The Internet has fundamentally reshaped the way tourism related information is distributed and the way people plan for and consume travel (Buhalis & Law, 2008). In recent years, the online social media (OSM) creates a tremendous trend on the Internet which impacts the whole travel and tourism industry.
The OSM, representing various forms of consumer-generated content (CGC) which means it can be text, images, video or other digital information posted and shared by end-users. For example, the blogs, virtual communities, wikis, social networks, collaborative tagging, and media flies shared on sites like YouTube and Flickr, have gained substantial popularity in online travelers’ use of the Internet (Gretzel, 2006; Pan, MacLaurin, & Crotts, 2007). Today, the numbers of OSM users are still increasing. With over 500 million active users, Facebook is now used by 1 in every 13 people on earth, with over 250 million of them who log in every day (digitalbuzzblog, 2011). Besides, Twitter hosts 175 million users who on an average week post one billion tweets (Twitter, 2011); YouTube users view daily over 3 billion videos (YouTube, 2011); and there are over 170 million blog’s users around the world (BlogPulse, 2011). Consequently, the percentage of the OSM users is continuously growing; therefore, it is potential for further expansion. In other words, people are relying on the OSM and using it becomes part of the peoples’ daily life.
In travel and tourism industry, the behavior of the traveler has always been influenced by developments in Information Communication Technologies (Buhalis, 1998; Poon, 1993). People are tended to search the travel related information through the OSM before they plan to travel. According to the Travel Industry Association of America in 2005, there are 64% of online travelers use search engines for travel planning. Moreover, another recent research found that 82% of US online consumers have checked online reviews, blogs and other online feedback for their travel related purchasing decisions (eMarketer, 2008). If people want to travel, they can get the information such as comments of other online users about the place; the price of the accommodations and food, etc. from the OSM. Therefore, their decision making could be affected by the OSM.
Besides, OSM shaped the image of the particular destination directly. Thus, tourists’ actions are known to be influenced by media providing people with fragment, narratives and representations of potential tourist spaces (Campbell, 2005). For example, people watch the promoting Hong Kong video clips on YouTube, they might generate some ideas in their minds, and also it creates the expectation to them even they did not visit before. As a result, the video clips stimulate the needs of people to travel Hong Kong. To sum up, the researchers (Yoo, Gretzel, and Zach 2011, p. 526) argued that social media “are taking an important role in travelers’ information search and decision-making behaviors”....