The importance and the high influence of interpersonal communications have long been recognized in the tourism industry. Many researchers concluded that WOM(word of mouth), which can be defined as informal communications between private parties regarding evaluation of goods and services is one of the most influential sources of information during tourists’ travel planning process. Moreover they argue that the influence of WOM is different in each step of the consumer decision making process.
Travellers often rely on advice from friends and family, especially when the product is an intangible travel experience to a destination; as it is difficult to evaluate prior to its consumption. Some Authors discuss that due to the intangible and experiential nature of service products, such as tourism products, WOM, as an information source tend to be used to lower perceived risk and uncertainty due to its perceived higher credibility.
With the improvement of internet technologies, more and more of travellers use the internet to search for travel related information and to actually plan their trip online. Several researchers pointed out the importance of web pages in all stages of the travel planning process, particularly during the information research phase. According to the study of a travel industry market research company, Plog Research approximately 95 % of internet browsers use the internet to seek information online during their travel planning process. Furthermore, the advancing internet features have enabled new forms of communication platforms to further empower both providers and consumers to share information and opinion among each other. Thus, due to these internet-based features the word-of-mouth as an informational source could be facilitated in an electronic digitalized version, know as electronic WOM or eWOM.
Social Media in Tourism
Many researchers refer to social media as a new type of WOM or the eWOM. Consumer generated media can be understood as a new form of WOM that happens beyond the traditional social circles of consumers. Generally the social media information is produced by other travellers and not especially by the friends and relatives of the travellers. The question here remains whether, the other travellers’ personality plays a role in the WOM influence, as while the consumer knows his friends and their preferences, therefore, he can judge whether their WOM applies to him or not, which in the case of other travellers WOM is more it complicated. WOM gathered from other travellers, influences the travellers’ behaviour in a different way than the friends and relatives WOM. 28
Due to the development of internet technology and to cater the changing needs of today’s consumer the online information search process is facilitated by several search engines. The consumers instead of entering through a site’s homepage and browsing it, use particular search sites to have them transported directly to the required information. Furthermore, several technological improvements, known as Web 2.0 applications further develop this changing process of information search, by altering the origin of the information. The terms of Web 2.0 applications, UGC (user-generated content), CGM (consumer generated media) or social media refer to the same new media, where the individual consumers are given the possibility to submit, review and to respond an online content. However, marketers face challenges to effectively measure the impact of social media on their marketing programs; evaluating its impact on individual buying decision can be a first step towards understanding its influence on the consumers. The research conducted by Compete (2006), a web analytics company, pointed out that 50% of online travel purchasers visit a forum, a message board or an online community in the process of buying a travel related product and moreover, one of three of these buyers stated that social media helped in their decision. Indifferent from the statistics, it has to be acknowledged that the popularity of social media sites are increasing, therefore, the way of searching for travel related information and evaluating those is likely to be changing.
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