The role of Social Media Platforms in influencing travel motivations, perceptions and expectation

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Tourism Industry in the wake of social media use

With regards to tourism, social media has been very instrumental in promoting tourism destinations, the search for information and the way people behave when it comes to making decisions all through social interactions on web-based platforms. E.g. the use of Facebook to share travel experience. Social media has been used as a promotional tool for the tourism industry by “both generating and acquiring information related to travel”, through user generated content (UGC) or consumer generated media (CGM) as described by (Narangajavana et al, 2017 p.1).
Through user generated content (UGC), social media impacts choice and perception of tourists. According to Narangajavana et al (2017, p.2), research on the impacts of social media’s user generated content (UGC) on tourism can be approached in two ways; by studying literature on the impacts of “general information” on tourism and the relationship between behavior and UGC on social media; exploring the intention to buy/use, attitudinal factors and their influence on the use and creation of UGC; and the creditability of the websites on which the UGC is posted and their impact on trip planning, and loyalty and the effect of electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) on the final destination choices”.
Another scholar, Sotiriadis, (2017 p.11) asserts that, the impact of social media on tourism can be seen from three perspectives; the consumer and provider perspectives and content analysis of published literature. From the consumers perspective, it is important to understand the impacts of the factors that motivate and influence tourists to generate UGC, as well as the impact of online reviews on the consumers behavior. From the providers perspective, the impacts of online reviews on tourism businesses are determined by the consumers. Contents generated on social media by tourists themselves boosts the level of trust and expectations of potential travelers. These personal experiences are assumed to be credible or verifiable based on similar/ shared experiences (photos, videos, blogs, podcasts, etc) of other travelers, resulting in an increasing rate of usage among potential travelers consulting trusted sources of eWOM information when planning a trip. Other sources of information likely to be used during the planning and decision-making process includes government sponsored tourism websites, travel agents, mass media advertising and other kinds of tourism information websites. Schroeder and Pennington-Gray (2014, p.4) includes that, potential tourists collects information from these several sources to form a pool of collective knowledge of information.
Another perspective from other scholars is that, the role of social media in tourism can have an impact on the marketplace; social media shapes the destination image and impacts tourists’ decision-making processes through perspectives and experiences (Munar and Jacobsen 2013, p.3; Yoo & Kim, 2013). Traditionally, before the onset of web-based platforms, the mass media was the main broadcaster of information regarding tourism destinations and shaped destinations’ image through several forms of communication including television, radio, newspapers, movies and so on. In the past two decades, social media emerged and as a web-based communication platform that reach an extensive range of audience who create and share their own contents.
Lueng et al (2013), states that social media can have two consequences on the marketplace in the tourism industry, either it fuels the relationship of consumers through the collection of consumer feedback or alternatively deteriorate consumers faith and market value. A negative portrayal of the destination by social media could also influence a potential traveler’s decision and perception. In dealing with challenges of social media on the marketplace, destination management organizations (DMO), can use three strategies; advertising strategy, mimetic strategy and analytic strategy (Lueng et al,2013). Mimetic strategy is when the DMO mimics the culture and style on social media for their own businesses, the advertising strategy basically involves the DMO using forms of publicity to solely advertise on social media to increase social media presence however the disadvantage is that it doesn’t facilitate interaction between the consumer and producer. The analytic strategy strives to figure out how user generated content develops in relation to the brand and how to transform it into strategic knowledge through artificial intelligence. The disadvantage of this is that is it quite costly.
From the marketplace perspective, branding is very important in the hospitality sector as it influences the destination image. Companies today have to face the tune of the market and it is mandatory that companies engage in all forms of communication channels, and as well as social media and other interactive technologies that engages generated user engagement in order to keep up with their consumers (Moro & Rita, 2018). This will encourage a positive increase in purchase expenditures.

