In the first part, this chapter undertakes a literature review on the Heritage Visitor Attractions (HVAs) in Malta. In this part, a review is done on the attractiveness of Malta as far as tourism and heritage are concerned.
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The second part of the chapter deals with the question of online strategies that have been employed in the marketing and promotion of HVAs in Malta.
The third and last part seeks to determine the relation between the literature available on the online marketing of HVAs and the implementation of the ideas in the literature.
Take the general overview first and then go into the specifics regarding Malta HVAs – these should come at the very end of the literature review as this is your project area.
Significance and scope of the research
Very few studies have been undertaken on online marketing strategies of Malta’s Heritage Tourist/Visitor Attractions. The majority of these studies concentrated on the impact of marketing on Malta’s heritage visitor attractions. Amongst them is Farrugia’s (2006) study that gave an overview of the influence of sustainable tourism marketing on Malta’s Heritage Visitor Sites. Her study aimed to identify ways in which tourism marketing of Maltese heritage sites could be achieved. The outcome of her study showed several emergent factors that could lead to a successful tourism market in Malta. The majority of factors emphasized on enhancing the marketing strategies to incorporate communication, networking, and partnerships with the heritage organizations and the visitors, both local and international (Karpati, 2008). With local visitors, this would encourage a sense of ownership which would also promote the protection of the heritage sites for their own benefit and that of others. However, this study did not indicate how these factors are to be incorporated in marketing (Sweeney & Sweeney, 2008).
Online marketing can be instrumental in ensuring communication, networking and partnership (Sweeney & Sweeney, 2008). This research will aim to assess the online marketing of Malta’s heritage visitor attractions.
Smith (2005) undertook a study aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of the use of the internet in the promotion of tourism activities. His study was carried out by studying the use of a website by tourists and other visitors in California. The study found out that the website influenced the decision that the prospective tourists made.
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Another researcher, Bramwell (2006) undertook a study that was aimed at reviewing how advertising has changed from its traditional form and how it has slowly been phased out by viral marketing in terms of capacity, dynamism, and attractiveness. The study found out that viral marketing was widely used in promoting many products.
Winter (2009) carried out a study where he sought to identify or to find out what characteristics in a tourism website are most valuable to a tourist. This research was carried out by carrying out a random sampling of tourists arriving at Hong Kong International Airport. The findings indicated that tourists were most concerned with the information to do with hotel reservation and room charges.
Another study was done by Beler, Borda, Bowenand Filippini-Fantoni (2004). Its aim was to identify and present the challenges that came about from the traditional advertising. It also aimed at finding the reasons as to why online advertising was ideal in completing the role of advertising through the web.
Prideaux and Kininmont (1999) sought to determine the effect that the spoken word, through the internet has on each of the decision making stages, which include awareness, interest, organizing as well as the actual decision making (Briggs, 2001). The study found out that users have an attachment to a service where they can easily interact. This interaction is through media such as through emails. Secondly, the study found out that demographic characteristics tend to influence the choices made by the users. Others who have undertaken research include Brannen (2004). His study was carried out with an aim of finding out the extent of internet use among tourists around the world.
Hanson (2000) carried out a similar study albeit in Jordan. His study sought to identify and establish what degree has online marketing and promotion being done in Jordan. The study was carried out by sampling 160 managers in the Jordanian tourism sector. Further, the study sought to identify the role that is played by online tourism promotion as far as Jordan was concerned. This study was carried out by sampling the opinions of different tourists. The findings of the study indicated that, online promotion and marketing of tourism are instrumental aspects in enhancing the competitiveness of the companies. This was especially those that embraced these aspects, as well as those countries that sold their heritage sites wholesomely. Beasley and Conway (2012) asserted that, for a country to continue drawing visitors to its Heritage sites, sustained online marketing campaigns are critical. This will ensure that many people around the globe are aware of the sites, and they are also talking about them. If the HVAs in a country are well marketed through the creation of awareness, tourists will want to visit. The other part that the study emphasizes as salient is about the information that the sector will provide. The study found out that stakeholders such as hotels and tour companies should ensure that they provide relevant information as much as possible.
