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The result of collaborative research of Russian and American scholars from Lobachevsky University (UNN) and University of Florida is published in the Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing. Study examines the attractiveness of destination tourism offerings when the destination country and the source market country are engaged in ongoing political and economic conflict. Specifically, the study investigates how the desire of Russian tourists to vacation in the US is affected by perceptions of the US as a country and as a vacation destination, animosity toward the US, and Russian tourists’ level of national attachment and ethnocentric tendencies.
The study found that country image, destination image, and general animosity have a direct effect on intention to visit. The effects of consumer ethnocentrism and national situational animosity on intention to visit are mediated by destination image and country image respectively.
According to Professor Mikhail Rykhtik, Director of UNN Institute of International Relations and World History, the approach used in this study combined unstructured and structured data obtained through a self-completed questionnaire.
One part of the questionnaire was designed to elicit associations (in handwritten form) pertaining to the image of the US as a country and a vacation destination, together with favorability scores of these associations. The reflection during the elicitation procedure was considered as priming, the stage necessary for subsequent holistic numeric evaluation of the US country and destination images. The constructs of animosity, national attachment, and consumer ethnocentrism, as well as the desire to visit the US, were obtained as structured measurements. The study ensured internal reliability and convergent validity of the construct items.
«We believe that country image can act as a double-edged sword, leading to positive consumer outcomes under good relationship between countries as well as negative consumer outcomes in the situation of political conflict», – Mikhail Rykhtik says.
Creating negative image of Russia in the world can generate difficulties for business contacts and projects. Law levels of economic relations between Russia and the United States today raise the risks of unreasoned and dangerous political decision. But, from the practical angle, the results of the study (accepting all limitations) can be interpreted as relatively positive for US-Russian relations.
The levels of animosity and ethnocentrism of Russian consumers have no direct effect on the willingness to visit the U.S. as a vacation destination. Intention to visit is directly affected only by customers’ perceptions of destination’s tourist offer. Moreover, while ethnocentric tendencies of Russian consumers have a negative impact on evaluations of America’s destination attributes, the levels of consumer ethnocentrism are generally low, that is, Russian consumers are not ready to refuse using the products of the U.S. and other international brands.
With respect to the willingness to buy U.S. destination product, animosity and ethnocentrism are mediated by the country image and destination image, respectively. It means that there is chance for changes. Russian society is ready for interactions. Anti-Americanism is mainly propagandistic instrument of current elite.
«There is one positive conclusion. Because we are living in the globalized world, it is hard to shut down all relations. It means that there is future of Russian studies in America and American Studies in Russia. Business and governments will need specialists with knowledge and expertise.
How do we bring Russia and USA to speak the same language? First of all, we need to break the vicious circle of mutual accusations. Washington and Moscow actions should be based on interests with respect to proclaimed values. Better to take each other’s sore spots into account», – Mikhail Rykhtik notes.
Back to the future – instruments of public diplomacy: students exchange, tourism, cultural and academic contacts, everything that creates condition for reestablishing mutual understanding between the peoples of Russia and American can prevent deadly conflict between two nuclear powers.
With low level of economic cooperation and no chance for its developing in foreseeable future (due to sanctions and very complicated process of legal regulation of this process) public diplomacy is only one possible instrument. Despite negative image people of Russia ready to buy products and desire to visit United States. And image does matter.