Gendered Constructions of Romania’s Tourist Destination Image


In the context of a rich international literature on country branding, this paper brings new evidence for Romania; The paper explores a new approach in the analysis of Romania's destination image construction in regards with the gender representations communicated through tourism promotion campaigns; Given the frequent sexist representations of Southern and Eastern countries in Western tourism advertising, the paper analyses the reproduction of a similar sexist imagery for Romania, meant to fit the Western male tourists' expectations and confining the Romanian people and destinations into stereotyped gendered roles.

Keywords: Tourism promotiongendered marketingRomaniacountry image


Gender has been a topic mostly avoided in tourism studies until the mid -1990s (Kinnaird & Hall,

1994; Pettman, 1997). Afterwards, researches mainly focused on topics such as tourism labour force or

sex tourism (Swain, 1995), and less on gendered tourist experiences and marketing (Pritchard &

Morgan, 2000a; Sirakaya & Sonmez, 2000; Alessio & Jóhannsdóttir, 2011).Or, it is known that

tourism is a product of gendered societies (Pritchard & Morgan, 2000a) and images projected through

tourism advertising reflect real relationships between genders, races, countries and cultures (Morgan &

Pritchard, 1998). Tourism advertising often uses desired gendered attributes to better communicate

with their customers, reproducing and reinforcing stereotyped ways of seeing and judging people,

gender roles and places(Morgan & Pritchard, 1998). Through images and text, advertising builds

tourist attractions and destinations, creating meanings and values that influence visitor decisions. But

researches have revealed that media representations of gender and destinations did not change

significantly over time: Western tourism advertising has conserved a postcolonial perspective, built on

the North-South (or West-East) unequal power relations (Pritchard & Morgan, 2000b). It generally

depicts a masculine, technological and superior Northern (or Western) visitor gazing and consuming

the natural and exotic feminine landscapes of Southern or Eastern countries. Northern territories are

often advertised as masculine, active and adventurous, whilst countries of the south and east are

feminine, submissive and sensual (Pritchard & Morgan, 2000b). Situated in the Eastern periphery of

Europe, Romania is expected be the subject of such orientalist imagery, fitting the fantasy of a white,

male and heterosexual Western tourist (Pettman, 1997; Morgan & Pritchard, 1998). It should be also

the subject of another sexist imagery generally associated with the European peripheries (Northern and

richer ones included) that underlines their “otherness” (Alessio & Jóhannsdóttir, 2011). Both

international media and scientific studies have repeatedly highlighted and reinforced negative

stereotypes associated with Eastern Europe: from countries with beautiful and available local women,

to sex tourism destinations and origins of human trafficking (Hall, 2011).

In the context of a rich international literature on country branding, this paper aims to fill in the gap

regarding the study of Eastern Europe’s tourism marketing and its contribution to reinforcing place and

gender stereotypes. It analyses gendered tourism representations built and communicated through

Romania's international tourism promotion campaigns implemented by national authorities after the

fall of communism (1989). Given the rather negative image of Eastern Europe in Western media and

the frequent sexist representations of Southern and Eastern countries in Western tourism advertising,

the paper analyses the reproduction of a similar sexist imagery, meant to fit the Western male tourists'

expectations and confining Romania's people and destinations into stereotyped gendered roles.

Literature review

Romania has had 3 main tourism promotion campaigns implemented by the Romanian Ministry of

Tourism (now the Romanian Tourism Authority) after 1989 (Stoleriu & Ibanescu, 2015): “Romania,

simply surprising” - RSS campaign (2003-2006), ”Romania Land of choice” – RLC (2009) and the

ongoing campaign “Explore the Carpathian Garden” – ECG (since 2009). Fifteen video spots were

produced in these campaigns and aired on major international TV chains such as Euronews, Eurosport,

Discovery, CNN or BBC. Five TV commercials (a general spot and four themed ones: nature, history,

seaside and Bucharest) were promoted in RSS; two spots in the RLC campaign and 11 in ECG (a

general spot, a nature and a cultural-themed one, followed after 2013 by adventure, authenticity, rural

tourism, circuits, city breaks, nature, culture and a second general spot) . All the campaigns were

intended to address a western audience (Western Europe and USA) and in order to facilitate Romania's

integration within major international networks such as the European Union and NATO (Stoleriu &

Ibanescu, 2015).

