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  Web users ’  behavioural patterns of tourism information search: From onlineto of  󿬂 ine Chaang-Iuan Ho a , * , Meng-Hui Lin b , Hui-Mei Chen c a Department of Leisure Services Management, Chaoyang University of Technology, 168 Jifong E. Rd., Wufong District, Taichung 413, Taiwan b Graduate Institute of Leisure Services Management, Chaoyang University of Technology, Taiwan c Department of Horticulture, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan a r t i c l e i n f o  Article history: Received 8 December 2010Accepted 21 January 2012 Keywords: Tourism information searchOnline tourism information searchBehavioural tourism information searchmodel a b s t r a c t This paper presents a conceptual framework of Web users ’  engagement in tourism information search fora comprehensive understanding of their integrated online and of  󿬂 ine search behaviour. The informationsearch experiences are characterised as a process constituting some common elements: prior knowledgeand searching experiences, online searching strategies, processing and recording information, barriers toonline searching, reasons for ending an online search, summarising information, exchanging informationand searching for more information through other sources. Such behaviour goes beyond the scope of information searching and captures the other activities, including information processing, utilising anddisseminating. The grounded theory research method is employed as an inductive investigative processinwhich the authors construct the framework by systematicallycollecting and analysing data. The aim of this research method is to build a theory. The data sets consist of both semi-structured in-depth inter-views with subjects and their  󿬁 eld observations based on online searching. A theoretical model incor-porating 10 propositions is proposed for future testing.   2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. 1. Introduction 1.1. Background and purpose Withthe continuedgrowthofpopulationwhoregularlysurf theInternet, the World Wide Web (WWW) has become the indis-pensable channel for people seeking to use tourism information(Buhalis & Law, 2008). The Internet offers a rich environment forthe information and resources needed by potential travellers whoeitherwanttobrowsetheWebpagestogainfamiliaritywithandtolocate something of interest to them, or else desire to search ona given topic and retrieve the relevant information. The advantagesofonlinetourisminformationsearchincludetherelativelylowcost,customised information, ease of product comparison, interactivity,virtual community formation, and 24-h accessibility (Wang, Head,& Arthur, 2002).However, the Internet is not the only channel for tourisminformation searching. The information can be gathered electron-ically, or from other information sources such as guidebooks andword-of-mouth referrals(Pearce&Schott,2005). TouristsevenmixInternet and other non-media information sources, includingcommercial brochures and travel agents for planning trips (Seabra,Abrantes, & Lages, 2007). Gron 󿬂 aten (2009) indicated that tourisminformation search depends on both online and of  󿬂 ine modes.Little is known about how individuals search for tourism infor-mation using online and of  󿬂 ine sources, how they search fortourism information from online to of  󿬂 ine, or how they use themultiple information sources. The lack of studies in this regard isevidence that would support more research on this issue. Posingthe above questions is meaningful, since tourism informationsearch may be characterised as a process: information seekers  󿬁 rstdescribe a request via a query in the e-commerce environment andthen the WWW system locates information that matches orsatis 󿬁 es the request, after which they turn to other sources formore information.Exploringtourism informationsearch behaviourwith a combination of online and of  󿬂 ine modes is one way to gaina better understanding of the comprehensive search process, inparticular which activities form their search experiences and howthese activities occur sequentially during their searching.As far back as the 1980s, a few researchers (e.g., Ellis, 1989;Kuhlthau, 1987; Wilson, 1981) explored the library users ’ perspective ofinformationseekingbehaviourandproposed severalmodels of information search process. An individual ’ s searchprocess is assumed to follow a certain pattern. Based on this *  Corresponding author. Tel.:  þ 886 4 23323000x4342; Fax:  þ 886 4 2374 2363. E-mail address: (C.-I. Ho). Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect Tourism Management journal homepage: 0261-5177/$  e  see front matter    2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2012.01.016 Tourism Management 33 (2012) 1468 e 1482  rationale, online tourism information search may be viewed as theinteraction between information seekers and the online system. If the general search pattern could be identi 󿬁 ed and broken downinto the basic behavioural characteristics which are signi 󿬁 cant inde 󿬁 ning and maintaining the competitive advantages of e-commerce,suchamodelofsearchbehaviourwouldbeabletoserveas the basis for improving the interfaces and functionality of existing search systems. The varied needs of tourism informationsearchers may be considered by using more sophisticated systemsin the future. Furthermore, the dif  󿬁 culties that individualsencounter with the search process may be fully understood andtheir searchingexperiences subsequently improved.The marketersmay then analytically follow through in developing marketingstrategies step by step based on the search process. 