The tourism industry often needs a various range of information to satisfy and attracts its consumers and most of this information is delivered promptly to the customers with the help of the information and communication technologies (Poon, 1993). And as result, the global tourism industry is rapidly changing and the information and communication technologies ( ICTs) such as the internet is altering the structure of tourism industry and how it market his products and conducts its promotion.
In order to understand the role and impacts that ICTs has in the wider tourism industry and to find its influences on the tourist consumer behaviour, it is advised to first know what ICTs are and to comprehend the study on consumer behaviour based on the tourism industry. Information and communication technologies are defined as the collective term given to the most recent development in the mode (electronic) and the mechanisms (computers and communications technologies) used for the acquisitions, processing analysis, storage, retrieval, dissemination, and application of information (Poon 1993 cited in Buhalis 2003, p 7).
It can also be defined as “the use of digital tools for business functions and processes” (Cooper et al 2005, p. 704). When tailing about ICTs, it consist of hardware (self service terminals), software (front office applications), and telecommunications (broadcast of images, teleconferencing … ), and the groupware (tools for group communications such as email). The last one is the humanware which consist of skilled people responsible for the maintenance and programming.
Any of these are used in the tourism industry for a better management of operation and communication between stakeholders. The Tourism industry had really gained from the evolution of information technology with the emergence of computerised networks that change the whole stage of the distribution and marketing of tourism products. The most popular and successful applications of ICT used in the tourism industry are the computer reservation systems, the global distribution systems and the internet.
In the early 1970s, the airline industry developed the computer reservation systems, an application that became the most important channel of distribution for airlines, and even big hotel companies and tour operators started using it after they recognized the benefit of computerised system. The computer reservation system (CRSs) is” essentially a database which manages the inventory of a tourism enterprise, whilst it distributes it electronically to remote sales ffices and external partners” (Buhalis, 1998). It created the possibility for suppliers to quickly confirm the booking reservations made by consumers but the consumers were also able to use the CRSs to access information of different destinations, packages holidays, and hotels, and used that information to compare prices to find the best deal. The computer reservation system gave tourism organisation the power to manage their products and trade with the rest of the world.
The mid 1990 saw the computer reservation system emerged into the global distribution systems (GDSs), the “system that distribute reservations and information services to sales outlets around the world” (Giaoutzi and Nijkamp 2006, p. 24). It did not just contains information of flights and hotels like the CRSs but had a wide range of services and products linked to tourism such as entertainment, car rental, lodging, train ticketing. Both the CRSs and the GDSs are known also to reduce the cost of communication, and to provide information on the competition.
During the time that the GDSs was developing, the internet and World Wide Web was providing direct opportunities for tourism suppliers to interact with its customers by offering less expensive information on services and destinations. Companies like easy-jet uses the internet to offer its services directly to the customers and because the internet also offers
During every step of a transaction or deal of the tourism product, there is a lot of information that need to be exchange between every party involved. So the information and communication technologies role is to help the clients and tourism intermediaries have accessed to accurate information and data. These exchanges of information need to be done quickly as the suppliers rely on it to meets the customers’ requests. So the use of ICTs in the tourism industry has turned into a universal feature and power that help and manage information and transfer them all over the world instantaneously.
And Buhalis (1998) states that the day to day operations of the tourism industry have been affected by the use of the ICTS. The distribution and marketing function of the tourism industry has been transformed as they use ICTs to target the consumers meet their needs and also the adoption of information and communication technologies by the airlines companies has been an advantage point for them as it help them control and manage reservations. So t goes to say that the fundamental structure of the tourism industry has been reformed by ICTs and businesses involved in tourism will need to keep improving their services to meet the increases level of customer demand that now require fast and accurate information. Despite the fact that the information and communication technologies has broaden the industry capacity of distribution, there are also some issues brought by the same ICTs that could impacts the future operation of the travel industry.
According to Thorn and Chen (2005), the risk of losing human resource in business is higher with the application of ICTs. The increase of demand of employees with new technology skills has left existing employees in fear of losing their jobs as businesses are looking for way to accommodate those customers who need their suppliers to respond to new sophisticated demand and information. In this case, it is up to the management team of each tourism business who adopt the use of new technology to offer some intensive training for staff in order to success.
But beside the human resource impact, the most talked about impact is the issue of disintermediation in the tourism industry. Disintermediation happen when suppliers and companies are met by a growing pressure from competitors and rising prices (Werthner and Klein, 2001), so to survive in this new technology environment, they set up their own distribution channel such as a website where they can directly offer the consumers the opportunity to tailor their own holiday and look through various range of products online.