Previous research indicated that the language of tourism promotion is dominantly scripted for a male

heterosexual audience (Pritchard & Morgan, 2000a, 2000b) and tourism advertising reproduces

stereotyped representations of gender and places, with very few changes over time (Pritchard, 2001).

Overall, women are still mostly portrayed through a Western male gaze (Pritchard & Morgan, 2000a),

in passive and domestic roles or as sexual objects, whilst men usually appear as authority or active

figures (Pritchard, 2001; Antomarchi & de la Barre, 2010; Goffman, 1979; Pingree et al, 1976).

Initially associated with indigenous women of Southern and Eastern countries, these gender stereotypes

have been extended to all tourism markets, rich countries included (Pritchard, 2001; Pritchard &

Morgan, 2000a). Pritchard (2001) identified 4 levels of gender displays in tourism advertising: level 1)

sexual and decorative roles; level 2) ‘traditional’ (e.g. women engaged in "traditional" female

activities) and level 3) ‘non-traditional’ gendered roles (e. g. women in executive roles), or level 4)

(equal) individuals.


Content analysis was applied to fifteen TV commercials from the three promotion campaigns. The

basic unit of analysis was the shot, which is a sequence of frames captured from a single camera

operation (Stoleriu & Ibanescu, 2015). From the 601 shots identified, only 293 were included in the

analysis: those illustrating clearly individualized characters. Undefined (crowd or background)

characters were excluded. Goffman' s (1979) six categories of gender displays were used, namely:

relative size (e.g. exaggerated size suggesting superiority and domination); feminine touch (cradling

objects or self-touching); rank order of gender (active, executive roles opposed to passive roles);

gender depiction in the family (family structure and positioning of the family members) and general

forms of subordination (lowering bodies, smiling, handholding, mocking the others, extending arms,

childlike portrayals of women or gender detachment). The weight of these categories was calculated

according to their duration (D) and frequency of appearance (N) in the TV spots.

Results and discussion

Weight of men and women . The study included about 49 % (293) of the shots in all the campaigns:

those featuring clearly defined characters. Overall, women are less represented in the commercials than

men, especially according to frequency values (51.5 % versus 70.6 %), and the gap has increased along

the campaigns (see Table 1 ). There is a decreasing women’s representation, from a 62 % frequency in

RSS, to 44,1 % in ECG, whilst male characters increased up to 81 % of the ECG videos. The general

spots that synthesize each campaign key message are dominated by woman in RSS, by men in RLC

and achieve a more balanced gender representation in ECG.

Table 1 -
See Full Size >

(N = frequency of appearances in the spots; D = % of the shots duration; F = female, M = male, H = host, T = tourist, Sit = sitting, Stand = standing, < = shorter than; > higher than; in bold- highest values).

Social roles . Women in the commercials are more frequently represented as hosts (in 36,5 % of all

the shots, compared to 24.9 % for female tourists), whilst men are more often represented as tourists

(42.7 % compared to 24.9 % for women). The commercials tend to reproduce the visitor type usually

portrayed by Western travel media: white, male and greeted by female hosts. On the other hand, the

campaigns focus has progressively shifted from hosts to tourists and their experiences in Romania. The

visitors' weight increased from a 24 % frequency in RSS (compared to 82 % for the hosts), to 15 .6 %

in RLC, and 82 % in ECG (compared to only 45 % shots featuring the hosts). Several themed spots in

ECG (culture, nature, active and circuits) are completely focused on tourists, compared to the RSS

general spot presenting only hosts. Overall, duration (D) reinforces the roles expressed by frequency

values (N).