HVAs in Malta
Heritage Visitor Attractions are a crucial element of tourist products that determine the choices that visitors/tourists make to visit a certain destination over the other (Hall & Zeppel 1990; Leask & Yeoman, 2002). It is the most important component amongst the three basic components of tourist products. One of the most important sectors in the tourism industry is the tourism industry is the Heritage Visitor Attractions (HVAs). This sector has set its eyes on the development of the tourism industry through the development of the most comprehensive marketing strategies at the centre of the Mediterranean is Malta. Interestingly, heritage tourism in Malta dates back as many as seven thousand years ago. Some of the prehistoric sites in Malta have already been given World Heritage Status (UNESCO, 2012).
Given the significance of tourism to the Maltese economy, there is a dire need for the promotion and marketing of the tourism sector both at the local and international market. Malta’s tourism policy that has been developed for 2012-2016 talks of improving the accessibility of their tourism products (World Tourist Attractions 2011; UNESCO, 2012). This is to be done by ensuring that the marketing of Malta’s tourism products is not only robust, but also effective. Malta’s policy recognizes the changes in the international trends. It thus recommends that the country energizes its marketing efforts through the use of technology such as the internet. The policy adds that the country’s plan is to shift from traditional advertising to online advertising (Goeldner & Ritchie, 2009; Pfister & Tierney, 2009). This is shown by the fact that, in the year 2007, Malta had allocated a marginal 3% of its online advertising budget. The policy notes that as of 2011, the budget had increased significantly to stand at 24% and is expected to continue increasing (Shaffer, 2009; Heritage Malta 2005).
Filippini-Fantoni, McDaid and Cock (2011) undertook a research to determine how tourists in the U.S source for information on the choice of travel services. The study indicated that most of the tourists (39 percent) preferred sourcing this information online. The study also found out that 27 per cent of travellers made their choice after influence from the traditional media. Also, 32.7 per cent said that they were influenced by the online media. For those tourists between the ages of 18-24, social media were found to be the most influential in their choices. However, in Europe, Buhalis (2003) found out that the commonly sought information online is on the choice of destination. Gubrium and Silverman (2008) and Keene (2011) established that 69 per cent of internet users would make a decision on where to visit depending on the information they would find on the internet. In the year 2010, 53% of all holiday trips made from Europe were booked on the internet. This was an improvement of 5 percentage points when compared to the previous year (Forbes 2011).
There is also some variable literature from the studies that have been conducted by the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA). In a study done to determine the choice of holiday de4stination, the finding was that more and more people are now being influenced by the internet. For example, in 2007, 17.9 per cent of those sampled said that the internet as the media that have the largest influence on their choice. All these studies concur that online marketing is an idea whose time has come.
Most of this marketing and promotion has been done online as well as through the media. Online marketing in tourism has reaped huge benefits (Feilden & Jokilehto 1998; McElroy & Olazarri 1997). Online marketing has now become one of the most popular ways for stakeholders in the tourism industry to promote their services. This is because consumers are increasingly relying on the internet for information (Egger & Buhalis 2008). Given this fact, there are high possibilities that a consumer will find information on different products and services and will then be interested in buying them. Further, there has been a rise in the number and use of social networks. These platforms are also used by tourists to give information on the places they have visited many travellers and visitors. In general, most tourists find the internet as the most preferred resource and convenient source of information. In this case, it is easy to use, access and use, as well as time and cost efficient (Leask, 2010; Poria, Biran, & Reichel 2009).
Research conducted in mid 2012 showed that 63.5 per cent of all the people living in Europe were internet users. This accounted for 21.6 per cent of the total population in the world (Miniwatts Marketing Group, 2012). Other than providing information on destinations, the internet is also a platform where consumers can enquire about prices of flights, as well as the cost of accommodation before they can proceed with the booking. Despite its small geographical size, Malta has sites that attract tourists from all corners of the globe. Malta has also succeeded in the use of the internet to market its tourism. The number of internet users in the tourism industry has been on the increase. In 2010, they had increased to 59.2 per cent. This is according to a survey by Malta’s National Statistics Office (2011) on the use of the internet in homes and enterprises in 2010, 55.8 per cent of the internet users related to travel arrangements. Hotel accommodation came in third amongst the objects commonly sought online by 29.8%, which was a rise of 4% when compared with the 2009 statistics (Heritage Malta, 2012).
