Tourism organisations’ websites and destination management organisations are increasingly using interactive communications to engage with tourists. Photo: ShutterstockTourism organisations’ websites and destination management organisations are increasingly using interactive communications to engage with tourists. Photo: Shutterstock

Interactive marketing enables two-way communications between sellers and buyers. This exchange process involves the creation of customised content which is targeted at individual consumers. It takes place online through social media and content syndication, via wikis, web forums, message boards, customer ratings, virtual worlds, podcasts, blogs and online videos (vlogs).

Many companies can produce relevant content that is shared many times through online networks, including social media. Such content may ‘go viral’ among users. As a result, it can bring in many inbound leads; as internet users choose what content they wish to be exposed to, respond to, and share.

Interactive marketing tools typically include response mechanisms that allow consumers to respond directly to corporate communications. They are much more precise and measurable, when compared to other promotional vehicles. The ability to measure direct and interactive marketing effects allows marketers to design communication programmes that target consumers, based on recency – the amount of time since last purchase, frequency – the number of previous purchases, and monetary value – the total expenditures a customer makes over time.

Online businesses can make use of Google Attribution to measure their marketing impact across devices and cross-channels; as Google holds vast amounts of data on net users, from its services, including AdWords, Google Analytics and DoubleClickSearch. The technology giant has access to individual consumer profiles because it knows when they view adverts in its search engine, or in Gmail, YouTube and Google Maps.

It also knows where consumers go, both online and in the physical world, based on cookies and location data from their phones.

Moreover, the company will shortly be in a position to track the consumers’ credit and debit card transactions. Google’s insightful knowledge on consumer behaviour would translate to significant marketing opportunities to advertisers.

Digital platforms that incorporate reviews and ratings need to ensure that their content is accurate, reliable and credible

Businesses could leverage themselves if Google provides them with relevant data on their prospective customers’ needs and wants. Google could inform them when prospects need products or services, and what price they are willing to pay. These answers allow marketers to better target individual consumers. However, these advances will also raise privacy concerns. Wary consumers may install advert blockers, tracking blockers, and could decide to switch off their phone’s location services to ignore the greater personalisation of content from advertising.

Many individual users are using digital media and mobile devices to construct their new customer experiences. The use of social networks allows them to engage, communicate and co-create content in the online world. For instance, tourism organisations’ websites and destination management organisations are increasingly using interactive communications to engage with tourists.

They allow tourists to share their personal experiences as they facilitate the co-creation of content, for the benefit of others. The electronic word-of-mouth publicity, including reviews, is already having a great impact on tourism marketing.

Independent reviews and ratings are often considered as trustworthy sources for prospective tourists. They provide objective information on tourism products and services. For example, TripAdvisor provides travel-related reviews and opinions on accommodation establishments, restaurants and attractions. In addition, many websites, which are traditionally known as booking engines, including Booking.com and Airbnb.com, also provide reviews that are integrated in their presentation of properties, restaurants and other amenities.

A distinction should be made between reviews and ratings: Reviews include qualitative comments and descriptions, while ratings usually feature quantitative rankings, corresponding to degrees of user satisfaction. The ratings may be part of a review.

Sometimes, internet users may notice that there may be controversial reviews and unverified negative criticism in review sites. In a similar vein, the tourism service providers could also claim that they were subject to unfounded negative ratings. Therefore, online users are increasingly paying more attention to these contentious issues.

Lately, the World Committee on Tourism Ethics has elaborated its recommendations for the responsible use of ratings and reviews on digital platforms. Their recommendations are addressed to three main groups of stakeholders, namely online platforms (operators like TripAdvisor or Yelp), service providers (businesses that are listed on these platforms) and users (consumers).

Digital platforms that incorporate reviews and ratings need to ensure that their content is accurate, reliable and credible. Online platforms should undertake all reasonable measures to ensure that individual reviews reflect the real users’ opinions, findings and experiences. The provision of publicly available information through digital media involves a certain degree of trust. The veracity of the reviews is essential for their integrity, reputation and good functioning of such platforms.

While it is not always easy to verify the authenticity of user generated content, the digital platforms should have quality control mechanisms and certain processes to ensure that their reviews are clear and truthful for the benefit of the service providers as well as prospective consumers.

Dr Mark Anthony Camilleri is the author of Springer’s Travel Marketing, Tourism Economics and the Airline Product.

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