Brand image or identity refers to the view or perception of a brand not only based on its offerings and services, but also on its values and culture as perceived primarily by consumers. Organizations may utilize brand image to accomplish its goals or objectives by structuring an image that is interesting and acceptable to customers. In recent years, one of the ways that organizations consistently market or advertise their brand involves social media. The primary objective of this research study is to explore best practices in social media marketing towards brand image or perception management. To obtain data, the researcher interviewed people from various travel education firms and collated information about the topic from existing primary and secondary sources. The researcher conducted the research to determine best practices in social media marketing as they apply in the tourism and education sectors. Based on the data obtained by the researcher, best practices in social media marketing include the utilization of social media platforms with a widespread international reach such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Another strategy is to constantly post updates that are not only interesting but also informational about the products and services offered by a brand or organisation. Companies or organizations must also interact with customers or clients online in order to maintain the latter’s interests in the former’s offerings and services. Customer engagement is one of the reasons why customers opt to follow firms online through social media. The research study also reveal other advantages and benefits of social media that constitute best practices such as the conversion of non-customers to customers, increased media presence to boost popularity, the effective communication of organisational goals and objectives, and the formation of a good relationship with customers. Organisations may also use tourist created content (TCC) and other types of user-generated content to guide decision making in product development.
KEY WORDS: Marketing, Social Media, Travel Education, Millennial Marketing.
- Thesis Introduction
The main objective of this thesis is to study the travel education sector towards the goal of determining best practices in brand image perception management. Since branding is a broad concept, the thesis is narrowed down to branding image perception management using social media. I chose to write about branding management and social media because of its relevance in current practices and discussions about the aforementioned aspect of marketing and advertising. Social media’s widespread influence is palpable not only in the field of marketing and advertising but also in other fields and disciplines. Due to the rapid development of technology and the growing need and importance of networking, various sectors and industries adopted social media as a means to advertise and promote their brands. For this reason, conducting research about social media in the field of marketing and branding seems both necessary and relevant because social media branding has become a trend.
Furthermore, it is important to study social media branding because like other marketing and advertising strategies, the success of strategies depend on practices and implementation. Some brands succeed in social media branding because they employ unique and efficient strategies that allow them to maximize or take advantage of the advantages, benefits, and contributions of social media networks and applications. For this reason, determining best practices in social media branding would allow us to identify efficient social media strategies, which the travel education sector may adopt to successfully promote their brands through networking.
“Why use Social Media?
Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell”(Seth Godin).
Various factors define the success of businesses or companies including sales, revenue, market share, and contributions to the industry among others. A business’ success often depends on the company’s following. Hence, customer loyalty contributes sales and revenue in businesses. Consequently, different factors influence customer loyalty. One of the factors that solidify customer loyalty is a brand’s image. An organization’s brand image reflects its culture and values, which influence the views and perspectives of customers about the brand. Therefore, it is highly important that companies learn to establish a good brand image that would be appealing to customers. In this research, the discussion focuses on brand image and perception management.
In today’s world, it is not enough for businesses or companies to apply traditional branding and image or perception management practices. While the marketplace environment continues to evolve, especially due to technological developments, it is highly important that businesses or companies learn to cope with their possible customers. Hence, when it comes to branding and image or perception management, businesses may adopt new strategies and practices. One of novel strategies that emerged due to technological developments in the 21st Century is the use or application of social media. Essentially, social media refers to online platforms that enable individuals to network with one another in cyberspace. Examples of social media platforms include networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Throughout the years, the population of social media users increased significantly. Based on recent reports, users of social networking site Facebook alone reached billions. The large population of social media users reflect the wide reach of platforms to people locally and internationally. Consequently, the reach of social media platforms create opportunities for people and groups such as businesses to tap into the population of online users as customers.
1.2 Research Objective and Questions
The primary objective of conducting this research is to exploit current practices in branding and consequently develop a framework of brand image perception management through social media that applies in the travel education services sector. The framework is expected to guide branding and perception management practices in travel education services using social media efficiently. Aside from the research objective, the research questions will also guide the research process since the study focuses on addressing these questions and meeting the research objective. The research questions in the study include the following:
- How do companies in the travel education service industry benefit from social media in branding and perception management?
- What are current practices in brand image perception management?
The foregoing research questions will guide the study since all of these would be addressed using data obtained during the research process.
