How the online presence of a tourist destination affects the country brand. The Case of Lithuania


Master's Thesis, 2016

135 Pages, Grade: 1.3


Excerpt

Table of Contents

Abstracti

List of Figures

List of Tablesv

List of Abbreviationsv

I. Introduction
1. Goal of the Thesis
2. Thesis Objectives
3. Methods of Research and Analysis
4. Practical use of the thesis

II. Literature Review
1. Tourist Destination
2. Country Branding
3. Importance of the Online Presence
3.1. The Social Media
3.2. Online Travel Review Sites
3.3. The Use of the Search Engine

III. Description of the Models Used for Online Presence Evaluation
1. Evaluating the Tourist Destination’s Presence on the Social Media Sites
2. Evaluating the Tourist Destination’s Presence on the Travel Review Sites
3. Evaluating the Tourist Destination’s Presence on the Google Search Engine
4. Evaluating the Level of How Up-To-Date the Destination Relative Content Is

IV. Online Presence of Lithuania as a Tourist Destination
1. Evaluation of the Online Presence on the Social Media Sites
2. Evaluation of the Online Presence on the Travel Review Sites
3. Evaluation of the Online Presence on the Google Search Engine
V. Online Presence of the Stronger European Country Brands
1. Evaluation of the Online Presence on the Social Media Sites: Spain
2. Evaluation of the Online Presence on the Travel Review Sites: Spain
3. Evaluation of the Online Presence on the Google Search Engine: Spain
4. Evaluation of the Online Presence on the Social Media Sites: Estonia
5. Evaluation of the Online Presence on the Travel Review Sites: Estonia
6. Evaluation of the Online Presence on the Google Search Engine: Estonia

VI. Comparison of the Online Presence of all the Researched Countries
1. Presence on the Social Media Sites: Lithuania vs. Spain vs. Estonia
2. Presence on the Travel Review Sites: Lithuania vs. Spain vs. Estonia
3. Presence on the Google Search Engine: Lithuania vs. Spain vs. Estonia

VII. Conclusions and Suggestions

Bibliography

Appendix I. List of Social Media Profiles of Lithuania

1. Search using the keyword “Lithuania”

2. Search using the keywords “Lithuania”+”Travel”

Appendix II. List of Social Media Profiles of Spain

1. Search using the keyword “Spain”

2. Search using the keywords “Spain”+”Travel”

Appendix III. List of Social Media Profiles of Estonia

1. Search using the keyword “Estonia”

2. Search using the keywords “Estonia”+”Travel”

List of Figures

Figure 1. The click-through rate (CTR) of organic desktop searches in Google

Figure 2. Percentage of Google Traffic by Results Page

Figure 3. How difficult is it to find information of official city tourist offices' websites in Europe by using global search engines

Figure 4. Social Media Profiles for "Lithuania": official and non-official

Figure 5. Keyword "Lithuania" on the Social Media: Followers and Likes

Figure 6. How Up-To-Date the Social Media Posts are on Average for Keyword "Lithuania"

Figure 7. Social Media Profiles for "Lithuania"+"Travel": official and non-official

Figure 8. Number of Social Media Profiles: "Lithuania" vs. "Lithuania"+"Travel"

Figure 9. Keywords "Lithuania"+"Travel" on the Social Media: Followers and Likes

Figure 10. How Up-To-Date the Social Media Posts are on Average for Keywords "Lithuania"+"Travel"

Figure 11. Online Presence of Lithuania as a Tourist Destination on the Travel Review Sites

Figure 12. How Up-To-Date the Content about Lithuania on the Travel Review Sites is on Average

Figure 13. How Visible is Lithuania as a Tourist Destination on the Google Search Engine

Figure 14. Number of Searches on the Google Search Engine Using the Relative Keywords

Figure 15. How Up-To-Date the Content is in the Google Search Engine Found Results on Average

Figure 16. Social Media Profiles for "Spain": official and non-official

Figure 17. Number of Social Media Profiles for "Spain": official and non-official

Figure 18. Keyword "Spain" on the Social Media: Followers and Likes

Figure 19. How Up-To-Date the Social Media Posts are on Average for Keyword "Spain"

