Digital Divide in Tourism

Differences among Generation X and Y towards Online travel reviews writing
By Alice Bekk, Chiara Dalponte and Anna Zsófia Höfler

1        Introduction
With the diffusion of the Web 2.0 in the last decade, user-generated contents (UGCs) such as online travel reviews have become a key tool for both tourists and tourism managers. On one hand, researchers proved in a study that more than a third (36%) of respondents between 25 and 39 engaged in providing reviews and evaluations (Fotis, et al., 2012), characterizing electronic Word-Of-Mouth (eWOM) as a constantly growing trend (Xiang, et al., 2015). On the other hand, such UGC, when properly analysed, can provide tourism enterprises with valuable market intelligence and on-going research opportunities. In addition, travel blogs can be used by tourism managers for customer profiling, customer acquisition, customer engagement, brand awareness, brand reinforcement, reputation management and customer service, bearing a great potential for the industry (Akehurst, 2009). As a direct effect of this phenomenon for the single tourism providers, positive online reviews can significantly increase the number of bookings in a hotel (Ye, et al., 2009), which should push managers to deepen their knowledge about their customers’ behaviour towards the writing of online travel reviews. As a matter of fact, according to a previous study concerning the impact of online travel reviews, generational differences occurred across a variety of perceptions and usage behaviours. The results of the study confirm the importance for tourism enterprises of considering demographic variables when modelling information search behaviour (Gretzel and Yoo, 2008).

The scope of this research is to find relevant differences between Generations X and Y in the writing of online travel reviews. These two generations were specifically chosen because they are defined by Li et al. (2013) as being characterized by more active travellers. As a result, this study explores the tourism consumer behaviour of these two generations towards online travel reviews writing on a deeper level, while accepting that there are some similarities, but at the same time aiming at discovering some possible differences in their approaches. The research was not limited to the pure action of writing online travel reviews, but aspired also at the investigation of some relevant insights related to this fact

Therefore, the purpose of this research is to provide tourism managers with a deeper insight into the online behaviour of their customers. As it has been stated previously, the significance of travel reviews goes beyond the mere writing action and has a high potential for the industry, with the consequence of developing, for example, market approaches aiming at improving online reputation (Milano, et al., 2011).

In the literature review the authors focused on three main domains, which characterize the topic of the research, that is to say digital divide, generations X and Y and online travel reviews. From the theoretical background the following 5 hypotheses were derived:

H1: Generation Y writes more online travel reviews than Generation X.

H2: Generation Y reads more online travel reviews than Generation X.

H3: Generation X writes online travel reviews mainly in order to express feelings, whereas Generation Y writes online travel reviews mainly for the greater good (e.g. helping the company, concern for other consumers).

H4: Generation Y’s reason not to write online travel reviews is laziness.

H5: If tourists were asked to write an online travel review, the majority would answer with “yes”.

2        Methodology
2.1 Research Design

In order to test the hypotheses, a survey research design was adopted. The authors chose to employ structured interviews, as the goal of this style of interviewing is to ensure that interviewees’ replies can be aggregated (Bryman, 2012). As a result, a questionnaire was developed, including questions about demographics and the behaviour towards online travel reviews writing, but also questions indirectly related to this. The questionnaire was composed of 20 questions in total, whereby some of them were only for the respondents who ever wrote at least one online travel review, while others had to be answered only by those respondents who never wrote one. Furthermore, as the authors expected a high amount of German speakers among the participants, the questionnaire was firstly created in English and subsequently translated into German. Finally, before the beginning of the data collection, a pre-test of the questionnaire was done to ensure the right comprehension of the questions by the interviewees and according to this some final adjustments were done.

2.2 Data Collection, Sampling and Data Analysis

The data collection, thus the administration of the survey, took place in November 2015, when face-to-face structured interviews were carried out in the city centre of Salzburg using the web application LimeSurvey. As the beneficiaries of the study are tourism providers operating in Salzburg, the authors approached exclusively tourists during the data collection. The interviewees were free to choose the language in which the questionnaire was completed, either German or English. Moreover, as a prerequisite for taking part to the survey, they had to be born either between 1965 and 1980, thus Generation X, or between 1981 and 1990, thus Generation Y (Li, et al., 2013). The sampling method was in the form of a quota sample. This was done in order to avoid the gender of the respondents to influence the findings. At the end, the collected valid questionnaires were in total 228. Among them, 57 respondents (25%) were Generation X male, 57 (25%) were Generation X female, 57 (25%) were Generation Y male and 57 (25%) were Generation Y female. In total, the majority of the respondents, about 30%, came from Germany, followed by Austria (about 8%), USA (7%) and Italy (about 5%). In total, 52 nationalities from all over the world were encountered. The analysis of the data was done using the software SPSS, and out of it a statistical summary was created, reporting data about each question of the survey. The variable defining the generations was cross-tabulated with all the other variables in order to visualize the resulting differences concerning online travel reviews writing. Finally, the hypotheses derived from the literature were tested and the respective significance values were interpreted.