1.3 Significance of Research
Determining best practices in branding and image or perception management and developing a framework to integrate branding and social media use are important points of research because it would primarily contribute to best practices in the industry. It is highly important to determine practices and strategies that work efficiently as data obtained in research this would help improve business practices and strategies and branding, and consequently contribute to organizational success. Furthermore, business practices continue to evolve due to changes in the marketplace environment. Technological development, for instance, is introducing numerous ways for people to do work and accomplish tasks in the same way that it is transforming branding practices. Considering changes in the marketplace environment, it is highly important to develop an appropriate framework of practices that adjusts to external changes, transformation, or development. Many people use social media frequently. Businesses may take advantage of this opportunity to reach billions of customers through social media platforms. Overall, considering the expected outcomes of research, the study is highly significant because it aims to contribute to improvements in organizational practices, particularly branding and image or perception management.
1.4 Summary of Research
The research process begins with planning. Planning involves the layout of activities or processes that an individual must take in order to conduct research and obtain data to support research arguments and address questions or meet objectives. Planning also includes the development of the research objective and questions and a brief discussion of the methodology and research design that would be applied to obtain and interpret data. After planning, the next step is to look for various resources – primary and secondary – that relate to the research topic. Searching for and analysing primary and secondary sources are part of the review of related literature to determine the types of information that may be used to establish a background of the research topic. After collating adequate and appropriate sources for the literature review, the next step is to write an introduction of the paper, which includes the research objectives and questions and justifies the need to or the significance of the research study. One may also write the literature review. After the completion of the second chapter, the next step is to determine the research design, particularly the methods and tools that will be applied to gather data. Analysis of data follows data-gathering and in this stage, the researcher analyses data to determine answers to the research questions. Outcomes of the analysis and the research study’s implications to society or to a particular field will be discussed in the last chapter of the paper.
2. Review of Related Literature
As formerly noted, the primary objective of this research is to develop a framework that would guide organisations in the travel education services sector to implement branding and image or perception management strategies through the efficient use of social media. Prior to obtaining research data and analysing it to address the research objective and questions, one must establish a background not only of the travel education services industry or sector, but also related topics such as branding and image or perception management. Furthermore, the literature review would also cover social media, particularly trends in social media use that may be used in branding and image or perception management strategies. The literature review integrates collated primary and secondary sources, particularly reputable books and journal articles or peer-reviewed articles published by trusted journal publications. The literature review would then be used to analyse and interpret outcomes of research, specifically the data or information gleaned in the research process, and support findings of research.
2.2 The Consumer Behaviour Framework
One of the foundations of this research study is the process of consumption. Essentially, the process of consumption involves the consumer, the product or good and services offered to consumers, and the businesses or organisations that produce these goods and services. The completion of the consumption process highly depends on the consumers’ attachment to particular products or goods and services. On the part of businesses organisations, they implement strategies and various practices to draw consumer interest. It is then the responsibility of the consumers to select products or goods and services based on their interests and preferences. Consequently, various factors affect consumers’ decision-making when it comes to consumption including the strategies of businesses and organisations such as branding strategies. Figure 1 below illustrates the consumer behaviour framework.
Figure 1. The Consumer Behaviour Framework
Source: Engel, Miniard, and Blackwell, 1986
The consumer behaviour framework constitutes the foundation of the research project because it shows how consumers think and behave. More importantly, the framework illustrates the significant impact of external factors such as marketing and branding capabilities on the decisions of customers. Based on the framework, customers initially make purchasing decisions to solve problems. Hence, in the beginning, customers identify problems they need to address through purchasing goods or services. After identifying problems or needs, customers try to select goods and services from current commodities to address their problem. Customers can then evaluate alternatives during the selection process in order to ensure that they choose the best possible product when making purchases. After making a decision, the customer proceeds to purchase the product. Outcomes follow the process of purchasing goods. Specific outcomes include cognitive dissonance, consumption, dissatisfaction or satisfaction, and disinvestment on the product and the brand. Throughout these processes, external factors including branding hold significant impact on consumers’ decisions, behaviour, preferences, and ways of thinking.
