My research in brief

The impact of social media on consumer behaviour: 
Focus on leisure travel

Social media (social networking sites, blogs, microblogs, consumer review sites, content community sites, wikis, internet forums and location based social media) is all about enabling people to express and share ideas and thoughts with others, but also enabling them to connect to others, like they were doing for the last thousands of years. What is of significance however is that social media (a) removed spatial and time constrains that were inherent in traditional methods of communications; (b) provided online tools that enable one to many sharing of multimedia content; and (c) employ easy to use interfaces that enable even non-specialists to share and connect. During the last years social media are enjoying a phenomenal success in terms of adoption and usage levels, causing paradigm shifts on how people connect and communicate to each other, on how they share and express ideas and thoughts, and even on how they engage with brands. Moreover, social media became significant networks of consumer knowledge that influence consumer behaviour. In tourism, social media seem to play an important role in information search and decision-making behaviours, primarily due to the experiential nature of tourism products: Tourism and travel related purchases are considered risky, and information intensive in terms of their decision making process. As a result social media impacts on the travel industry have already been described as tremendous.
The academic literature evidences an adequate number of studies that attempt to reveal the role and impact of social media on consumer behaviour during the travel planning process.  However, almost all of the studies employ a micro approach, being either: (a) social media type specific (i.e. consumer review and rating websites); (b) application specific (i.e.; (c) decision making process stage specific (i.e. information search); or (d) travel planning stage specific (i.e. before travel). Despite the advantages of such micro approaches, there is a need of a comprehensive, landscape picture via a wide-angle lens, exploring the overall impact and role of social media, focusing equally on each stage of the travel planning process, and attempting to cover all stages of the decision making process.  Such a macro approach will provide insights on the usage of social media during each of the stages within the travel planning process, as well as each of the stages of the decision making process. My research attempts to address this gap, having as its aim to explore the role, and impact of social media, as a whole, on consumer behaviour before, during and after the consumption of holiday tourism products. More specifically my research attempts to answer the following questions:
  1. How are social media used throughout the holiday travel cycle?
  2. How are social media used during the holiday destination and accommodation decision making process?
  3. What is the extent to which social media are used during the holiday travel cycle?
  4. What are the reasons that drive holidaymakers to use social media in their holiday travel planning process?
  5. What is the perceived level of social media influence on holiday related decisions?
  6. What are the differences in the perceived level of social media influence among the different holiday trip characteristics?
The nature of the above questions, being both qualitative and quantitative, requires the selection of a research design that can address both types. On the research design continuum between quantitative and qualitative designs, my research adopts a mixed methods research approach, and more specifically a partially mixed sequential equal status design. In terms of research paradigm, mixed methods is seen as distinct from either quantitative or qualitative monomethod approaches. As a result, mixed methods does not involve only collecting and analyzing both qualitative and quantitative data, but both approaches are used in tandem to create a synergy. In terms of data collection, the qualitative phase involves a number a focus groups, while the quantitative phase involves an online survey.
From an academic perspective, I hope that my research will prove useful to scholars as it will provide a refined framework on the overall impact of social media on holiday travel related consumer behaviour, thus enabling researchers to focus more effectively at micro level, both before, during and after the holiday trip. From an industry perspective, as it is often argued that interpreting, and therefore attempting to influence consumer behaviour is the kernel of marketing management, I hope that such research will enable tourism and hospitality marketers to understand the role and impact of social media and therefore develop more efficient and effective marketing strategies throughout the holiday travel cycle.

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