Published: 12 March 2013

Smartphone, smart vacation

Dr Sangwon Park was recently announced as the winner of the ‘Journal Article of the Year Award’ at the ENTER 2013 Conference.

His paper, ‘The Role of Smartphones in Mediating the Touristic Experience’ was awarded for being the most innovative and scientifically rigorous information technology and tourism-related paper published in an academic journal in 2012.

Here, Dr Park outlines the purpose and nature of the research:

The increasing penetration of mobile devices in people’s everyday life has a profound influence on how people think and behave. The evolution of mobile phones in the past few years, increasing ubiquity and computational capabilities of smartphones significantly, affects the touristic experience by changing travellers’ communication and information search behaviours.

This study explored the mediation mechanisms of smartphones by examining stories provided by travellers related to their use of smartphones (and associated applications) for travelling purposes. Smartphones, as one kind of new media, now can provide a wide range of information services to support not only basic travel activities, such as planning, reservation, and navigation, but many ‘micro-moments’ within the travel process such as finding gas stations, estimating waiting time of rides, and ‘seeing’ places as they once were.

Moreover, smartphones have the potential to construct a very strong “mediated gaze” in that they can shape traveller’s experiences by sharing stories and other forms of shared experiences. Our research attempted to understand the relationship between information needs, information tools, and touristic experience.

Specifically, this research used customer reviews to examine the nature of how smartphones mediate the touristic experiences. The customer reviews used in this study are associated with the 100 most popular smartphone travel-related apps (based on the number of customer reviews) made available by Apple Inc. through iTunes.

By the end of July 2010, it appeared that 37,133 records were related with the most popular one hundred travel related apps. This study implemented a series of content analysis to estimate the review data by using intercorder reliability, cluster and deconstructive analyses. The results of this study indicate that smartphones fulfil five information needs, whereby: functional need (81%) is highly satisfied when people use the smartphone for their trips, followed by social (22%), hedonic (16%), innovation (9%), and aesthetic (7%) needs. More specifically, the smartphone apps enable tourists to cope with unexpected situations (“life saver,” “easy life,” “peaceful mind”) and to complete travel activities more efficiently and effectively (“good value, “efficiency,” “meet expectations”).

For example, the stories show how Disneyland apps indicate that travellers rely heavily on the respective apps to coordinate and interpret their activities (i.e. experiences); also, some of the smartphone apps helped create surprises (“delight the trip,” “visit more places”), provided excitement (“rich experience”), encouraged imagination (“inspiration for travel”), and even gave a traveller a sense of achievement (“confidence,” “show off self-esteem”). These findings demonstrate that smartphones enable travellers to go beyond the ‘hermeneutic circle’ to become more creative and spontaneous, which in turn leads to greater satisfaction.

Based on these findings, the authors suggested that smartphones are an extremely powerful channel to communicate with existing and potential visitors. As such, it is posited that destination marketing organizations as facilitators of local tourism businesses should now take leadership by integrating marketing programs across channels, and adopting new business models that exploit the strengths of the mobile environment.

Indeed, it appears that destination marketing organizations should “reinvent” themselves, whereby they de-emphasize traditional (including online marketing activities) to focus on mobile communications. As shown in this study, the ubiquity and strong computational capability of smartphones facilitates and encourages travellers to use location-based apps to identify/choose restaurants, attractions, and shops spontaneously rather than plan in advance or rely on more traditional information sources such as concierges or even friends and family.

As such, new marketing strategies should be developed whereby destination marketing organizations (and travel related businesses) embed promotions into the search results of the apps providing such services and/or adopt coupon marketing programs offered through online firms such as In addition, the finding that smartphones are seen as a portable platform for social communities that encourage/facilitate interaction among tourists demonstrates that such instant interaction can have a profound effect on touristic experience. Destination marketing organizations (and other tourism businesses), therefore, need to support forums that enable visitors to communicate with each other and members of the network by matching the form and texture of the respective forum.

For those who would like to read the paper in full, it can be found in the following journal:

Wang, D., Park, S., and Fesenmaier, D.R. (2012). ‘The Role of Smartphones in Mediating the Touristic Experience’.  Journal of Travel Research, 51(4), 371-387.

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