Date of Award

8-2012

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Legacy Department

Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management

Advisor

Norman, William C

Committee Member

Backman , Sheila J

Committee Member

Ramshaw , Gregory

Abstract

Online travel communities have reshaped travel behaviors and decision-making of people around the world. In addition to the communication between different travelers, it is noted that local residents also contribute to the information sharing process. Why do local people offer help online? This is a question that has not been answered through a rigorous research process. By exploring why local residents' display helping behavior in online travel communities, the purpose of this study was to develop and test a conceptual framework to understand local residents' contribution to online travel communities. Two models rooted from social psychology to understand the helping behavior were examined. A conceptual framework, which was constructed based on the two social psychological approaches, was tested as well. Variables of perceived controllability, sympathy, anger, personal distress, member participation in the online travel community, member attachment to the online travel community, cognitive identity of local resident, affective identity of local resident and evaluative identity of local resident were used to explain the helping behavior.
The research was conducted on the CouchSurfing online travel community, which is the world's largest online travel community and has a large amount of members. One-thousand-two-hundred-eighty-night CouchSurfing members residing in the Southeastern United States were invited to participate in an online survey through a systematic sampling approach and three-hundred-seventy-seven individuals completed the questionnaires and were included in the analysis.
The results of the study indicated that the conceptual framework functioned better than the previous two individual models. Variables of sympathy, personal distress, member participation in the online travel community and evaluative social identity of local resident were found to be significant in explaining local residents' helping behavior in online travel communities. Theoretical and practical implications were discussed, followed by suggestions for future research, recommendations for online travel community construction and strategies for encouraging local residents' involvement in the online travel community participation.

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