Tunbridge (2008) noted that there has been a paradigm shift in the last 15 years in so far as online promotion of HVAs is concerned. United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has in a report given some of the advantages that accrue to HVAs that embrace online marketing. Firstly, online marketing allows the user, in this context the tourist, to achieve a higher level of interaction and communication is more enhanced (Brynjolfsson & Smith 2001; Deighton, 1996; Graham, Ashworth and Tunbridge, 2000). Secondly, online marketing ensures that information is spread out to large geographical markets in a cost and time effective manner (Baye and Morgan 2001; Baye, Gatti, Kattuman & Morgan 2009). Thirdly, it is instrumental in enabling countries to enhance their HVAs brands especially through research and monitoring (ComScore, Inc. 2009; Li and Leckenby 2004). Fourthly, the interaction between the tourist and the business is normally two ways say though emails or comments that are responded to promptly. Fifthly, online marketing is a platform where potential clients can be reached one on one while at the same time reaching many other potential clients (Gobo 2004; Bryon & Russo 2003; Beazley, Bowen, Liu, and McDaid, 2010).
Although there is minimal literature on online marketing of tourism in Malta, other researchers have sought to find out the marketing strategies in tourism that Malta has used. Dholakia, Dholakia, Fritz, & Mundorf (2002) are a group of researchers who have undertaken research on the marketing strategies that Malta uses in its tourism sector.
Marketing of destinations that are most preferred by visitors is very essential in the tourism industry (Fyall & Garrod, 2005; Garrod & Wanhill, 2012). Online marketing has inspired the growth of the tourism industry by enhancing consumers’ exploration of attractive destinations back from the comforts of their homes. This helps potential visitors to reach informed decisions prior to their visitations. In addition, the internet has enabled visitors to scrutinise HVAs, check weather conditions, as well as communicate with other visitors around the world regarding their experience of a chosen destination (Smith 2009). Online marketing is the promotion of tourist products or services using the internet. There are various forms of promoting tourist products or services through the internet. These include company websites, social media networks, mobile phones and many other platforms of interactive media. Therefore, online marketing of heritage visitor attractions is a successful online communication with the potential visitors. In this case, it convinces them that they are being offered tourist products or services that they require or those that will be beneficial (Gimme 2009).
The Malta Tourism Authority embraced the use of internet in marketing tourism products. This was in the mid 1990s when the country launched its first online marketing strategies. By this time, the internet was in its infancy and was not well established globally. Over the years, online marketing of Malta’s HVAs relied mainly on the visitmalta.com website. It now features a corporate site as well as other special interest online niches. With the introduction of Web 2.0, social networking took centre stage in online marketing in tourism and other sectors. In this respect, MTA developed its official pages on the most renowned Web 2.0 sites including social media networks like Facebook and Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, blogs, and video sharing websites among others (Debattista 201; Leask and Fyall 2006b). These social networks are more influential to young travellers between the ages of 18 and 24 (Debattista, 2011).
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Moreover, MTA established multi-lingual e-newsletters that are sent to the ever-growing consumers’ database every 2 months. This is meant to keep in touch and enlighten them about the HVAs events and aspects which may be of interest. Furthermore, MTA launched applications for mobile phones and iPads, Apple iPhone Smartphone and Apple iPads tablets. One of the applications is a mobile destination guide written in English, Italian and German, whereas the other focuses on Malta’s cultural offers. MTA also initiated a text to speech feature on the visitmalta.com site to enable consumers with reading problems or visual impairments to access information in the form of speech. Malta’s tourism industry started redesigning the visitmalta.com portal in 2011 to accommodate these technologies like the geographical information system because of rapid changes in technology (Debattista 2011).
The attractiveness of a heritage site is very important in the marketing of any tourist destination. The stakeholders in any tourism sector also influence how marketable that sector is. In this case, the stakeholders in a tourism sector are responsible for the management of the sector. Good management practices result in positive results and vice versa. To look at marketing, which is a marketing function, it is also important to look at the stakeholders involved in visitor visitations (Henninger 2003).
