The Comtur 2.0 project, in which professors from the Malaga, Vigo and Surrey (UK) campuses of the Universidad Rovira i Virgili participated, between 2013 and 2016 focused on studying the use and influence of social media and “communication 2.0” in making tourism-related decisions and in the brand image of destinations. Some quite useful applications for Spanish tourist destinations, right at a time when social media and “communication 2.0” are becoming indispensable tools in communicating and branding tourist destinations.
The primary objective of this project was to analyze the use of social media as a communication tool employed by tourist destinations and also how tourists themselves utilize social media in their search for information, in order to understand how it influences travellers’ decision making and brand image creation for destinations. Proposing practical recommendations useful for all Spanish tourist destinations on the use of social media proved to be quite a challenge.
The methodology applied in the said project is based on the study of the tourist destinations’ strategic planning involving social media, its effect on user shared content and the user opinions. For the first part, the strategic planning, interviews of communication executives responsible for the main tourist destinations in Spain were conducted and a survey was carried out of digital communication managers in these 36 sites designated for tourism.
Most acknowledged having a strategic plan and social media guidelines, affirming at the same time that this agenda is one of the themes shared in official accounts, with which they intend to increase the number of followers, moreso than improving individual engagement and active listening with tourists and potential tourists.
Next, more than two thousand messages and images were analyzed in the main social networks pertaining to these 36 destinations -Facebook pages, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr accounts- to assess tourist attractions, the emotions they generated and the impact destination-related content had on users. In this sense, a methodological technique of content analysis, with both quantitative and qualitative aspects, was applied. The main conclusion in this section: there’s still plenty of room for improvement in terms of generating conversation, utilizing a robust combination of different formats and setting the right tone in the digital communication promoting tourist destinations.
Finally, a survey was carried out with 800 people who traveled during 2016 in order to understand the information they seek and through what digital media, as well as the credibility they give to these channels; a discussion group was also convened to delve into more specific aspects of the survey.
Among the results worth highlighting in this part, it is striking that travelers give the most credibility to TripAdvisor, official Facebook accounts of destinations, travel blogs, official blogs of destinations and friends in social media, from which they fundamentally seek guidance on accommodation, excursions, leisure and tourist attractions before deciding to make a trip.
Finally, it is worth noting that approximately half of the respondents have shared negative messages about a trip they’ve made; signs that destinations are supposed to learn from to renew their strategies. Sometimes these messages get deleted, when they are deemed offensive.
What will be the next steps? Wha’s next? Bots, AI, big data? These changes require the tourism industry invest in these lines of research, as the benefits that they offer are already worthwhile.
Francisco Javier Paniagua
Professor of Communication at the University of Malaga