chapter  10
30 Pages

Travelers’ information search behavior

ByDogan Gursoy, Christina G. Chi

In today’s dynamic global environment, understanding how travelers acquire information is important for marketing management decisions and designing effective marketing communication campaigns and service delivery (Gursoy and McCleary, 2004a, 2004b). Understanding the information search behavior of key current and prospective markets can help destinationmanagers andmarketers develop target-marketing communications more effectively, because information search represents the primary stage in which marketers can provide information and influence travelers’ decisions (Gursoy, 2001; Schmidt and Spreng, 1996). Application of basic market segmentation techniques, using travelers’ information source utilization patterns as either a segmentation base or descriptor, enables focused positioning and media selection. Certainly, understanding external information source utilization can help marketers effectively tailor the promotional mix. Therefore, it is not surprising that consumer’s information search has been one of the most examined subjects and one of the most enduring literature streams in consumer research (Schmidt and Spreng, 1996). Marketing and consumer behavior researchers have been examining the consumer’s pre-purchase information seeking behavior at least since 1917 (e.g., Copeland, 1917), and even today most consumer informationprocessing and decision-making models include pre-purchase information search as one of the key components (e.g., Engel et al., 1993; Howard and Sheth, 1969). There have been three major theoretical streams of the consumer

information search literature (Gursoy 2001; Gursoy and McCleary, 2004a; Schmidt and Spreng, 1996; Srinivasan, 1990). The first is the psychological/motivational approach, which combines the individual, the product class, and the task-related variables such as beliefs and attitudes and involvement (Beatty and Smith, 1987). The second is the economics approach, which uses the cost-benefit framework and the economics of information theory (Stigler, 1961) to study information search (e.g., Avery, 1996). The third stream is the consumer information processing approach, which focuses on memory and cognitive information processing theory (e.g., Coupey et al., 1998; Johnson and Russo, 1984). Like the consumer behavior and marketing fields, conceptual and

empirical examinations of the information search behavior have a long tradition in the hospitality and tourism literature (e.g., Etzel and Wahlers, 1985; Fodness and Murray, 1997, 1998, 1999; Gursoy, 2001, 2003, Gursoy and McCleary, 2004a, 2004b, Perdue, 1985; Raitz and Dakhil, 1989; Schul and Crompton, 1983; Snepenger and Snepenger, 1993; Woodside and Ronkainen, 1980). Past research has identified a large number of factors that are likely to influence travelers’ information search behavior. Previous studies in the area has focused on developing typologies of consumers’ information search strategies, using

• • •

nearly 60 variables that are likely to influence external information search (Srinivasan and Ratchford, 1991). As noted by Schmidt and Spreng (1996), these typologies included several aspects of the environment (e.g., difficulty of the choice task, number of alternatives, complexity of the alternatives), situational variables (e.g., previous satisfaction, time constraints, perceived risk, composition of traveling party), consumer characteristics (e.g., education, prior product knowledge, involvement, family life cycle, socio-economic status) (Gursoy, 2001, 2003; Gursoy and McCleary, 2004a, 2004b) and product characteristics (e.g., purpose of the trip, mode of travel) (Fodness and Murray, 1998, 1999). Even though several researchers concluded that information search behavior could be conceptualized as a series of interrelated behaviors, there have been only a few attempts to model the interrelationships among these factors. Notable exceptions are Maute and Foresster (1991), Moorthy et al. (1997), Punj and Staelin (1983) and Srinivasan and Ratchford (1991) in the field of consumer behavior and marketing and Gursoy (2001), Gursoy and McCleary (2004a, 2004b), Vogt and Fesenmaier (1998) and Fodness and Murray (1999) in the field of hospitality and tourism. Most studies on travelers’ information search behavior followed one

of the twomost influential theoretical frameworks proposed to enhance the understanding of tourists’ information search behavior (Gursoy, 2001, 2003). The first theoretical framework, the strategic model, was proposed by Snepenger et al. (1990) and defines information search strategies as the combination of information sources used. The second theoretical framework, the contingency model, defines information search in terms of individual characteristics, effort, the number of sources used, situational influences, product characteristics, and search outcomes (Fodness and Murray, 1999; Gursoy, 2001, 2003; Schul and Crompton, 1983).