Leask (2010) sought to find out the best and most effective management styles of visitor attractions. She defined visitor attraction as the permanent resource whether it is natural or artificial whose primary use is to attract visitors. Ferrell & Hartline (2011) regarded visitor attraction as a permanent establishment that is a destination where the primary reason for visiting is for entertainment, interest, or education. Normally, this is open to members of the public during certain pre-publicized times of the year and one that can attract tourists, as well as local citizens. However, the study made by Leask (2010) noted that there is yet to be a universally accepted definition of a visitor attraction.
The second part of the research deals with the importance of a visitor attraction. There are different motivations for visiting a heritage site. Some of the motivations include education, entertainment, or even nostalgia. There are three that make up an attraction; a tourist/visitor, a great site, and a marker. A marker in this context refers to that information about the site that makes the visitor want to visit. From this definition of the elements of an attraction, the importance of marketing is accentuated since marketing is all about letting the clients know of the goodness of the product. The research found out that a researcher is more likely to visit a site where he or she feels that the needs are best satisfied. Cooper, Fletcher, Gilbert, & Wanhill (1998) noted that studies on tourist attractions have been inadequate as researchers have tended to ignore this area. Other scholars observed that there are a few studies on visitor attractions as most of the academic debate has been limited to the definitions of a visitor attraction (Liu & Bowen, 2011). Other academic researches in these areas have dealt with the location, products offered, and management of tourism, as well as the visitor experience.
The research emphasizes that the site is the most important aspect in a visitor attraction. Without the attraction, there will be no tourism or visitor attractions. Given that the site is the most influential factor when it comes to visitor/attraction, the question about the features available in Malta arises. Malta is regarded as a small country. However, it is well known worldwide for its vast HVAs ranging from the archaeological and historical sites to natural sites. Valletta, Malta’s historical capital was one of the earliest most renowned HVA sites listed among the World’s Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization-UNESCO (Glow, Kenneth & Baack 2004). It is a thriving visitor attraction that includes various national buildings, monuments, artefacts amongst its HVAs. The Megalithic Complexes of Ggantija, Hagar Qim, Tarxien and Mnajdra, as well as the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, a subterranean Neolithic structure, are the other great UNESCO World Heritage Sites-WHS in Malta (Leask & Fyall, 2012). WHS are attractions of high profile, and they are usually designated as iconic and unique (Leask & Yeoman, 2002). Most often, they are owned by the government and are very significant in the national tourism industry. In addition, WHS/HVAs have other features, which include quality, authenticity, activity options and drawing power (Leask & Yeoman, 2002).
Maltese HVAs are of high quality as they provide a pleasant and clean environment, smooth tourist oriented procedures and operations, security and friendly hospitality. With reference to authenticity, HVAs should be real, that is, they should produce the distinctive flavour of that destination in a manner that creates and promotes the sense of place. The majority of visitors concentrates on the sites, buildings and facilities offered by the HVAs while making their travel decisions. Besides, it is very important to consider the activities, which keep the visitors busy and entertained (Willems 2007; Rose & Martin 2004).
Well managed HVAs should provide a varied program of activities for their visitors. Lastly, the drawing power is measured by the potential number of visitors visiting a certain destination and their likelihood of visiting the destination again. The WHS is endorsed by high drawing power. WHS/HVAs are the primary visitor attractions, and this is attributed to the fact that they highly influence visitors’ decisions regarding where to visit. They are often the primary reason behind visitation of a certain destination and they are closely connected to the destination’s image as promoted in the marketing strategies. Apart from the WHS mentioned above, Malta has other important heritage tourist attractions like Mdina, Gozo Island, Sun/beaches and numerous Mediterranean hotels for dining and nightlife amongst others. Another important attraction for tourists in Malta is the diving activity in the Mediterranean Sea around the Maltese islands (Leask & Fyall, 2012).
Therefore, it is clear that Malta is well endowed with the first element of a visitor attraction which is attractiveness. The second important element is the marker, which is to do with the marketing of these sites. The marketing theory says states that an effective marketing style is one that helps in the achievement of HVA objectives (Bruce & Creighton 2006). Notably, there is a common agreement that marketing of tourism is helpful in attracting visitors. However, the big and controversial question is on the best marketing mix or strategy for a certain tourism product. However, most scholars in the field agree that collaboration between the various players in the tourism sector is a big step in achieving effective marketing. The collaboration is seen clearly in Malta’s national policy where the government is to partner with private establishments in promoting their products online (Demoule 2012; Bonn, Joseph-Matthews, Mo, Hayes, & Cave, 2007).