Figure 20. Social Media Profiles for "Spain"+"Travel": official and non-official

Figure 21. Keywords "Spain"+"Travel" on the Social Media: Followers and Likes

Figure 22. How Up-To-Date the Social Media Posts are on Average for Keywords "Spain"+"Travel"

Figure 23. How Up-To-Date the Content about Spain on the Travel Review Sites is on Average

Figure 24. How Visible is Spain as a Tourist Destination on the Google Search Engine

Figure 25. No. of Searches on the Google Search Engine Using the Relative Keywords: Spain

Figure 26. How Up-To-Date the Content is in the Google Search Engine Found Results on Average: Spain

Figure 27. Keyword "Estonia" on the Social Media: Followers and Likes

Figure 28. How Up-To-Date the Social Media Posts are on Average for Keyword "Estonia"

Figure 29. Social Media Profiles for "Estonia"+"Travel": official and non-official

Figure 30. Keywords "Estonia"+"Travel" on the Social Media: Followers and Likes

Figure 31. How Up-To-Date the Social Media Posts are on Average for Keywords "Estonia"+"Travel"

Figure 32. How Visible is Estonia as a Tourist Destination on the Google Search Engine

Figure 33. No. of Searches on the Google Search Engine Using the Relative Keywords: Estonia

Figure 34. How Up-To-Date the Content is in the Google Search Engine Found Results on Average: Estonia

Figure 35. Number of Social Media Profiles Comparison: "Lithuania" vs. "Spain" vs. "Estonia"

Figure 36. Number of Social Media Profiles Comparison: "Lithuania"+"Travel" vs. "Spain"+"Travel" vs. "Estonia"+"Travel"

Figure 37. Comparison of Social Media Profiles: "Lithuania" vs. "Spain" vs. "Estonia"

Figure 38. Comparison of Social Media Profiles: "Lithuania"+"Travel" vs. "Spain"+"Travel" vs. "Estonia"+"Travel"

Figure 39. How Up-To-Date the Social Media Posts are in Average: "Lithuania" vs. "Spain" vs. "Estonia"

Figure 40. How Up-To-Date the Social Media Posts are in Average: "Lithuania"+"Travel" vs. "Spain"+"Travel" vs. "Estonia"+"Travel"

Figure 41. Number of Related Articles on Travel Review Sites: Lithuania vs. Spain vs. Estonia

Figure 42. Number of Related Topics from the Users in the Forums of Travel Review Sites: Lithuania vs. Spain vs. Estonia

Figure 43. Number of Reviews and Opinions on the Travel Review Sites: Lithuania vs. Spain vs. Estonia

Figure 44. How Up-To-Date the Content is in Average: Lithuania vs. Spain vs. Estonia

Figure 45. How Visible the Tourist Destination is in Average on the Google Search Engine: Lithuania vs. Spain vs. Estonia

Figure 46. Number of Times the Destination is Searched for Using Google Search Engine: Lithuania vs. Spain vs. Estonia

Figure 47. How Up-To-Date the Results Are in Average: Lithuania vs. Spain vs. Estonia

List of Tables

Table 1. Model for the Evaluation of Online Presence of the Tourist Destination on the Social Media

Table 2. Model for the Evaluation of Online Presence of the Tourist Destination on the Travel Review Sites

Table 3. Model for Evaluation of How Visible a Country is as a Tourist Destination on the Google Search Engine

Table 4. Model for Evaluating the Level of How Up-To-Date the Content Is - The Assigned Time Values in Percentage

Table 5. Online Presence of Lithuania as a Tourist Destination on the Social Media: Keyword “Lithuania”

Table 6. Online Presence of Lithuania as a Tourist Destination on the Social Media: Keywords “Lithuania”+“Travel”

Table 7. Online Presence of Lithuania as a Tourist Destination on the Travel Review Sites

Table 8. How Visible is Lithuania as a Tourist Destination on the Google Search Engine

Table 9. Online Presence of Spain as a Tourist Destination on the Social Media: Keyword “Spain”

Table 10. Online Presence of Spain as a Tourist Destination on the Social Media: Keywords “Spain”+“Travel”

