FINDING TRAVELLING INFORMATION: ARE SOCIAL MEDIA RELIABLE AND TRUSTWORTHY?

For the past two decades, Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) had been transforming the tourism industry globally (Buhalis et.al, 2006). The use of ICTs has assumed greater importance to both Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) and tourists. Mintel (September, 2008) have stated that the adoption of the Web primarily as a communication medium and subsequently as commercial medium in the mid-1990s has once again revolutionised the travel distribution. This medium has provided the avenue to able to reach out and establish direct contact with the customer who is a primary target to any travel suppliers. In the long run, it had led them to bypass the multiple intermediaries controlling distribution and the conduct of business directly. Technological development has rapidly expanded the range of mass media

One may ask what a mass medium is. According to Wilbur Schramm (1960), a mass medium is essentially a working group organised round some device for circulating the same message at about the same time, to large numbers of people. Mass media underscore other, non-institutionalised media, such as word-of-mouth (for many the most efficient promotion of destination), brochures/pamphlets, travel agent and tourist packages (Hsieh and O’Leary, 1993). Mass media do complement travellers’ personal experiences, the web-based information (the internet) and education.

One of the mass media which is helping to transmit travel information to tourists is the social media. Social media are websites that does not only disseminate information but also allows you to interact while disseminating the information. In short, social media is a two-way affair that gives the ability to communicate too unlike the newspaper or a report on television which gives limited ability to give your views on the information being provided. Travel blogs, Facebook, virtualTourist.com, twitter, lonely planet and Trip Advisor are some of the most popular social media that tourists look for travel information. Which media do you prefer to look for information about travel, is it the non-institutionalised media or social media?

Not until more than a year ago, it has never occurred to me to use any form of social media to look for any travel information. My main sources of travel information were the newspapers, televisions, radio, websites of the country embassies I will be visiting plus information from family and friends. When I was pursuing my post-graduate degree that it did dawn on me that most people especially the younger generation really use the social media as the main source of information for travel. I may be conservative in the way I look for travel information but I do feel I can trust those sources of information better than social media. Even for my preparations to a field trip in Asia, it never occur to me to go those platforms to search for information but all I have to do is to rely on information from the embassies, friends, colleagues, lecturers and family to inform me what not to do or do in a particular destination.  It was my friends who enlighten me that it is an offense to carry a chewing gum in Singapore; trafficking drugs to Singapore guarantee you a dead sentence and so forth.

Just a few days ago, I was doing some reading and I came across this website: virtualtourist.com. My curiosity got hold of me and I went to the internet to check the website out. And I was amaze and surprise about the different kinds of information people want to know about my country, Ghana especially before they could embark on a journey to the country. Travel information such as how to get visa into the country, tourist attractions, hotels etc. For a lighter side I could not believe someone ask if she can safely marry an African while in Ghana and while other ask are there many mosquitos in Ghana? This set my mind thinking would individuals really trust information specifically about how to get a visa for instance from these platforms more than the information being provided by embassies at the various destination or immigration authorities. Or will people trust and rely on any other travel information from only these social media platforms?

According to Mintel, a major challenge for these numerous platforms on social media is the credibility of information that is disseminated. It has also been noted that consumers often turn to these sites to reduce their information overload problem. But rather they complicate their decision-making process with the sheer number of reviews, comments and feedback that are available to them (Mintel, September 2008). Another point to consider is the anonymity of the individuals that post content on the social networking sites which is to raise some legitimacy of the ratings of some tourism facilities. Without any appropriate safeguards, anybody can post dishonest reviews to enhance or tarnish reputation of a particular destination or tourism facility.

In the final analysis, it appears that there is some information gap between what the DMOs is supposed to relay to their clients/consumers and what the tourists are receiving from the DMOs. This may have come about because tourists have become critical recipients of information and do not buy empty hype. And now it seems the onus has fallen on the social media platforms to try to bridge that gap. Lastly, Tourism organisations and destinations also need to be able to address unfavourable comments and reviews in the virtual communities on social media. It is a fact that irresponsible media coverage can kill a destination (Buhalis et.al, 2006).

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About Ada Adoley Allotey
An individual who is passionate about tourism especially travelling to new places or destinations. Travelling really open up your mind, gives an opportunity to meet new people whose ways of living, thinking etc. are quite different from own and also makes you to appreciate the different opinions that are shared across the world even though you may disagree with them.

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