The economy of the United Arab Emirates operates on the free market module. The policies designed by the government are meant to encourage commercial enterprises within the stringent mores of the Islamic religion. The lager part of the economy of the UAE comes from oil and its derivatives trade such as the tourism industry.
The United Arab Emirates is a member of the powerful Gulf Cooperation Council and is located in the center of the world’s second fastest growing tourism market of the Middle East. The nation has benefited from the free trade agreements negotiated by GCC to benefit from the tourism industry with Asia and European countries.
Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain are the seven federations which make up UAE (Amal, 2014). The tourism industry in Dubai has developed over the last decade due to the expansion of the economy and the existence of several marketing opportunities such as internet marketing.
Thus, this paper will attempt to establish the impact of internet marketing on the tourism industry of the UAE, concerning Dubai City.
Development of internet marketing
Traditional marketing communication strategies thrived on a one-way street enabled by television, print, and radio. At present, it has assumed two-way street with online marketing communications.
Often referred to interchangeably with terms like e-Marketing and the more recently social media marketing, online marketing communication within the Dubai tourism industry has increasingly focused on the advertising potential of social networking and collaborative media sharing in increasing sales (Dewery, 2013).
Communication is an integrated mix of various channels that includes traditional advertising and PR machinery. They can be used singly or collectively depending on the type of firm and the activities that are taking place to increase sales.
With the rapid modernization, the use of technology and information system within the Dubai tourism industry is also increasing its market catchment. Therefore, it is important to review the impacts of internet marketing on the growth and position of the tourism industry with Dubai.
UAE has quickly embraced the e-marketing strategies to be on par with other countries. In the last two decades, e-marketing has played a key role in product promotion in the tourism sector (Balankrishnan, 2008). The most common e-marketing platforms in the UAE include social media, the internet, and cable television.
Internet marketing and the UAE tourism industry
Social media has played a central part in the liberalization of communication across the UAE tourism industry, especially in Dubai. Through social media, the exchange of information has not only become easier but also efficient.
By a click of a button, an interested party may be in a position to pass important information or make a booking for hotel rooms and another service. As the world steadily embraces the use of the internet, the Dubai tourism industry is not left behind (Birdsall & Johnston, 2010). The players in this industry communicate and use the internet to interact with customers and promote several products and services.
The UAE tourism industry is manifested with the emergence of mass society in terms of social interaction, that is mass culture, mass welfare, mass consumerism, mass communication, and numerical sense of unique demands.
Due to the entry of technological advancement in the world today, the internet has been the most common means of product and service promotion within the Dubai tourism industry. More than 59% of families within the city of Dubai have access to the internet and are literate in its use (Henderson, 2006).
Economical and socially responsible purchasing behaviors of consumers have become a significant determinant of consumer behavior towards accepting tourism services within the Dubai tourism industry. Analysis of consumer behavior is carried out in a systematic manner using various consumer behavior theories and models.
Consumer behavior theories have been applied to study consumer behavior; however, gaps still exist between the traditional and contemporary consumer behavior that warrants further studies to establish the impact of internet marketing within the Dubai tourism industry. Consumers are generally influenced by two factors: internal influences and external influences in purchasing tourism products in Dubai.
Internal influences are personal feelings and thought that includes self-concept, motivation, attitudes, emotions, and perceptions (Kennedy & Ehrenberg, 2009). Personal feelings are often influenced by external factors such as internet advertisement. For instance, e-marketing has an influence on perception, purchasing patterns, and attitude customers develop towards a product or a service offered within the UAE tourism industry.
Internet marketing communication within the UAE tourism industry
Lee and Emile (2009) state that “the current clutter on the internet virtually ensures that the ‘build it and they will come’ model is insufficient to draw consumers, marketers need to actively attract users in the first place” (Lee & Emile, 2009, p. 79). Online marketing is much more complicated and planned communication activity rather than just putting an online advertisement.
Companies may have great content, dynamic, and attractive design on their website, but the customer may not be aware of that website because of wrong or inadequate electronic word of mouth. That is why companies must start their online marketing strategy by focusing on attracting visitors to the company’s website in first hand, as is the case within the Dubai tourism industry.
Liebermann and Stashevsky (2008) state that “before an organization can acquire customers through the content on its site, it must, of course, develop marketing communication strategies to attract visitors to the website” (Liebermann & Stashevsky, 2008, p. 218).
Marketing communications through the electronic word of mouth started to take an active role in marketing activities of companies within the UAE, especially in Dubai, during the beginning of the last decade.
Specifically, under the operational process of online marketing, electronic word of mouth communication is among the modern marketing strategies that are widely used for marketing in most tourism enterprises in the Dubai tourism industry. This can be defined as the utilization of the internet in transferring product-related information from the organization to the target market (Koufaris, 2002).
Internet marketing communication comprises of two main components, which include how the internet enables online branding and communication.
Tourism enterprises within the Dubai tourism industry have a deep understanding of the role that electronic word of mouth has in enhancing sales across different services within the UAE tourism industry. Most individuals in the UAE visit the internet in search of tourism product information since 59% of the population have access to the internet (Liebermann & Stashevsky, 2008).
The quality of internet marketing in the form of electronic word of mouth within the tourism enterprise in the UAE determines the level of organizational performance and its competitive advantage. At the same, time the internet marketer can analyze their online customers through the way they interact with the brand online since the electronic word of mouth has a direct influence on customer purchasing behavior (Malhotra & Agarwal, 2004).
Internet marketing communication in the form of the electronic word of mouth allows enterprises within the UAE tourism industry to reach out to the target market on a real-time basis. Within the city of Dubai, fiber connection has changed the approach to managing tourism enterprises.
