The emergency of Internet has largely changed the travelers’ decision-making process (Buhalis, 2007) and websites have become such an integral component of today's businesses that website effectiveness are of strategic importance to companies at large and hospitality and tourism businesses in specific. It has been a customary practice for hospitality and tourism companies to conduct business transactions to market themselves (Buhalis, 2003; Buhalis & Law, 2008; Wang, 2008) and to enhance communication between suppliers and consumers (Law, Qi, & Buhalis, 2009). As a result, website effectiveness has been a topical area that received sustained scrutiny from tourism and hospitality researchers. However, only a moderate level of success has been achieved (Law, Qi, & Buhalis, 2009).
Recent literature in tourism website evaluation have attempted to investigate this area from various angles including website design and functionality, consumer hedonic experiences and perception of information quality (Law & Bai, 2006; Law, Qi, & Buhalis, 2009). However, only limited research has been conducted in evaluating online travel agencies’ (OTAs) websites and travel agencies’ websites (Kaynama & Black, 2000; Chung & Law, 2003; Roney & Ozturan, 2006). The majority of existing studies in this area are conducted in the context of hotels or tourism destinations. Methodologies employed by these studies are mainly using survey questionnaires to measure the overall satisfaction level of online travelers, or other exploratory approaches such as content analysis or attribute/functionality counting against a predefined checklist (Law, Qi, & Buhalis, 2009).
It should be noted that most of the existing research tended to only measure the overall quality of websites. Recent market reports criticized OTAs for their lack of understanding of customers’ needs and in customizing itineraries (PR Newswire US, 2005). Marketing surveys also showed that over half of the online travelers who search for travel information online would go to suppliers’ website to make final purchase (Nielsen NetRating, 2005). Rarely do we come across research that examine consumers website information needs in a dynamic fashion. For instance, consumers’ product information needs may vary at different pages of a company’s website. In other words, consumers’ homepage information needs may different from their needs at the subsequent level of websites. In addition, rarely do we witness efforts to understand consumer information needs in light with their decision making stages at the various web pages. Once a consumer gets on OTAs homepage, such as www.expedia.com, he or she will make a decision to continue or to quit the website. Once the consumer decides to continue to input his or her needs for certain product, the search continues to the next level where the consumer will be confronted with options of choices. At this level, the information the consumer needs may vary from his or her...