1.2. Research purpose Themainpurposeof this studyisto developaconceptualmodelto articulate and delineate the searching attributes that describeWeb users ’  tourism information search behaviour. We attempt toanswer the following question: How do Web users describe theirtourism information search process? This research focuses on thebehavioural aspects of the search activities occurring during thesearch process. The central research question has the followingassociated research questions:- Is there a common pattern for tourism information search forWeb users?- What are the fundamental dimensions of the Web-basedsearch process model?The results gained from this research project will contribute to 󿬁 lling the gaps in the literature, including providing the con-ceptualisation of tourism information search behaviour occurringonline, of  󿬂 ine and in-between, thereby enabling research to moveforward to further empirically explore and understand the rela-tionships based on various information search activities. Theframework that integrates both online and of  󿬂 ine tourism infor-mation search behaviour, incorporating 10 propositions isproposed. However, the proposed theoretical model has not beenempirically tested. The existence of proposed relationships amongthe variables can neither be con 󿬁 rmed nor be discon 󿬁 rmed.It should be noted that the terms Web users and tourisminformation searchers are used interchangeably (and are some-times identical). The latter refers to those who usually use theInternet to search for various types of information, includingtourism information; their purpose in engaging in tourism infor-mation search may be to gain some experiences or to achievespeci 󿬁 c goals. These individuals apparently do not include thosewhodonotusetheWWWordonotsearchfortourism informationonline. 2. Literature review   2.1. Tourism information search Tourism information search includes internal search as well asthe multiple external information sources used. Beatty and Smith(1987) claimed that people usually attempt to search for informa-tion in their memory  󿬁 rst and, if an internal information sourcedoes not work, they then go out and search for relevant informa-tion. It is therefore useful to review the literature which focuses oninternal search and multiple sources of tourism information.Because of the increased attention paid to exploring tourisminformation search behaviour from the search process perspective,we also review prior work on these issues. Finally, we reviewexisting studies related to tourism information search on theInternet and examine the identi 󿬁 ed search patterns.  2.1.1. Internal tourism information search Past studies indicatethattourism informationsearchis initiatedby internal search by retrieving the personal experiences witha speci 󿬁 c destination or a similar one (e.g., Chen & Gursoy, 2000;Fodness & Murray, 1997; Vogt & Fesenmaier, 1998) and theknowledge accumulatedthroughanongoing search(e.g.,Schul andCrompton, 1983; Vogt & Fesenmaier, 1998). The internal informa-tion is derived from previous experiences and past informationsearches. The information is processed and stored in the tourists ’ long-term memory which then forms their prior knowledge. Theknowledge regarding the destination affects tourist informationsearch behaviour and decision-making (e.g., Gursoy, 2003;Snepenger, Meged, Snelling, & Worrall, 1990; Vogt & Fesenmaier,1998; Woodside & Ronkainen, 1980). When they need to evaluatea destination, tourists even retrieve information from their long-term memory. Therefore, prior knowledge has an antecedent roleto play in tourism information search.Prior knowledge is identi 󿬁 ed as a multidimensional constructwith familiarity, expertise and past experience (Kerstetter & Cho,2004). Gursoy and McCleary (2004) indicate that tourists ’  priorknowledge has two components: familiarity and expertise. Theformer refers to what tourists think they know about the destina-tion and represents their subjective knowledge; the latter refers tothe ability to perform travel-related tasks and represents thetourists ’  objective knowledge. Previous visits to a destination arein 󿬂 uenced by the tourists ’  prior knowledge of the destination andtheir information behaviour (Gursoy, 2003; Vogt & Fesenmaier,1998). Tourists ’  memory utilisation and internal informationsearch are facilitated by the number of their previous visits and theamount of their experience (Lehto, O ’ Leary, & Morrison, 2004). Asa whole, both prior knowledge and travel experiences have aninitial impact on tourism information search.  