think there are differences between Costa del Sol and the Algarve?
L3F) Well, the people are different. Portuguese people seem to like the English. There is an old alliance isn ’ t it? ’
People also used as a reference point to identify similarities in between geobrands. When asked if places around the Mediterranean were similar and in which dimensions were similar …
‘ AP1F) Just the people, they are lovely. They are very similar, I just know Cyprus and here … very, very friendly.
ST1F) Ah … Greece, Italy … the scenery is quite similar. People are friendly. ’
Tourists do use ‘ Local People ’ to differentiate distinct offers in the market. They also use this factor to defi ne and explain how similar some geo-brands are. This is further evidence supporting the idea that the factor ‘ Local People ’ is extremely important for a geo-brand construction.
Definition of friendly people
The adjective mostly used to defi ne ‘ LocalPeople ’ was friendly. But what does friendly mean? What are the basic componentsthat make ‘ Local People ’ friendly? Three categories were identifi ed as having an impact on the defi nition ‘ friendly people ’ : ready to help the others, talkative and having family-oriented values. Ready to help the others was identifi ed as being one of the main characteristics that positively infl uenced the perception of local people.
‘ AP1F) Very friendly, very helpful anything you want they will try to do. They are great, very good. They are like the people from Cyprus, they are easy going, do everything to help you, just the same.
AT7M) I think the locals are helpful as well. The Portuguese likes to help and very welcoming.
AP5F) Really friendly, always eager to help, I just know a few words in Portuguese, but I always try and they always appreciate. They might laugh but they laugh with you not at you [laughing]. ’
Moreover, the fact that local people normally salute everybody and seem to have enough time to talk with the visitors is quite relevant and has had a major impact on how tourists have perceived the Algarvians, which consequently has affected their satisfaction with the Algarve brand. Furthermore, the majority of the local people who interacted with tourists spoke English, which suggests that probably a great part of these people worked in the tourism industry.
‘ AT1M) We found the Portuguese people are very friendly and very nice to you. Everybody says good morning, good afternoon … they are very nice.
( … )
AT1M) They are very friendly. I mean we cannot speak the language, because we haven ’ t learnt it, but in general a lot of Portuguese people speak English anyway and I think they communicate perfectly with us. I mean if we are friendly, you know …
AT1F) Yeah, well it ’ s Europe.
AT1M) Yeah! They don ’ t ignore people, they are friendly.
AT1F) They talk with you. ’
Being able to speak English is particularly important because it means that local people can communicate with the British visitors.
‘ L2M) British people like to go to a place where there is sun; they tend to go to places with a coastline. Somewhere with a lot of outdoor various culture, and tend to think about going to a place as being exotic because the language is not English but also tend to want to be in a place where people speak a little bit of English. So when they go there, there is some connection through the language. ’
Finally, the Algarvians were stereotyped as having family-oriented values, which were appreciated by some of the interviewees. These values were not only appreciated by the interviewees who were travelling with children, but also by others who were neither travelling nor had children. It seems that this is a relevant characteristic for analysing and evaluating people.
‘ AT4M) ( … ) I mean people here [in the Algarve] like children and … and that is nice and relaxing … it seems they are more family oriented …
Interviewer) What is your stereotype of the Algarvian native?
AT2M) Very pleasant, the family restaurants are very clean
AT2F) Hard working, very family oriented ’
The following interviewee reveals the general image and dimensions that are being transmitted about the Algarvian people. Although he has never gone to the Algarve, he built a stereotype based on a friend ’ s narration. This Algarvian stereotype coincides partly with the characteristics previously identifi ed.
‘ L2M) No [his friend never had a negative experience in the Algarve]. I think the most interesting things happen when you go somewhere you don ’ t speak the language and there might be some kind of misunderstandings. But generally from what I understood people are very friendly very laidback, people have a chance to talk and their pace of life … particularly in small cities, life is slow and people have more time, so the general idea is positive. ’
Subject AT4M sum-ups the defi nition of what friendly people means and used a taxi driver as an example. He defi ned the typical Algarvian as being: talkative, helpful, honest, family oriented, and one who appreciated the presence of tourists for whom he tries to cater as best he can.
