Customer engagement (CE) has emerged as a major research stream in marketing, attracting significant research attention since 2010. CE became important because it impacts either directly (e.g., increased market share, sales, and profit margin) or indirectly (e.g., enhanced feedback efficiency, customer social capital, and relationship quality) firm performance (Verhoef et al., 2010), and creates value for the actors involved (Tsiotsou, 2021). Accordingly, tourist engagement (TE) has attracted research and managerial interest in tourism services due to its positive effects on tourist behavior such as usage (Harrigan et al., 2017), purchase intentions (Tu et al., 2018), patronage (Giebelhausen et al., 2017), and word-of-mouth (Choi & Kandampully, 2019). Moreover, research shows that engaged tourists demonstrate high levels of trust (Rather, 2019), satisfaction (Sharma and Sarmah, 2019), loyalty (Chen & Rahman, 2018), advocacy (Bilro et al., 2018), and they create value for themselves, other tourists, and tourism firms (Tsiotsou, 2021). According to a recent review of the literature conducted by Hao (2020), engagement-related research in tourism can be organized into six main streams: CE, employee/work engagement, community/resident engagement, institutional/hotel engagement, student/learner engagement, and civic/volunteer engagement. CE attracted most research attention while online TE is gaining popularity due to its increasing importance.
This chapter considers online reviews in the realm of engagement research to understand how value is created in this context. As an expression of active TE, online reviews are of particular interest to both tourism academics and practitioners because they create value for their writers, other tourists, and tourism businesses. Therefore, the purpose of this chapter is to advance our understanding of TE expressed as online reviews and value creation in this environment. The objectives of the chapter are threefold: a) to synthesize the most relevant literature on online tourist reviews and present their value creation outcomes for the main actors involved, b) to identify research gaps, and c) to provide future research directives. To that end, a value creation conceptual framework, ValCOR, is proposed, which includes the motives/benefits, moderators, and value-related outcomes of online reviews for review writers, other tourists, and tourism firms. The proposed framework assists in identifying knowledge gaps and provides future research recommendations.
The chapter is organized as follows. First, the concept of engagement is discussed. Then, the proposed framework is presented, and the chapter concludes with an epilogue that provides future research directives.
The Concept of Engagement
Van Doorn et al. (2010, p. 254) defined engagement as a “customers’ behavioral manifestation toward a brand or firm beyond purchase, which results from motivational drivers”. Brodie et al. (2019, p.183) consider engagement as “a dynamic and iterative process, reflecting actors’ dispositions to invest resources in their interactions with other connected actors in a service system“. Engagement is a multidimensional concept consisting of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral elements resulting from interactive customer experiences with focal points within service relationships (Brodie et al., 2019).
The intensity of CE has attracted significant research attention. The intensity of CE has been considered either as a dichotomy or as a continuum. In line with the dichotomy perspective, customers may be either actively (e.g., evaluate service performance, post comments, and material, and repost others’ comments and material) (Sweeny, Payne, & Frow, 2020; Tsiotsou, 2020) or passively/parasocially engaged (e.g., read other customers’ evaluations, view comments and uploaded material, and observe others’ conversations) offline and/or online (Tsiotsou, 2021; Tsiotsou, 2016; Tsiotsou 2015). Active CE might include learning (cognitive), sharing (behavioral), advocating (affective-behavioral), socializing (behavioral), co-developing (behavioral) (Brodie et al., 2013), and value co-creating (behavioral) (Tsiotsou, 2021). Passive CE is considered parasocial behavior because it is a one-sided interaction (Tsiotsou, 2015; Tsiotsou, 2016), often known as “lurking” or “passive participation” or “passive consumption”. However, other scholars view CE as a continuum of different intensity levels (from low to high) such as reacting, commenting, sharing, and posting (Barger et al., 2016) or consuming (low engagement level), contributing (middle engagement level) and creating (high engagement level) (Muntinga et al., 2011). In line with this reasoning, online reviews posted by tourists can be considered as an expression of high intensity engagement involving cognitive, emotional, and behavioral aspects. The intensity of CE has not been clarified yet in the literature because previous research identifies context-dependent behaviors (e.g., social media) and cannot be applied to both offline and online environments.
The terms “online customer engagement“, “online engagement“, “online customer engagement behavior“, “user engagement“, “social media engagement,” and “media engagement” found in the literature denote CE with social media (Tsiotsou, 2021). Hao (2020, p. 1845) considers online CE as “customers’ engagement with ﬁrms’ online platforms, such as SNSs, booking websites, virtual communities, OTA and mobile App“. Thus, online CE can be defined as interactions mediated by any online platform, website, virtual community, and mobile app.
