Word of mouth communication in destination marketing: a comparative study of the caravan and backpacker markets in Cairns

Harris, Alana (2015) Word of mouth communication in destination marketing: a comparative study of the caravan and backpacker markets in Cairns. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Increased global competition between destinations has given rise to sophisticated marketing to potential visitors. At the same time, consumers are increasingly sceptical of organisation generated marketing messages, instead turning to their own personal networks for timely, accurate and credible information through word-of-mouth (WOM). WOM is a communication phenomenon which occurs in a social context. On one level the basic premise of WOM is widely understood by academics, practitioners and consumers alike. Word of mouth exchanges provide a balance of information and opinion, in a setting that provides the flexibility to 'tailor make' the message in terms of detail in a highly efficient and congruent way. However, how and why these exchanges unfold within the context of travellers and those with whom they interact during travel remains an under researched area.

Following a review of literature from sociology, social psychology, marketing, communications, tourism and other relevant areas, the theoretical, empirical and methodological gaps were identified. The lack of research into WOM between visitors at a destination directed the focus of the thesis which explored how the interaction between travellers at a destination impacts the WOM dynamic. Specifically, the thesis examines the relationship constructs of homophily (similarity) and tie-strength (closeness) with communication and settings to address these gaps.

A case study methodology was used to better understand the richness of the WOM phenomenon as it applies to travellers during their visit in the context of their network of relationships. Two groups of traveller were selected, caravanners and backpackers, due to the similarities (flexible itineraries, motivation to socialise, communal accommodation and homogeneity of each group), but also due to the differences between the groups (mode of travel, travel party, demographics) – necessary for the purpose of comparison. Cairns in Far North Queensland was selected as the research site because it is a major destination for both groups.

The research comprised four phases; observation of travellers in-situ, semi-structured interviews with destination based industry representatives, focus groups with participants from each of the two traveller groups and then surveys of each traveller group. An iterative process of data collection and analysis was used whereby each phase shaped the subsequent phase. Key ideas emerged from the iterative process of collection and analysis with reference made to the existing literature.

The emergence of relationships, settings and communication bounded in time were the key themes. Based on these themes an explanatory model of at-destination WOM is proposed and detailed. The nested model shows the interrelated nature of these themes and examines both the elements of the model and explains the model as a whole. The findings also indicate a shift from the traditional thinking of independent travellers influenced by external forces, such as the destination marketing organisation, to a new 'networked independent traveller' who is constantly connected both in a corporeal and virtual sense to others. Finally, the research dismisses the widely held view in the academic literature that WOM is solely an output of social interaction between visitors at a destination. Instead, the study finds that WOM is both a contributor to and a consequence of travellers' social interactions at a destination.

The study broadens the current view of WOM, the travellers who use it and how it fits in the social interaction of travellers at a destination. It builds on what is already known and offers researchers and marketers valuable insights into the human side of WOM but one that also incorporates technology as a key communication media. The study progresses research by tying the intricate and complex micro WOM episodes to the macro WOM phenomenon. It offers an approach which captures the nuance, reveals the episodic meaning, addresses research gaps and builds on existing tourism communication network theory.

Item ID: 51225
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: at-destination, backpackers, Cairns, caravanners, communication network theory, Far North Queensland, likeability, networked independent traveller, similarity, social networks, travellers, word of mouth
Date Deposited: 17 Oct 2017 00:05
FoR Codes: 15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150606 Tourist Behaviour and Visitor Experience @ 40%
15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150604 Tourism Marketing @ 30%
15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1506 Tourism > 150603 Tourism Management @ 30%
SEO Codes: 90 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 9003 Tourism > 900302 Socio-Cultural Issues in Tourism @ 100%
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