And by doing that they often save money and Thorn and Chen (2005) raise the fact that travel agencies are quite a risk because of disintermediation which result to booking at travels agents going down by 35% and also they are at risk of losing some of their commissions that came from selling products from tours operators and airlines companies. ICTs caused then to deal with competitions and those who cannot often lose their business but there are always customers who look for the physical contact when it came to book their holiday.
The need of face to face interaction still gives travel agents the chance to stay in the tourism chain. Over the years, the information and communication technologies also had an impact on the consumer too, because of the improvements that ICTs bring on the quality of services given by tourism organisations. By allowing consumers to make fast reservations or save money by comparing price through the internet, ICTs created a new type of consumers who are now becoming more ophisticated and skilled. With the consumer behaviours changing, it is up to the tourism organisations to try and understand the motivation behind their choice of destination, or figure out the type of environment that influence their decision to purchase a product instead of another. All of these researches and their answers are quite important as it would help suppliers and companies develop new marketing strategies for products that would reach the appropriate market.
The study of consumer behaviour is based on finding out the reason why consumers purchase some products and trying to understand how they came to the decision of making that decision (Swarbrooke and Horner, 1999). This study gives organisations some clues on the why and how that customer came to make a choice between various destinations or products, so with any results find from this study, it will enable them to target the customers and persuade them to buy their products because of the consumer previous making decision purchase.
But for the consumers to make a decision there is a lot of factors that come to play and influence them toward the right product. Those factors are the determinants (what make you choose a holiday or not) and motivators (the drive to travel) (Swarbrooke and Horner, 1999). Determinants in consumer behaviour can be internal and external. Internal determinants often consist of factors which are personal to the customer such as choosing a travel destination based on work or business obligation, fear, health problems or commitment with family.
Some of those are quite important and they tend to determine and have an effect on the type of travel to book or they can also prevent the consumer to travel. In the external determinant category, consumer can be influenced by the media around them, friends and sometimes a marketing campaign. Motivators in the other hand are the reasons that push the tourists toward travelling. Often motivators are split into two different categories, the general motivators and the specific ones.
Some general motivators mentioned by Thomas (1964, cited in Moutinho, 1987) are the cultural and educational motivators which push tourists to discover new culture and lifestyle, to do some sightseeing or explore monuments, and he also identified pleasure, adventure and relaxation as other motivators that provide people with a reason to travel, especially when trying to switch off from the daily routine of their life and just go on holiday to have some fun. And regarding the specific motivators, Moutinho (1987) also contributed in the study by aying that specific motivators tends to come from knowledge, previous experience , recommendation or opinions given by relatives and friends; and it can also come from the travel organisation via the media. The study of consumer behaviour in tourism is helped by various models and processes adapted from others researchers which show clarifications on what goes on when consumers are deciding to make a purchase. In order to understand some behaviour of tourists, this essay will go through the destination decision making process, the recreational behaviour model and stimulus-response model of buyer behaviour.
The tourism industry provides two types of products, the tangibles and the intangibles, but because most of it is intangibles, it is difficult to evaluate the products before purchasing so, it often down to images and information of the tourism products that the consumers can make a purchase decision. The tourist decision making process by kotler (1998) shows, that before coming to a decision about buying a product, the consumer goes through various steps. These stages are the need of recognition; information search; evaluation of alternatives; selection of services or products; and the post purchase assessment.
In the need of recognition of the buying decision process, the first thing for consumers is to acknowledge that they have a problem or need to purchase a service or products. And by being aware of their need, it is now up to the consumers to find a solution that would give them satisfaction at the end. So it’s next to the second stage of information search where the customer is motivated into doing some intense research to find the correct information which will lead to a decision. There is lot of ways for the tourist to find the information needed.
He can go through the search stage by using his own knowledge of the products or he will rely on the external search (Pan and Fesenmaier, 2006) which consist of advertising resources and personal ones. Brochures, travel books and relatives are some of the examples of sources that consumers used to find information, and because of these external sources, tourism organisation identify and learn about the sources since they provide consumers with valuable information that sway their decision.
The internet is also another source for consumer to gain access to information in this stage of the decision making with Lake (2001) stressing that almost 95% of people collect information related to travel via the internet and with 93% admitted to visit websites of tourism companies. After gathering enough information, the next move for the consumer is the evaluation of alternative where come the process of comparing and finding the best solution of their problems.