Considering the above-mentioned process of consumer behaviour framework, we may then establish that branding directly relates to consumers. Essentially, branding may mean the development of the brand’s identity or reputation to represent or communicate what it stands for as detailed in the brand’s mission, vision, philosophy, and objectives. Nonetheless, in practices, branding is primarily motivated by a business or organisation’s need to relate with its customers, specifically its target market segments. Although the primary goal of branding is to seemingly encapsulate the essence of the brand but another objective is to appeal to these market segments. Hence, effective branding is expected to appeal to market segments such as establish loyalty among existing customers and reach out to potential customers to widen the business organisation’s consumer base. Ultimately, these outcomes contribute to organisational success because they ascertain increased and steady revenue and therefore, growth for the business.
2.2 Travel Education Services
People travel due to various reasons. In some cases, external factors affect the way that people make decisions about travel. One of the factors that influence consumers to travel is the wealth of information that they obtain about traveling and destinations from various sources such as other people through word of mouth, travel agencies, family and friends who have travelled themselves, and the Internet. Some people would be hesitant to travel because it is an unusual or new experience to them. Hence, they would never plan to travel to other destinations. Nonetheless, as they gain more information about traveling and travel destinations, the knowledge they gain from various sources convince them to travel. With the widespread amount of information about travelling online, more and more people have become interested in traveling. One of the factors that influence people to travel is seeing their family and friends do so. Some people utilise social media where they see new posts or updates, and photos from their family and friends. Seeing a close family or friend travel would then incite the consumer’s interest. Aside from the influence of other people who have already travelled, another source of information include other social networking platforms such as blogs and articles. Consumers obtain significant information from other people through travel blogs and articles about destinations or planning for travel.
The foregoing discussion might proves that what consumers need is information, sometimes specific information about traveling and tourism. Hence, it is imperative that people involved in the travel and tourism industry such as hotels, airlines, and other establishments reach consumers by assisting them in decision-making. Travel education may help these businesses or companies influence consumers’ decision making through increased information about travel experiences and destinations. Travel education services essentially involves information related to travel. One of the primary objectives of travel education is to spread information about destinations as a means to market these for consumers. Travel education includes blog or online magazine articles about tourist destinations that communicate why these are idyllic destinations for tourists. Travel education also includes information about the pricing or costs of airline tickets, and available discounts or other promotional activities for a particular brand. Overall, travel education essentially aims to offer information about traveling and tourist destinations towards the objective of influencing the decisions of people when it comes to travel planning.
Travel education may come in different forms. According to Kozak and Decrop (2009), sources of information for travel education include: (a) traditional travel advertisements and promotional materials such as pamphlets, (b) travel brochures and other materials such as magazines and articles, (c) celebrity endorsements; (d) articles and reports about the destination, (e) inclusion of information on the news or the television, among others, (f) through word of mouth, (g) asking or consulting with people who knew some valuable information about the target destination, (h) and information about travelling based on the researchers’ previous experiences (Kozak & Decrop). Aside from these various sources, consumers may also use the Internet to source information (Kozak & Decrop). “The Internet provides the perfect opportunity for travel and tourism organisations and marketers to reach travel and tourism consumers with the information they need to make pre-travel decisions and purchases” (Jordan, 2008, p. 5).
Overall, it is highly important for brands to take advantage of travel education to develop or establish their business or companies because information could influence the way that consumers behave or think. Hence, if a brand is interested in drawing the interest of consumers, then it has to provide adequate information about a target destination that would help the latter make informed decisions. Sulzmaier’s (2001) discussion on the issue illustrate different types of information that brands may use to develop a following or establish customer loyalty. When it comes to choosing travel planning, for instance, specifically the process of choosing an airline, consumers may use different types of information to make a decisions. General information involves data or information about the region where the airport is located. Other decisive information about choosing airlines include the availability of services such as additional baggage weight limit, the availability of lounges in airports, among others. Aside from general information, consumers may also rely on travel information. Travel information include other things that may relate to decision-making such as the cost of goods and services. Consumers may use travel information to look for discount coupons or vouchers, or to compare cost or prices of airline tickets to choose the most affordable or most convenient. Another type of information that affects consumers’ decisions is the kind and scope of communication services, and entertainment or wellness among others (Sulzmaier, 2001).
