‘The Impact of Culture on Tourists' Online Information Search Behaviour: Evidence from the UK and China

‘The Impact of Culture on Tourists' Online Information Search Behaviour: Evidence from the UK and China

Eleni Michopoulou (University of Derby, UK) and Delia Gabriela Moisa (University of Derby, UK)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0201-2.ch001
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Abstract

This chapter looks into the concept of culture and its impacts on travellers' online information search behaviour. The study is focused on two culturally diametric countries: United Kingdom and China (Hofstede, 2001) and they have been selected as case studies, representing values from the Western and the Asian cultures. In order to examine the effects of culture on online search behaviours, the research adopted a qualitative approach, and data was collected through interviews in order to enhance and elaborate the understanding on the subject studied. The results of this study show that culture influences the travellers' behaviour in the online environment, up to a certain extent, and as a result of this influences, different behavioural patterns between the British and the Chinese travellers emerged. Moreover, these findings bring implications for the marketers aiming at the British and the Chinese tourists, and they highlight the need to adopt different strategies in designing and marketing their tourism products for these two particular markets.
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Introduction

More than a decade has passed since the Internet was considered as this revolutionary ‘big thing’ that was changing everything, for the way we do business to the way we live (Buhalis & Law, 2008). However, today the impacts of the wide use of Internet are more apparent than ever. Considering the proliferation of the medium across the globe, it has become apparent that societies have been evolving and people’s lifestyles are changing. With a vast amount of information readily available, the Internet provides an opportunity for individuals in most parts of the world to connect, communicate and interact in an instant. During the year 2014, over 7 billion people had access to the Internet, an increase of 741.0% since the year 2000 (Internet World Stats, 2015), suggesting high rates of growth registered also in the travel sector. Developments in speed of networks, carrying capacities and search engines highly influence the numbers of travellers around the world using technology to plan and experience their travels (Buhalis & Law, 2008). Moreover, it has been recognized that the use of the Internet to search for travel information is highly more popular in contrast to traditional media, and this phenomenon continues to increase (Fesenmaier, Cook, Sheatsley & Patkose, 2009; Bai, Law & Wen, 2008; Tews & Merritt, 2007).

Recent statistics show that approximately 87% of the adult population in Great Britain uses the Internet (ONS, 2014). At the same time, the Asian market holds the highest numbers of Internet users in the world, with China accounting 632 million Internet users by the end of June 2014 (CNNIC, 2014). Considering this large population of Internet users, and the fact that China continues to be the largest outbound tourism market in the world for 3 consecutive years since 2012 (CIW, 2015), (together with the continuous increase in consumer spending), obtaining a better understanding upon the Chinese’s preferences and the role Internet plays in their decisions becomes particularly relevant. Due to the vast amount of information available, searching and purchasing tourism products might be a daunting task. While the online market continues to grow at a relentless pace, the Western companies are facing a tough challenge and they find themselves in direct competition with Chinese providers like Renren, Baidu, or Sina Weibo (ISN, 2012). By understanding how individuals from cultures with very different index numbers (Hofstede, 2001) search for travel information on the Internet, marketers can develop and improve their strategies and tailor their services so that potential travellers become able to successfully navigate through the impressive amount of information available online, benefiting both the consumers and the providers.

Various authors acknowledged the different motives depriving the Chinese tourists from traveling overseas and using the Internet as a helping tool for planning and/or booking and these include: limitations and considerations concerning the visa application, income, preparation process for travelling, language concerns on booking tools, and safety concerns when using online systems (Wong, 2012; Zhang, 2009; Li & Buhalis, 2006). Moreover, it is widely well-known that the Chinese government developed sophisticated methods to monitor and repress social-media activities, through ‘The Great Firewall’. The International Relations and Security Network (ISN) (2012) confirms that ‘’Beijing now sees the internet as a kind of safety valve for potential social unrest’’. In case of any public interest event such as a strike, an environmental disaster, or a corruption scandal, the Chinese government pays a group of bloggers such as the Fifty Cent Party to ‘shape’ public debate online (ISN, 2012). Moreover, the Chinese Internet landscape is very different from anywhere else in the world. The limitations China is facing in terms of accessibility to some of the world’s most famous search engines such as Google, social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, means that multinational Internet companies are facing difficulties in penetrating the Chinese market, and therefore tourism suppliers need to adapt to their culture and tailor their services. The main players are all Chinese, but they all have equivalents from the western part of the world.

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