When the country markets the beaches and the cities, the benefits trickle down to the private establishments such as hotels. These are the establishments that will provide accommodation to the visitors (Hall & McArthur 1997). However, researchers agree that such partnerships will not be easy as the stakeholders may be unwilling to share crucial information. This is especially since some of them are industry competitors. However, over the last 15 years, Malta has had some of the most comprehensive marketing strategies (Handlechner, 2008). The first comprehensive policy on marketing Malta tourism was drafted in 2002. The policy talked of the need to diversify the Market by increasing awareness on other products that were available in Malta. This was apart from the sun, which had traditionally been marketed as the epitome of Maltese heritage. During these times, tourism was only marketed in the coastal areas (Lo 2011; Henninger 2003).
Scholars later emerged challenging the notion that the sun was the epitome of Maltese tourism. This led to the start of the exploitation of the heritage tourist attractions most of which have been described above. It has been asserted that a balance should be struck between the Maltese tourism and HVAs (Kotler 2005). This perhaps is the background of this study. The HVAs promotion has developed in the last 15 years. After the decision was made to market the heritage activities aggressively, stakeholders in the industry have continually sought to ensure that the marketing activities are in tandem with the national policy developed by the MTA. This has been done by ensuring that the human resource and skills are developed to market these products effectively, which explains the success of the online promotions in Malta (Buhalis & Egger 2008; Rossiter & Percy 2005).
As of 2011, Expedia.com, one of the most known global travel websites awarded MTA the ‘Best Partner Innovator’ award because of its marketing strategies. Indeed, Malta was the first Mediterranean country to receive such an honour due to its efforts in online marketing in the widely diversifying tourism industry. The United Kingdom is one of the most important markets for Malta’s tourism. UK tourists were the first to adopt online travel services in Europe (Bennett 2002). As mentioned earlier, Europe possesses a huge percentage of internet users. This prompted Malta to change and adopt online marketing services offered by Expedia.com and other online travel agencies to enhance its tourism sector. The European countries, UK, Italy, Germany and France have been the five potential source markets for Malta’s HVAs (Wanhill 2000; King & Parnwell 2011).
During the year 2010, visitors from the UK amounted to 415, 120, Italy 214, 259, Germany 126, 097 and France 86, 475 (Debattista, 2011). Expedia enabled the Malta tourism sector to implement online distribution with its HVAs, which boosted sales. A substantial number of visitors employ the internet in their research about holidays, making travel arrangements, booking and paying. Malta’s partnership with Expedia has contributed to major benefits to its tourism industry (Tunbridge 2011). In 2011, Malta was able to offer more accommodation to visitors thus making more profits, even during a period of international crisis (Deidun, Castriota and Arrigo 2011). The average profit rate on a daily basis rose by 5 per cent when compared to that of 2010. Additionally, the number of independent visitors increased steadily by about 46 per cent. This relationship also influenced rapid changes in the Maltese tourism sector such as the opening up of several new routes, the emphasized growth of internet marketing, the establishment of low cost carriers and strategies to lure young, affluent and more adventurous tourists with shorter holidays but more travel experience especially during the off-peak periods (Markwick 1999; Malta 1995).
Low cost carriers led to a substantial increase in the number of visitors to Malta. To ensure progress in online marketing in Malta is maintained and enhanced, Expedia offers education to Malta’s tourism industry (Debattista 2011). Back in 2009, the Hotel Juliani in Malta was ranked by Expedia the 11th best hotel in Europe and 29th globally. By that time, close to 85,000 hotels in the world had registered with Expedia. The Expedia World Heritage Insider list featured only one percent of hotels. Five Maltese hotels had made it to the list; however, Juliani hotel was the one that ranked with the top hotels. The MTA had proposed to invest €800,000 in online marketing in 2009 because of this impact of online marketing in Malta’s HVAs (Timesofmalta.com, 2009).
