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1International tourism involves the on- and off-line activities of people from a distinct cultural background (Sabiote-Ortiz, Frías-Jamilena, and Castañeda-García, 2014). Prospects can have a virtual experience of the destination while still being home through websites and popular social networks, such as YouTube and Instagram (Molinillo, Liebana-Cabanillas, Anaya-Sanchez, and Buhalis, 2018). Research shows that, on the one side, cultural background can influence the way companies and organizations promote themselves online (Men and Tsai, 2012). On the other side, people behave differently depending on their cultural orientation (Sabiote-Ortiz, Frías-Jamilena, anf Castañeda-García, 2014); a phenomenon that has also been observed on social media (Goodrich and de Mooij, 2014). Consequently, researchers as well as practitioners have highlighted the importance of adopting techniques to bridge the communication gaps that may arise from the cultural difference between the sender (e.g., the tourism provider) and the receiver (e.g., the prospect tourist) (see, for example, Tigre Moura, Singh, and Chun, 2016).

2Addressing these issues, the practice of localization describes a series of methods aimed at adapting the online multimedia content and layout of a sender’s channel, like a website, to the culture-bound preferences and needs of a specific audience (Tigre Moura, Gnoth, and Deans, 2014). Stemming from the theory of the self (Dolich, 1969), the argument that supports this (rather costly) choice states that as people are part of a certain culture, made up of specific system of beliefs, perceptions and values, they will more likely engage with marketing messages that resonate with such background (Zhang and Gelb, 1996). In other words, from a communication standpoint, localization represents an effort from the sender’s side to adapt message and channel to the culture-bound preferences of the receiver. While the practice of localization has received attention from the marketing literature, a lack of research has been found for what concerns the tourism field (Tigre Moura, Gnoth, and Deans, 2014); an area of great interest, given the numerous occasions in which tourism providers and visitors can encounter cultural barriers, both off- and on-line.

3Addressing this research gap, the present PhD dissertation investigates the presence of cultural differences in tourism promotion as well as the use and effects of cultural adaptation on people’s perceptions and intentions. The topic has been addressed following an adaptation of the Online Communication Model (OCM) (Tardini and Cantoni, 2015), a framework that divides online communication into four main pillars: content, design, managers and visitors (Figure 1). In addition, a mixed-methods approach has been adopted to address the practice of localization from distinct perspectives, combining different types of data – from interviews to experiments.

4Following an introduction to tourism, culture and localization, in Chapter 2 (Mele and Cantoni, 2018) we explored the different definitions of localization, the activities it involved as well as its possible limitations. This was achieved by triangulating academic research with industry reports and examples of localization from the web, like tourism destinations’ websites. Among the main findings of this “helicopter view”, we identified different types of localization activities, including the adaptation of cultural values. These represent “broad tendencies to prefer certain states of affairs over others” (Hofstede, Hofstede, and Minkov, 2010, p. 9), and they have been found to influence consumer behavior in tourism (Hsu and Huang, 2016; Sabiote-Ortiz, Frías-Jamilena, and Castañeda-García, 2014). Cultural values can be analyzed and compared at the national level along virtual constructs called “dimensions of national cultures” (Hofstede, Hofstede, and Minkov, 2010, p. 29). Their adaptation for tourism promotion can be, for instance, emphasizing activities with family and friends (for Collectivism) rather than values such as independence and self-reliance (for Individualism) (Tigre Moura, Gnoth, and Deans, 2014). In addition to Collectivism-Individualism (COL-IND), other dimensions of national culture include Power Distance (PD) (Hofstede, Hofstede, and Minkov, 2010) – that is, the relative importance assigned to authority – and Low- vs. High-Context communication (HC-LC), which describes the importance assigned to contextual information by different cultures (Hall, 1976).

Figure 1. Main chapters of the PhD dissertation

Figure 1. Main chapters of the PhD dissertation

5Following the interesting as well as debated notion of national culture and cultural values (Jones, 2007), in Chapter 3 (Mele, Kerkhof, and Cantoni, under review) we investigated whether cultural tourism promotion on Instagram reflected the cultural values of destinations. More precisely, we explored whether the cultural differences in terms of COL-IND, PD and HC-LC were also reflected by the multimedia content (text and image) published by the official Instagram accounts of the National Tourism Organizations (NTOs) of Chile, Portugal, USA and the Netherlands. This was achieved via a manual (for text and images) and automated content analysis (for text only) of 1744 Instagram posts, promoting cultural attractions, published by the above mentioned NTOs. Overall, findings showed that (cultural) tourism promotion varied across the four destinations, highlighting the importance of localizing online communication when addressing culturally distant markets.

6In Chapter 4 (Mele and Cantoni, 2017), we explored whether Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) gave importance to cultural differences in tourism promotion and whether localization represented a relevant set of techniques to enhance their marketing communications. This was achieved by conducting interviews with marketing managers and IT experts from 11 DMOs, members of the European Travel Commission (ETC). The study revealed that localization represented an important set of activities to market the destination to international audiences online. Most interviewees declared, indeed, that their DMOs would adapt textual elements; other adaptations included destination themes and images.

7Following the findings from Chapter 4 and the literature on cultural adaptation, in Chapter 5 (Mele, Kerkhof, and Cantoni, 2020) we analyzed the effect of localizing cultural values on people’s perceived image and willingness to visit a UNESCO World Heritage site, Kinderdijk – located in the Netherlands. To achieve this goal, we conducted two highly powered experiments with a 2 (COL vs. IND) × 2 (high PD vs low PD) × 2 (country: Portugal vs. UK) between-subjects design, with a total of 2039 respondents from Portugal and United Kingdom. Surprisingly, findings showed limited benefits (at best) of localizing cultural values for cultural tourism promotion, suggesting a high tolerance of potential visitors towards web content showing incongruent (non-localized) cultural values.

8Considering the findings of the studies conducted in this PhD dissertation, future research should consider analyzing the effects of localizing cultural values with participants from culturally as well as geographically distant countries – possibly in a real setting. Finally, we suggest exploring the effectiveness of other forms of localization, like the adaptation of information granularity – that is, content depth and scope – according to the cultural background of the reference public (see, for example, Mele and Cantoni, 2018).

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Titre Figure 1. Main chapters of the PhD dissertation
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Emanuele Mele, « Analyzing cultural localization in online tourism promotion. A PhD thesis resume », Via [En ligne], 18 | 2020, mis en ligne le 27 décembre 2020, consulté le 14 juin 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Emanuele Mele

UNESCO Chair to develop and promote sustainable tourism in World Heritage Sites, USI – Università della Svizzera italiana, Lugano (Switzerland)

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Via Tourism Review est mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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