The Internet has become a valuable source of information for travelers and functions as a platform for tourism business interactions. It has grown to influence and shape the tourism industry more than any other sector of the economy. Travel blogs, or blogs dedicated to sharing travel experiences and providing recommendations, have increased in popularity as a result. An analysis of travel blogs reveals how tourists make meaning from their experiences through stories that provide inside on the creator’s values, social roles, and relationships.
Travel blogs primarily exist as a manifestation of the travel experience. Tourists are often motivated by a variety of reasons to share their encounters and these motivations can provide insight on the travelers themselves:
Internet users blog for various reasons: to document one’s life; as a commentary; as catharsis and outlet for their feelings; and as a thinking tool. These are all intrinsic motivations indicating the genuineness of travel blogs as visitors’ experiences which are similar to travel journals (Pan 8).
By functioning as a variation of an online diary, travel blogs make stories that were once shared between friends and families accessible to anyone that expresses interest online. While travel experiences were once confined to living within family photo albums and only shared in familiar conversations, blogging has invited tourists to share their travels with a broader audience. As a result, travelers are able to tailor their recounts, focuses, and recommendations to their audience by establishing an appropriate niche. By doing so, travel blogs typically focus on accommodations, dining, attractions, and transportation. When tourists decide to share their travel experiences with their audience, “their experience involved the kaleidoscopic perception and senses of a destination: from attractions, accommodation, dining, to access and overall impressions. Most of the descriptions were experiential and subjective in nature” (Pan 19). However, the delivery and interpretations of these experiences is what makes individual content unique and is what allows readers to develop preferences and attachments to one blog over another. As readers develop these attachments, opportunities for connection and familiarity between blogger and reader may arise. Comments and contributions from readers can serve to develop a sense of community that exists on these blogging platforms. The exchange of ideas, personal anecdotes, and feedback on a blogger’s experience can often provide valuable insight on how those experiences are currently being perceived. The descriptions of a destination that the blogger offers to their readers often serve as textual artifacts that provide insight on how individual tourists make meaning from their trips:
Travel blogs appear to embody the narrative nature of tourist consumption and an examination of how travel blogs were written by tourists promises to provide insights to their self-perceptions and also an understanding of how tourists construct order and make meaning from their experiences (Bosangit 2).
By presenting content that develops from individual experiences, travelers present their personal reactions, cultural preferences, and social roles within their recommendations. The User Generated Content (UGC) that they create should be perceived as a mix of fact and fiction as the insights travelers present on their experiences is often dependent on their demographic backgrounds and personal preferences. Bloggers often showcase their experiences, directly or indirectly, as a member of a certain gender, class, or social realm in their writing. As a result, “UGC becomes very important for the reputation of a destination because it is the opposite to traditional forms of media and marketing since content is generated by the consumer rather than by the marketer” (Wilson 3). When a destination is seeking to appeal to a target audience, the destination must seek out travel bloggers that belong to that target audience so they can best leverage their influence. Travel bloggers have worked to blur the lines between tourist and journalist as the barriers for participation seem to be relatively low. Educational experience or any specialization is not required, although bloggers typically seem to focus on a certain niche that they can offer a level of expertise in. While a large and active audience is typically required for compensated trips, anyone is able to start a travel blog based off of their own experiences. This sentiment of public participation in journalism is echoed by Axel Bruns. A produsage-based approach to the spread of experiences leads to the “creation, collation, and collaboration of information and knowledge across various technological platforms” (Bruns 101). The sustainability of blog-culture depends on the structure of the community it serves. The value that travel bloggers provide to their readers has a direct relationship with the demographic characteristics of both their readership and themselves. The success of a travel blog, in terms of audience and influence, is often dependent on the needs of the demographic it serves. Bloggers often tailor their experiences to match a specific niche or the interests of their target audience. For example, a travel blog focused on senior travel may offer insights on river cruises, wine tours, and museums. A travel blog focused on families will often offer kid-friendly destinations and restaurant options. While travel bloggers make independent decisions about the kind of content they produce, their target demographic plays a large role in influencing the overall structure and focus of their blog.
Analyzing what travelers are communicating about their time spent away from home is based on a combination of both online and offline experiences. These experiences are influenced by the writer’s demographics, and “if relations of gender, race, and class have similar importance in online and offline contexts, then the online/offline realms can be seen to be less distinct than perhaps they first appear” (McGerty 896). The gender, race, or class of the traveler often influences their reasons for sharing their experiences as well as the experiences themselves. This is one way that the offline personality of a blogger blends with their online presence. Travel bloggers must share genuine experiences to establish their credibility, making the integration of the offline world necessary for their success online. And while the ability of the reader to determine the demographics of the writer may vary in terms of accessibility, assumptions are often made by readers based on the author’s writing-style, profile pictures, and “About” sections of their blog sites. When analyzing what these writers are communicating, it’s important to realize that:
The blogspace exists in at least three layers: the individual bloggers who are defined by their demographic characteristics; a middle layer of pairs of bloggers is constructed based on friendship; a higher layer of interest groups and virtual communities explained by geographic or demographic correlations (Pan 9)
These relationships exist in the online realm and often extend into opportunities for offline connections. Travel bloggers frequently collaborate with each other by either meeting up to share experiences and create content in-person or by acting as a ‘guest’ on another blog. Friendships between bloggers navigate a controversial space, as they could technically be seen as competitors. However, the blogging community has decided to capitalize on collaborating to find a wider audience by essentially introducing themselves to each other’s followers. By sharing their experiences, tourists invite readers to partake in similar endeavours or share their own accounts of similar situations and work towards the third layer of interaction. As the industry has evolved, travel bloggers are now organizing group activities to better interact with their followers. By conducting specific “meet-ups”, travel bloggers and their readers can work to create offline communities and interest groups.
