Three Essays on Contextual Effects in Traveler's Use of Online Reviews


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Virginia Tech


Tourists' information processing is a dynamic process in that their information use depends on the surrounding context. From tourists' personal characteristics (e.g., age, gender, and travel experience), nature of tourism products (e.g., intangibility and variability), to the development of information technology (e.g., the prevalent usage of mobile devices for information search), a variety of contextual factors are involved when tourists process information for decision-making. Given the importance of online reviews in the hospitality and tourism field as information sources, this dissertation aims to understand the contextual effects of online reviews on tourists' decision-making. By selecting several contextual factors, three independent and interrelated essays examine how tourists' cognitive or behavioral responses to online reviews are affected by those factors. Considering that local search (e.g., looking for nearby restaurants by using "restaurants near me" as a search query) becomes an important context for using online reviews, both Study 1 and 2 focus on the local search context. Study 1 investigates the role of online reviews in the local search context; specifically, how online reviews are used as ranking factors by local search platforms (LSPs), is examined with an analytical approach. Study 2 investigates tourists' processing of online reviews in the local search context; specifically, how online reviews are differently processed in the local search context (e.g., searching for a restaurant that can be visited immediately) compared with the non-local context (e.g., searching for a restaurant that can be visited in a month), is examined by conducting an experiment. Building on Study 2, Study 3 investigates how tourists' processing of online reviews is affected by another contextual factor, the nature of tourism products; specifically, how the variability of tourism products (i.e., their change in quality over time) influences the way tourists process online reviews, is examined through social media analytics. Results of the three essays provide empirical support for the underlying argument of this dissertation: understanding tourists' responses to online reviews depends on factors that transcend their information characteristics. As a whole, the findings of this dissertation suggest the need for considering the surrounding context to further understand how online reviews affect tourists' decision-making. As practical implications, this dissertation discusses the importance of leveraging various types of information about tourists' context (e.g., location accessed from smartphones, and physiological condition accessed through smartwatches).



Online reviews, contextual effects, tourists' information processing, online marketing strategies, local search, nature of tourism products