‘ AT4M) I think it will be a little bit like the taxi driver we took today when we went shopping. We took a taxi back here. He stopped and within a few seconds we were chatting away very friendly, prepared= to help you, not rip you off; he is genuine. I think generally the Portuguese people are very family oriented, they like children and they like to feel that they are looking after you. Probably they appreciate being … of us being here, they get some satisfaction … they want to make sure you are having a good time. ’
From this analysis, it seems that there are some relevant characteristics that defi ne what ‘ friendly people ’ means: people ready to help the others, talkative and family oriented. These are generic characteristics that on the surface seem to be purely culturally determined, and for this reason nonmanageable by any organisation. But in order to understand to what extent these variables are culturally determined, and for this reason nonmanageable, it is necessary to understand who those friendly local people are. This is an important point because if ‘ Local People ’ is such a relevant factor, then it is to be expected that tourism boards would try to monitor and manage it.
‘ Local People ’ a manageable variable
After analysing the relevance and the meaning of ‘ Local People ’ the focus has to be on who those people are. As stated above, there is strong evidence that the ‘ Local People ’ , who speak English, might be in fact be people that work for the tourism industry. In this case their attitudes and behaviour can be characterised as being not only culturally determined and nonmanageable, but also a consequence of certain work practices, which have an infl uence on the interaction between consumers and locals. It can be assumed that some of the tourists ’ positive impressions from the Algarvians might be a consequence of well-managed and motivated employees.
The powerful influence and impact of the employees of resorts, restaurants and bars on the geo-brand is evident when analysing consumers ’ statements. There was one that considered the Algarve as being a home away from home. Interestingly, her proposition, ‘ home away from home ’ , was set in a context that directly involved the resort ’ s employees, meaning that it was the resort and its employees that infl uenced her perception towards the geo-brand.
‘ AP5F) Just everyone is so friendly and everything is so nice obviously specially here [at the resort]. ’
Other interviewees also support this feeling and argued that the resort ’ s employees had an important infl uence on how they experienced the Algarve brand.
‘ AP1F) We go to Oura and we know the restaurants and the people in there; even though you are only going for a coffee, they greet you, you know, it makes you feel good, especially in here as well, and Tony [resort ’ s employee] is really good.’
The following statements enhance the relevance of and are strong evidence that ‘ Local People ’ tend to be people linked to the tourism industry and, for that reason partially manageable.
‘ AP6F) The people we know are all linked to the tourism industry aren ’ t they?
AP6M) Yes. In fact the fi shing has declined so much, oranges it seems disappearing, so the people I meet … I am always amazed how well they speak English, I am ashamed of my … but the majority of people whose job it is to help … I always fi nd them very unassuming, they are not pushy … ’
Furthermore, some consumers might spend the majority of their time within the resorts. In this context, it is reasonable to assume that when some of the consumers were talking about ‘ Local People ’ they were probably referring to the resort ’ s employees. (This is especially true for the interviews that took place at the 4-star resort.)
‘ AT4M) I didn ’ t expect this place to be as nice and … you don ’ t really have to go outside if you don ’ t want to. I suppose I didn ’ t expect to be so self contained really, the actual place, you have tennis, you have pool … beautiful trees … but no, I mean … it ’ s probably what I expected generally [expected from the Algarve and from a nice resort] … just the people that makes a big difference … ’
Nevertheless, it was also shown that not only the resort ’ s employees had an impact on the Algarve ’ s brand image. Employees from restaurants outside the resorts also had a role and an infl uence on the geobrands ’ image. Basically, the service
supplied in a restaurant will have an impact on how a geo-brand is perceived.