2.2.1 Travel Education and Destination Branding
Travel education relates to destination branding because in a way, the kind of information spread about travel destinations and experiences is one way of not only branding the destination but also the establishments and businesses in this particular destination. This is because “the brand’s existence is dependent on the image formation of the destination” (Munar, 2011, p. 293). Hence, destination branding through travel education is highly important because the outcomes of branding also affect the image or reputation of brands. Hence, for businesses in the travel and tourism sector to succeed, destination branding should be done appropriately to draw the interest of travellers and tourists. One way that businesses and destinations may employ branding is through travel education. Consequently, travel education could be done through social media. Using social media as a means to accomplish branding objectives is highly important because of the increasing use of technology and the Internet. As of today, there are billions of Internet users around the world. Hence, majority of the entire world population uses the Internet. According to Munar (2011), the number of online users prove that there is a need for brands to look into opportunities for branding, particularly by digitising tourism experiences. Munar identified various opportunities for brands to employ branding through social media. Tourist created content (TCC) is a valuable tool that brands can utilise for branding and image or perception management. The nature of TCC and its impact will be discussed later on in the literature review.
Saraniemi (2011) conducted a study about destination image building in contrast with identity-based branding. The researcher employed qualitative research, particularly the case study method, to obtain data to support the research. Based on Saraniemi’s research, image building or product-bound branding have become less efficient than identity-based branding. In image building, a brand is expected to conduct self-analysis, which would then be used later on to position the target market. Since the brand would know the interest and preferences of other people, it would be able to make efficient decisions that positions a business or company appropriately.
Examples of businesses and companies that would benefit from destination branding include travel service providers such as airlines, hotels, travel agencies, and tour operators, among others. Even other types of stores such as restaurants would also benefit from destination branding. With tight competition in the market, travel service providers need to look for various ways and implement different strategies to draw the interest and preferences of consumers. One strategy is to control the cost of goods and services. “Travel service providers and online travel agencies trying to attract more online purchasers should emphasise their ability to provide travel accommodations at the lowest prices” (Mills & Law, 2013, p. 60). In recent years, due to the popularity of travel and tourism online, discount traveling has become one of the more common trends or practices. Aside from the popularity of travel and tourism, the mark-down of the cost of airline tickets and hotel room accommodations have increased the interest of consumers in visiting various tourist destinations. Another factor that contribute to this trend is the increasing number of young millennials that utilize social media and other online tools to draw inspiration and influence their decisions and plans in life (Mills & Law).
Since the target population is highly diverse, brands must ensure that they work towards targeting a specific market. Brands, for instance, need to make sure that information communicated to consumers through travel education are accurate and represent the vision not only of the brand but also of the destination in general. Alignment of content and message of travel education information for consumers is highly important to communicate a consistent message that represents the destination in an authentic manner. Braun (2012) conducted a study to determine the application of branding in a city, and consequently, to determine how city branding helps establish the brand of the destination, as well as tourist services in a particular city. In the research study, Braun identified eight factors that affect city branding and its impact or influence on tourist services. First, the leadership in target destinations set the pace and message of branding because they make decisions for the tourist destination that is part of their political jurisdiction. Hence, the message of travel education for a particular destination is often a result of the views and priorities of the local government. Second, the commitment of the local government to tourism leads to positive outcomes for branding. Long-term plans are essential to ensure that a destination would move towards target developments and objectives. Travel education needs not only to address potential consumers today but also look into issues in the future that could be addressed through proper branding. If a country, for instance, will host a worldwide event such as the World Cup in the coming years, the local government must push initiatives and remain committed to these throughout to maintain the image of the destination and draw attention of consumers, even years before the World Cup. Third, clear roles of the leadership is important to ensure that the local government would invest in initiatives that promote successful branding. Fourth and fifth takeaways from the research emphasises the role of stakeholders in contributing to branding, as well as the importance of making branding authentic or genuine to convince consumers. Sixth, combined branding initiatives for different sectors of travel and tourism is highly necessary. Hotels, airlines, restaurants, tour operators, and other businesses in the travel and tourism sector must work together towards a unified branding goal. Seventh, co-branding along with successful brands is necessary to draw attention to the destination. Using celebrities as endorsers, for instance, is one way of drawing consumers’ attention to the brand. Eighth, branding must be comprehensive, such that it not only addresses the promotion of one aspect of the travel and tourism sector but the entire sector (Braun, 2011).
2.3 Brand, Branding, and Image or Perception Management
Essentially, a brand refers to the name of a line of goods and services for consumers, or signs, symbols, and labels that identify this line among consumers. A more accurate definition of a brand, which relates to the research topic of travel education, is as follows.