Gendered hosts . Idealized sexual images and text are often used to promote destinations from both

rich and developing states (Prideaux et al., 2004). Most of the media advertising is dominated by

images of submissive and sensual women and powerful, macho men (Goffman, 1979; Pritchard &

Morgan, 2000b). Images of women are frequently used to express the exotic nature of destinations or

the main reason to visit (Kinnaird & Hall, 1994), hence the highlighting of their desirable attributes

such as youth, beauty, sexuality or the possession of a man (Goffman, 1979). In the Romanian TV

commercials, female hosts are both submissive and sensual, playing two main roles: they entertain

tourists (dancing, singing or crafting in 20.2 % of the campaigns shots) or simply host/ service them (in

18.2 % of the shots). Romanian women are also represented as part of the tourist attractions, namely as:

a) beautiful young bodies displayed for the tourist gaze (e.g. semi-naked women on the beach or at the

pool in RSS and ECG; young ladies walking and undressing in the streets - in RSS); b) attractive

cultural breakers, smiling and introducing various attractions (e.g. several young girls in RSS; the

gymnast Nadia Comaneci in RLC); c) part of a warm, safe and fun social environment (e.g. girls

dancing in night clubs; women with children in public squares); d) keepers and performers of living

rural authenticity, crafting, dancing and singing in front of tourists in RLC, ECG and RSS. Women are

also illustrated as welcoming hosts and/or employees of the tourism industry, where they serve and

assist tourists (e.g. hosting, cooking, giving spa treatments in ECG). In the tourism advertising of

Southern and Eastern countries, such as Pacific Islands or Caribbean, local people are strongly

racialised and sexualized in order to illustrate their otherness and authenticity (Echtner & Prasad,

2003). Or, Romanian hosts are depicted from a similar Western perspective. Their exotism is enhanced

by strong ethnic markers (e.g. traditional costumes and activities) or sexually desirable images. With

few exceptions (in 25 % of the cases, when they play the caring and responsible roles of mothers/wives

or older women catering for tourists and carrying on the traditions), Romanian female hosts are young,

beautiful and available. Camera shots highlight their attractive bodies (undressing or wearing

transparent clothes, short skirts, swimwear or towels) or body parts (smiling faces, long hair, upper

body). Feminine bodies in the campaigns commercials are meant to: attract male travellers to

hedonistic places where they can indulge (spa, beach) and to suggest a warm climate. As for the male

characters, they are also mostly young, with very few exceptions: as adult hosts in RSS and RLC, or

adult tourists in ECG. Male hosts dominate the RLC campaign (two of the three cultural breakers are

male) and the RSS nature spot. They illustrate traditional male occupations (fisherman in RSS,

shepherd in ECG) and outdoor rural activities, wearing simple or traditional clothes.

The relative size is one of the categories used by Goffman (1979) to analyse gendered

representations. It reflectstwo persons' function towards each other, including women's subordination

to men. Size, camera angles and positioning techniques (e.g. women sitting or in the background)are

often used to increase men’s size relative to women's(Goffman, 1979). In the TV campaigns

promoting Romania, women are mostly shorter than men: in 65 % of all the shots analysed, and with

an increasing frequency across the three campaigns (from 44 % in RSS to 71 % in ECG). Women only

appear taller than men when they are the central focus of the tourist gaze (the main attraction). In this

case their body is intentionally exaggerated (taller than buildings in RSS) and/or men are placed in the

background and blurred (in RLC). Only in ECG women appear sometimes equal in height with men,

especially when couples or mixed groups of friends are featured visiting cultural destinations in urban

and rural areas.

Another technique to suggest subordination by lowering the female body is a sitting position. In

tourism advertising men stand more often than women, implying the male social superiority and

leadership (Goffman, 1979). On the contrary, in this study women are standing in 83 % of the cases

and 45 % of the time : always in RSS, and in 65 % cases for RLC and ECG. But, even standing they

usually illustratesubordinated social roles: most of the female hosts are standing while servicing

tourists (in spas and restaurants, in ECG) or entertaining them (singing, dancing or playing music -

RSS, RLC, ECG). As tourists, women are more often displayed sitting: with semi-naked bodies lying

near swim pools or in the spa (36 % of the women in ECG). The few women riding (horses, zebras and

bikes) or standing (walking, dancing in the clubs, playing sports) are usually in positions that focus the

(male) visitor gaze on their body. Other techniques to lower the women's bodies are: lowering their

head or body (21% of the cases) and their positioning in the background.