A Value Creation Framework of Online Reviews (ValCOR)
Based on a review of the extant literature on online reviews in tourism, the results of previous studies are critically evaluated and synthesized into the proposed framework, called ValCOR (Va from the first syllable of Value and COR from the first letters of Creation, Online, and Reviews). ValCOR is a multi-actor framework that shows how value is created via online reviews for three main actors: the writers of the reviews, other tourists, and tourism firms (Figure 1). The ValCOR framework provides a better understanding of the role of reviews and their value creation outcomes to the main actors involved. Embracing the SDL view, value is understood here as perceived by the beneficiary. Thus, value is created by and for the writers of the reviews when their motives are satisfied (e.g., gaining respect and recognition) and related benefits are gained. Other tourists gain value from the reviews because they provide several benefits (e.g., useful information and reduced risk). Other tourists create value for the review writers and tourism firms with their reactions to those reviews (e.g. indicating how helpful the review was). Tourism businesses obtain value as well in the form of increased knowledge (e.g., identify weak service touchpoints and getting ideas for new services) and performance (e.g., increased sales) whereas with their response to these reviews they also create value for the writers and for other tourists. ValCOR takes a holistic perspective by explaining value destruction in online reviews as well. The proposed framework identifies fake reviews as a significant factor that destroys the value of online reviews and explains how they harm the tourism ecosystem.
Value Creation Outcomes for Review Writers. Tourists have several motives when engaging in online reviews. In the literature, internal motives such as gaining respect and recognition, increasing self-esteem, maintaining and/or augmenting social capital, increasing social bonds, enjoying the online activity, altruistic motives (helping others and preventing them from making bad choices), and achieving enhanced cooperation have been reported (Baym, 2010; Chang & Chieng, 2011; Munar & Jacobsen, 2014). Furthermore, active engagement in an online travel community improves one’s sense of belonging, leading to increased knowledge sharing (Qu & Lee 2011). When tourists share their vacation experiences, they include not only the attributional aspects of their holidays (for example, prices, weather conditions, beaches, and other attractions), but they also express their feelings and emotions, imaginations, and fantasies (Baym, 2010). Yoo and Gretzel (2008) found that tourists are acquiring the following benefits when writing online travel reviews: enjoyment, collective power over companies, venting negative feelings, self-enhancement and are motivated by their concerns for other consumers’ intentions, for helping the company, and for expressing positive feelings.
Dixit, Badgaiyan, and Khare (2019) reported that perceived behavioral control and subjective norms significantly predict online review writing intentions in the context of restaurants. However, reviews are not always positive. When tourists experience service failure, their motives for posting a negative online review range from warning others (Wetzer, Zeelenberg, & Pieters, 2007) to taking revenge (Dixit, Badgaiyan, & Khare, 2019; Wetzer, Zeelenberg, & Pieters, 2007).
Several factors influence the motives, valence, and volume of online reviews. Gender, age, and culture are the most prominent ones in tourism research. Regarding the role of gender and age in online reviews, the literature indicates mixed results. According to Yoo and Gretzel (2008), there are gender differences in the motives of online reviews. Females write online reviews to “help the company,” “enjoy themselves,” and have “positive self enhancement,” whereas male online review writers are motivated by “collective power” and “emitting negative feelings.” Furthermore, Mangold and Smith (2012) have found that males upload more often reviews to express their opinions about services than females. On the other hand, Bronner and De Hoog (2011) found no significant gender differences in motivations. Moreover, Tsiotsou (2019) did not identify gender differences either in hotel evaluations or in the number of reviews posted on TripAdvisor.
In relation to age, Yoo and Gretzel (2008) did not find any significant differences in motivations. Tsiotsou (2019) confirmed the lack of age differences in hotel evaluations and the number of online reviews. Contrary, Bronner and De Hoog (2010) reported significant age differences: 35–55 old are “least self-directed” and “more motivated to help others” than the low- and high-age groups, while tourists under 55 contribute more online reviews than the other age groups. Gonçalves, Silva, and Martins (2018) suggest that the role of gender and age on the relationship between motives and online reviews is more complex than it has been previously considered. For example, they reported gender differences only in certain age groups, such as females older than 35 years. The complexity of these factors may explain the mixed results in literature.
In addition, culture plays a significant role in online reviews. Cross-cultural research identifies cultural differences in tourism services evaluations and indicates that customers from different cultures perceive and evaluate service quality in a different way (Tsiotsou, 2019; Witkowski and Wolfinbarger, 2002) while they focus on different service aspects in their evaluations (Mattila, 1999; Tsiotsou, 2019).