Table 11. Online Presence of Spain as a Tourist Destination on the Travel Review Sites

Table 12. How Visible is Spain as a Tourist Destination on the Google Search Engine

Table 13. Online Presence of Estonia as a Tourist Destination on the Social Media: Keyword “Estonia”

Table 14. Online Presence of Estonia as a Tourist Destination on the Social Media: Keywords “Estonia”+"Travel"

Table 15. Online Presence of Estonia as a Tourist Destination on the Travel Review Sites

Table 16. How Visible is Estonia as a Tourist Destination on the Google Search Engine

List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Abstract

This thesis is aimed to test a hypothesis of the country brand’s reliance on the online presence. The created evaluation model used in the primary research of this paper determines whether there is enough evidence in the data gathered to indicate that the online presence of a tourist destination corresponds to its country brand’s rank. The research is focused on the online presence of Lithuania as a weak ranking country brand. The online presence results of Lithuania as a tourist destination are compared to the examples of two stronger country brands. The conclusions derived from the comparison of the results determine the success of the online presence of Lithuania, establish whether the hypothesis of the thesis is true or not, while noting the limitations and possible errors of the research, and provide the suggestions for the country brand and online presence improvements.

I. Introduction

Living in the 21st century, which is often referred to as the information age or the internet era, we notice how the internet and the new technologies take over our lives and how the online presence becomes more and more important to people and even more so to businesses. With better online presence businesses can reach more potential customers as well as build their brands and reputation.

More and more people are using the internet to search for products and services they need, rather than using other methods, such as a phone book, for instance. Using the internet allows gathering more data about the product, service or business of the interest and making an informed decision regarding further actions. Moreover, thanks to comments and reviews, people are able to get a general picture of what the customer or user experience would be like, without having to personally experience it first. As people tend to rely on the “word of mouth advertising” more than other types of advertising, the internet provides them with the opportunity to find out what “the word of mouth” regarding the object of their interest is.

Therefore, more and more businesses realise the importance of the online presence, focusing not just on perfecting the design of their web page, but also on increasing the visibility of that page and, of course, their businesses’ presence on the social media.

As internet users tend to use search engines, such as Google, to find information on various objects and focus mostly only on the links that appear on the first few pages of the search results, it is becoming clear to the businesses that their web pages, blogs and other related links should be within the first pages of those results. That way the business is visible and present online for its target audience.

All above mentioned is even more true to the tourism industry. Many use the internet to pick their travel destination. Apart of the general information describing the location, it is often more important for the travellers to find out the experience of the previous travellers to the same location. Social media and travel review sites are often the most common source of such information. If the potential destination has not enough good reviews or there is simply not enough information to be found about the destination and experience of the other travellers, most might not risk picking this destination due the fear of poor experience. All the more so, when there are many other destinations to choose from. It is only natural to want a certain level of assurance that the trip one is about to take will be worth the time and money, both of which are increasingly more valuable nowadays.

This paper is focusing on the online presence of the tourist destination with the aim to see how it affects the country brand. More specifically, the paper is aimed to find out how less popular tourist destination compares to the more popular tourist destinations by the online presence and, based on the results, determine whether the popularity level of the destination could be affected by the level of its online presence.

For the purposes of this paper, from the less known country brands and less popular destinations, the chosen country is Lithuania. Coming from Lithuania and meeting many people from various European countries, one does notice how often there is the need to explain what and where this country is. Personal experience aside, many sources confirm this trend as well. Many people within Europe knowing little to nothing about Lithuania seems strange, considering the facts that Lithuania is a part of both - the European Union and NATO - and its geographical location is so close to those countries that rank much better in the lists of most popular tourist destinations as well as need no explanation following the mention of their country names. Moreover, there is no political instability in Lithuania, no armed conflict or similar risks that would categorise the country as a dangerous destination. Compared to other European destinations, Lithuania is not expensive, has plenty of attractions and is very welcoming to tourists. Therefore, taking it all into account, the issues within the online presence as the lack of destination marketing is arguably the only dominator of such effect that could be of the fault in this situation.

Therefore, this paper will focus on determining through primary research whether the online presence of the tourist destination influences and corresponds with its tourism specific country brand’s success. Additionally, the online presence of Lithuania as a tourist destination will be evaluated to see how weak or strong it is and what improvements might be needed for better presence or country brand.