Destination Choice

According to Karl et al (2015, p. 1), the processes involved in choosing travel destinations are very complex. Keshavarzian and Wu (2017), reason that the decision-making process of travel is multidimensional and multi-layered, taking place even before selection of the travel destination of choice, and occurring during and after physical travel.
Destination choice can be approached from several perspectives including microeconomic input-output approach and psychological, behaviouristic approaches. The main emphasis of the microeconomic input-output approach is on internal and external factors that influence the decision-making process, whereas psychological and behaviouristic approaches emphasize on the behaviour of tourists through travel (Woodside and Lysonski, 1989).
The decision-making process is characterized by the potential traveller questioning and answering questions like; why travel at all, where to travel, how long to be gone, what to do while travelling, where to stay, etc which are categorized into the cognitive and affective components (Crompton, 1992).
There are various models used to analyse and explain the processes involved in choosing destinations. These models focus on various aspects of destination choice, including but not withstanding travel motivations, destination image, travel decision-making efforts and so on. Some notable models are choice-set models, decision-net models, multi-destination travel models and general travel models.
Choice set model, Woodside and Lysonski, (1989) is a funnelling down process that is used by individuals to select or decide which single final destination to travel to, out of a set of numerous options. Decision net model explores travel decision by analysing the various facets of planning travel and their interrelations at an aggregate level (Dellaert et al. 1998). Multi-destination models are used to describe processes involved when there is more than one destination in question to be visited on a single journey (Lue et al, 1993).
General travel model is constructed under the consumer theory and the main emphasis of the model is to explore the processes that individuals go through in their destination choice and the factors and aspects of their life like culture, reference groups, the relationships between individuals and their environments, perceived risks, and family, that influences the tourist’s behaviour and impacts the individual’s decision processes. (Moutinho, 1987). In reference to the role of social media platform use, the choice set model is the most relevant model in analysing the decision-making process in the funnel-like aspect of decision choice. The choice set model provides information on how potential travelers chose a final destination during the planning stage of the trip and how they manage to make final decisions concerning the trip out of the vast majority of options they may have to choose from.

Choice Set Model

Adopted from the choice set theory by Woodside and Lysonski, (1989), the choice-set model Crompton (1992), explains the process of destination choice where the choice of a potential travel destination is funnelled down from a large set of options of potential travel destinations. The choice-set includes the subcategories awareness and unawareness sets. The awareness set comprises all the potential destinations that were considered in the initial stage of the decision-making process and the unawareness set refers to the all the destinations that weren’t put under consideration because the individuals were either unaware of their existence or had too little information about them.
Within the awareness set, potential destinations will be rejected or accepted based on the possibility to visit the destination in the set. The unavailable set may be rejected because of several reasons, example by being outside the financial capabilities of the traveller. Those that are rejected fall under the inept set and the rejection may be due to neither personal experiences at the destination or negative information and feedback about the destination from people. Within the inert set however, are the destinations that didn’t make the cut not because of any negative information or experience but rather due to a lack of sufficient information about the destination.
The potential destinations are accepted as options and taken under consideration fall within the evoked set from which a final destination choice is made. The criteria for selecting potential destinations is based on cognitive and affective components as well as the tourists’ orientation. The cognitive components are the physical attributes of the destination that makes them attractive and appealing to the potential travellers influenced by their perception of the place which is based on their motives and values (affective components).

Tourist Expectations, Experiences and Perceptions.

Social media platforms influence the travel motivations of potential travellers and their perception of destinations, acting as the pull factors that attract travellers and affect destination travel patterns (Lester and Scarles 2013; Butler 1990; Kim and Richardson 2003). Lester and Scarles (2013 p.13) propose that, through social media platforms, web-based platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc and other forms of media related tourism, the outlook of the world in terms of the observation of and knowledge about people, places, and events is impacted by the continuous communication, dissemination of information and mobility. The visual representation of people and places act as the pull factors that attract potential tourists to travel destinations. These visual representations generate impressions of a destination, creating expectations of what experiences are to be encountered in a destination by the potential traveller.