Value Creation of Online Reviews to Other Tourists. Reports show that each year hundreds of millions of potential visitors (463 million monthly average unique visitors) consult online reviews (Tripadvisor.com. 2021). Specifically, research indicates that 95% of tourists read travel reviews prior to booking, with leisure travelers spending on average 30 minutes in online reviews prior to booking a hotel while 10% of travelers spend more than one hour (Ady & Quadri-Felitti, 2015). Online tourist reviews can benefit other tourists by serving two purposes: first, providing information about tourism services, and second, by acting as recommendation platforms (Park et al., 2007). Online reviews about travel destinations, hotels, and tourism services benefit other tourists because they are a valuable source of information when planning their travel (Litvin et al., 2008; Xiang et al., 2015). They provide other tourists convenience, quality assurance (e.g., price and best value for money), social reassurance, and risk reduction (Kim, Mattila, & Baloglu, 2011). Online reviews are considered the second most trusted source of service information following recommendations from friends and family (Zhang et al., 2016). According to Cone Research (2011), 80% of consumers reverse their purchase decisions after reading negative consumer reviews, while 87 percent affirm their purchase decisions after reading positive consumer reviews.
Online reviews are particularly influential because they are written from a consumer’s perspective and thus provide an opportunity for indirect experiences (Bickart & Schindler, 2001). Reviews are perceived as more credible, current, enjoyable, and reliable than marketing information (Smith et al., 2005) provided by tourism firms (Gretzel & Yoo, 2008). Furthermore, reviewer expertise and reputation/status in a review platform, emotions (negative vs. positive), and language complexity are positively related to consumer attitudes and trust toward online reviews (Baker & Kim, 2019; Filieri, 2015) and purchase intentions (Baker & Kim, 2019, Zhao et al., 2015). Online tourist reviews are beneficial in the trip planning process because they provide ideas, make decisions easier, make the planning process more enjoyable, and boost confidence by lowering risk and making it easier to imagine what places will be like (Gretzel & Yoo, 2008).
Value Creation of Online Reviews to Tourism Businesses. Research results highlight the importance of online reviews to value creation and business performance in tourism (Tsiotsou, 2019; Vermeulen & Seegars, 2009; Ye et al., 2009). Tourism firms can create value from online reviews by identifying desirable features or flaws of their services (Zhang et al., 2016) and adding or improving them (Tsiotsou, 2019). Vermeulen and Seegars’ (2009) have shown that exposure to online reviews enhances both positive and negative tourists’ attitudes towards hotel consideration. Positive reviews actually increase tourists’ attitude towards the hotels under investigation especially in less known hotels. Ye et al. (2011) show that traveler reviews have a significant impact on online sales, with a 10 percent increase in traveler review ratings boosting online bookings by more than five percent. Additionally, variance/polarity of word-of-mouth for reviews had a negative impact on sales volumes. A 10% increase in review variance decreased sales by 2.8%. Ye et al. (2009) reported that hotels with higher star ratings received more online bookings, but room rates had a negative impact on the number of online bookings. In sum, their findings support that tourist online reviews have an important impact on online hotel bookings. Furthermore, high review ratings influence positively services’ price (Kim et al., 2015), increase sales (Kim et al., 2015), lead to higher revenue per availability (Phillips et al., 2015), and a higher market share (Duverger, 2013).
Because of the significance of online reviews, many tourism businesses worldwide have implemented an online review management strategy or system. Online responses, for example, are very effective for extremely dissatisfied customers. Furthermore, when a company handles customer complaints effectively, it can turn negative online reviews into positive ones (Van Doorn et al., 2010). As a result, many tourism firms have chosen or plan to respond to feedback or guest complaints online (Levy et al., 2013). Responding to customer reviews has traditionally been regarded as the first step in social media management (Gu & Ye, 2014). Nowadays, tourism businesses recognize the value of effectively managing online reviews by doing more than just responding to them. They are developing online review management systems to collect customer feedback from various social media platforms and improve various aspects of their service operations.
Current literature has identified several moderating factors in the relationship between online reviews and their business related outcomes. These factors include valence (Wang & Hung, 2015), volume (Xie et al., 2014), and variation of consumer reviews (Melián-González et al., 2013), review-based product rankings (Filieri & McLeay, 2014), perceived usefulness (Liu & Park, 2015), trust in online reviews (Filieri, 2015), brand reputation (Vermeulen & Seegars, 2009), and management responses to consumer reviews (Liu et al., 2015). For example, the valence of online reviews positively influences consumers’ expectations and hotel booking intentions (Ladhari & Michaud, 2015), with positive reviews being more effective than negative ones in increasing consumers’ purchase intentions (Tsao et al., 2015).