1. Goal of the Thesis

The primary goal of this thesis is to explore the online presence of a less known tourist destination in comparison to the online presence of some well-known tourist destinations and establish whether the lack of online presence results to a weaker country brand of the tourist destination.

Based on the thesis goal, several objectives were identified for the thesis.

2. Thesis Objectives

The thesis objectives provide the general overview in the order of what is aimed to be achieved in each part of this paper. The objectives for this thesis are to:

- Analyse and provide the overview of the scientific literature and other quality sources relevant to the topic of the thesis with the most important and relevant findings;
- Create and describe a checklist and model for the evaluation of the online presence of a tourist destination that would best serve the goal and objectives of this thesis and allow best comparison of the findings that reflect different countries;
- Explore the country brand of Lithuania and analyse the online presence of Lithuania as a tourist destination using the chosen criteria and evaluation methods, providing the overview of the most relevant and important findings;
- Screen out the most popular tourist destination within Europe as well as the most similar but better ranking destination, analyse and provide the overview of the most relevant and important findings regarding their country brands and the online presence to use for following comparisons and examples;
- Make a comparison of the most relevant findings from the research comparing the online presence of Lithuania to the online presence of the other chosen countries and screen out the most important factors and aspects in the need of an improvement;
- Draw the general conclusions concerning the aim and objectives of the thesis, covering the results of the research, analysis and comparisons, stating the possible errors or limits of the methods used, and provide the suggestions for further improvement of the online presence for the enhancement of the country brand of Lithuania.

3. Methods of Research and Analysis

The following methods of research and analysis used in this thesis paper include but may not be limited to:

- Analysis of the most relevant scientific literature and other quality sources;
- Analysis of the most relevant statistical data;
- Empirical research and practical calculations, evaluations and comparisons;
- Comparative analysis;
- Graphical illustration of the relevant data.

4. Practical use of the thesis

The research conducted in the thesis provides a better overview and understanding of current situation in the area of matter as well as relevant issues and possible interdependencies between the online presence and the country brand. The data acquired during the research and analysis along with the overall results and suggestions of the thesis can be used to improve the online presence of Lithuania as a tourist destination, consequently, strengthening its country brand making Lithuania a better known tourist destination.

II. Literature Review

In this chapter it is aimed to describe the main terms of the topic of this thesis and give an overview of most relative aspects and factors that are essential for the practical part of the thesis. With the review of the relative literature and citations of the most crucial definitions this chapter will provide the theoretical and general background to the research and give an inside to the relevancy of the topic.

Starting with the general explanations of what is a tourist destination, country branding, online presence and covering other related terms, this part of the thesis will also describe what is the most relevant or trending in the described field of business.

1. Tourist Destination

The tourism industry is growing constantly and is becoming a bigger area of focus, especially when the rising number of travellers creates the opportunity to use the industry to lower the unemployment rate or bring the desired contribution to the Gross Domestic Product, especially in the countries with economic issues (De Nieves-Nieto, C., Para-Gonzales, L., Solana-Ibanez, J., 2016). According to the most recent press release of the World Tourism Organization, tourism has reached the new heights in 2015: tourist arrivals on the international level have grown by 4.4% compared to previous year and have reached a total of 1,184 million, showing that there were 50 million more tourists travelling internationally than in 2014. Moreover, considering the trend and current conditions, the World Tourism Organization has also estimated a further growth of tourist arrivals in Europe for 2016 to amount to +3.5% to +4.5% (World Tourism Organization, 2016). In 2014, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, travel and tourism has generated 10% of global GDP as well as created 277 million jobs for the global economy, which results to 1 in 11 jobs globally (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2015). The World Travel and Tourism Council also reported the contributions of travel and tourism to the GDP and employment in 2015: total contribution to the global economy amounted to 9.8% of total GDP, slightly less than previous year due to changes in prices, and the industry has supported 284 million jobs in the world. Overall the sector grew by 3.1% compared to 2014 and the year 2015 was considered “the 6th consecutive year of positive growth for the sector”. In 2016 the sector’s contribution to the global GDP has been forecasted to grow by 3.3% and continue growing over the next ten years by 4% in average per year (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2016). Considering such contributions, tourism and tourist arrivals present a great value to the economy and, therefore, it explains the need of countries to compete between each other to attract more tourists.