Tourist Experiences

There are several schools of thought on ‘the tourist experience’ and what it means. The various approaches to the study of tourist experience includes, the marketing perspective of Mossberg (2007), the psychological perspective of Larsen (2007), the sociological perspective of Cohen (2008), and the edutainment perspective of Hertzman et al (2008), which all show the dynamic and interactive nature of tourist experiences (Shen and Cheng, 2013 p.2).
Quan and Wang (2004) states that tourist experiences can be viewed as the distinctive contrast between daily life and heightened daily experiences during a trip. Quan and Wang (2004), explained that tourist experiences can be observed from two approaches, the consumer perspective which is presented by the tourism industry and the tourist’s perspective. Each approach provides insights to the tourist experience hence, it is essential for both approaches to be combined in the conceptualization of the tourist experience resulting in an embodied approach.
Urry (1990,p.100) on his perspective ‘the tourist gaze’ proposed that the experiences of the tourist is passively encountered through a ‘frame’ that presents ‘scenes’ that sparks the interest of the tourists’ gaze. Other scholars like McCannell (1976, p.23) argue that, tourist experiences are transformative experiences that are stimulated by the external environment. Furthermore, Sheng and Chen (2013 p. 3) asserts, as there are different types of tourists with different expectations and motivations, tourist experiences can be grouped into two main categories; active and passive experiences, determined by their “level of involvement”. Whereas active experiences include the experiences of travellers who engage in encounters that are escapists in nature and sometimes even create their own experiences, passive experiences are those that does not require active involvement but rather the participation of pre-laid out forms of entertainment.
For the sake of this research, Larsen’s (2007) psychological perspective will be taken into account as the interest is on the tourists’ personal experience rather than the sociological or marketing perspectives. Larsen (2007 p. 5) demonstrates that even though the study of tourism is multidisciplinary, it comprises the study of people, institutions and organizations, hence involving a mental and behavioural phenomenon that is best approached from a psychological standpoint. Tourist experiences is an embodiment of their expectations, perceptions and memories which displays the stages of their overall experience (Larsen,2007 p.5) and in the search of tourist experience, travellers purchase tourist products such as hotel rooms, meals, admission tickets, souvenirs, and tour bus rides among others and today the experiences sought for by travellers have become more experimental, innovative and imaginative (Sternberg, 1997).
Larsen (2007) indicates three stages of interaction between tourist and travel systems including expectations of the trip which occurs during the planning process, events that occur during the trip and memories that are created from the tourist events.



As defined by Skinner and Theodossopoulos (2011), the act or state of expectation refers to a series of interpretations that range from eager anticipation of an event, situation or person (whether feared or looked to) based on a belief of the consequence of one’s action (social norms, cultural etiquette etc) on corresponding positive or negative advantages (e.g. wealth). In tourism, expectations play an important role in determining the choice of destinations among potential travellers (Mlozi and Pesamaa, 2013 p.4).
Mlozi and Pesamaa, (2013 p.4) describe that, expectations shape the experiences of potential travellers whether positively or negatively the outcome may be. Before potential travellers embark on a trip, they expect satisfaction of perceived experiences at the choice of destination will be attained either through completing a sequence of actions and events or that their perceived satisfaction is guaranteed based on certain choice of behaviours. Their imagination of the destination serves as a motivating factor to expect a perceived experience (Skinner and Theodossopoulos, 2011). However, even though individuals can perceive that certain actions can lead to specific consequences, the certainty of those consequences is not assured hence leading them to make different choices as expectation is not comparable to reality (Mlozi Pesamaa, 2013 p.4).
Conferring to Larsen (2007), the positive or negative mood and emotions leading to corresponding outcomes then leads to the question of “why embark on a trip if you expect a negative outcome?’. He further explains that, humans have the tendency of overestimating outcomes and recognize the possibility of outcomes resulting in different consequences. Additionally, Larsen (2007 p. 6) states that the expectations formed before one embarks on a trip can depend on the personality traits of an individual e.g. worry. Worry can lead to fear and anxiety as a result of the way the media portrays situations, events and people in destinations for e.g. media report on terror attacks. The worry of potential tourists can affect the tourism industry in that destination due to perceived negative experiences through the decrease of visitation numbers.

Perception and Memory

Larsen (2007, p. 7) defines perception as the “interaction of the information in the current stimulus situation and various types of processes and mental structures in the individual that makes processing of such information possible”. During the trip, the perception of the overall experiences is mainly influenced by the peak experience (which is the most emotional and memorable moment of the trip) and the end experience (which is the emotional and memorable event at the end of the trip) (Fredrikson, 2000) regardless of the length of the event. This is due to the fact that, peak and end experiences are subjective and based on individual social or psychological traits as well as how they view the world around them especially in their search of uniqueness in their personal travels and experiences.
Furthermore, it is often assumed that the perception of destinations are the main motivating factors that pushes or pulls a tourist to a particular destination. However, Larsen (2007 p.8) argues that, tourists’ in their own right can create their own tourist experiences based on perceptions created by social and non-social stimulus as well their own values, opinions, worldviews, mental structure. Another notable discussion on tourist experiences is how the expected experience of tourists relates or correspond to their actual experiences. Larsen (2007 p.9) noted that, the ‘moment-to-moment’ accounts of tourist experiences were either greater or lower than their expected experiences and comparably, memories of experiences can push tourists to embark trip to repeat remembered experiences not necessarily in pursuit of the same experience but an experience that is as unique as their past travel experiences.
In conclusion, tourist experiences are influenced by memory and perceptive processes of tourists before, after and during physical travel and, its effect on how individual tourists subjectively choose peak and end experiences as well as their future travel expectation. And as memory is a selective process, it is essential to be aware of the role memory can play in the selection of information that is shared, or its influence on the overall experience and perception after a trip has been completed.