The year 2006 saw the entrance of Izzicarhire.com, an online car rental service in the Maltese tourism market. This company connected several car rental companies with tourists. The company offered a portal to access the suppliers, match rates, as well as make bookings. This was a great boost to Malta’s HVAs leading to a convenient and comprehensive service to its visitors. This service is connected with Malta’s International Airport (Izzicarhire.com, 2012). Malta has gone a long way to improve accessibility to the islands with its national legacy carrier Air Malta. Major changes and improvements have been incorporated in its online marketing strategies. Recently, this Maltese international carrier launched a new interactive website that targeted mainly tourists. This replaced its old website which had served for 14 years. This site is accessed and followed by millions of visitors annually. It is by far the most visited Maltese sites in Malta and Europe at large (Gubrium, Jaber & Silverman 2007). The enhanced new site offered more features and information pertaining to flights, weather conditions and services such as live destinations and terminal maps. Additionally, the new site increased its traffic with the help of thousands checking both incoming and outgoing flights and surveying of Malta’s weather conditions daily. The site has also helped many visitors to plan their travel arrangements mostly for leisure (Brown 1998; Busuttil 2000).
Malta tourism industry stakeholders also introduced a new online media library, viewingmalta.com. In this case, viewers can see up to date photo and video collections of Maltese HVAs. This online library is subdivided into three, Malta Islands, Gozo and Comino. In the ‘Malta Islands’ sector, images showing the Malta’s heritage, culture and diversity are posted. The Malta tourism industry has also worked with tripAdvisor.com, a more comprehensive social network platform in order to connect with visitors and collect information about the strengths and weaknesses of various HVAs in order to improve the overall performance of the Maltese Islands. This is attributed to the fact that understanding visitors’ preferences, opinions, and perceptions about the HVAs is the starting point of developing an effective online marketing (Fedele 2012).
Borg (2008) noted that online marketing of heritage sites in Malta is not aimed at replacing the traditional marketing but rather it is aimed at complementing the conventional marketing styles. Online marketing has quickly evolved as a platform that can keep up with the fast changing dynamics in the world. This is the reason why Malta’s tourism players must incorporate this style of promotion and marketing in their strategy (Huberman & Miles, 2002; Conradi & Wang, 2003). There has also been a tremendous shift in the nature of the market. The change in the nature of the market has resulted in the need to change marketing styles, as well as adopt new styles that are effective. Some of the new promotional styles include all-year promotions. Promotion was previously done during the peak season; however, the Malta Tourism Authority changed the policy to allow promotion to be done all year so as to increase awareness (European Commission, 2010). Given the shift in policy and consideration of the cost of running traditional advertising, online marketing has emerged as quite cheap and able to reach a larger market (Markwick, 1999; Hollinshead, 2000).
The majority of visitors relies on the internet to access information about services at HVAs and frequently seek assistance or suggestions from visitors who have previously visited the destinations (Can-Seng 2002). Recent studies concluded that visitors/tourists prefer to seek recommendations from other tourists who previously visited HVAs prior to choosing or visiting a destination. For this reason, they check more for online comments, opinions and preferences to help them reach a sound decision. Tourists tend to believe and rely on ‘word of mouth’ recommendations from people of their own status. This may include other tourists rather than advice from experts or stakeholders trying to sell a service. The MTA collects and uses visitor feedback and information posted on online portals. The user generated content is used to enhance their HVAs and improve services. Data collected from TripAdvissor.com is transferred to other sister websites whilst translated into the respective languages of the targeted visitors. The Malta tourism industry mostly translates UGC in five different languages namely English, German, Italian, Spanish and French. The above languages represent Malta’s primary HVAs markets (Jobber 2003; Fedele 2012).
The literature available on Malta HVAs remains scanty. Few researchers have sought to investigate the question of the attractiveness HVAs in Malta and what strategies the country has adopted in promoting its heritage sites. This research has bridged that gap and demonstrated that it is clear that Maltese HVAs have to be continually marketed through the online platform.
It is also clear there has also been a tremendous shift in the nature of the tourism market in Malta. The change in the nature of the market has resulted in the need to change marketing styles, as well as adopt new styles that are effective. Some of the new promotional styles include all-year promotions. However, it is also clear that online marketing of heritage sites in Malta is not aimed at replacing the traditional marketing. Instead, it is aimed at complementing the conventional marketing styles. Online marketing is clearly an idea of the future that will be instrumental in the full attainment of the HVAs.
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