Consumer behavior theories and internet marketing within the Dubai tourism sector
As opined by Malhotra and Agarwal (2004), rationality in purchasing is influenced by awareness of different options available to maximize the gain from every bundle of purchases made. From these numerous options, the rational customer will correctly rate the best and will be in a position to pick the one with the highest level of satisfaction from the information communicated through the electronic word of mouth.
Same as satisfying and Tversky’s Prospect theories, satisfaction and perception of the same is the driving force behind the rising purchasing patterns in the Dubai tourism sector, concerning electronic word of mouth (Malhotra & Agarwal, 2004). Thus, the rationality to adopt or reject a product is solely determined by the satisfaction level as perceived by that particular customer through the message in the electronic word of mouth.
On the other hand, the psychodynamic consumer behavior approach posits that ‘drives’ or ‘instinctive forces’ influence the decision to purchase or reject a product. As opined by Mazza (2013), these external drives operate outside the individual’s conscious thought.
This approach supports the three psyche facets of ego, ID, and superego that is often controlled by the unique cultural orientation, religion, and thought matrix of an environment, as is the case within the Dubai tourism sector. Thus, environmental stimuli such as internet marketing are the driving force for a particular behavior of tourism consumers within Dubai and across the other six federations.
Since a typical tourism customer is a cognitive being, the theory concludes that the interpersonal stimuli events will be the primary and causative determinants of an overt purchasing behavior. For instance, the message in the electronic word of mouth has a direct influence on purchasing behavior since customers will relate the message to the satisfaction level of a particular product (Mazza, 2013).
According to Rhim and Cooper (2005), repertoire and subscription markets control customer loyalty to a tourism brand within the Dubai tourism sector. Reflectively, the authors assert that consumers’ repeated purchasing as behavior is influenced by the ability of marketers to develop a middle action level between repertoire and subscription markets.
Reflectively, this aspect allows for insightful gain in customer loyalty behavior through appropriate electronic word of mouth marketing (Rhim and Cooper, 2005). The emotional perspective of consumer behavior represents an effective view of consumer behavior. For example, emotions are caused by exposure to a particular stimulus. Emotion is positively related to consumer attitude.
This is the general evaluation that consumers engage in before deciding to purchase a product. Specifically, the citizens of the UAE are known for their unique culture of embracing products that appeal to family values since their purchasing behavior, within the tourism industry, is often influenced by external factors and general perception (Malhotra & Agarwal, 2004).
Therefore, the properly presented electronic word of mouth message that includes the Dubai cultural aspects has increased product and service intake within the Dubai tourism sector.
According to Winchester (2006), consumer behavior, in terms of perception on a brand within the Dubai tourism sector, is determined by advertising through appealing to ideal infancy and catchy words that are easy to interpret. The author states that emotional branding determines the overall perception and purchasing behavior since most consumers would prefer to be identified with a then ideal fad or fashion, especially in the Dubai tourism sector.
Therefore, marketing strategy as part of consumer behavior analysis is aligned to the ideal as perceived by the Dubai tourism consumers. Generally, the catchier an advertisement is the high chances of uptake.
On the other hand, less catchy internet advertisements may not work well with consumer perception of such brand. The tourism industry consumers in the UAE are known to embrace tourism brands that appeal to perception as presented through internet marketing strategies (Winchester, 2006).
The buying decision in the Dubai tourism sector
There has been substantial research on consumer behavior, examining the decision process, and influences upon it. These are in terms of store and brand characteristics and consumer behaviors. “Central to the theories of consumer behavior is the conviction that different consumers go through a markedly complex decision-making process that is influenced at different stages by several possible variables,” (Roberts, 2005, p. 167).
The buying process normally begins with the need for a particular product or good. The ‘need recognition’ by consumers is an essential part of the buying process because purchase cannot take place without it. The second stage in the decision-making process is ‘information search’ (Sharpley, 2008). The need that is created prompts a consumer to search for available information concerning the good or service that can satisfy that need.
Information search occurs internally and externally. The internal search involves a search for information from the memory of the consumer and is majorly determined by past experiences with such products. External search, such as internet marketing, is employed when the internal search fails to provide the information necessary to help the consumer make the buying decision in the Dubai tourism sector (Roberts, 2005).
Social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, have gained popularity among travelers who uses these sites as interaction modules to share traveling culture and exchange ideas.
In the e-marketing industry, social media has penetrated the communication environment and currently commands a large following among the users in Dubai. Reflectively, Facebook, and Tweeter are ideal tools for branding and community following building. The culture, economy, and society are highly affected by digital technology.
Digital technologies, in the form of social media, allow potential customers of the Dubai tourism hub to interact and let users add content to align to different orientations of group products (Sharpley, 2008).
Digital technology has helped the tourism enterprises, within the Dubai tourism sector, to reach their customers by skipping or by-passing the traditional gatekeepers, such as written magazines publishers, and placing them online so that customers can get them directly.
The objectives of social media are building a strong brand and following. For instance, by the use of Facebook and Tweeter, the Dubai tourism sector is promoted by building an interest, location, and need-based initiative. Through likes and tweets, the customer base for the tourism industry has substantially increased over the last decade.
Social media within this industry focuses on e-marketing, which involves building a friendly partnership and working relationship with a market segment without necessarily having physical contact with it. Reflectively, the success of e-marketing in the Dubai tourism sector is deeply entrenched in the principle of keeping a reliable and professional reputation in exchanging ideas and convincing customers to accept online selling.
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