2.1.2. Multiple sources of tourism information Tourists always search for information through various chan-nels.Theytendtouseacombinationofinformationsourcesastheirsearch strategies (Snepenger et al., 1990) and also use broadexternal information sources for trip planning, including theirfamily and friends, destination-speci 󿬁 c literature, the media, andtravel consultants (Snepenger & Snepenger, 1993). Some travellershave been found to use other speci 󿬁 c information sources, such aswelcome centres (Gitelson & Purdue, 1987; Howard & Gitelson,1989), or travel agents (Kendall & Booms,1989). Baloglu (1999) identi 󿬁 es a diversity of information sources (e.g.,professional advice, word-of-mouth, advertisements, and non-tourism books or movies) as determining the tourists ’  perceptualand cognitive evaluation of tourism destinations. Apart from travelagents and family members and friends, tourist information sour-ces have been found to be more diverse than ever, and includepersonal recommendations at the destination (Rompf, DiPietro, &Ricci, 2005). Third party referrals, such as those by local residents,have been found to serveas a highly relevant source of informationdue totheir expertise and trustworthiness (Rompf & Ricci, 2005). Itindicates that a multiplicity of tourism information sources wereutilised during the process of travel decision-making.  2.1.3. Past studies on tourism information search from a processviewpoint  Overthepasttwodecades,theattentionofresearchershasbeendirected towards exploring tourism information search behaviourfrom search process perspectives. Vogt and Fesenmaier (1998) C.-I. Ho et al. / Tourism Management 33 (2012) 1468 e 1482  1469  propose a  󿬁 ve-stage information search model with a heuristicapproach to investigate searchers ’  information  󿬁 nding anddecision-making. Fodness and Murray (1998) indicate that touristinformation search is part of a dynamic process in which travellersuse various types and amounts of information sources in vacationplanning. Later, they argue that information searchers selectdifferent search strategies during the process, of which there are atleast three dimensions: spatial, temporal and operational (Fodness& Murray, 1999). The spatial dimension of an information searchstrategy refers to the locus of search activity: internal and external.The temporal dimension is related to the timing of the searchactivity: ongoing or pre-purchase. The operational dimensioncorresponds to the way the search is conducted and focuses on theparticular sources used. Indeed, these three components constitutethe skeleton of an information search process.As a matter of fact, the associated tasks of tourism informationsearch are part of the decision-making, or the pre-decision neces-sity. Fesenmaier and Jeng (2000) claim that the travel decision-making/planning process may be decomposed into a number of constituent facets: the decisions made in the earlier stages appeartoconditiondecisions madein later stages, whilethesub-decisionsof a trip are grounded on the extent and nature of informationsearch. This  󿬁 nding is in agreement with Moutinho (1987),implying that a tourism information search process re 󿬂 ects howtravellers make a series of related decisions.Gursoy and McCleary (2004) propose a tourist ’ s informationsearch behaviour model which describes the earlystage of a searchprocess for tourism information as well as the antecedents of thepre-purchase information search. Bargeman and van der Poel(2006) propose a four-staged vacation decision-making process:making vacation plans, searching for internal and external infor-mation, evaluating alternatives and making the  󿬁 nal decision, andpreparing for the vacation. Hyde (2008) models pre-vacationdecision-making for a tour vacation as comprising three phases:information search, vacation planning and vacation booking, andshows that while these three concepts are unique phases, they arerelated to each other. Information search and processing illustratehow potential tourists utilize the information obtained and howsearch activities correspond to decision-making. These studiesrelate to travel/vacation decision-making and the role of informa-tion search in the process. However, while a tourism informationsearch process contains many speci 󿬁 c activities, very few attemptshave been made to examine tourism information search itself asa whole and the complete process from an initial (internal search)to the multiple external information sources used.  2.1.4. Tourism information search on the Internet  Along with the widespread acceptance of Internet technology,the research issues related to online tourism information searchhave attracted much attention. Earlier studies focus onwho utilisesthe Internet to search for tourism information and what kind of information theyare looking for (e.g., Bonn, Furr, & Susskind,1998;Weber & Roehl,1999).Although Mitsche (2005) provides the search patterns and thebeginning of the search process for tourism information on theInternet, the research 󿬁 ndings need to be criticallyreviewed due totheir derivations from a tourism domain-speci 󿬁 c search engine.Pan and Fesenmaier (2003, 2006)  󿬁 rst consider Internet-basedtourism information search from the perspective of the searchprocess.Basedonthementalmodelwhichemphasisesinformationsearch behaviour from the cognitive information retrievalperspective and the knowledge structure of information searchers,their major research  󿬁 ndings are that tourists ’  vacation planningonline follows a hierarchical structure of episodes, and the infor-mation searchers use information hubs containing many links toother related Websites to facilitate the navigation process. Itappears that various search activities contribute to the overallepisodes; however, little is known about how these tasks function.Later, Xiang, Wöber, and Fesenmaier (2008) analyse online tourisminformation search behaviour at a micro-level and proposea conceptual framework illustrating the interactions between