A netnography of war heritage sites’ online narratives: user-generated content and destination marketing organizations communication at comparison
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Purpose: The aim of this paper is twofold: to provide empirical evidence of the knowledge-sharing process within virtual communities interested in war heritage sites and to compare user-generated content (UGC) in virtual communities with destinations’ official communication about war heritage sites to identify, original and consumer-oriented narratives. Design/methodology/approach: This study uses field research to investigate selected war heritage sites and to assess the destinations’ on-site communication; in-depth interviews to learn about the destination marketing organizations’ approaches to communication; and netnography with content analysis of text and pictures to evaluate the online knowledge shared within virtual communities on the investigated war heritage sites. A comparison between users-generated content and official destination management organizations’ (DMOs) communication was carried out. Findings: The results show that the destinations under investigation have invested significantly to develop war heritage tourism, but they still struggle to attract tourists. The comparison between DMOs communication narratives and users-generated content shows that DMOs fail to use emotional involvement and accurate historic knowledge which seems to be at the basis of UGC narratives. Indeed, history passionates posts, pictures, comments and exchanges are emotionally engaging and DMOs could benefit from the user-generated content approach to improve institutional communication on war heritage sites. Research limitations/implications: Further studies could survey history passionates, both online and offline, as to better explore the relationship between contributing to virtual communities’ content and visitation patterns of war heritage sites. Incorporating more emotionally engaging narratives, DMOs could enhance their communication and create virtual spaces where knowledgeable tourists can share information and experiences. Originality/value: This paper contributes to the understanding of online knowledge sharing in the context of war heritage tourism. The comparison between UGC in virtual communities and official destinations’ narratives shows the potential of spontaneous knowledge sharing versus structured online communication and how the latter could benefit UGC.