Tourist information search behaviour: Lessons from the case study

Tourists use a combination of media platforms

Empirical results from different studies show that digital information channels have become increasingly important for tourists (Vallespin, Molinillo, & Munoz-Leiva, 2017). Such research simultaneously shows that tourists still tend to use a combination of different information channels (Tan & Chen, 2012). These findings are similar to Snepenger, Meged, Snelling, and Worrells (1990) results that discussed tourists’ combined use of information channels before the use of Internet. Even with the emergence of the Internet and the possibilities of digital transmedia information, there is still a need of a range of media platforms for information, analogue as well as digital. It is important because tourists tend to use a range of media platforms simultaneously. The result from our study confirms that German tourists nearly always use several parallel media platforms for information. In our study, looking at Internet-based material (homepages) is the most favoured way of searching travel information prior to a trip: 28% of all answers are stating the use of homepages. Homepages are followed by traditional channels like guidebooks (16%), own experience (13%), maps (10%), brochures (10%), and information received from TICs in analogue form (6%).

During the actual journey, non-digital channels like guidebooks (19% of all answers), maps (15%), and TICs (10%) become relatively more important. Tourists mention their own experience and word-of-mouth as important information channels both before and during a journey. Channels like travel agents, popular culture, travel magazines, social media, and rating sites rank significantly lower. In our questionnaire, social media was ranking among the least important channels of information (1, 3% of answers for use before and during travel) for this market. The interviews confirm this finding. The low number of social media users is surprising considering the importance attributed to this information channel in the age of transmedia tourism (cf. Ho, Lin, & Chen, 2012). Our data shows that consuming and producing tourist-generated content in social media cannot be considered as standard tourist behaviour for all types of tourists. Having access to all sorts of information does not necessarily mean that all tourists are interested in them, especially not this German traveller segment.

Moreover, while there is an abundance of information available through transmedia that tourists can access to make decisions, many interviewees talked instead about spontaneous decisions while travelling. Such decisions depend on the mood of the family members, the company of travellers and on weather forecasts. On the road, tangible objects like road signs, public maps in city centres, and information signs facilitate spontaneous actions and hence become important information channels. The result of the study shows that the tourists in many cases take advantage of opportunities that occur during travel when confronted with sign markers. Coincidence and flexibility play an important role, and so does the feeling of spontaneity and adventure, as one of the interviewees explains: 'You don’t want to know everything; you want to explore things a bit as well’. Another interviewee describes how ‘we love it, 1 think, to be flexible because in this way, you can see so much of a country’ (authors’ translations). Thus, even if there are plentiful possibilities of accessing information on transmedia platforms at any time, decisions are left on hold on purpose. Tourists’ other preferences and feelings have more significance for travel choices than, for example, online information accessed before travelling. Searching information is thus a complex undertaking, where digital media are crucial — but where other factors play a significant part too.

A traditional use of digital platforms

German tourists in Sweden have a rather traditional view on information search, even though homepages are the most common information channel. By traditional view, we mean that this group of German tourists have an interest in engaging with homepages such as destination marketing homepages since they valued for their (perceived) up-to-date information. These sites are also associated with a high degree of trust. This is in contrast to a low interest for social media in general that is associated with a lower trustworthiness since anyone can create and share information. A key part of transmedia tourism is tourists sharing content themselves, but there was a low interest in the group examined for this activity. Moreover, tourists are generally not willing to rely on digital platforms alone, perceiving the system as fragile. The share of respondents using solely digital information channels prior to the journey was only 5%. During the trip, the number goes down to 3.5%. Several interviewees also choose to escape the digital world altogether during their vacation. This corresponds well to the emerging field of research that addresses tourists’ needs and desires to stay digitally disconnected while on vacation. Dickinson, Hibbert, and Filimonau (2016) found that some tourists want to escape their daily lives and routines and chose to abandon the digital world altogether while on holiday. Thus, although it is argued that we live in a transmedia society, our results show that German tourists travelling to Sweden do not necessarily follow this belief. There are significant differences between national markets, such as the German and the Swedish (Zillinger et al., 2018). This knowledge is vital when planning information campaigns.

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