The internet, and smart technology, have revolutionised the way consumers shop and interact with service providers. From online shopping to keeping up with the latest news, a range of industries have had to adapt to reflect the online habits of their customers. But the travel and tourism industry seems to have thrived online more than most, and Bournemouth University’s (BU) Dr Alessandro Inversini has been researching how the travel and tourism industry can improve its online offering to benefit consumers.
“My research sits in the space where tourism and new media overlap,” says Dr Inversini, “From design to evaluation of tourism websites, from online communication to branding and reputation, from eCommerce to eLearning; I have been looking at and evaluating tourism destinations’ websites and the relevance of social media in hospitality.”
The internet has been common place in business for well over a decade, but some tourism outlets still struggle to communicate their brand to consumers. Dr Inversini explains: “Travel and tourism is a very peculiar field when it comes to online communication and online media. Technology has dramatically changed the competition landscape, and everyone in the tourism industry is now trying to take advantage of this global marketplace.
“Often, and this comes from my experience in the industry, destination managers are more concerned about maintaining political and social balance within the destination rather than creating real and useful websites for the actual tourists. In other words, the websites we see are often generated by the compromises between destinations and stakeholders. These outlets need to change and focus on the actual user, the consumer.
Only by doing that, only by understanding the information needs and the experience ‘touch points’ can destination websites can improve their effectiveness.”
Two studies in particular, led by Dr Inversini, have shed light on the need for tourism outlets to adapt to what their customers want, and not what their competitors are doing. “With the first study we tackled the issue of information overload and website design. We analysed 120 websites of English destinations. We argued that tourism destination websites should be designed keeping in mind the end user, rather than reflecting the complexity of the tourism ecosystem, which is often the case. “With the second study, we have been looking at the relevance of social media and conversation marketing to influence the booking behaviour of tourists. Basically, in order to foster hotel bookings, hospitality managers should engage with tourists on social media to actually drive conversion.”
This practical research is already having implications for a number of tourism providers, giving advice on how they should tailor their online profile and interact with tourists to encourage more business. Dr Inversini continues, “In the second study about social media and hospitality, we focused on the real conversations happening in the online arena, specifically the connection between review websites and actual booking sites, or in other words the connection between websites such as Tripadvisor and Expedia. Our study showed that a closer relationship between these websites, combined with an active role of the destination managers on these sites will
enhance travellers’ bookings.”
So what should tourism and hospitality destinations be doing online to attract further custom? Dr Inversini’s research has a clear outcome: “Engage! Engage! Engage! Social media is the preferred communication tool of modern travellers. Smartphones mean that travellers are always connected and in need of information. Consumers expect immediacy so that is what the industry needs to give them.”
There are plans to extend the research to provide more advice to the tourism industry on their online services. “Compared to other media, for example print media or broadcast media, the internet is in its infancy. Technologies are now pervasive and tourists are actually relying on these as communication means so it is important that they are researched thoroughly, which we are doing at the eTourism Lab at Bournemouth
The research was published open access, something Dr Inversini believes to be a strength: “I am a big fan of open access. And I really believe in whatever is ‘open’. I believe that academia should embrace high quality open access. Two current projects I am managing at the Faculty of Management at BU are actually producing online education material under creative commons licensing and I am pleased about that, as anyone can actually benefit from these – it’s the future of education.”