Fake Online Reviews as a Form of Value Destruction. According to BrightLocal research (2019), 82% of consumers have read a fake review in the previous year, indicating that fake reviews are becoming a common phenomenon and a significant problem in the online environment. Specifically, it is estimated that approximately one-third of reviews are fake or contain falsified elements (Streitfeld, 2012). In 2018, the well-known tourism platform in China, Mafengwo.com, was accused of faking 85% of all its reviews (18 million out of 21 million reviews) by duplicating online reviews from competitors (Zhao, 2018). Hunt (2015) views fake online reviews as false, misleading, and deceptive communications in a digital environment that do not “reflect the genuinely held opinion of the author.” Fake reviews are intentionally written reviews that appear authentic to deceive consumers and mislead them in their purchasing decisions (Zhang et al., 2016). Because most online platforms do not have specific posting restrictions and require little information, they facilitate the creation of fictitious reviews (Zhang et al., 2016).
Due to their significant influence on tourists’ perceptions, many tourism firms and platforms often manipulate online reviews in different ways. Moreover, consumers acquiring specific incentives may engage in fake reviews. Tourist firms may post positive fake reviews for their services or negative fake reviews against their competitors for financial gains. Tourism platforms are also inclined to review manipulations and add fake reviews to increase traffic and consumer engagement (Lee, Qiu, & Whinston, 2018). In addition, tourists may post fake reviews to gain self-benefits (e.g., a free room or a discount) and for others (e.g., charities) based on their sense of power (Choi et al., 2017). Intentionally distorted communications misrepresenting tourist consumption experiences in the form of exaggerated eWOM (too positive or too negative) have also been labeled as fake reviews (Baker & Kim, 2019; Harris et al., 2016). Fake and exaggerated reviews undermine the credibility and trustworthiness of the reviews as a whole (Zhang et al., 2016) and co-destroy value for all actors involved (Baker & Kim, 2019) such as tourists, tourism firms, and platforms.
The rapid development of web 2.0 applications has empowered tourists and allowed them to engage with tourism providers and other tourists. However, TE is not confined to the service encounter but extends to the pre and post-encounter stages of the tourism service consumption process (Tsiotsou & Wirtz, 2015). In the post-encounter stage, tourists are creating a large number of online reviews about tourism services such as hotels, travel services, restaurants, and museums. Online reviews posted by tourists on websites, social media, and third-party sites are technology-mediated interactions with tourism firms and/or other tourists, reflecting a high level of engagement. TE in the form of online reviews may create or destroy value in the tourism ecosystem. The proposed framework, ValCOR provides an understanding of how value is created through online reviews for the writers, other tourists, and tourism firms while it considers the catastrophic role of fake reviews on value creation. Moreover, the proposed framework assists in identifying research gaps in the extant literature. Thus, the chapter identifies some directions for future research. The proposed framework shows that the motives and benefits acquired by tourists for posting a review are a well-researched area.
However, online reviews research is evolving and will continue to progress in the coming years. Therefore, it becomes imperative to understand how this form of engagement may benefit or harm the actors involved in the tourism ecosystem. To this end, comprehensive conceptual frameworks are needed to explain the value creation/destruction process in high-engagement contexts such as online tourism reviews. Recently, Tsiotsou (2021) has proposed an integrative framework combining relational dialectics with the SDL service ecosystem view in explaining value co-creation/destruction in the social media ecosystem. Her approach may provide valuable insights into how value can be created/destroyed via online reviews in general and in tourism in particular.
Moreover, several online platforms have recently introduced a new feature that further increases TE because it allows the uploading and attachment of pictures/videos to reviews. As a result, research is required to understand the motivations and benefits that review writers gain from uploading rich media, given that they need to sacrifice more time and effort in preparing, selecting, and providing this material. Tourism research shows that posts with photos tend to attract more attention from other consumers on social media (Kwok et al., 2015). Thus, research is needed to understand how rich media with positive or negative content reviews create and/or destroy value for the writers, other tourists, and tourism businesses.
In order to have a complete profile of the review writers and their credibility, online review platforms are requiring more information about their travel experiences (e.g., cities and countries visited), which, when combined with the uploading of rich media, may raise data protection and privacy concerns. Thus, future research should examine how and when rich media in online reviews may destroy value for the review writers.
