The Effects of Traditional and Electronic Word-of-Mouth on Destination Image: A Case of Vacation Tourists Visiting Branson, Missouri
The effects of integrated word-of-mouth (WOM), both traditional and electronic, on tourism products are yet to be fully investigated. The current study aims to assess the effects of and differences between traditional WOM and electronic WOM, between personal WOM and commercial WOM, and between positive and negative WOM on a destination image. Results of the study indicate that traditional WOM had a greater influence on destination image compared to electronic WOM. Personal traditional WOM had a
... aditional WOM had a greater influence on destination image compared to electronic personal WOM and commercial WOM. However, negative WOM exerted less influence on the destination's image compared to positive WOM while negative electronic WOM had a greater influence on destination image compared to negative traditional WOM. Keywords: destination image; electronic word-of-mouth; traditional word-of-mouth; word-of-mouth Introduction Destination image is a major factor influencing tourists' choice of destination [1, 2] . Destination image is a term widely accepted by marketing researchers and practitioners, and it plays an important role in travel decision-making processes  . The development of the destination image has a multi-dimensional nature and formation  . In that regard, tourists develop their destination image through exposure to information sources. Word-of-mouth (WOM) communication has been shown as the most influential and predominant resource of information in developing a destination image [2, 5, 6] . The power of WOM has been researched for several decades in the marketing field. However, despite the importance of WOM in tourism destination choice, existing research in tourism is still limited  . At the same time, recent developments in electronic communication technology has led to the rise of electronic WOM (eWOM) which allows individuals to share their opinions and experiences with other individuals via electronic communication channels, such as e-mails, blogs, networks, chat rooms, online reviews, and websites with user-generated information-all of which have become powerful tools of promotion and communication decisions  . eWOM utilizes the large scale, anonymous, ephemeral nature of the Internet and introduces a new way of capturing, analyzing, interpreting, and managing the influence of customer communication in hospitality and tourism marketing [7, 9] . As Jeong and Jang  state, in contrast to traditional WOM, eWOM spans more widely and rapidly due to being directed at multiple individuals, being anonymous and available at any time; thus, the potential impact of eWOM on customers' decision-making processes can be more powerful than the impact of traditional WOM. Tourism promotion as a part of the destination image-formation process does not stand-alone. It is interdependent with many available information sources in addition to traditional WOM and eWOM  . The latter however is often perceived as less credible and influenced by a number of factors that stem from on-line communication    . For example, a study by Cox, Burgess, Sellito, and Buultjens  shows that although electronic sources containing user-generated content are popular among travelers, they are not yet considered to be as credible as non-commercial a government-sponsored tourism websites or face-to-face communication. Thus, combined traditional WOM and eWOM effects on destination image should be identified. However, no studies have compared the effects of traditional WOM and eWOM on destination image simultaneously. Senecal and Nantel  suggest that consumer-generated information is more important to prospective purchasers of experiential products. Compared to other retail products, hospitality and tourism products are intangible and carry a high degree of uncertainty because these products cannot be evaluated before consumption  . In addition, these products are usually considered as high involvement products due to high costs and riskiness. Hence, WOM becomes an important aspect of the decision-making process  as it reduces uncertainty and perceived riskiness. WOM is particularly crucial for hospitality providers whose offerings are largely intangible, and experience or credence based  . In hospitality and tourism services customers rely heavily on the advice and suggestions from others who have experienced the service [15, 20] . Bone  suggests that WOM influences are stronger when the consumer faces an ambiguous situation. Word-of-mouth is particularly critical for providers whose offerings are primarily intangible and experience-based  . The latter description is particularly relevant for destination choice as travelers rely greatly on the advice from others who have experienced the destination in question. Additionally, travelers often trust each other more than they trust communication from commercial entities, thus stressing the weight of WOM  . Due to the intangible and often ambiguous nature of tourism products, WOM affects tourist destination choice more than it does other industries' products. Not also travel and tourism have a large intangible component, but also those areas are considered as high involvement products. Particularly for vacation travelers, as desire to make the right choice and minimize risks is paramount in such instance. While traditional WOM is defined as personal communication between people who are not commercial entities, eWOM includes two types of communication, personal WOM and commercial WOM. These two eWOM typologies have different online information platform providers, non-commercial or commercial, respectively. In the first case, individuals share information using personal/non-commercial channels; in the second case individuals share information through commercial channels, such as company's websites  . Xiang and Gretzel  state that large proportion of travelers use search engines, on-line sources, and social media when evaluating a destination. Several researchers indicate that information from strong-tie (personal) referral sources is perceived as more influential on the receiver's decision-making than the information obtained from weak-tie (commercial) referral sources  . Therefore, this study needs to compare the effects of personal WOM and commercial WOM on destination image in terms of tie strength effects. Furthermore, general marketing researchers indicate that negative WOM exerts stronger influence on consumers' brand evaluation [25, 26] and purchase intention  compared to positive WOM. It is also one of the critical factors in the tourist destination choice process. However, very few studies have been concerned with whether or not consumers seek positive or negative direction from traditional WOM and eWOM in the context of travel destination choice  . Thus, the current study aims to investigate the effects of traditional and electronic WOM on destination image. Specifically, the purpose of this study is to examine how traditional and electronic WOMs influence perceived destination image and to identify what type of WOM (personal or commercial) are considered as the most credible sources. Additionally, this study seeks to compare positive and negative WOM in terms of their effect on destination image.