‘ L6M) I did have, going back to the hotel and restaurants that we went [in Lisbon], there was good feeling of courtesy ( … )
I think after I had gone to Lisbon I had that impression … very dignifi ed and attentive people …
L3F) Yeah, lot of fi sh, I like seafood. Because all the restaurants were on the beach and were very good and I just like fi sh, very nice. There is one particular restaurant that we went 3 or 4 times, very nice seafood and very helpful and friendly people.
They would try to help describing the fish because from the menu we couldn ’ t really understand what kind of fi sh was that. And well, their English wouldn ’ t be the best but they would try to describe it. I tend to eat fish anyway. You have to eat fi sh there; you are at the sea and the fi sh is particularly good. … Aaah, that was a nice time … very good … relaxing days … ’
If employees are a major factor in the geobrandconstruction, then it is also relevantto understand which characteristics havean impact in their evaluation. Similar to‘ Local People ’ there are some characteristicsconsumers identifi ed as being especially relevant at an ‘ employee level ’ .
Characteristics of the employees
‘ Local people ’ and more specifi cally employees are characterised as being: nice but without being overwhelming. Again, some of these characteristics are based on cultural aspects because, for example, shaking hands in Portugal is a sign of respect and education. In this case employees, by shaking hands are showing esteem and appreciation, they do not want to become friends or be more deeply involved, as this might be the signal understood in the UK. It was also stated that people do not oversell and are not commercially aggressive. Those behavioural characteristics were identifi ed as being among the most important for defining the Algarvian employees. These issues are important because it makes the consumption experience relaxing and stress free, which in the end will impact the geo-brand image.
‘ AP6F) When you go to the beach bar to have coffee and we often meet … Tony [Tony, the waiter from the resort] does not speak great English, but he is always being … without being overdone.
AP6M) Yes, he likes to see us — ‘ So nice to see you, sit down there ’ — shake hands and … then he doesn ’ t … he is not overwhelming … I like that …
AP6F) Sometimes when you go to other countries people pressing you all the time to try … here you can just relax.
AP6M) They are not a particularly commercial people. Sometimes it is hard to get things [laughing]. I mean that must be the biggest difference, Spanish are more commercial … this is a terrible side of the Portuguese, on the other hand you can say it is not a bad thing.
AP4M) People are more laidback, maybesometimes too laidback [laughing]. ( … ) If they say I ’ ll see you tomorrow at two they will come two days later [laughing] ’ But this last aspect, people appearing two days later, does not upset the interviewee; it is a characteristic that he seems to enjoy because he characterises the Algarve brand as offering a good service. It looks as if the fact of having less commercially aggressive employees may be an important advantage for the geo-brand.
‘ AP4M) Volkswagen Golf [if the Algarve were a car]: reliable, not so expensive, but good service. ’ Probably in this case the positive associations with good service in the resort, offsets all the other negative aspects that occur outside the resort. The interviewee laterdefi ned the typical Algarvian natives as:
‘ AP4M) Very, very friendly. I never met any awkward one, to be honest I haven ’ t. Probably I met more awkward English people, there are a lot … and they [the Algarvian ’ s] are always ready to help you. ’
Moreover, there appears to be at least one other relevant factor that has a positive impact on how Algarvian employees are perceived. This factor is based on the level of familiarity that exists between employees and consumers. Having a low turnover of staff within the industry, and in this case at the resort or in certain restaurants where tourists like to return, has a great impact on how people experience the Algarve ’ s brand. There is some suggestion that even decisions such as buying a house in the Algarve may be partly infl uenced by the level of turnover at resorts and restaurants.
‘ AP6M) We got details from the rentals and the following year we came, and so we rented maybe fi ve years before we had any money to buy anything so … But we used to play tennis and really, it was just a very friendly place and many of the people who worked then are still here. So very nice. Everybody is very helpful
AP6F) In the winter it ’ s fi ne. We go down there to have some coffee … we can have some meals. We go to our restaurants, the same people are there, they like their winter customers.