The feminine touch . According to Goffman (1979), self-touching or cradling an object/person,

touching it with finger-tips, hands or the face are considered feminine touches, illustrating delicateness

and preciousness. On the other hand, women are often represented as subjects of a dominating male

touch. The women analysed in this study touch: domestic objects traditionally associated with feminine

occupations (e.g. cooking, sewing, milking the cows, shopping - in 20.4 % of the overall shots, and

increasing up to 30 % in RLC and ECG); or spa instrument and tourists' bodies, while providing health

treatments (in 30 % of the ECG wellness spot). Self-touching appears in 14.2 % of cases and decreases

from 21.3 % in RSS, to 7.4 % in ECG. Other touched/held objects associated with stereotyped

representations of women are: fashion items (e.g. clothes, scarves, dominating in RSS - 30%, and

decreasing to 3.7 % in ECG) or music instruments (symbolizing traditional feminine qualities - more

frequent in RSS). Stereotyped images of young brides holding flowers appear in RSS and RLC. The

few active female tourists represented in the spots (8.5 % in RSS and 9.3 % in ECG) touch maps and

harnesses etc. On the other hand, men mostly touch objects suggesting active roles of domination and

leadership (they drive various transport means e.g. horses, boats, cars, parasail) or indulging visitor

roles (e.g. eating, drinking).

The social rank of gender indicates the relationship between men and women through their social

and occupational roles. In tourism brochures men usually have the executive (instructing) role,

associated with action, power and ownership, whilst women are mostly passive participants (watching,

observing or just being there (Sirakaya & Sonmez, 2000), associated with availability and being owned

(Selwyn, 1992;Antomarchi & de la Barre, 2010; Kinnaird & Hall, 1994, Swain, 1995). As mentioned

above, Romanian women in the TV commercials are most often represented as hosts (either as tourism

industry employees or local people), available to service and entertain the generally male tourist.

Executive male roles are rarely suggested directly (with only one explicit image of a business man

assisted by a female colleague, in RSS), but mostly indirectly: handling transport means and sports

facilities or creating things as potters and wood sculptors (ECG).

Active/passive roles . According to Pingree et al. (1976), most of the women's representations in

tourism magazines are either in sexual and decorative roles, or engaged in traditional female activities

(e.g. caring for children, shopping, grooming themselves, or as passive spectators of active men). This

is confirmed by the Romanian tourism campaigns (see Table 2 ), where men appear active in 81% of

the cases, and passive in only 19 % of the shots (when receiving spa treatments or observing nature).

As expected, women appear less active than men (in 61% of the cases) and their activities are less

effort-consuming: e.g. walking in the city or on the beach, hosting or giving spa treatments. On the

other hand, the weight of passive representations of women increased along the campaigns from 26.3%

in RSS, to 43 % in ECG (and duration reconfirms the frequency values). As for the associated tourist

products, women appear more active in rural tourism (e.g. cooking and serving tourists in ECG) and

urban or seaside destinations (walking in RSS and RLC), whilst static images of men are mainly

associated with cultural and wellness tourism (ECG).

Table 2 -
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(N = frequency of appearances in the spots; D = % of the shots duration; F = female, M = male, act=active, pas=passive, det.= gender detachment; ext = extending arms, F couple = women in couple; F group = female group; in bold- highest values).

