As part of their master in Tourism Destination Management study program, the students have written literature reviews in the domain of “International Tourism Context”. In this third of six literature reviews Veronica Wee discusses the influence of user-generated content (UGC) and the importance of a solid social media strategy.

This research covers a critical analysis of online reviews in the tourism industry; challenges faced in online review management and methods of current social media strategies implemented by Destination Management Organizations (DMO’s), airline and hotel operators.


Growing dependence on the Internet has transformed it into the main source of information (Sparks & Browning 2010). More recently, social media networks and user-generated content (UGC) have changed the way users share their experiences (Hvass & Munar 2012). In a more general context, social networking is a combination of online communities that provides a variety of platforms (eg. Emailing, Blogging, photo tagging, videos) to facilitate consumer interconnections (Bruyn & Lilien 2008) for interaction (Click & Petit 2010).

In the tourism industry, online applications, advance social websites (TripAdvisor, Yelp, IgoUgo, etc.), and online booking websites (,,, etc) provide an interactive display of experiences and commentary review of a destination, property, facilities and restaurants (Litvin & Hoffman 2012). What was recorded in traditional form is now digitalized and shared globally (Munar 2012). The phenomenon of posting videos and digitalizing experiences developed a new paradigm of information sharing (Ruzic & Biloz 2010), which is now referred to as electronic word of mouth (Sparks & Browning 2010). Social media websites allow consumers to spread their experiences (Yu 2012), and interconnectivity and density of networks facilitate positive or negative reviews to travel quickly (Bruyn & Lilien 2008).

Travellers nowadays often use the Internet for destination research prior to decision-making. Online web applications and social media websites are a critical element in the travel planning process (Ruzic & Biloz 2010). It is apparent that 63 percent of leisure tourists and 69 percent of tourists on business use the Internet prior to planning trips, hotel bookings and airline reservations (European Travel Commission, 2010). Online reviews of a destination or property not only possess the ability to attract or detract a traveller, but also develop consumer expectations (Bruyn & Lilien 2008).

As many travellers consult online reviews before firming vacation plans (Vermuelen & Seegers 2009), it is evident that a level of trust is accorded, especially in positively framed reviews about previous traveller’s experience (Sparks & Browning 2010). Travellers are more influenced by online travel reviews and guides (European Travel Commission, 2012), as they believe reviews may assist in a better purchase decision (Qiang Ye et al. 2011). In this case, what are DMO’s doing to influence a traveller’s choice? Are the necessary steps and strategies being taken to explore this growing market?

Review of Literature

With the growth of an educated online society, online media networks provide a source for information collection to enhance a company’s competitive position (Yu 2012). Tourism organizations, airline and hotel operators have begun to employ social media strategies to influence traveller’s decision making (Munar 2012). Some DMO’s have adopted a simple yet effective technique of focusing on the community’s core attributes and a comprehensive visitor’s guide approach to make content easily accessible (Ruzic & Biloz 2010). This method, no doubt converted to mediatized tourism, still focuses on the tourism product, instead of the tourist.

Munar’s study in 2012 shows the most generic model of social media initiatives to be advertising and mimetic. DMO’s, airline and hotel operators have established basic social media websites in Facebook and Twitter to publish news, advertisements, promotional campaign and videos. Creating company-based media content by integrating offline and online branding techniques (Hede & Kellet 2012) is traditional (Mansson 2011). These forms of social media strategy still lack dynamism and effectiveness as it only represents an online transformation of traditional marketing techniques. DMO’s, airline and hotel operators need to employ a more strategic approach in understanding social media features with viral marketing goals, success measures and target market diversification (Yu 2012).

UGC and consumer-to-consumer communication instills trust towards a product or destination (Qiang Ye et al. 2011). Following the immersion strategy in Visit Sweden 2006 (Munar 2012), the DMO created a platform called “Community of Sweden” where travellers possess the freedom to upload reviews, photos and videos of travel experiences. This strategy provided spontaneous and unsolicited participation (Swanepoel et al. 2009) and emphasized community involvement with minimal organizational control, a UGC based strategy (Munar 2012). An opportunity in which DMO’s, airline and hotel operators can develop to provide a separate platform for interpersonal traveller sharing and enjoy the benefits of this paradigm. Although Facebook and Twitter easily display UGC and many DMO’s make use of this platform for frequent marketing campaigns (Hays et al. 2012), success rate is still unclear as lead generation and positive e-WOM from these platforms cannot be measured.

Another common social media strategy that is speculated to have higher success is viral marketing. Viral Marketing is a short but catchy (Yu 2012) marketing message (Swanepoel et al. 2009) that is easily transferrable from emails to forums to promote UGC communication and positive promotional effects (Ruzic & Biloz 2010). When translated into UGC, consumers turn into promoters of a product or destination through intentional viral marketing (Bruyn & Lilien 2008); and disguise the company intentions by leveraging on a user’s credibility (eWOM) (Swanepoel et al. 2009) as well as a consumer’s interpersonal network (Bruyn & Lilien 2008). Online discount offers and cheap deals (Groupon,, etc.) are a new form of viral marketing that accounts to 15% of travel planning and decision-making (European Travel Commission, 2012). Although success through viral marketing can be measured through monitoring lead generation, this form of social media strategy is used amongst airline and hotel operators, and rarely a DMO due to the type of product they are marketing.