anonlinetourisminformationsearcher,asearchengineandtheonlinetourism domain (including industry suppliers, intermediaries,destination marketing organisations, and so on). Nevertheless, thevalue of this kind of work is being respected. It may be useful toconsider adopting another perspective to gain insights into onlinetourism information search and further the searchers ’  of  󿬂 inebehaviour.The progress in information communications technology hasbeentransformingandchangingonlinetourisminformationsearchbehaviour. Meanwhile, it has enriched the context of information.For example, virtual travel communities (VTCs) have become anef  󿬁 cient way of obtaining informal information, such as the travelexperiences and recommendations of travellers. VTC users ’ behaviour isrelatedtotheirparticipation (e.g.,Wang &Fesenmaier,2004)andtheirpurchasingbehaviour(Kim,Lee,&Hiemstra,2004). More recently, a rangeof new online technological applications hasemerged as social media (e.g., blogs, vlogs) to facilitate the distri-bution and accessibility of tourism information. Travel blogs havebecome both the potential information sources and marketingchannels for tourists (e.g., Pan, MacLaurin, & Crotts, 2007; Pudliner,2007; Pühringer & Taylor, 2008). Currently, social media not onlyconstitute a signi 󿬁 cant portion of results for online tourism infor-mation search, but also demonstrate their increasingly importantrole as an information source (Xiang & Gretzel, 2010).  2.2. Understanding information search behaviour from a user  perspective Several researchers in the  󿬁 eld of Library Science (e.g., Ellis,1989; Marchionini, 1995; Kuhlthau, 1987, 1988; Wilson, 1981)propose theoretical models in terms of information seeking andinformation behaviour. Instead of the perspective of informantsand of intermediaries within the system where the perceptionsdirect the users ’  actions and affect their choices within a search,theylayemphasis on the users ’  perspective tothe extent that usersexhibit common characteristics of information behaviour atdifferent stages of the information seeking process. That is, infor-mationseekers ’ perceptionsareviewedastheconstructswhicharebuilt over time through prior experiences of searching and priorknowledge of a problem. The perceptions might be re 󿬂 ected upon,described and explained to provide a window into the searchprocess which offers an opportunity to investigate individualsearch behaviour further.Based on the above rationale, Wilson ’ s model of informationbehaviour (Wilson, 1981, 1999) accommodates a range of factorsregarding searchers, including an activating mechanism, inter-vening variables, information need, search behaviour as well asinformation processing and use. Kuhlthau (1988) develops a well-known six-stage model of the search process in which thesequence of thoughts, actions and feelings commonly experiencedin a search for information is described. The six stages are taskinitiation, topic selection, prefocus exploration, focus formulation,information collection and search closure. The state of informationsearchers is dynamic rather than static. Along with the searchprocess, the needs of information searchers change and affect theuse of information sources as well as the decisions of relevance.Ellis (1989) proposes a behavioural model of the informationseeking patterns which are broken down into six characteristics:starting, chaining, browsing, differentiating, monitoring and C.-I. Ho et al. / Tourism Management 33 (2012) 1468 e 1482 1470  extracting. These identi 󿬁 ed characteristics constitute the principalgeneric features of the different individual patterns, and togetherprovide a  󿬂 exible and complete behavioural model. By using theinterviewing technique to collect the data, the model is derivedfrom the detailed perceptions of information seekers regardingtheir associated activities from their point of view and as a whole.Such amicro-levelanalysis regardingthe activities andperceptionsof information seekers is considered to be useful for designing aninformation retrieval system.These theories have been well applied in the studies regardingonline information search. Based on Kuhlthau ’ s model (1993), Bilal(2000) has conducted a series of studies to examine children ’ sinformationseekingontheWeb.Ford,Miller,andMoss(2003)mapmost closely on to Wilson ’ s model of information behaviour(Wilson,1997,1999)inaWebcontext.ThisindicatesthatWebusersmay have a common behavioural pattern for their informationsearch on the Internet.  2.3. Literature regarding Web search strategies A review of the literature on Information Science exploring theWeb user ’ s searching experiences shows a reasonably coherentpicture ofWebsearchbehaviour(e.g.,Carroll,1999).Websearchingcharacteristics have been identi 󿬁 ed as the searching strategieswhich are commonly and widely used by information searchers.Beyond that, the characteristics are the associated activities thatmostly occur during an online search process. The searchingstrategies that have been identi 󿬁 ed in prior studies include: usingkeywords, using search engines, browsing the Web, using a subjectdirectory and visiting the known sites. Each of these is now dis-cussed in turn.  2.3.1. Using keywords search To most Web-based information searchers, the easiest search isakeywordsearchwheretheyjusttrytotypeinthetopic,andifthatdoes not work, they will try another idea. It is considered to bea commonly utilised