Family roles. Women appear in commercials as: single woman, part of a couple (girlfriend or wife),

or of a women or mixed group. Images of single and attractive womendominate the three campaigns

(42.4 % of the shots), but decreased from 72 % in RSS to 26 % in ECG - Table 2 . They are part of

destination attractions; hence the highlight of their beauty features (face, hair, body). On the other hand,

women in young couples or as brides have low overall shares (17 %), but increasing across the

campaigns. The nuclear family (parents and children, mother with daughter) is rarely depicted in the

commercials, usually as part of a larger crowd, illustrating the safe and animated atmosphere of city

squares and parks (hence the lack of focus on beauty traits). The traditional family structure of power is

only once suggested (in ECG), with the father positioned behind his family on a mountain trail,

communicating the male protective power and authority in the household. Women in young female or

mixed groups are even less frequent, but increased significantly in the last two campaigns where they

portray Romania as an attractive destination for young people: e.g. mixed groups associated with

seaside, spa and clubbing, in RLC and ECG. Other groups such as mother and daughters or older

women and young girls crafting and singing in ECG, illustrate the women's role in the conservation of

cultural rural heritage. Apart the lowering bodies, gender subordinationis also illustrated in advertising

through other techniques such as: smiling, handholding, being mocked or chased, extending arms,

childlike portrayals of women or gender detachment (a psychological withdrawal from a social setting

and disorientation, causing dependency on the protectiveness and goodwill of others) (Goffman, 1979).

About 22 % of the women in the studied commercials smile, compared to only 6.8 % of men. Smiling

women are less frequent in ECG (9.9%), compared to more than a third in RSS and RLC, where they

portray young and beautiful hosts (cultural breakers) inviting tourists to Romania. Men are usually

serious (in 34 % of the overall cases, and 54% in RSS). They smile mostly when they portray tourists

interacting with locals (ECG) or male cultural breakers (RLC). The fragility and need for male

protection are symbolized through images women bracing against objects (frequent in RSS), holding

hands with men(especially in RLC and in the ECG circuits spot); as hosts extending their arms (9 % of

the overall shots) when inviting, serving or waving at tourists; or as women chased by men (e.g. a

young bride chased by four men in RLC). Typical displays of gender detachment in the commercials

are: the partial depiction of the face or body (hiding the mouth with fingers, hiding behind objects or

persons), nuzzling or looking away. In our study, images of women looking away are much more

frequent than men's, especially in RSS. As for the body displays, female bodies are partially depicted in

62 % of the cases, the camera usually focusing on their beautiful, young and smiling faces.

Gendered tourist experiences . Research has shown that travel motivations and behaviour differ in

relation with gender: menprefer more recreation and activity at destination, whilst women prefer

relaxation, escapist activitiesand wellness (Antomarchi & de la Barre, 2010). Men travel to discover

the world and women travel to discover themselves. Women are more concerned with the quality of the

experience and its process, whereas men are more orientated towards the activity and the visit

(Humberstone & Collins, 1998). Women react better to destination attributes such as uniqueness,

adventure and interesting places, whilst men are more interested in service quality and comfort

variables (White & Yu, 2005). As tourists, women’s experiences of landscape is known to be more

reflective and spiritual (often passive) compared to the competitive, exploitative experience of men

(White & Yu, 2005), usually associated with action, power and ownership. In the TV commercials

analysed, female tourists mostly walk (in the city or on the beach - 17 %), relax (in spas, urban or

seaside destinations -13 %), practice softer sports (13.7 %), or simply watch (5.2 %). They are rarely

illustrated having fun in bars or clubs (4.6 %), visiting museums (1.3 %), eating (1.3 %), enjoying

nature (1.3 %) or working in business environments (0.7 %). On the other hand, men are active in about

half of the shots analysed (45.5 %) and illustrate stereotyped masculine roles such as: nature

conqueror/explorer, competitive and independent visitors. They engage in nature based-sports (37 % of

the shots), they explore wild nature and conquer mountain peaks (watching from highs viewpoints - 8.6

