Trustworthiness of Travel 2.0 applications and their influence on tourist behaviour
The influence of UGC on tourist choices
In the last decade, the Internet has reshaped the way people plan for and consume tourist products and services. More recently, the most significant development in Internet applications has been in the area of user-generated content (UGC) and peer-to-peer applications, the so-called Web 2.0.
Research is shedding light on the significant influence that UGC and Travel 2.0 applications have on generating the idea of travelling, both during the real planning process and even after travel decisions have been taken. Recommendations of friends and colleagues are less important to business travellers than they are to leisure travellers (McCarthy, Stock and Verma, 2010). Sometimes UGC also induces tourists to alter their decisions after obtaining further information online.
Some empirical data
eMarketer (2007) reports that, among tourists who use peer reviews to help them make their hotel bookings, the percentage of infrequent and frequent leisure travellers who changed their booking based on reviews posted online by other consumers is 25% and 33%, respectively. An empirical investigation on a sample of 823 Italian tourist (Del Chiappa, 2011a) confirmed this figure with respondents reporting that, after having read reviews and comments posted online, they changed their hotel accommodation sometimes (64.8%), almost always (12%) or always (0.5%). In particular, Del Chiappa (2011a) found gender differences in this likelihood, with female respondents doing so (“always” or “almost always”) more frequently (14.8%) than male respondents (9.4%). Another study on a sample of 1,448 Italian tourists reported that 31.56% of respondents had changed the accommodation suggested by a traditional travel agency based upon UGC (Del Chiappa, 2011b).
Credibility and trustworthiness of UGC: Perceptions of American tourists
On the whole, UGC sources are considered more credible and trustworthy than market-provided information and, consequently, are more likely to direct and influence tourist choices. For marketing strategies to be effective, it is therefore crucial to know to what extent tourists consider the different types of Travel 2.0 applications to be trustworthy and whether these applications do in fact exert different influences over the way tourists perceive company image and make their decisions.
Interestingly, recent research has started to analyze the credibility and trustworthiness that tourists confer upon different Travel 2.0 applications, which helps clarify the extent to which they affect tourists’ attitudes and purchasing decisions.
A survey carried out on a sample of 1,900 of American tourists who usually buy tourist services over the Internet underlines the different influences that different Web 2.0 applications have on tourist behaviour (PhoCusWright, 2009). In decreasing order, these are: reviews on OTAs (50%), traveller-generated photography/virtual tours (43%), online travel reviews from travel experts (41%), professional photography/virtual tours (39%) traveller review websites (33%), professional online travel video (29%), traveller-generated online travel video (28%), travel blogs (22%), social networks/people you know (22%), social network/people you do not know (15%) and travel-related podcasts (13%).
Another study (Yoo, Lee, Gretzel, & Fesenmaier, 2009) of a sample of 1,170 American tourists indicates that UGC is most credible when posted on: official tourism bureau websites (41.2%), travel agency websites (36.8%), third-party websites such as TripAdvisor (33.5%), travel company sites (31.2%), personal blogs (18.1%), personal websites (16.1%), social networking sites (13.2%) and photo and video sharing sites such as YouTube (10.7%). To sum up, the aforementioned research underlines that tourists’ choices are influenced more by reviews and comments on online travel agencies (OTAs) than those on tourism-related social networks.
Credibility and trustworthiness of UGC: Perceptions of Italian tourists
Similar findings to those of the aforementioned research have recently been found in Italy. Based on an analysis of 823 questionnaires, the study shows that, for both female and male respondents, OTAs are considered the most trustworthy and therefore exert the most influence on company image and tourist choices. In order of importance, OTAs are followed by: tourism-related blogs, tourism-related social networks, video sharing, photo sharing, forums on the company’s website, non-tourism-related social networks and microblogging (Del Chiappa, 2011a). On the whole, the aforementioned study partially confirms the findings of prior research carried out in the United States by Yoo, Lee, Gretzel and Fesenmaier (2009), where OTAs were found to be the most credible Travel 2.0 applications, while non-tourism-related social networks were found to be the least trustworthy. Nevertheless, photo and video sharing sites were found to be less credible in the United States than in Italy.
Moreover, in the same study, respondents reported that they consider comments and reviews posted online to be more trustworthy when there is the same proportion of positive and negative comments (51.2%), or when there are fewer of the latter than the former (39.9%).
Managerial implications and suggestions
On the whole, the findings of the aforementioned research support the marketing and communication strategies of hospitality marketers who have to develop, monitor and manage their corporate brands in a practically infinite virtual domain. Indeed, the research suggests that, in terms of marketing and communication activities, hospitality marketers should split their time and financial resources differently between different Travel 2.0 applications, and pay attention to other differences such as the gender and age of their customers. In particular, hospitality managers should pay attention to UGC posted on OTAs as several studies highlight the great impact, the so-called “billboard effect,” these applications have on the hotel business and the fact that consumer decision-making frequently really starts by looking at these sites, both abroad (Anderson, 2011) and in Italy too (Del Chiappa, 2011c).
Anderson, C. (2011). “Search, OTAs, and Online Booking: An Expanded Analysis of the Billboard Effect,” Cornell Hospitality Report, 11 (8).
Del Chiappa, G. (2011a). “Trustworthiness of Travel 2.0 applications and their influence on tourists’ behaviour: An empirical investigation in Italy,” in R. Law, M. Fuchis and F. Ricci (Eds.), Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2011. Vienna, Austria: Springer.
Del Chiappa, G. (2011b). Disintermediation of hotel reservations: the perception of different groups of Italian online buyers, in proceedings of TTRA Europe and AFM Conference 2011 “Creativity and innovation in tourism.” Archamps: April 11-13.
eMarketer (2007). Niche Sites Invigorate Online Travel. Accessed online April 11, 2007, at http://www.eMarketer.com.
McCarthy, L., Stock, D. & Verma, R. (2010). “How Travelers Use Online and Social Media Channels to Make Hotel-choice Decisions,” Cornell Hospitality Report, 10 (18).
PhoCusWright. (2009). Consumer Travel Report.
Yoo, K.H., Lee, Y., Gretzel U. & Fesenmaier D.R. (2009). “Trust in Travel-Related Consumer Generated Media,” in W. Höpken, U. Gretzel and R. Law (Eds.), Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2009, 49-59. Vienna, Austria: Springer.
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