information seeking strategy due to itsbene 󿬁 ts in locating relevant Websites. The WWW translates thesearcher ’ s request into a query and searches the information spacefor appropriate matches, which are returned. Advanced keywordsearching allows searchers to enter more than one keyword and torelate multiple keywords to each other via the use of Booleanoperators ( “ AND, ” “ OR, ”  and  “ NOT ” ) (Chen, Houston, Sewell, &Schatz, 1998).However, the extensive use of keywords is not equated withsophisticated use. Information searchers rarely develop a widesearch de 󿬁 nition and complex search statements and use Booleanoperators infrequently (Nachmias & Gilad, 2002). The mostcommon way is to directly type in the query subject. They modifytheir query statements by merely giving up the old ones andtrying new ones. When failing to  󿬁 nd what they expected, theyoften just change one word for another using a broad query, or addwords by cross searching with more than one keyword in theirsearch.  2.3.2. Using search engines Online search engines are used to for retrieving informationabout a particular topic. Web users rely on search engines asamajorsearchstrategy,andsomeprefertostarttheirsearcheswitha search engine (Hsieh-Yee, 1998). Some searchers are found to beloyal to aspeci 󿬁 csearchengineandaccessaspeci 󿬁 cportalWebsite(Hawk & Wang, 1999; Sherman, 2004). However, it is not unusualfor searchers to use a couple of search engines for cross searching.In fact, different search engines have different ways of   “ collecting ” Websites. Even if the same query statement is used in conductingthe search by means of various search engines (e.g., Yahoo andGoogle), the search results may not be highly overlapping.  2.3.3. Browsing the Web Browsing or navigating is a typical search strategy on the Web,and is supported bya structure that allows and encourages users tofollow links. Chen et al. (1998) argue that browsing is frequentlyused in new or relatively unknown (explored) information spaces.Searchers typically rely on pre-existing cognition of a problem (orinformation) situation (i.e., mental models) (Marchionini &Shneiderman, 1988) to help themselves represent and understandthe content, structure, and relationship of information in theinformation space during navigation.Hypertext browsing services support Internet browsing byprovidinglinks betweenkeywordsandtopicsembeddedinthetextso that users can explore the content freely (Chen et al., 1998).Furthermore, Web users explore hyperlinks using the browsesupports as automatic summarisation, clustering and visualisationtools, and Web directories, and  󿬁 nally evaluate the results byscanning through them (Chung, 2006). To navigate and locateinformation on a particular site, information searchers requirebrowsing skills in addition to pro 󿬁 ciency in using other searchtactics such as backtracking (Catledge & Pitkow,1995) and conductswift(or 󿬂 exible)searches(Fideletal.,1999).Themovementsofthemouse include the following activities: looking at/for the naviga-tional framework, linear reading and scanning of the whole page(Chevalier&Kicka,2006).Therefore,thebrowsingstrategyplaysanintermediary role in performing the follow-up search activitiesduring an online session.  2.3.4. Using a subject directory AWeb directoryis a pre-de 󿬁 ned listof websitesand categorisedaccording to subject/topic (Green, 2000). Some Web users starttheir searches using a directory of topics provided by the searchengine (e.g., Nachmias & Gilad, 2002). They may feel that they havea head start in identifying  “ the best of the Web ”  for the topic thatthey are interested in. Usually, the system is partitioned intodistinct subject categories as the databases that are meaningful tosearchers to ef  󿬁 ciently explore a large information space. Thesubject directory leads searchers to  “ directory browsing ”  on theInternet as a user-guided form of information seeking behaviour,such as connecting to WWW sites of interest and browsing theavailable directories at that site. If a directory appears to be of interest, it can be explored in more depth. This frequently used andsimple search strategy facilitates Internet searching services tomake the subject categories more up-to-date (or real-time) and 󿬁 ne-grained with features, such as the highlighting of new cate-gories and newly-obtained homepages, and creating special cate-gories such as  “ What ’ s Hot, ”  and  “ What ’ s New. ”  2.3.5. Visiting the known sites Another approach for Web users is to start their searches fromknown sites or access a speci 󿬁 c site (e.g., Tillotson, Cherry, &Clinton, 1995). They also visit the known sites during theirsearches. Their cognitive maps for information searching aresimilar to routes through physical environments, marked bybookmarked sites (e.g., Catledge & Pitkow,1995; Fidel et al.,1999).This search strategy requires information searchers with prelimi-naryknowledgetolookforthesubjectofinterest.TheHomebuttonisoftenutilisedtore-startthesearchwhichhasbeeninterpretedasan indication of   “ getting lost ”  and the home site is always familiarto searchers (Palmquist & Kim, 2000). In addition, Web users alsovisit known sites by simply typing the URL. This direct accessstrategy has been effective in connecting to the Website (e.g.,Nachmias & Gilad, 2002). C.-I. Ho et al. / Tourism Management 33 (2012) 1468 e 1482  1471


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