Often at this stage, the quality of the products and services will determine how much it is going to satisfy the consumer when they are trying to compare it the products with other alternatives (Kotler, 1998). During the purchase decision process, Kotler (1998) normally consumers have a tendency to buy their favourite brands or products but occasionally the purchase decision become influenced by other people around the consumers, for example parents who are planning to book a holiday with younger children, will not choose an adult oriented holiday destination because they need to consider their children before going into the purchasing stage.
Purchasing the products or service from a specific supplier is the fourth step and it will be wrong to think that paying for the vacation is the end of the purchase decision process. In the post purchase evaluation, the consumer will make an assessment like some feedback to see if they had a happy experience when they used the products. A good experience will often lead the consumers to reuse the same products and verbally promote it. And the tourism organisations also find the post purchase stage really valuable to them as the satisfaction level of consumer will turn into loyalty toward the products or services.
In the recreational behaviour model, researchers are looking to observe how consumers behave when they decide to travel and (Clawson and Knetch, 1966 cited in Hanlan, Fuller and Wilde, 2006) said that deciding to travel is not a simple process because it also has five phases that make use of some stages of the destination decision making process. The recreational behaviour model start with the anticipation phase where the consumer is thinking about the trip and where all the planning of the trip is being done by including the stage of need of recognition and search of information that was mentioned in the destination decision making process.
After the planning phase, it is the travelling to the site stage which can also includes the mode of transport that the consumer is going to use to reach the destination. For example using the orient express as a mode of transport can be seen as a luxury travel experience by itself for the consumer even before they reach their destination. So once at the destination, the model next phase is the behaviour on the site where the consumer arrive to the destination and make use of the services available to him. The behaviour of the consumer once on site is widely influenced by his experience of the services offered.
Everything that happened to the consumers during the stay at the destination will impact the last stage of this model, as after travelling back home, the consumers have to have a recollection and recall stage which will consist of the post purchase evaluation stage that Kotler identified in the decision process. Compare to other models of consumer behaviour, the stimulus-response model of buyer behaviour by Middleton (1994) has been modified in order to help the tourism organisation have an understanding of the consumer behaviour during the buying process.
In this model, the determinants and motivators that influenced the buying behaviour of the consumer are separated from each other, and at the same time this model also looks at the impacts that the communication channel used by tourism organisation has on the tourist buying process. The stimulus response model of buying behaviour has been based on four elements with the buyer characteristics and decision process being at the core of the buying behaviour.
The travel stimuli, the communication channels, the characteristic of the consumer together with the decision process have all an effect on the consumer buying behaviour. The characteristics of the buyer which is made of the motivators and determinants influence the consumer recognition of the travel stimuli and if the consumer is interested by the products that the travel stimulus offered, the decision making process will determine when the buying process will began. The development of Information and communication technologies transformed the tourist behaviour when it comes to searching, booking and buying processes.
In the information search, the consumer has the opportunity to find a wide range of information provided by the accommodation sectors, the destinations and airline companies by the use of new technology. And for making their booking, the reservation system put in place allow the consumers to access and make payment online. So it is clear to say that the tools of ICTs allowed companies to embrace technology to be essential to their communication and marketing approach in order to give consumer the freedom to undertaken any process without the help of an intermediaries.
The change in consumer behaviour by ICT has been strongly influenced by the internet because it helps the suppliers communicate directly with the consumers who offer the possibility to tailor the products to their taste and need. (Buhalis and Law, 2008) So to finish, this essay has shown that the development of information and communication technologies and its use in the tourism industry had quite an impact on the structure of the industry.
It did bring new opportunities to the business by opening different channel for the promotion and distribution of the tourism products and ICTs also allow the customers to quickly receive information no matter the distance. But the loss of human interaction with the use of ICT and the disintermediation has been some of the challenge or problems that the development of technology brought in the industry. So to be successful and retain their customers, tourism organisations has to adopt the technology and adapt it into their businesses.
And by trying to understand the effect that information and communication technologies has on the consumer behaviour, I went on to gather information of three different models based on what goes on the mind of the consumer when they are trying to choose a destination, or buy a product. In the models mentioned in this essay, the consumer is often guided with the help of information gathered during the information search stage to make a decision and these models always end with the feedback stage where the consumer expresses their satisfaction or dissatisfaction.
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