For better understanding of the information in the following parts of this paper, it is important to explain the term of the tourist destination. The World Tourism Organization has come up with a definition for the tourist destination in 2002 think tank, and, since, this definition has been quoted and used as basis for new definitions by multiple authors. According to this definition, the tourist destination is:

"…a physical space in which a visitor spends at least one overnight. It includes tourism products such as support services and attractions, and tourism resources within one day´s return travel time. It has physical and administrative boundaries defining its management, images and perceptions defining its market competitiveness. Local tourism destinations incorporate various stakeholders often including a host community, and can nest and network to form larger destinations"(World Tourism Organization, 2002).

Following this definition, in many research and academic papers related to topics of tourism, various authors often choose to explain the term “destination” using the definition by Bieger and Beritelli, which, translated from German, describes the destination as:

“Geographical space (place, region, hamlet), which was chosen by the particular guest (or segment of guests) for a trip goal. It contains all amenities which are necessary for the stay: accommodation, catering, entertainment/activity. It is the competition unit in incoming tourism, which has to be led as a strategic business unit”(Bieger, T. and Beritelli, P., 2013 p. 54).

All considered, the term “tourist destination” in this paper is used referring to country rather than city or other type of location. Understanding the value of tourism to the economies, it becomes clear that countries have to compete among each other to be more attractive to tourists. Therefore, it is essential to look into the country branding, which is explained and overviewed in the following part of this chapter.

2. Country Branding

Country branding, as any other type of branding, is highly important - having a well-established brand allows one to be recognised and differentiated from a brand or brands of ones competitors (Aaker, 1997). And the competition between countries is global. Therefore, country branding has been an increasingly popular research topic, especially within the last 10 years. It has been established, that building and maintaining a strong country brand produces long-term strategic benefits in a number of segments: increased interest in country’s culture; tourism income; a range of business and foreign investment opportunities; interest in specific destination within the country; creation of new jobs; country’s economics, politics and other factors. A brand increases the efficiency of marketing actions and increases the turnover. All of these factors are the driving force that motivates countries and their destinations to develop or improve their attractiveness and marketing, and promote their uniqueness (Moilanen, T. and Rainisto, S., 2009 pp. 7-11).

Country branding is a key influencer of the tourist choice behaviour and it has a crucial impact on the perceived image of the destination (Crockett, S. R. and Wood, L. J., 2004 pp. 185-206). As a concept and a practice, country branding has captured the attention and the financial resources of national governments, especially, in the countries that are less known to the travellers. Used as a practical initiative and a communications strategy, country branding allows better management of the destination image projected to the world. It allows attracting the necessary investment as well as trade, talent and, of course, tourism, therefore, improving the economic performance of the country. Country branding provides the tools for competing with other destinations and attracting positive recognition by creating a distinctive image, which is the crucial aspect of the practise (Aronczyk, 2008 p. 42). Overall, branding provides the opportunity and measures for countries, organisations and individuals to present themselves or show an image of themselves to foreign markets in the way that language alone cannot express (Pitt, L. F., Opoku, R., Hultman, M., Abratt, R. and Spyropoulou, S., 2007 pp. 835–844).

When looking strictly into the meaning of the term itself, for the purposes of the proper explanation and description providing better understanding of the thesis topic and further research, one needs to refer to the most commonly used definitions of country branding, which is also, in some sources, referred to as “nation branding” or “place branding”. For instance, the Journal of Brand Management in 2002 described the term “nation brand” as:

“a country’s whole image, covering political, economic, historical and cultural dimensions. The concept is at the national level, multidimensional and context dependent” (Anholt, 2002 p. 8).