Travel blogs encourage tourists to provide a digital word-of-mouth recommendation that extends directly to their audience. As a result, blogs dedicated to the tourism industry are “uncensored and rich expressions of travel experience and are a cost-effective way to collect travelers’ feedback” (Pan 5). The story-telling aspect of a travel blog is what gives readers an opportunity to learn more about both the highlighted destination and the travelers themselves. Over time, both readers and the tourism industry have recognized a connection between characteristics of traveler, destination, and hopeful tourist. A level of intimacy and familiarity is established between a travel blogger and their readership as a result. This directly affects how valuable the anecdotes of a travel blogger have become on the tourism industry because:
The advice from other consumers who have prior experience with the tourist destination and who are interpersonally available will no doubt rank as not only the preferred source of pre-purchase information but the most influential in travel decision making (Pan 5).
Integrating opportunities for connections to be made through online platforms dedicated to sharing travel experiences has influenced the way people plan their vacations. Readers are often able to visualize and plan their vacations based off of the experiences of their trusted blogger. As a result, “social media has fundamentally changed the consumer decision process, and in the last decade a more sophisticated view of how consumers engage with brands has emerged” (Hudson 1). Instead of advertisements, we see conversations. Instead of marketing, we see media produsage and participation. Recognizing that these are not separate functions but are rather interconnected and capitalized upon reveals the role of the travel blogger and the identity that functions behind a seemingly perpetual traveler.
The role of a travel blogger does not exist in merely recounting their time at a specific destination. It extends into creating whimsical conversation, an air of impulse, and a community that exists beyond borders. This can be attributed to the fact that “blogs, for instance, are shown not merely to be writers’ autobiographical expositions but rather as an outlet through which readers and bloggers connect, disconnect, and reconnect” (Sanders 2). A travel blog serves as a platform that champions a life lived both online and off as experiences are documented in real time and shared later on. Travelers make individual decisions on the incorporation of content-creation into their personal itineraries. While some destinations are chosen based on marketing tactics, others can cite long-term desires that prompted their trip. The role of photography on an individual’s blog can speak volumes to how they’ve planned their trip. Professional-grade posed or seemingly candid shots often take up more space on the screen than the text itself on some travel sites while other blog pages are overwhelmed with lengthy retellings and a single photo that was taken as an afterthought. While the basic characteristics of a blog provide insights on how the traveler views the act of traveling itself and how they influence you to believe in traveling, too, developing an argument for which blog-style is more effective to maintain when traveling accomplishes nothing. Both travelers exist in a simultaneous space, creating experiences for the purpose of re-telling later on. The stories that these tourists provide are sometimes less about the destination and more about the individual themself. As a result, recommendations are tailored by preference and audiences identify the writer by their individual attributes and react to their content accordingly.
There is a long-held belief that the inspiration for travel is to connect with people and experience different cultures. Travel blogs provide a balance between looking inward at an individual and outward towards a destination. By creating a culture of intimacy that exists online, travel bloggers invite their readers to disconnect from their devices by connecting with a bucket-list destination. Their recommendations provide insight into their social roles and relationships as authors develop curated experiences for readers to test-out before committing to any level of travel. As a result, the word-of-mouth marketing technique that has developed as a result continues to influence the tourism industry more than any other method of advertisement today by allowing tourists to make meaning from their experiences and document them with the purpose of sharing them with others online. Travel blogs serve as a digital, written artifact of both how people perceive the world around them and how they encourage their readership to view that same world as well.
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Bruns, Axel. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage. E-Book, Peter Lang Publishing, 2008.
McGerty, Lisa-Jane. “Nobody Lives Only in Cyberspace”*: Gendered Subjectivities and Domestic Use of the Internet. E-Book, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc, 2000.
Pan, Bing, et al. “Travel Blogs and the Implications for Destination Marketing.” Journal of Travel Research, vol. 46, no. 1, Aug. 2007, pp. 35–45.
Sanders, George. Contemporary Sociology, vol. 43, no. 2, 2014, pp. 241–243. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43185381. Accessed 2 Mar. 2020.
Simon Hudson & Karen Thal. “The Impact of Social Media on the Consumer Decision Process: Implications for Tourism Marketing”, Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 30:1-2, Jan. 2013, pp. 156-160.
Wilson, Alan, et al. “Hospitality and Travel: The Nature and Implications of User-Generated Content.” Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, vol. 53, no. 3, Aug. 2012, pp. 220–228.