Since 1995, tourism and hospitality businesses have actively adopted the internet as a new distribution channel as well as marketing medium. The adoption of the internet provided the basis for the development of new systems linking consumers. Thus, the advent of e-travel agencies like Expedia, PerviewTravel, Priceline and TravelBids began to provide direct access to the travel market.
These new intermediaries provided new benefits for both consumers and suppliers because they further reduced transaction costs, increased volume discounts for consumers, and eliminated the coordination mechanisms from other sales channels. These innovations have been widely adopted by consumers to interact with tourism organizations and exchange opinions, experiences and encounters with the virtual communities (Xiang, Magninia & Fesenmaier, 2015). This enables the exigent consumers constantly getting the information throughout the entire phases of their consumption (Inversini, Xiang & Fesenmaier, 2015; Xiang, Wang, O’Leary & Fesenmaier, 2014; Simeon & Martone, 2016).
In addition to re-engineering and developing the whole range of tourism organizations, the internet has empowered the customers to identify, customize and purchase tourism products. The Web 2.0 and social media have been altering the behaviour of tourists in their information search, decision-making process and consumption response.
Tourists have no longer the only recipient of information and consumers of tourism services but they become the producers of information about tourism suppliers and destinations. Various web 2.0 and social media applications enables tourists to plan collaboratively, share information about new products and services resulting in the actual involvement of tourists in the business operations(Ip, Leung & Law, 2011).
Having got immediate access to information and product choices, the internet increased the bargaining powers of the customers. The internet has made the customer/ tourists to understand market offers and opportunities by constantly exposing them to the special offers. As they are given more offers, they start to compare the products and services through the web window.
The increasing convenience, transparency, flexibility, interactivity and depth of information greatly empowers the customers to have profound sayings on products, prices, packages, design, and quality (Daniele & Frew, 2005).Thus, these new applications transform consumers from passive consumers to active prosumers (producers and consumers) of travel experiences (Tsiotsou, &Ratten, 2010; Lin,2010).
The internet technologies benefits tourists by minimizing transaction costs, bringing higher quality products to the market, sharing market information, lowering uncertainty and aiding in distribution channel efficiently (Buhalis & O’Connor ,2005; Buhalis & Law, 2008). The internet as an influential technology started decommissioning the intermediary organizations and lessened the financial burdens of the tourists.
Tourism organizations able use the internet to directly communicate with the consumers on web-only fares and rates, passing on discounts that are generated from saved commissions and distribution charges made in a short value chain. The internet avails the consumers with multiple price options that can reduce the cost of travel and helped them to use a wide range of tools to arrange their trip.
They can easily made reservation with the help of online travel agencies such as expedia, search engines and meta-search engines (Google and Kayak respectively), destination management systems (such as visitbritain.com), social networking and web 2.0 portals (such as wayn and tripadvisor), price comparison sites (such as kelkoo) as well as individual suppliers and intermediaries sites (Law, Leung & Wong, 2004, Buhalis & Law, 2008).
The internet is one of the most prominent technologies that have altered travellers’ behaviour. Internet has dramatically increased the number of choices for consumers. Until the emergence of the internet, consumers could only access major brand names and also those organisations in their immediate vicinity. Consumers can now have much more choice for searching and subsequently purchasing on the internet. The choice is available from single product to dynamically packaging holidays (Law, Buhalis & Cobanoglu, 2014).
The advancement of internet technology has spectacularly transformed the manner in which customers search for information about, make their choice regarding, and purchase products or services (Zhu & Zhang, 2010). Customers are started guided by questions such as “How can I find the best attraction?”“Where is the best restaurant?,” or “Is a comfortable hotel really worth the money?” In order to find answers to these questions, customers started to consult online reviews post by others. Hence, user generated contents are very pertinent to both sellers and buyers (Schuckert, Liu & Law, 2015).
The internet has shifted the power balance from the suppliers to consumers. Even individuals managed to take over powerful organizations (Buhalis, 2004; Law, Buhalis & Cobanoglu, 2014). The internet assists the improvement of the service quality and contributes to higher guest/traveller satisfaction. The internet put the consumers in the middle of the functionality and product delivery and presumed to carry out the unique blend of experiences, motivations and desires entertained by every tourist (Buhalis & Law, 2008).
The dramatic development of interactive social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in recent years enabled the consumers to talk about their holidays, show pictures and videos, exchange ideas about possible holiday trips, and seek opinions and reviews of destinations, hotels, attractions, and countless other travel-related activities(,Xiang & Gretzel ,2010; Chuang et al., 2017).The travel web has created the incredibly influential virtual community/social networking who imposed sound pressure on marketing messages but facilitates consumer centric marketing or relationship marketing.
TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com) is amongst the most successful social networking/virtual community in tourism that facilitates the reviewing of all hotels around the world and brings together individuals in discussion forums. The system provides users with independent travel reviews and comments written from TripAdvisor members and expert advisors and provides a powerful platform for interaction between peers (Ayeh, Au & Law, 2013).
In terms of satisfaction and management, the internet technology and the user generated contents are the most common ways by which consumers place their complaints, express their feelings, comment on their satisfaction and rate the destination, hotel or service. For supply side and managers, the internet and user generated contents represents the best source of information about service delivery, service quality, customers’ need.
Hence, it enables tourism organizations to collect customer information before, during and after visit in order to understand customer choices, concerns and determinants and significantly helps them to self improvement (Schuckert, Liu & Law, 2015).