3        Results and Discussion
The results of this study can be of utmost importance for tourism providers operating in the city of Salzburg. In fact, the growing phenomenon of online travel reviews can be considered as a form of interactive marketing for the hospitality industry, and its economic potential lies essentially in the use of information from the customer rather than about the customer (Gretzel, et al., 2000). As a result, getting a deeper insight of who one hotel’s customers are and what is their approach towards online travel reviews writing can be crucial for the development of the right marketing strategy.

The first hypothesis, being confirmed, can be interpreted with the fact that Generation Y grew up in a time with further technological development than Generation X, meaning Generation Y is overall more technologically involved and present. Therefore operators in the tourism industry could implement their already existing marketing strategy, with further elements on how to increase the involvement of Generation X, as well as the engagement for Generation Y.

To continue, the result of the second hypothesis, which has been neglected, shows that Generation X is more involved with reading and observing online travel reviews, though they were the ones who wrote less online travel reviews. It is interesting for tourism providers to see that this generation is more silently taking part to online travel platforms, which could be a reason for tourism providers to motivate Generation X more and trying to reach out to them. Furthermore the reading of online travel reviews does not necessarily mean that tourists are going to write one afterwards. Visitors should be persuaded to write a review, no matter if positive or negative, due to the strong influence of these platforms. By encouraging more tourists to write, both consumers and suppliers can gain a competitive advantage out of it.

In the third hypothesis it is interesting to see that both Generations X and Y mainly write online travel reviews to express their positive feelings towards the experience or service provided. Therefore tourism operators could take advantage of this to enforce positive experience with further services or products.

Seeing that laziness is in fact the main reason for Generation Y not to write online travel reviews, tourism operators can now focus on this problem. One possibility could be to motivate them with further give-aways, discounts on the next trip, or other advantages. It should not be forgotten that Generation Y is still the one, which writes more online travel reviews in comparison with Generation X. Therefore, the motivation of both generations is in fact a barrier for tourism providers. Not only tourism operators, but also travel review platforms can benefit from this finding, since they rely on visitors exchanging actively, in order to be successful on a long period.

To conclude, being the wide majority of the respondents ready to write a review if they would be asked to by tourism suppliers, these latter should feel encouraged to maintain an authentic and lasting relationship with the customer, even after the departure, which would also lead to an increase in the customer loyalty.

3.1 Limitations of the results

The first and biggest limitation of the study is that it cannot be generalised, meaning that the results cannot be extended onto the wider population. This occurred because of the small sample size selected for the survey, which was influenced also by time-constrains and lack of resources. A further limitation, influencing the results, relies in the nationality of the participants, since the wide majority is clearly from Germany, then from Austria and the USA. What is more, during the data collection it was noticeably difficult to gather information from Asian tourists, due to following reasons: Asian tourists in Salzburg were mainly moving in groups and could not be talked to individually, since they were on a guided tour. Furthermore, the lack of English knowledge was also a barrier that held Asian tourists back to participate in the questionnaire, since the communication was not easy to hold upon effortless. Moreover, an additional weakness needs to be pointed out concerning the method of triangulation used by the authors: the online reviews platform This website is mostly used by German speaking travellers, so it cannot be considered representative for the whole tourism population.

The aim of this research was to find out differences between Generation X and Generation Y towards online travel reviews (OTRs) writing. Related to this, the findings demonstrated that the behaviour of these two generations actually differs, not only in the writing of OTRs, but more generally in the overall attitude towards this trend. Even if the results are not significant, there is a visible trend. Further investigations of the differences between Generation X and Generation Y towards travel behaviour in general are a possibility to use this research effectively, by building up on it. In addition, the reasons for users to write online travel reviews can be further researched, in order to optimize the usability of these online platforms. Another suggested piece of research based on this one is if there is an optimal reaction of tourism accommodators to online travel platforms of any kind in order to leave a positive impression on the customer.

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