AP5F) ( … ) I only come out on my own for a week and then I have friends and family coming for a week. But on my own I feel very safe. I already know everybody here [at the 4-start resort], and so it ’ s nice coming back every time … yeah … Everybody says ‘ Hi, nice to see you! ’ ‘ How are you doing? ’ … It ’ s like being at home … ummm … better than at home [laughing] ’
Employees and negative impact on a geo-brand
On the opposite ground, it can be argued that a geo-brand might face some problems if the manageable variables, such as employees in restaurants and bars, are not dealt with sensibly.
‘ ST3M). I ’ ve stayed in Malaga for four nights. I ’ ve been there last year, but Malaga is just a horrible resort. There are not many resorts I don ’ t like but I don ’ t like Malaga. It ’ s more like a city, you are on the beach and you have busy traffi c, noise and every body stressed, the bus drivers shouting … some guy like you if you are on the road. You are on holidays and you want to relax … it ’ s just a very hostile environment as well. You go to a bar you ask some food and they slam the food on the table and the general attitude is just they cannot be bothered. I don ’ t know why but the place is awful. ’
This was a specifi c example about Malaga but it seems that the problem is not confined just to this specifi c Spanish city. Several interviewees demonstrated discontent with the Spanish service, which contributed not only to having a negative experience with the brand, but also gave a justification for not consuming the brand in the future.
‘ AT1F) Right … as I said Spain has gone down hill in that sort of thing, the personal tact; it ’ s not there anymore, is it?
AT1M) Yeah! No, not anymore. Unless you go to somewhere … the big bucks … but they need in … we will want to go there again but at the moment we are all Portugal
AT1F) All Portugal
AT1M) We never realised it was so nice in the Algarve.
ST4F) I mean when we went to Cyprus that year. We use to drink in this little pub and next year we went to the same place and the waiter remembered us and knew us. We ’ ve been to Spain a few times, to the same places and they just hadn ’ t a clue. ( … )
Interviewer) Are you returning here [Torremelinos] next year?
ST4M) No ’
It seems that dissatisfaction with the service received at restaurants and bars has a negative impact on geo-brands. Employees from restaurants and bars have a major relevance on a geo-brand, and if not managed cleverly they can contribute negatively to its image, infl uencing and provoking a future decline on sales, that is, visitors. Owing to their nature tourists are expected to spend the bulk of their time with people who work in the tourism industry. Consequently, it seems that stereotypes and images of the local people will be built by using the tourism industry workers as models. Interestingly, and although part of employees ’ behaviour might be culturally determined, there are some characteristics that are or can be influenced by organisations. Being not too
commercially aggressive and avoiding a high turn over in the industry may well have a positive impact on geo-brands.
DISCUSSION OF RESULTS AND CONCLUSION
Different interviewees used the ‘ Local People ’ factor as an important variable to define geo-brands. This might not come as a surprise, nevertheless what was unexpected in this research was the weight this factor has on a geo-brand. For this reason, an understanding of this dimension is paramount in order to guarantee success in the marketplace. ‘ Local People ’ was used as a factor not only to justify consumption, but it was also used to differentiate positively and negatively distinct offers in the market. Algarvian people were characterised as having family-oriented values, willing to help and having time to talk. Those were qualities considered relevant and positive for the consumer ’ s experience. Moreover, being less pushy and commercially aggressive
were also relevant features that validated the positive idea about Algarvian employees and enhanced the positive image that the Algarve brand apparently enjoys. Additionally, it seems that the locals ’ knowledge of English is also an important component. Its relevance is not only based on the idea of its usefulness for commercial dealings, but also based on the premise that it will then be easier for consumers and local people to interact socially.
An important issue related to this problem is the understanding of the nature of ‘ Local People ’ in terms of their interaction with others. Is this a manageable variable? What are the characteristics that are used to evaluate the ‘ Local People ’ ? What are the relevant characteristics that transform the‘ Local People ’ factor into a geobrand asset? From the present research, it could be concluded that the ‘ Local People ’ factor has a mixed nature; it is partly manageable and partly nonmanageable.
