Emerging social media platforms: ICTs Developments in Tourism

The progress of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) from the 1970s has transformed the tourism sector from the point of view ...

The progress of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) from the 1970s has transformed the tourism sector from the point of view of industry structure as well as business strategies and practices (Buhalis and O’Connor 2005; Buhalis and Law 2008; Law et al. 2008). The development of Computer Reservation Systems (CRS) in the 1970s and that of Global Distribution Systems (GDS) in the 1980s changed the structure of tourism distribution as well as the Internet (1990s) that, with the recent developments of Web 2.0, influences also the relationships among customers and between customers and suppliers. More and more people are connected to the Internet for a longer amount of time through multiple forms of digital media: computers, tablets, smartphones, TVs, gaming platforms and emerging devices (Nielsen 2012b; comScore 2013; PhocusWright 2013b). The development of ICTs affects many different sectors. However, recent research confirms a tight relationship between the service industries, especially tourism, and ICTs. Indeed, travel and leisure represent major business areas of online shopping (Nielsen 2012a) in which customers’ decision-making is particularly influenced by social media (Nielsen 2012b).



ICTs offer new opportunities and resources to improve tourism organizations and destinations competitiveness and profitability in the future (Buhalis 1998, 2003; O’Connor 1999; Buhalis and O’Connor 2005). Emerging trends in eTourism are focused on the increasing opportunity for companies to adopt a customer-centric approach as well as on the benefits offered by the creation of a network of partnerships with other tourism organizations related to the services provided (Buhalis and O’Connor 2005).

An analysis of previous trends and opportunities shows that ICT developments, and especially Web 2.0, have generated a deep change in consumer habits and expectations. Travelers are more demanding and look for differentiated and personalized services. Therefore, tourism organizations should collect customer information at each stage of tourism service experience (before, during, and after the trip), thanks also to the user-generated content published online, in order to better understand customer needs, offer personalized services and, more generally, develop customer-centric strategies.

Emerging ICT tools can also help tourism organizations increase profitability. First, the opportunity of developing a direct relationship with customers can increase sales and reduce the amount of commissions to be paid to online travel agencies (OTAs) and other distribution channels. Second, the ability to manage web reputation could give organizations the possibility to enhance their corporate image and increase the effectiveness of revenue management activities in tourism services. This is true especially for all steps of the revenue management process: market segmentation and pricing guidelines, demand forecasting, inventory allocation and price optimization, booking and sales (Mauri 2012).

For what concerns the benefits of creating partnerships, we know that tourism products are heterogeneous by nature. Quality evaluation by customers is the result of an overall judgment related to a mix of services generally offered by different companies (Zeithaml et al. 1985; Gr├Ânroos 2000). Therefore, the ability to create a network of various operators, following an approach of coopetition (Brandenburger and Stuart 1996; Brandenburger and Nalebuff 1996), may stimulate cooperation among tourism companies with the aim to achieve and deliver higher value to customers (i.e., the collaboration among hotels or between hotel operators and other tourism service providers in a location).

From Web 1.0 to Web 3.0: Concepts and Definitions

emerging social media platforms
Any description of the ICT development path must of necessity start from an analysis of the concepts of Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and the possibilities of future improvements currently grouped under the expression Web 3.0.

Web 1.0 refers to the first stage of the World Wide Web (WWW) characterized by a “read-only” and mainly unidirectional medium. It is based on a static and passive approach: companies create websites to publish information (as in a brochure) and users can only read it. The subsequent stage has been Web 2.0: not a technical update of WWW,1 but a new way of using that platform and its well developed and popular tools, shifting the approach from a static and passive mode to an active and dynamic one (Antonioli Corigliano and Baggio 2004). Therefore, the static platform becomes dynamic and allows people to share knowledge and experiences. It is based on interactivity among users who generates a rapid creation and spread of online communities. Some scholars consider Web 2.0 as a “social movement” that leads to the democratization of technology, information and knowledge (Birdsall 2007; Leung et al. 2013). According to this view, Web 2.0 is an environment where several forms of social interactions of everyday life take place among users, generating content. Actually, this position takes for granted the ICT access and technological skills acquisition of users, establishing new forms of social segregation (inclusion and exclusion) in the tourism system (Munar et al. 2013).

The application of Web 2.0 to the tourism business is named Travel 2.0 and represents a change from Travel 1.0, which was essentially based on the shift from offline to online reservations (Wolf 2006).

Analyzing the definitions of Web 2.0, we still find an ongoing discussion in the literature about the topic. The multidimensionality and complexity of the concept, along with a coexistence of marketing, psychological and information technology elements, create some difficulties in formulating a shared definition (Constantinides and Fountain 2008). Moreover, sometimes the terms Web 2.0, social media and user-generated content (UGC) are used as synonyms. The definitions of Web 2.0 listed in Table 1.1 indicate how the distinction between these three concepts is not always clear.

O’Reilly (2005) defines Web 2.0 as “the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually-updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an ‘architecture of participation’, and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences.” In 2006, Musser and O’Reilly redefined the term Web 2.0 as “a set of economic, social, and technology trends that collectively form the basis for the next generation of the Internet—a more mature, distinctive medium characterized by user participation, openness, and network effects.”

Constantinides and Fountain (2008) adopt a strategic and marketing perspective, namely considering the application types and the social effects of Web 2.0, and define Web 2.0 (or social media) as “a collection of interactive, open source and user controlled Internet applications enhancing the experiences, collaboration, knowledge and market power of the users as participants in business and social processes. Web 2.0 applications support the creation of informal users’ networks facilitating the flow of ideas, information, knowledge and promote innovation and creativity by allowing the efficient generation, dissemination, sharing and editing of content.”

The previous definitions combine the concepts of Web 2.0 and social media in the same definition. Even if the authors suggest the separated role of the platform and of Internet applications, specific definitions are not clearly identified. Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) as well as Xiang and Gretzel (2010) try to elaborate a different approach that considers the two concepts separately. As a consequence, Web 2.0 is defined as “the platform for the evolution of social media” and social media can be described as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content” (Kaplan and Haenlein 2010). To complete the
framework, user (consumer)-generated content is instead defined as “a variety of new and emerging sources of online information that are created, initiated, circulated and used by consumers intent on educating each other about products, brands, services, personalities and issues” (Blackshaw and Nazzaro 2006). According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD 2007), usergenerated content has three main features: it is publicly available in the Internet, it reflects the consumer’s creativity, and it is created outside professional practice.

Finally, Web 3.0 is the subsequent evolution of Web 2.0. Academics, professionals, and managers hold different opinions about the future evolution of the Web. A first position is focused on the relational and social aspects, looking at the development of semantic web technology and artificial intelligence. Another stream of thought concentrates on information technology features and trusts that Web 3.0 will mean an increase of speed of the Internet and of Web applications as well as graphics improvements (Eftekhari et al. 2011). However, many observers agree that the next step of development will be characterized by data interoperability2 (Gasser and Palfrey 2007; Buhalis and Law 2008), three-dimensional experiences and cocreative web.

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