A name, symbol, logo and word mark or other graphic that both identifies and differentiates the destination; furthermore, it conveys the promise of a memorable travel experience that is uniquely associated with the destination; it also serves to consolidate and reinforce the recollection of pleasurable memories of the destination experience (Ritchie & Ritchie, 1998, p. 103).
If a business or organisation develops a brand, the next step would be to establish a following for the brand. The ultimate goal of businesses in branding remains to be the main goal of business – to earn revenue. Hence, businesses develop their brands to establish a good image and reputation, draw the interest of consumers, and ultimately gain a significant percentage of the market share. According to Shaw (2012), one of the most valuable aspects of any business is the brand. Essentially, the brand, specifically its reputation or image, influence the behaviour of consumers. Simply put, a good reputation draws the attention and interest of consumers, while a bad image or reputation pushes consumers away. Hence, businesses work towards branding in a way that would earn their brands a good reputation, and allow their brands to gain brand equity. In brand equity, popularity is the goal and therefore, the introduction of the brand to a large population of a target or potential market.
Shaw also studied important aspects of a brand. One aspect is brand identity, which is “a unique set of brand associations that the brand strategist aspires to create or maintain” (2012, p. 1265). Coca-Cola adopted the image of Santa Claus in its advertisements, for instance, to develop the brand identity that relates to family. On the contrary, Pepsi hires young and popular icons for their advertisements to target the young population. Certain elements such as colour, icons, and people, music, or other images used in advertisements contribute to a company’s brand identity. One of the objectives of branding is to gain brand loyalty. As formerly noted, a brand’s image or reputation affects consumer behaviour and responses towards a brand. A brand with a good reputation would earn brand loyalty, which “consists of a consumer’s commitment to repurchase the brand and can be demonstrated by repeated buying of a product or service, or other positive behaviours such as word of mouth advocacy” (Shaw, 2012, p. 1266). In this way, brand loyalty directly translates to sales and revenue, and consequently, a percentage of the market share.
Although one aspect of drawing consumers and establishing brand loyalty among consumers is to work on a positive, good, and appealing image or reputation, another factor that affects branding and its outcomes include external factors in the environment. Changes or transformation in the external environment affect branding. Populations and cultures emerge over time, for instance. If in the past, a brand may easily target a specific population such as teenagers or adolescents, when they grow up, their interests would change. This change would then force brands to change tactics and adjust to the interests of the upcoming generation. Other changes that affect branding practices and strategies includes technological development. The prevalent use of the Internet, for instance, creates opportunities for businesses to apply branding using strategies that are entirely different from traditional practices. Nowadays, consumer behaviour changes partly because of technological development. More people has access to the Internet and their use of online services has changed the way they consume, and therefore, similarly shifted their behaviour, preferences, and interests, primarily because of the wealth of information they gain online. “As consumers become better informed, more ethical, more sceptical, they are less ready to be persuaded by brands to buy things, and are much more interested in using brands to do things” (Guest, 2012, p. 77). Consumers obtain information online and as they become more well-informed, they also become exposed to the truth. Consequently, they would more likely look for or demand authenticity, particularly when it comes to marketing, promotions, and branding because they know how the system works. Due to the changes brought about by technology, businesses or companies must learn to cope with these changes or transformations and similarly adopt new practices in branding that match the interests and preferences of consumers.
For branding to be successful, it must be strategic, such that the goals and objectives of branding target essential issues that would make a brand appealing for consumers. Balakrishnan (2009) developed a framework that focuses on strategic branding of destinations. Balakrishnan studied the existing literature about destination and strategic branding to determine the most effective ways to accomplish strategic branding of destinations. According to Balakrishnan, it is highly important that in branding, practitioners determine and acknowledge the nature of tourism and destination branding, which include the following:
- macro-environmental factors such as politics, healthy issues, safety issues such as those related to tourism, and economic growth affect tourism rate in a particular destination or country;
- geographical features, such as weather and resources, among others, may affect access to the destination;
- pre-established notions or preconceptions about destinations affect the preference of consumers when selecting travel destinations;
- stakeholders, such as the government that develops and implements travel and tourism policies, influence branding and the conditions of the travel and tourism industry;
- targeting consumers is difficult because the market population is highly diverse not only with different cultural backgrounds but also priorities, experiences, and preferences or interests;
- the appeal of destinations depend on the kind and quality of services available within this location, such as the kinds of tourist spots, the accessibility of transportation, the kind of food restaurants in the area serve, etc.; and
- public opinion highly affects the image or reputation of a destination.