There are some aspects that might be manageable by an organisation, but then there are aspects that are intimately linked to the local culture. Commercial aggressiveness is by its nature partly manageable. It will be managers and / or entrepreneurs that will motivate and train their staff to behave in a certain fashion. Hence caution must be taken when applying new managerial tools to increase short-term profits.
For example, in the catering industry it is not unusual to have entrepreneurs setting up sales revenues objectives per table. These target objectives, if not carefully monitored might put extra pressure on employees who may then pass this pressure on to his or her clients. If allowed to happen, the potential goodwill and positive capital the Algarve brand has today might be at risk. The consequence of having well-trained employees is detailed in Figure 1 .
Furthermore, low turnover in the tourism industry appears to also have a great impact on the geo-brand, obviously and especially for the loyal customers. Because of low turnover, employees are able to develop enduring relationships with visitors, who thoroughly appreciate such personalised and intimate treatment. It seems that, for tourists, it is extremely important to be recognised and treated as loyal clients. This is a major characteristic that contributes positively to the experience of the geo-brand consumption. This is also a manageable variable, which is somewhat dependent on local managers and entrepreneurs. Hence, it is suggested that extra attention should be given to retain employees, who will not only have an impact on the local business (becoming a strong asset for the entrepreneur) but will also have an important impact on the geo-brand ( Figure 2 ).
If ‘ Local People ’ has such a relevant role on a geo-brand that it may even affect its competitive position in the market, then extra consideration should be given to this factor. In addition, and because this factor is partly manageable, then it is
reasonable to argue that there should be some central managerial tools to help monitor employees ’ performance. In order to achieve satisfactory service levels, the local geo-brand authorities should develop tools to scrutinise how entrepreneurs and managers train and motivate their staff. In this case, the tourism boards should try to control, directly or indirectly, the level of service in different businesses. As revealed in the examples cited for Spain, a bad experience of local people may well jeopardise
the overall competitive standing as a tourist destination. No doubt, tourism boards have the obligation to, not only inform entrepreneurs and managers on how they should care for the tourists and train their employees, but also establish some kind of incentive structures in order to achieve excellence in services, since a good or bad experience will have an impact on the overall brand. Moreover, the service organisations involved in this process are not confi ned to bars, restaurants and resorts. It is more than reasonable to assume that all entities that deal with tourists will have an impact on a geo-brand. The present research has showed that, for example, bus and taxi drivers do have an impact on the geobrand image. What is apparent from this research is that the various stakeholders have a signifi cant role to play in the development of such a geo-brand but more particularly that these stakeholders cannot be treated as independent of each other
and managed accordingly. In this case there is obviously a strong inter-relationship between the consumers (tourists) and the local inhabitants. Some of whom are workers within the tourist industry and all of whom are members of the local society. There is often a danger that only the most important stakeholders are taken in consideration when building geo-brand identity and this research shows the dangers with this kind of approach. These fi ndings imply that geo-brand construction should strongly focus on the ‘ Local People ’ factor. Having all the relevant functional attributes in place is not a major source of competitive advantage anymore. For consumers seeking the sort of holidays that the Algarve is usually associated with, that is having good climate, beautiful landscape, golf camps and good hotels are just basic requirements. This means that simply having these characteristicsin place do not assure consumption.
‘ Local People ’ will be a strong factor, one that will help to differentiate and sell the geo-brand. Today there are hundreds of regions with similar functional attributes, which supply the same kind of offering for the same price. Therefore, in this highly competitive and standardised market the ‘ Local People ’ variable can be a major value element to promote differentiation. For example, in terms of promotional activities the use of the local people might be a more persuasive theme than a beautiful landscape.
In the future it would be interesting to know and understand whether consumers from other countries give the same relevance to the ‘ Local People ’ as the British do. For example, how do the Spanish evaluate this dimension? Is this a relevant dimension for the Spanish ( Figure 3 )?
I thank Dr Paul D. Frey and Laura Baker for their advice and suggestions.
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