Search, User Generated Content and Online Booking
There are 2,3 billions internet users in the world with significant penetration ratios in countries all over the world(5). Recently, User-Generated Content (UGC) has been considered as one of the most important sources of information influencing tourists’ choices. Despite this, few studies have focused on examining cross- visitation, that is referral and conversion traffic from UGC to other key online and offline information sources. Further, little research has focussed on analysing when consumers use UGC along with their information-search and the related cross-visitation.
Some empirical data
UGC plays a relevant role along with all the online searching and booking behaviour of tourists, particularly UGC within third-parties websites. Referring to the so called “billboard effect”, recent research showed that consumers’ decision making often starts by looking at Online Travel Agencies (1,2,4), whose posts of reviews and comments clearly influence tourists choices and online booking(3). Analyzing 1,720 reservations for InterContinental Hotel Brands, a study reported that almost 75% of consumers who booked through the official website of Intercontinental had visited an OTA prior to making the reservation, with nearly 83% performing a search on Google, Yahoo or Bing and two-thirds performing both a search and an OTA visit (2). Further, cross-visits by OTA shoppers to Facebook exceeded seven in 10 whereas cross-citation with Twitter was found to be at around 25% for both OTA and hotel web site buyers (6).
The when consumers use UGC: the Italian tourists’ behavior
Recently, an empirical study was carried out on a sample of 623 Italian tourists to analyze the when consumers use UGC along with their information-search and the related cross-visitation (4). The final open-ended question asked participants to fully describe the way they usually search for information when making hotel reservations. Their open answers were manually coded considering the sequence by which each category of information (both online or offline) were cited (that is step 1, step 2, etc). It was then possible to calculate the frequencies by which the different sources were found to be used along with the respondents’ information-search.
Table 1 shows in which stage each information source is used by respondents to make their hotel booking.
Table 1 – The online information-search: what information sources do tourists use? (%)
The majority of respondents stated that they start their online booking by using OTAs (45.6%) or search engines (23,2%). 14.5% of them reported referring to tourism-related social networks (such as TripAdvisor, Zoover, etc) in the early stage of their search-information process. Furthermore, Table 2 shows that tourists sometimes finalize their booking via traditional travel agencies or via direct contact with hotel (phone call or email).
Further insights on tourists’ booking behaviour can be obtained by concentrating our attention on what happens once tourists start a search via OTAs and search engines, the information sources that appear to influence the early stage of the search the most.
As shown in Figure 1, 23.2% of respondents start their search through search engines and then visit the hotel’s own website (37.2%), or OTAs (24.6%) or tourism-related social network (8.7%).
Figure 1 – Online booking starting with search engines: how do tourists search for information?
Source: Del Chiappa(4)
22.6% of those visiting the hotel website at the second step of their search, proceed in the next step via phone call or email (19.4) or visiting an OTAs to search for comments and reviews and/or to look for more convenient rates (22.6%). There is also a 12.9% of tourists who continue to look for other UGC in tourism-related social networks. 24.6% of those visiting OTAs at the second step, proceed to visit the official websites (50%), other tourism related social networks (19.2%) or make a phone call to the hotel (11.5%).
Figure 2 – Online booking starting with OTAs: how do tourists search for information?
Source: Del Chiappa(4)
According to Figure 2, 45.6% of respondents start their research through OTAs and proceed to visit the hotel’s website (55.2%) or other travel 2.0 application, that is tourism related social networks (19.7%). Then, 69,4% of those visiting hotel websites at the second step of their search, proceed via email (36.5%), phone call (32.9%) or other tourism-related social network (12.9%). 17.9% of those visiting tourism-related social networks at the second step, then visit the hotels’ website (72.7%), or place a phone call (9.1%) or visit photo sharing websites (3%).
Managerial implications and suggestions
Better knowledge on how information is acquired, enables marketers to better influence tourists’ buying decisions. The aforementioned research suggests that hotel marketers should monitor their brand reputation over the internet and should pay particular attention to UGC uploaded onto On line Travel Agencies, considering that it is by looking at ratings/ comments within these websites that consumers’ may decide to include or exclude a given hotel from their potential set of choices. Tourists would then be able to consider the hotel as they proceed in their information search using all the other information sources. Further, findings suggest that hotel marketers should adopt a multichannel communication and distribution strategy (on-line and off-line) to influence tourist choices and should manage their internet strategies (parity rate, effective booking engine, call-to-action, etc) and their customer service in order to convert as much traffic generated by OTAs (and other Travel 2.0 applications).
(1) _ Anderson, C. K. (2009). The Billboard Effect: Online Travel Agent Impact on Non-OTA Reservation Volume. CHR Report. The Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University, 9(16).
(2) _ Anderson, C. K. (2011). Search, OTAs, and Online Booking: An Expanded Analysis of the Billboard Effect. CHR Report. The Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University, 11(8).
(3) _ Del Chiappa, G. (2011). Trustworthiness of Travel 2.0 applications and their influence on tourist behaviour: an empirical investigation in Italy. In R. Law, M. Fuchs and F. Ricci (Eds.), Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2011, 343-353. Vienna, Austria: Springer.
(4) _ Del Chiappa, G. (2012). User Generated Content and its influence on tourists’ choices: how do tourists make hotel reservations online? Turistica, Special Issue “Content Personalization and Multimedia Marketing for Destinations and Tourism Business, 1, pp. 39-50. Paper presented at Modern Hospitality and Tourism Development Conference, Università di Allameh Tabataba’i di Teheran.
(5) _ Internet Word Stats. (2011). Top 20 countries with the highest number of internet users. Accessed online (August 31, 2011) at http://www.internetworldstats.com/top20.htm.
(6) _ PhoCusWright. (2011). Social Media in Travel 2011: Traffic, Activitiy & Sentiment.
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