Source: Balakrishnan, 2009, p. 612
Considering Balakrishnan’s (2009) findings in the research, perhaps the last factor is the most important one when considering strategic branding. The last one also relates to the value of social media in travel education as a means to brand destinations, and consequently, travel services. As formerly noted, brands in the travel and tourism sector do not have any control over the image or reputation of their businesses or companies because they are primarily influenced by public opinion, based on consumer experiences. The content of travel blogs, for instance, is out of the hands of brands. Hence, if a travel blogger has something negative to say about a destination, or airlines and hotels, brands cannot control or prevent the publication of this material. The same principle applies to online review sites. Reviewers share insight views, insights, and experiences about tourist services or brands. Brands cannot control the influence of these blogs or reviews on other consumers. If social media affects the reputation of brands in the travel and tourism industry, these brands might as well utilise social media themselves to improve their image and reputation. Table 1 below illustrates the strategies that Balakrishnan formed utilising different sources about the topic.
Overall, Balakrishnan’s (2009) conceptual framework in Table 1 illustrates the traditional branding strategy. All of the components are important in developing the brand’s image and reputation as they all contribute to the kinds and quality of services that the brand provides, as well as the kind of consumer experiences. Although the conceptual framework applies to traditional branding, it should also apply to branding and image or perception management through social media.
2.4 Social Media and Branding for Travel and Tourism
One of the most recent trends in branding strategy is the use of technology, particularly the use of social media (Singh, 2012). Using social media through the Internet is highly important because in several studies, the availability of travel and tourism services online positively affects the behaviour of consumers. Consequently, positive and responsive behaviour among consumers set important implications for travel agencies and other businesses or companies in the travel education services sector. In a study conducted by Lang (2000), the researcher explored the effect of the Internet on travel consumers, particularly on their purchasing behaviour, including the implications of these effects on travel agencies. Although the availability of travel services online threatens the position of travel agents due to the dependence of consumers on the Internet or the World Wide Web, the convenience of online services and its access to the global population makes it more viable and useful for travel agencies and other businesses in the sector, albeit the contrasting information about this topic in earlier research. Lang’s research, for instance, suggests that “while travel consumers are increasingly turning to the Internet, many are still hesitant to book on line” (2000, p. 368).
Xiang and Gretzel (2010) conducted research about the role of social media in online travel information search. To gather data, Xiang and Gretzel assessed how users that participated in the research used search engines online to look for information about destinations and other travel related data such as schedule and cost of flights and hotel room accommodations. Through a content analysis, Xiang and Gretzel discovered that the results of searches online were outcomes of social media use, such that when consumers use online search engines to look for travel information, they are redirected to social media sites, particularly the official social network sites of brands – Facebook pages, Twitter pages, and blogs among others. Hence, the Internet creates an interconnected network that links consumers to tourist service providers. Brands, for instance, that offer goods and services in travel and tourism may get in touch with target consumers that are interested in these through search engines. Anyone searching for specific goods and services offered by a brand would be able to get in touch with businesses or companies that match his or her needs through search engines. Consequently, search engines such as Google utilise mechanisms to redirect consumers to social media pages of brands (Xiang & Gretzel, 2010).
Lang’s (2000) research was conducted at the turn of the 21st Century before the popularity of online websites about travel and tourism. Hence, the results of Lang’s research were not compelling enough to convince people about the importance of the Internet when it comes to marketing and promotions in the travel and tourism sector. Nonetheless, Lang similarly pointed out the benefits and advantages of using the Internet for consumers. Advantages of Internet use for travel consumers include the convenient and instant access to travel and tourism services, access to updated information about travel, reduced cost of availing tourism services online due to the elimination of a middle man, and the reduced cost of direct booking and purchase of travel and tourism services online, thus, eliminating fees and payment of booking with a travel agency (Lang, 2000).