Decision-making process/ Destination choice.

During the pre-travel phase the students had to make decisions on destinations choice, considering several factors such as their travel motivations. This was influenced by the disposition of the students in terms of the perceptions of destinations and themselves, pre-existing travel interests, and their awareness of destination choice sets. The choices they made was based upon other factors such social media activity, their travel patterns, the purpose of their trip, travel expectations and their overall perceptions of tourism and what makes up a tourist.


All the students in one way or the other planned their trip. Some important details to them they considered included; where to stay, whether in Airbnb’s or hotels, what to eat, where to eat, the safety of the destination, the best time of year to visit, and accessible transportation among other things. Best described by interviewee 1, she states: Yes. I did. To be honest I looked up everything, from hotels to where to eat. Some things are very important to look up before travelling, example how safe it is, the best time of year to visit, how easy it is to get around and etc. I guess, the more I looked up information about the destination, the more I learnt about the places, and the more I learnt about the places, the more hyped I became to visit it. (Respondent 1).
Some planned their trip based on the activities they wanted to participate in. Example, one of the student’s visited south Africa based on her interest to engage in abseiling, sky diving etc and during the planning process, found a destination where she could participate in a few of those activities. Questionably, results reflected that some students stated they did no planning whatsoever before embarking on their trip. Example, when asked if they had any planning or itinerary for the trip, interviewee 5 responded as followed; Nope. We just winged it. (respondent 5) …Not really. It was mostly spontaneous decision making since we really didn’t have any plan in beforehand (respondent 5) … I know a friend who was on a similar trip and she told me about how it works and what the advantages are when traveling with interrail. (Respondent 5).
Not really, I let my friends plan everything since they knew the place better than I ever would. (respondent 3).
But even in such cases, the data subsequently reflected there was some planning made whether subconsciously or not. The trip was either planned by friends or family they travelled together with. In the end, all the students had their trips planned one way or the other.
Furthermore, after the respondents had made a decision about where they wanted to travel to, what they wanted to do and where they wanted to stay among other things, they were more hesitant to change their minds about their decisions. This was for several reasons, one being that the whole process of planning had built up anticipation and excitement for them in their choices. They had gained motivations to experience the destinations.
No not really, I was very excited about my trip to south Africa before it was booked and it was frankly all I could think about. I was looking forward to it so I didn’t give other places much thought if I am being very honest. (respondent 2).

Table of contents :

3.1 Social Media Platforms
3.2 Tourism industry in the wake of social media use
3.3 Destination choice
3.3.1 Choice Set Model
3.4 Tourist Expectations, Experiences and Perceptions
3.4.1 Tourist Experiences
3.4.2 Expectations
3.4.3 Perception and Memory
4.1 Methods
4.2 Data Sampling
4.3 Data Collection
4.4 Data Analysis
4.5 Ethical Considerations
4.6 Work Plan
5.1 The Pre-Travel Stage
5.1.1 Decision-making process / Destination choice
5.1.2 Planning
5.1.3 Travel Motivations
5.1.4 The role of social circle in influencing the decision-making process
5.1.5 The role of social media and web-based platforms in influencing the decision-making process
5.1.6 Travel expectations
5.2 The Travel Stage
5.2.1 Tourist activities
5.2.2 Travel Experiences
5.3 The After Stage
5.3.1 Influence of perception of destination on social media platforms and social circle
6.1 The role of Social Media Platforms during the entire travel process.
6.2 The Pre-travel stage
6.2.1 The role of Social Media Platforms in influencing travel motivations, perceptions and expectation
6.2.2 Understanding the role of Social Media Platforms on the destination choice using the choice set model The Awareness and Unawareness Set The Consideration and Exclusion Set Selecting a final destination
6.3 During travel stage
6.3.1 Social media platforms use and it’s influence on tourist experience
6.4 After travel stage
6.4.1 How the experiences encountered during the trip informs tourist perception


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