The online ecosystem in tourism involves multiple actors such as the review writers, other tourists, firms, third-party platforms, robots, and advertisers, requiring broader conceptual approaches (Tsiotsou, 2021). Moreover, more empirical research is needed to advance our knowledge in how all these actors, through their engagement, integrate resources to co-create/destroy value in tourism (Tsiotsou, 2021). Furthermore, the rise of robot use in tourism services leads to several questions: how tourists’ engagement with robots will influence their motives and their review posting behavior and content? How do reviews about experiences and engagement with tourism robots affect value creation/destruction for other tourists and tourism firms?
Given the prevalence of fake reviews and reputation scandals, more research is needed to understand consumer perceptions of trustworthy and untrustworthy content in online reviews (Filieri, 2016). As the online tourism ecosystem involves multiple actors, future research should focus on the impact of fake reviews on all these actors and the mechanisms/measures they use to deal with them (e.g., report, take legal actions, or ignore) and secure their trustworthiness. Moreover, the interplay between real/fake reviews and positive/negative reviews in creating/destroying value in tourism is another interesting research avenue.
Due to social distancing restrictions, several tourism services are offered virtually (e.g., virtual tours to museums or destinations). Research is needed to understand online review behavior and similarities/differences in online reviews after virtual tourism experiences.
Tourists from various countries and cultures write online reviews about tourism services. However, limited research has examined cultural differences in this context (Tsiotsou, 2019). Thus, both conceptual and empirical research is needed into the role of culture on the motives, moderators, volume, valence, and type of reviews (real vs. fake) posted by tourists to shed light on this crucial area in tourism. Furthermore, cultural differences should be examined in relation to other tourists who read the reviews and how they perceive and react to the various types of reviews, valence, and volume. Moreover, cross-cultural research is needed to understand tourism firms’ reactions and value creation/destruction processes in the online review context.
In sum, as online reviews in tourism evolve, the topic will continue to spur research interest because it is important to both academics and practitioners. This chapter provides some insights into the phenomenon and identifies valuable future research directions.
Written by Rodoula H. Tsiotsou, University of Macedonia, Greece
Read Rodoula’s letter to future generations of tourism researchers
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Additional Publications on Tourism by Rodoula H. Tsiotsou
Tsiotsou, R. & Vlachopoulou, M. (2011). Understanding the Effects of Market Orientation and E-Marketing on Service Performance. Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 29 (2), 141-155.
Tsiotsou, R. & Ratten, V. (2010). Future research directions in tourism marketing. Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 28 (4), 533-544.
Tsiotsou, R. (2010). Delineating the role of market orientation on service performance: A component-wise approach. The Service Industries Journal. 30 No 3, 357-403.
Tsiotsou, R. & Vasioti, E. (2006). Satisfaction: A segmentation criterion for ¨short-term¨ visitors of mountainous destinations. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing. 20(1), 61-74, The Haworth Press, Inc.
Tsiotsou, R. & Vasioti, E. (2006). Using demographics and leisure activities to predict satisfaction with tourism services in Greece. Journal of Hospitality and Leisure Marketing. 14 (2), 61-72.
Tsiotsou, R. (2006). Using visit frequency to segment ski resort customers. Journal of Vacation Marketing. 12 (1), 15-26.
Tsiotsou, Rodoula H., & Goldsmith, Ronald E. (2012). Strategic Marketing in Tourism Services, Emerald. ISBN 9781780520704.
Tsiotsou, R. H. (2012). Introduction to Strategic Marketing in Tourism. In Strategic Marketing in Tourism Services by Tsiotsou, Rodoula H. and Goldsmith, Ronald E. (eds) Emerald. ISBN 9781780520704.
Tsiotsou, R. H. & Goldsmith, R.E. (2012). Target Marketing and its Application to Tourism. In Strategic Marketing in Tourism Services by Tsiotsou, Rodoula H. and Goldsmith, Ronald E. (eds) Emerald. ISBN 9781780520704.
Tsiotsou, R.H., Mild, A. & D. Sudharshan (2012). Social Interactions as Basis for Segmenting the Tourism Market. In Strategic Marketing in Tourism Services by Tsiotsou, Rodoula H. and Goldsmith, Ronald E. (eds) Emerald. ISBN 9781780520704.
Goldsmith, R.E. & Tsiotsou, R.H. (2012). Implementing Relationship Marketing In Hospitality and Tourism Management. In Strategic Marketing in Tourism Services by Tsiotsou, Rodoula H. and Goldsmith, Ronald E. (eds) Emerald. ISBN 9781780520704.
Goldsmith, R.E. & Tsiotsou, R.H. (2012). Introduction to experiential marketing In Strategic Marketing in Tourism Services by Tsiotsou, Rodoula H. and Goldsmith, Ronald E. (eds) Emerald. ISBN 9781780520704.