The country image, mentioned in this description of the nation brand, is explained further in the Journal of Brand Management as well, stating that it can be understood as “the sum of beliefs and impressions people hold about places. Images represent a simplification of a large number of associations and pieces of information connected with a place” (Kotler, P. and Gertner, D., 2002 p. 251). Here, as in many other descriptions, the country image is often used as a synonym or an explanatory term for the country brand. It is also often stated that the country image or the country brand has to be unique, in order to be differentiated from the others. For example, Dr K. Dinnie, the book review editor of the Journal of Brand Management, who has reviewed over 25 books on the topic of branding over the recent years, defines the country brand as:

“the unique, multi-dimensional blend of elements that provide the nation with culturally grounded differentiation and relevance for all of its target audiences” (Dinnie, 2008 p. 15).

Having described the term of the country brand, for the full clarification of the terms used in this paper it is also just as important to mention at least one or two definitions or descriptions of country branding. For this purpose a very helpful explanation of the country branding is the one of S. Anholt, which claims that:

“Branding a place is, at least in principle, quite simple. A place-brand strategy is a plan for defining the most realistic, most competitive and most compelling strategic vision for the country, region or city; this vision then has to be fulfilled and communicated” (Anholt, 2004 pp. 213-226).

S. Anholt has been called the “champion” or “founder” of the terms, concepts and the field of study of “nation branding” and “place branding”. While later his practise grew towards politics, he was a successful and quoted author of several books and researches on nation branding and worked with heads of states, governments, cities and organisations in more than 50 countries, consulting them on how to build and promote their nation or country brands and productively engage with the globalised world. As it can be seen in his definition of the country branding and gathered from multiple sources, he states the importance of the communication of the brand to the rest of the world. In his interview to the Guardian in 2014 regarding his work and the importance of the public opinion to the image of the country or a place, while talking about his research and books on the topics of nation branding, S. Anholt stated: “All I really meant was: countries have images, and in the age of globalisation your country can sell more products and exchange more culture if you have a positive image. If you have a weak national image everything is difficult for you” (Adams, 2014).

As an addition to all the definitions and explanations above, and as a great conclusion to the importance of the country branding and its communication serves the following statement from the 2008 analysis of terminology in place branding:

“Among the conditions that make place branding a necessity is the growing power of international media, the falling cost of international travel, rising consumer spending power, the threat of place parity, a scarce pool of international investors, competition for skilled and professional immigrants and growing consumer demand for a diverse cultural diet stimulated by low-cost global communication media” (Hanna, S. and Rowley, J., 2008 p. 63).

Considering all the above, the country branding - regardless of how it is referred to, whether as a country image, place brand or nation brand - is highly important for places and countries, especially in the globalized world. The crucial part of the success in the country branding is the public opinion, which can be influenced only via communication. The communication can be various, from the international media, to fairs, to word of mouth advertising. But in this paper the focus is on the online communication, due to its relevancy in this age. Therefore, further in this paper the focus will be the online presence of countries as their country branding activity - the communication of the country brand to the rest of the globalised world, in order to build and improve the country image and the wanted public opinion that way aiming to increase the tourism in the country as well as gain benefit in other fields, such as foreign investments and so forth.

3. Importance of the Online Presence

Nowadays, in the digital age, online presence is an essential part of most businesses. With low to no costs and a very wide reach, the internet has become an amazing tool for any brand, big or small, to become global by simply having an online presence. The internet is providing the opportunity for small and niche brands to establish and develop a market that will be even bigger than the ones of the big and powerful brands. Despite the fact that the small and niche brands might have, for instance, word-of-mouth marketing as the only available marketing method, the time has never been more advantageous for them, as the tools available have never been more powerful (Mortimer, 2007 pp. 16-17). Based on this, now is a great time and encouraging environment for smaller, less developed or emerging nations to compete with global nation brands. Countries with weaker economies and lesser to no financial power for funding their country or nation branding are usually less likely to compete with those countries that can devote lots of their resources due to strong economic power. But online branding offers such countries the opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise - to establish themselves as a niche brand without any substantial costs. Through online branding the nation can get a much wider reach of their marketing audience and spread a positive word-of-mouth using such techniques as viral advertising, blogs, social media, brand advocacy and influencer outreach initiatives (Kirby, J. and Marsden, P., 2006).

