THE INFLUENCE OF ONLINE REVIEWS ON SAUDI CONSUMERS’ TOURISM DESTINATION CHOICES
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Online consumer reviews (OCRs) can be key aspects of how tourists choose a travel destination. OCRs are particularly important for experiential purchases such as tourism destinations, because consumers have difficulty assessing the quality of intangible products prior to consumption. OCRs can thus shape preconceptions or expectations about a destination for potential tourists, subsequently influencing visit intention. Social influence impacts adoption intention, but this relationship in the context of tourism OCRs and destination choice has largely been ignored, despite the fact that tourism often involves travel across different cultures. The aim of this research is to investigate the influence of OCRs posted on tourism websites, and to examine the impact of social influences on the OCR reader’s intention to visit a tourist destination. The research has a country-specific focus in that the study population is resident in Saudi Arabia (KSA). The study model, the Online Consumer Reviews Influence Model (OCRIM) expands the Information Adoption Model with two constructs from the Theory of Reasoned Action and four of Hofstede’s (1980) cultural dimensions. OCRIM explores the impact of OCR features in tourism websites, and of social influences on OCR readers’ visit intention. The proposed information adoption process comprises three constructs: perceived information usefulness, perceived information trust, and information adoption. Five factors are proposed to determine the information adoption process: website quality, review provider credibility, argument quality, information sidedness, and subjective norms. OCRIM was validated through PLS-SEM on a survey of 384 tourists resident in KSA. The findings of this thesis are that website quality, information sidedness, and subjective norms influence tourist visit intention, with subjective norms exerting the strongest influence. Additionally, OCR readers’ cultural values (particularly collectivism, power distance, and uncertainty avoidance) influence visit intention. Perceived information usefulness was found to influence visit intention indirectly, through perceived information trust and information adoption. These findings have both theoretical and practical implications: they validate this study’s extension of a well-established framework, and the results have provided empirical evidence for the direct impact of social influences on tourist visit intention. Understanding the characteristics of OCRs that influence tourist visit intention will enable marketers to develop more effective sales platforms online. Tourism managers and policy makers alike should pay close attention to OCRs in order to better understand tourist behavioural intention.
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