Islamic heritage marketing : the Umrah experience

Taheri, Babak and Lochrie, Sean and O'Gorman, Kevin and Hill, Emma and Gannon, Martin (2014) Islamic heritage marketing : the Umrah experience. In: Heritage Tourism and Hospitality International Conference - HTHIC2014, 2014-11-06 - 2014-11-09, Boğaziçi University.

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A potential visitor’s image of a destination and its attributes is likely to influence their behaviour before, during, and after their trip. However, there is a lack of research into Islamic destination image (Jafari & Scott, 2013; Stephenson, 2014). Existing studies have commented on the differentiation between the expectation formation of Muslim and non-Muslim tourists; however these are often restricted to more secular destinations such as Turkey. Moreover, much of the literature which focuses solely on the Muslim community fails to explore beyond the realms of religious satisfaction of their experiences. This paper explores the journey of experience of Muslim pilgrims during the Islamic pilgrimage to the Umrah. Globally, the Hajj is one of the greatest traveller movements, demonstrating a significant rationale for the study of Islam within the heritage tourism domain. Islamic texts, such as the Quran, endorse traveling with a view to attaining social, physical and spiritual objectives. As such, tourism of various categories is compatible with Islam and inspired by its principles. However, the Hajj and Umrah is a highly commanded activity encompassing devout and monetary planning. Therefore, for some Muslims Hajj is a sacred obligation rather than form of heritage tourism. With this in mind, religious pilgrimage is likely to have a very strong destination image in the minds of Muslim visitors. Therefore, this paper looks not only at sacred obligation but also attitudes such as hedonic value, motivations, socialisation, gift, and evidence. Therefore, our study contributes to a wider understanding of the perceptions and behavioural outcomes of visitors toward Islamic destination image. To do so, we develop a conceptual model based i=on the theory of the ‘commodity fetishism’. The term ‘commodity fetishism’ refers to the system through which capitalist societies treat ‘commodities as if value inhered in the objects themselves, rather than in the amount of real labour expended to produce the object’. Thus, this paper attempts to address two gaps, firstly examining the symbolic importance to pilgrims of material objects of pilgrimage, and secondly examining this symbolic experience in the Islamic context of Umrah. Our survey data was collected in a number of tourists agents within Iran from Muslim pilgrims preceding their visit to the Umrah and returning home. Structural equation modelling is tested with a sample of 538 visitors. The empirical validation of the conceptual model supports a majority of the research hypotheses. These findings contribute to a better understanding of Islamic destination image in the heritage tourism context and a series of implications are proposed.