Doctoral thesis

Destination reputation in online media : Covered topics and perceived online dominant opinion


Thèse de doctorat: Università della Svizzera italiana, 2013 (jury note: Summa cum laude)

English Context: Online public opinions using various forms of social media are generating challenges for the tourism industry, which is intrinsically a “reputation-dependent” domain. Electronic-word-of-mouth (eWOM) has forced destination managers to rethink branding strategies, suggesting a shift from an architecture brand perspective to a live context perspective where travel markets are considered to be conversations and the monitoring of online conversations constitutes the first phase of a digital destination marketing strategy. Therefore, because eWOM might present ongoing social discussion about tourism destinations, and they represent one of the main sources of information for prospective travelers, who are the public interested in the destination, an analysis of eWOM is considered an efficient approach to indirectly measure public attitudes, beliefs, and values related to tourism destinations. Moreover, little research has so far examined the importance of the various messages contained within online conversations as proxies for public opinion (i.e., reputation in online media) in the tourism domain. Purpose: This thesis investigates tourism destination reputation and how online conversations have been changing the nature of destination marketing in the digital context. It aims to identify the relevance of various online message cues that support the reputation of a destination in online media. The first part describes a theoretical investigation of the operationalization in multiple dimensions of opinions expressed online about a tourism destination. In the second part, a model for perceived online dominant opinion about tourism destinations is developed and tested. The research builds upon evidence from studies of organizational reputation in which the analysis of the intangible assets of an organization are defined by beliefs and attitudes shared among a group of stakeholders. It also builds on evidence from media effects and social psychology studies in which perceived public opinions are affected by several components, e.g., message cue characteristics, trust of online media, reputation seeker attitude, confirmation/disconfirmation of prior belief. Method and Results: The research was conducted using a mixed methods approach. A framework was proposed to capture the major topics dimensions, and the sentiment expressed in social media contents. Several tests of online content analysis case studies and user perception investigations were performed in order to refine the framework. The empirical investigation was conducted through a quasi- experimental design via an online survey with American respondents, focusing on the effects of online message cues in the confirmation/disconfirmation of prior beliefs. Results, analyzed using structural equation modeling (SEM), show that message characteristics and the attitude of web users toward being reputation seekers have a significant impact on opinions expressed about a destination in social media. Other positive correlations were found between reputation seekers and the perception of the message characteristics, in particular message sidedness, consistency, and the overall argument strength, which in turn led to a confirmation of prior belief. A weaker effect was found between the perception of a dominant opinion and trust toward online conversations. Alternative models and grouping analysis, which considered the role of the experience with the destination and the types of destination, were also performed. Findings and Implications: The main finding is that the attitude of being an online reputation seeker acts as an antecedent in the message elaboration process. Furthermore, the recognition of an online dominant opinion tends to be perceived as a source of information for the confirmation of prior beliefs. The findings contribute to the establishment of a theoretical base for the emergent field of reputation in online media in the tourism domain by providing evidence of the positive effects of online message cues on a perceived dominant opinion. The results have also practical implications, particularly the assessment of the vast amount of online conversations about how travelers perceive the destination. This enables destination- marketing organizations to design more effective strategies to attract prospective travelers and promote the value of a territory.
  • English
Information, communication and media sciences
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