Date of Award

8-2008

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management

Advisor

Backman, Sheila J

Committee Member

Backman , Kenneth F

Committee Member

Baldwin , Elizabeth D

Committee Member

Norman , William C

Committee Member

Witte , James C

Abstract

As a result of embracing the Internet, online travel communities have become an important information source for travelers. The members of these communities communicate through postings called electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) the act of sharing information on a particular topic. Electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) is informal communications among consumers regarding the usage or characteristics of goods and services on the Internet (Litvin, Goldsmith, and Pan, 2008). Furthermore, the influence of eWOM has been found to be influential on consumer purchasing behavior (Guernsey, 2000). Thus, an understanding of the potential of eWOM in online travel communities on travel decisions has implications for tourism marketers as well as researchers. The purpose of this research is to examine a single online travel community in order to conduct an in depth analysis of the influence of eWOM on travel decisions. The study uses online travel community postings (eWOM) to explore the types of travel decisions that are discussed, influence of eWOM on these decisions, the types of members and their specific influence on types of travel decisions, the information types provided by the members, the activity level of members and their influence on travel decisions of other members. Thorn Tree Forum, part of Lonely Planet website is the online travel community studied for this research. In an effort to select a sample that would yield maximum variation, treemaps, and purposeful sampling is used to select eight country forums to use as the framework for collecting community member postings. Postings are collected for an eight month period. Data collection and analysis used a multistep process that included thematic networks, coding for influence and details of information shared among members. The results suggest that eWOM in this online travel community influence travel decisions including accommodation choice, food and beverage recommendations, transportation options, safety of the destination, monetary issues, destination information, and itinerary refinements. Residents were influential in accommodations, food and beverages, and destination information, whereas experienced travelers influenced all types of travel decisions except accommodations. Information types identified include warnings, advice/tips, recommendations, and clarifications. Clarifications were the most influential postings, followed by recommendations and advice/tips. The members were categorized into three types low, medium, and high activity level members. Medium activity level members were the most influential members followed by low and high activity level members. The results of this study provide direction for theoretical development of using online travel communities for travel decision making and provide managerial guidance for utilization of online travel communities for enhancing travel products and destination.

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