An evaluation of the use of internal branding among eco-tourism destinations in the north western region of Ireland
In eco-tourism destinations, business practice is usually developed around strict beliefs and values regarding the environment. By devising a brand, a business is projecting their beliefs and values to the customer through their name, logo and proposed practices. Internal branding is a means of internalising brand messages to the staff, and aligning them to the brand. The role of staff and management are crucial to the process, and frameworks are highlighted for successful implementation. This study aimed to uncover the link between internal branding within eco-tourism destinations, specifically in the North- Western region of Ireland and what the perceptions were of key participants within the service provision process regarding it. The key findings of this study came from questionnaires with staff members, interviews with managers and mystery shops conducted by customers of the businesses. It was apparent from the data uncovered that despite staff believing internal branding took place within their organisations, there was disparity between this and their responses with regard to internal branding practices. Many staff expressed that there were no formal processes in place for the education and constant reinforcement of the brand in their organisations, and many expresses that the brand had not even been discussed in the interview process. Despite this, staff members still believed their role important in the communication of brand values within the business. Similarly, managers also placed emphasis on the staff role in communicating brand values, but all admitted to a lack of education pertaining to the brand internally. All of the managers in the study felt it important to align the staff to the brand, and two of the businesses had elements of internal branding incorporated into the hiring process. However, it emerged in published literature that for internal branding efforts to be successful, a strong external brand was required. This is to ensure that internalised brand messages match the ones being projected to the customer. All of the managers specified that there was not a great deal of emphasis placed on the external brand, though all understood the benefits associated with branding. The effects of a weak external brand was apparent at times in the customer responses, and respondents in one business especially, expressed disparity at times between what they expected from brand to what they received. This may have been attributed to weak external brand messages. Despite this in two businesses, overall customers believed staff to be successfully aligned to the brand. This was concurrent with what staff believed, and it was proposed that internal branding may be something which eco-tourism businesses do to a certain degree unconsciously. From the findings, recommendations were made. It was suggested that eco- tourism businesses strengthen their external brand to ensure implementing an internal brand will be successful. It was then suggested that processes and procedures be implemented to educate and continually reinforce the brand, proposed by the literature reviewed. The final recommendation, also based on the existing literature, was that businesses implement a method of staff performance appraisal so that they may continually assess staff performance and alignment with regard to the brand. Published literature expressed many benefits to internal branding such as enhanced customer relations and differentiation from competitors. Internal branding is about successfully aligning beliefs and values, which are two components crucial to the success of eco-tourism.
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