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Importance of Social Media in Tourism Industry

Social media is a highly researched topic (Leung et al. 2013; Pourfakhimi and Ying 2015; Xiang and Gretzel 2010; Zeng and Gerritsen 2014). Demand-side studies on social media in tourism have analysed the importance, use, and impact of social media for all travel phases, i.e. in the pre-travel, on-site, and post-travel phase (Leung et al. 2013; Zeng and Gerritsen 2014). Most of that research focuses on the pre-travel phase, in particular on the information search process (Leung et al. 2013).

Information search is perceived as key due to the potential of UGC to multiply the effect of traditional word-of-mouth (WOM) (Kaplan and Haenlein 2011b; Leung et al. 2013; Zeng and Gerritsen 2014). WOM is generally defined as ‘‘informal communications directed at other consumers about the ownership, usage, or characteristics of particular goods and services and/or their sellers’’ (Westbrook 1987, p. 261). The non-commercial and experiential nature of electronic WOM make social media a credible and rich information source for tourists (Leung et al. 2013; Litvin et al. 2008).

Supply-side studies in tourism have focussed on the use of social media for promotion, management, and research (Leung et al. 2013). For example, in a benchmark study on the level of implementation of ICT in destinations, Buhalis and Wagner (2013) compared to what extent DMOs use platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest for engaging with (potential) visitors. Hays et al. (2013) explored the usage of social media by the national DMOs of the top 10 international tourism destinations through a combination of content analysis and semi-structured interviews.

However, research has not yet sufficiently covered the measurement of the importance of tourism suppliers’ social media activities (Leung et al. 2013). Milwood et al. (2013) compared US with Swiss DMOs and found that the latter lag behind in the adoption of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media platforms. Indicative empirical evidence for the ROI of social media activities in the travel and tourism domain has been provided by Buhalis and Mamalakis (2015) based on a case study of one Greek hotel. By considering user activity on various social media platforms, data from Google Analytics for the hotel website, and data from the reservation and analytics platform WebHotelier, Buhalis and Mamalakis (2015) proved a positive relationship between the return and the investment of this one hotel into social media.

The difficulty of accessingorganizations’ investment or budget figures used for social media results in a lack of research looking at this relationship for organizations in general and for DMOs in particular. As DMOs are ‘‘the main vehicle to compete and attract visitors to their distinctive place or visitor space’’ (Pike and Page 2014, p. 202), empirical evidence on the effectiveness of social media activities at the destination level is highly desirable.
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