Touring Blockbuster Exhibitions: Their Contribution to the Marketing of a City to Tourists
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Touring ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions (TBEs) are major international exhibitions that present collections of works of art, cultural objects, natural history or memorabilia. These exhibitions are of a limited duration, occur infrequently and attract local residents and tourists who travel specifically to view them. TBEs offer exciting experiences and may positively affect the profile of a host city. Although touring blockbuster exhibitions possess the attributes of special events, these exhibitions have received little attention in the event and tourism studies literature, or in the field of destination marketing. The primary research question this study addresses is: How do touring blockbuster exhibitions contribute to city tourism marketing? The growing importance of the creation and delivery of memorable experiences in tourism, and the increasing awareness of the long term effects that events have on a host city’s identity and image, underpin the research. An exploratory qualitative multiple case study was conducted in four cities: Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand, and Canberra and Melbourne in Australia. The chosen methodology allowed an investigation of TBEs within four diverse settings, enabled a deeper understanding of the processes within each case and was beneficial for drawing commonalities and variations across the cases. The Melbourne case proved to be the most advanced in terms of hosting of TBEs, while Auckland has yet to find ways to exploit the potential of these events. Policy planners in the capital cities support TBEs not only to attract tourists but are also guided by the rationale of being the centre of the nation and the country. The methods of data collection included qualitative interviewing and document analysis. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with city policy makers and cultural institutions that have hosted TBEs. The interviews helped to access the information pertinent to the ways city tourism and events authorities approach TBEs and utilise these exhibitions in city marketing. Documents were used to navigate the specifics of the contexts, define the questions for interviews and provide supplementary and corroborative data. Thematic analysis was applied to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the topic and address the research objectives. An integrative model is developed that reveals the ways TBEs can contribute to the experiential dimension of a city’s tourism offering, its tourism product mix, brand image and long term tourism marketing objectives. The findings demonstrate that TBEs can be valuable assets for city event planners and destination marketers. The brand stature of these events is remarkably powerful; they can provide enriching and engaging experiences for visitors. This research reconceptualises the TBE as a major city event. The results present an important contribution to the events and tourism literature in advancing understanding of the role TBEs can play in tourism offerings, city events agendas and the marketing of cities. The research offers a new perspective on the problematics of major city cultural events, such as high-profile international exhibitions, and reveals the dynamics that affect their hosting and legacy. Practical implications relate to the hosting of TBEs in a way that supports city identity and enhances city competitiveness.