%). They are also illustrated as medieval warriors (8.1%) or modern conquerors that chase/marry

beautiful young women (1.9 %). They enjoy multisensory experiences such as: eating, drinking and

interacting with locals (9.1 %) or having fun in bars and clubs (2.4 %). Men are rarely associated with

less effort consuming activities: e.g. walking (5.7%), admiring cultural heritage (5.3 %), or simply

relaxing at the beach /pool/spa/in salt mines (5.7 %). As hosts, they serve (1.4 %) or entertain tourists,

but contrary to the female hosts, men do it from equal (sitting at the same table) or even leading

positions (as DJs or bandmasters). Rural male hosts are mainly engaged in outdoor, traditionally male

activities and crafts such as: fishing, haying or wood sculpting (10.2 %). Within each campaign, female

characters highlight several feminine tourist products: the seaside, cultural urban tourism and wellness

tourism (in ECG), for which women appear in more than 80 % of the shots. Men strongly dominate

nature-based and adventure tourism (100 % of the shots in ECG and 87.5 % in the RSS spot for Danube

Delta), as well as rural tourism (more than 75 % in ECG). Gender representation is more balanced for

the cultural circuits and the second nature-themed spot in ECG.

Gendered tourist places . Many studies showed that place has a gendered identity and advertising

builds this perceived identity based on power relations, by sexualizing people, destinations and

landscapes (Kinnaird & Hall, 1994; Pritchard & Morgan, 2000b). Thus, women are often used to

promote the exoticand erotic nature of destinations from southern/eastern or third world countries in

general. These are usually promoted as feminine, appealing places (e.g. seaside resorts or wild natural

landscapes), waiting to be discovered and dominated by male Western tourists (Pritchard & Morgan,

2000a). Nature is often feminized and presented as passive, wild, mysterious and seductive; hence it is

gazed, explored and conquered. On the other hand, male tourist landscapesare places of adventure,

celebrating masculinity and patriarchy and excluding women (Kinnaird & Hall, 1994). Northern

landscapes are often promoted as male and active, wild, untamed and harsh. If in feminine landscapes,

male tourists are invited to discover their treasures; in masculine landscapes men rediscover the real,

natural world, with other male friends (Pritchard & Morgan, 2000a). In the TV commercials, women

dominate (with an 80 % frequency) the characters associated with urban cultural landscapes and

religious attractions: as visitors in major cities or monastery hosts. With lower shares (50 - 65 %), they

also dominate the tourists and hosts characters associated with spa and seaside resorts, nightclubs and

rural ethnographic destinations. These places are associated with traditionally feminine activities or

features such as: keeping traditions, welcoming guests, attracting/entertaining male visitors or simply

relaxing in safe/feminine environments (public squares, spas). As expected, men strongly dominate

natural landscapes (mountains, forests and the Danube Delta), some religious destinations (as visitors),

and, in lower shares, historical attractions (castles and fortresses) or sportive ones, as well as outdoor

rural landscapes (fields and sheepfolds).

Conclusions and implications

Overall, the paper underlines very few changes in the gender representations communicated by

tourism advertising, in relation with the evolution of the tourism market. There is a slowly increasing

weight of female tourists and feminine tourist products: wellness and urban /cultural tourism. Overall,

women are mostly represented as hosts and confined to traditionally feminine activities, such as

inviting, greeting and entertaining male visitors. Excepting the last campaign, feminine customers are

rarely portrayed, all the campaigns mainly addressing a typical male Western visitor and increasingly,

young travellers. The commercials communicate an overall country image that reproduces similar

gender stereotypes to those often used to promote countries of south and east, as well as European

peripheries to the western market. In order to attract visitors, TV commercials communicate Romania's

otherness through images of young women mostly portrayed in sexual and decorative or submissive,

male or visitor-subordinated roles. The reproduction of these representations in international tourism

promotion campaigns managed by credible national authorities reinforces a generally limited (sexist

and ageist) way of seeing and evaluating Romanian places and people from abroad. Women are mostly

depicted as single, young and attractive, thus supporting the stereotypes often associated to Eastern

Europe by Western media: countries with beautiful, welcoming and available young women and

destinations for sex tourism. Further studies should use social surveys to verify the effect of these

tourism commercials on the perceived representations of Romania and Romanian women from abroad.


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