On the other hand, despite many surveys and researches carried out to understand the influence of online reviews, little attention was paid to the market in which social media appeals to. Swanepoel et al. 2009 identifies that the ‘Internet generation’ (aka Gen Y) is most susceptible to social media and Horster 2012 indicates a rising demand for the understanding of group specific behaviors to enhance online reputation management, however group specifics varies in different demographics. UGC management can be achieved by monitoring reviews, enhancing clientele knowledge, consumer trends and statistics (Ruzic & Biloz 2010) and adoption of new industry methods (Yu 2012). Little literature can be found on understanding market demographic specifics of social media. The growing necessity of market understanding certainly points out the lack of intellectual research of this matter, a subject in which industry experts should explore in the near future.

As this analytic strategy is rather new, it is often undertaken by an external IT firm, as technological innovation generally arrives from other firms rather than in-house (Munar 2012). By employing an external expert, DMO’s, airline and hotel operators are able to monitor increasing or decreasing demands from certain markets and react according to market demand (Munar 2012). Proper UGC management suggests an increase in booking possibility (Sparks & Browning 2010) and effective online mechanisms for UGC provide the company increased sales support (Yu 2012). This strategy is relatively new and sparsely implemented, therefore is recommended to be championed by an external firm with more experience to safeguard inter-subjectivity (Horster 2012). However, data collected from these platforms are usually case sensitive to an organization’s market database and therefore the option of external coordinator employment is rarely explored. Furthermore, the employment of an external firm does not guarantee success in social media marketing.

Social media and online communication management is considered a ‘Gen X and Gen Y’ culture; which may pose difficulties when implementing in traditional management structures (Munar 2012). Latest developments in the field suggests that DMO’s, airline and hotel operators need to adapt to new market demands instead of convincing the consumer to use traditional platforms (European Travel Commission 2012). Social media advancement forces the transition of traditional models to a current global mediatized trend (Yu 2012). This democratization describes a shift of control from producer to consumer (Mansson 2011). This paradigm shift of conducting business online suggests DMO’s to adapt in order to move forward (Qiang Ye et al. 2011). However, most organizations just adapt social media as a supplementary form of marketing, and still maintain traditional strategies (Hays et al. 2012). This clearly shows a lack of confidence and creativity in traditional organizations while pursuing what is still considered a ‘blue ocean’ strategy although Web 2.0 has been introduced a decade ago.

Brand ambassadors who initiate and monitor these approaches (Swanepoel et al. 2009) as well as take advantage of the opportunity of interaction to understand consumers better (Hays et al. 2012) are seen as a potential tool to overcome this lack of confidence in a traditionally structured DMO, airline or hotel operator. Brand ambassadors are hired to react proactively in social media platforms. This method also allows an organization to safeguard case sensitive information from leaking out of the company. On the other hand, this method does not have sufficient scientific research to prove its benefits and to be considered a solid strategy to overcome the world of social media.


Ultimately, this literature review concludes that UGC through social media websites promotes awareness and creates interest towards a product and destination (Bruyn & Lilien 2008). However DMO’s, airport and hotel operators still lack a solid strategy of mastering tourism mediatization as different markets require different strategies (Hede & Kellet 2012). Nonetheless, social media websites publishing UGC on travel advice is likely to become increasingly popular in the upcoming years (Sparks & Browning 2011) and should therefore be recognized as an official marketing strategy (Hays et al. 2012). Strategic plans recommended by different scientific literature above still lack a solid and unified strategy that can be implemented across industries due to different market challenges and demographic situations. Further research and market analysis, in which UGC appeals to, is required before a solid foundation and conclusion can be drawn to a successful social media strategy.


Sparks, B. & Browning, V. (2011) Tourism Management: The effect of online reviews on hotel booking intentions and perception of trust, 32 (2011) 1310-1323

Kristian A Hvass & Ana M Munar (2012) Journal of Vacation Marketing: The Take Off of Social Media in Tourism, 18(2) 93–103

Click, A. & Petit, J. (2010) The International Information & Library Review: Social Networking and Web 2.0 in Information Literacy, 42, 137-142

Steven Litvin & Laura Hoffman (2012) Journal of Vacation Marketing: Responses to Consumer Generated Media in the Hospitality Marketplace: An Empirical Study, 8(2) 135–145

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Anne-Marie Hede & Pamm Kellett (2012) Journal of Vacation Marketing: Building online brand communities, 18(3) 239-250

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Eric Horster & Carsten Gottschalk (2012) Journal of Vacation Marketing: Computer assisted webnography, 18 (3) 229-238

Qiang Ye, Rob Law, Bin Gu (2009) International Journal of Hospitality Marketing: The Impact of online user reviews on hotel room sales, 28 (2009) 180-182

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