Lang (2000) also designed the research survey to determine what consumers thought the advantages of using the Internet was when looking for travel and tourism information. The respondents that formerly used the Internet to look for travel and tourism information responded to this part of the survey. First, the participants identified how they commonly used the Internet for travel-related activities. Second, the participants shared the advantages of using the Internet to look for travel and tourism related information. Tables 2 and 3 below illustrate the responses of the participants and the recurring themes in their responses.
Aside from using the Internet to gather information or to look for booking information, consumers also rely on the Internet to look for airplane ticket or hotel accommodation deals. While consumers may avail of discounts by booking directly with airlines or hotels or relying on travel agencies, they may also do so by looking for deals online from sites that provide vouchers, discounts, and coupons to consumers. Consumers also utilise the Internet to finalise booking and accommodations through reservations.
While Table 2 relates how travel consumers usually utilise the Internet for travel purposes, Table 3 shows the consumers responses when they identified the advantages of Internet use. Based on the responses of the participants as presented in the table, consumers believe that the primary advantage of using the Internet for travel purposes is that is it more convenient. By using the Internet, consumers need not leave their own homes or arrange schedules, with a travel agency or agent, consumers only need to go online and look for the kind of information they need using search engines. Moreover, drawing information online is easy because consumers access information in a timely manner. Other primary advantages of using the Internet based on the responses of the consumers in the research study is the detailed and up-to-date information they glean online, doing so saves time, and it is easy to compare prices. Information online is up-to-date because many users publish and delivery online content every day. One of the main sources of travel information include blogs and review sites. Online users update these blogs and sites daily. Hence, travel consumers gain up-to-date information that would therefore provide accurate information about destinations and actual travel experiences. Moreover, it is easy to compare prices when looking for information online. When consumers rely on travel agents or agencies, they would only gain access to the prices offered by the agents or agencies they consult. If consumers want to compare prices, then they would have to personally visit the agencies and agents or the airlines and hotels when booking directly. The process would take a long time. Using the Internet, on the other hand, make it easier and less time-consuming for consumers to compare prices. Comparing prices online is also possible because there are sites that even compare all costs for consumers. Hence, consumers only need to look at one set of information (Lang, 2000).
While Lang’s (2000) research focused on the views and experiences of consumers in using the Internet for travel related purposes, Yang and Chen’s (2012) study focuses on the perspective of travel agencies. Furthermore, the latter’s research is more recent, which means that the researchers considered the current conditions of social media for branding, marketing, or promotions. Yang and Chen’s study focused on the contributions and importance of the Internet for travel agencies. To obtain data to address the research objective, Yang and Chen collected data from travel agencies based in Taiwan. After collecting data through surveys, the researchers applied factor analysis to interpret data. In the past, travel agencies seemed to have raised their concern about the increasing use of the Internet for travel related concerns and activities, as noted in Lang’s research study. Nonetheless, in recent years, travel agencies have adopted and thus, began utilising the Internet for their benefit (Yang & Chen, 2012).
One of the first issues that Yang and Chen (2012) addressed in the study was the common use of website services among consumers. Travel agencies, particularly those that make use of website services, ranked service attributes based on their consumers’ interests and frequency of use. Table 4 below illustrates the results of the participants’ ranking of service attributes.
Ranking of Website Service Attributes based on Tourists’ Preferences and Frequency of Use
Source: Yang & Chen, 2012, p. 238
Conyette (2012) also studied patterns or trends in consumers’ use of online services for travel related purposes, particularly in booking travel. Conyette sought to develop a conceptual framework that illustrates the link or relationship between variables. These variables that Conyette introduced in the research study include “online searching” and “planning and booking of leisure travel products” (2012, p. 57). Figure 1 below illustrates Conyette’s conceptual framework.
Figure 1. Conceptual Framework of Consumer Behaviour in Planning and Booking Travel Online (Conyetti’s, 2012)
Figure 1 above illustrates Conyetti’s (2012) conceptual framework, which traces the behaviour of consumers when planning and booking travel online. In the beginning stages, consumers utilise the Internet to plan and book their travel depending on their beliefs about online travel search. Often, consumers would rely on the Internet if they believe that online services would help them glean important information that they need to make decisions. Beliefs are not only based on what consumers think about the Internet and online search, planning, or booking, but also on their experiences. If consumers have had positive experiences in online planning and booking of travel, then they would more likely return. Another factor that affects consumers’ perceptions of Internet use is their previous experience with travel agents. If