The Importance of Social Media for the Improvement of the Tourist Experience Offered by Rural Tourism Enterprises: The Case of the Alentejo

The Importance of Social Media for the Improvement of the Tourist Experience Offered by Rural Tourism Enterprises: The Case of the Alentejo

Marta Isabel Amaral (Department of Management, Polytechnic Institute of Beja, Portugal) and Ana Isabel Rodrigues (Department of Management, Polytechnic Institute of Beja, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1947-9.ch018

Abstract

Social networks and the use of social media have been gaining more and more importance in recent years and have had a very significant impact on the tourism sector. The way this influences activity can be seen in two ways. On the one hand, from the point of view of the consumer himself, especially the way in which tourists access information. On the other hand, social networks are used by tourism companies as a means to support their marketing activities, such as the promotion of tourism products. This chapter explores how rural tourism companies use social media as a way to improve the tourist consumer experience. By assessing managers of the rural tourism businesses in the Alentejo Region, Portugal, the aim is to identify entrepreneurs' perceptions regarding the factors that influence the tourism experience, the use of social media and their relationship with the improvement of the tourist experience and customer loyalty. It is possible to conclude that rural tourism establishments are no longer ignoring the important role of social media in promoting their tourism experiences.
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Introduction

It is clear from the authors consulted that price and quality are no longer the only points for competitiveness (Shaw & Ivens, 2005, cited by Veríssimo & Menezes, 2016). Today, the focus must be on a differential customer experience. It is important to highlight that tourist consumption goes beyond material goods; when the emotional aspects involved are considered, then it must focus on affective and cognitive aspects. This is the case even when tourist services have a clearly functional value for customers, such as hotels and transportation, because experiences can directly influence the process of evaluation of services and consequently the tourist experience (Veríssimo & Menezes, 2016).

Social media are changing the way society consumes and contributes to the creation of information. Technology now allows individuals to easily contribute their thoughts, opinions and creations to the Internet (Hays, Page & Buhalis, 2013). Their use has been gaining more and more importance in recent years and has had a very significant impact on the tourism sector. It has brought more interactivity to internet and forged the relationship between customer and firms (Veríssimo & Menezes, 2016). The way it influences activity can be viewed in two ways. On the one hand, from the point of view of the consumer himself, especially the way in which tourists access information, in particular to decide and plan their trip and to share their experiences. On the other hand, and for those who are interested in investigating, social networks are used tourism companies as a means to support their marketing activities, such as the promotion of tourism products (Danhil, Marzuki, Langgat & Fabeil, 2014; Zeng & Gerritsen, 2014).

In a study called “Digital Channels in Travel”, conducted by Deloitte and Facebook, it was concluded that social networks have an important role in the choice of travel and that is why companies in the industry should take advantage of this business opportunity (https://www2.deloitte.com/en/pages/consumer-business/articles/influencia-dos-social-media.html). Social media could be used by the hospitality industry as a tool to enhance marketing experience and to connect to customers, because thus it is possible to understand their needs and wishes, offering differentiated services, creating brand value and getting a competitive advantage over their competitors (Veríssimo & Menezes, 2016, p. 24).

So, the use of social media and on-line channels are new challenges for tourism enterprises in rural areas, particularly for hotel managers. These information and communications technologies (ICT) are a means by which tourism subsector companies can communicate with customers more easily; they make it possible to perceive consumer behaviour and to estimate the choices that the consumer may make in terms of accommodation. In this way, it has become indispensable to maintain a constant presence in these online channels, not only to take notice of what consumers are talking about in terms of the hotel accommodation in question, but also to determine the best communications strategy to undertake and which information should be made available, taking into account what the consumer is looking for.

This is the situation. However, many of these small and medium-sized hotel companies have been slow to adopt technologies due to lack of money and/or time, as well as a lack of knowledge about how they work (Oliveira, Correia & Fernandes, 2017).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social media: A variety of new sources of online information used by consumers to promote products, brands, services or even personalities.

Consumer-Generated Content: Online content from blogs, virtual communities, wikis, social networks, collaborative tagging, and media files shared on sites like YouTube and Flickr, the so-called social media.

Tourism Experience: Tourist behaviour related to the multi-sensory, fantasy and emotive nature of tourism products.

Experience Economy: Age where business must orchestrate memorable events for their customers, and that memory itself is the product, the experience.

Tourism Product: A combination of elements underpinned by impressions, interpretations, perceptions, sensations, and mainly by experiences that shape the tourist’s feelings and attitudes towards his or her visit.

Creative Tourism: Extension of cultural tourism, in which consumers seek interactive and dynamic experiences.

Rural Tourism: Form of tourism develops in rural areas (as opposed to the urban environment); supposes a reduced tourist offer; uses its own resources in the rural territory (natural, heritage and cultural) with a vision of sustainability.

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