The online presence of businesses as their marketing component is extremely important these days. Businesses learn to understand how important to their marketing is growing and evaluating their online footprint. Also referred to as “integrated web presence”, online presence is a great marketing component that, based on its depth and width, can reach the global tourism markets much more effectively, if managed well. According to the researcher Inga Petri - who, since 1990 has been focusing on designing and implementing numerous brand, communications, web and marketing strategies that effectively reach target audience - branding and marketing today, more than ever, is about portraying compelling stories, co-creating meaning, discovering the right information at the time the travellers need it and making consumers purchase decisions quick and easy (Petri, 2015).

The online presence is also very important due to the consumer power. In this digital age, a key phenomenon has been the emergence and rise of consumer-generated media. The appearance and development of this phenomenon has changed the online branding communication substantially. From previously common business-to-consumer communication that acted as a monologue, with the help of the internet acting as a great equalizer, the online branding communication transformed into a dialog between business and consumer, both having equal power over the brand value. With time, the impact of the consumer-generated media on brand value only increased. Especially in the tourism and travel business, where one can find many clear examples, such as individuals publishing blogs or actively sharing on social media about their experiences as a tourist visiting various countries. Therefore, noticing the trends, more and more businesses are taking an increased interest in social media, as a great tool for interacting with their consumers and getting valuable ideas, feedback, doing damage control and spreading positive brand image (Dinnie, 2008 pp. 247-249).

The importance and the role of the social media in business and consumer communication as well as in consumer influence on a brand value have increased substantially in the last decades. The social media is the main and most popular tool for consumer-generated media and is defined as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content” (Kaplan, A. and Haenlein, M., 2010 pp. 59-68). It has a tremendous impact on the online communication and the online environment. Many researchers argue, that, on a larger scale, the social media has altered the entire world of information and communication, and therefore, should not be dismissed or undervalued by businesses as a highly important marketing, branding and communication tool (Shao, 2009 pp. 7-25).

Overall, tourist destinations should embrace their online presence as much as possible, due to its significant upside potential to their tourism industry. According to the research and statistics of Tourism Economics, focusing on the European tourism industry, more and more tourists gather the information about travel destinations online, even choose a destination and book their travels online. Therefore, if a destination is not present online or has a rather poor online presence and is less visible, it might lose a significant number of potential tourists (Tourism Economics, Inc., 2013).

3.1. The Social Media

The impact of the social media and its popularity among the internet users and especially the younger generations has been revolutionary to the brand and image communication of the tourist destinations. The interactive essence of the social media, as consumer generated media, has enabled tourists and potential tourists to share their experience and opinions about tourist destinations publicly by commenting, posting text, photos, videos, talking about positive or negative aspects of the tourist destination itself as well as its services or enterprises. Due to the wide reach of such media and substantial numbers of social media users worldwide, the publicly expressed opinions or experiences have great influence on the decision making process and results of choosing a travel destination by other social media users and tourist. Consequently, majority of tourist destinations are now using the social media sites as their main communication tool with the public. Using such tool the destinations can communicate relative information as well as shape and market their identity and country brand, generating the growth in intention to visit the destination (Huertas, A. and Marine-Roig, E., 2016 pp. 239-240).

For better understanding of the online presence evaluation models used in this thesis further on and the reasoning behind the chosen social media sites for it, it is essential to provide the overview of the most influential, popular social media that is trending currently among the businesses, small and big, as the preferred and recommended tool for marketing and branding activities. As there is an enormous amount of social media out there, it is only reasonable to focus on the most relative sites. Based on the different sources and rankings of such media, there are 8 social media platforms that always rank on the top spots, switching places between each other slightly but never dropping down from the leading positions, based on popularity among users as well as businesses (Sareah, 2015) (eBizMBA Inc., 2016). Therefore, these platforms were chosen for the purposes of this thesis. In order to be able to eliminate, if necessary, those that might not qualify as a marketing and public communication tool for tourist destinations, due to unfit audience or structure, it is necessary to look into each platform and their purposes.

Facebook: a social networking site with 1,100,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors, as of June 4th, 2016 (eBizMBA Inc., 2016). It is a web and mobile social platform where users can connect and interact with friends, family, celebrities, organisations and businesses and more. Here, tourist destinations can share important information, news, photos, videos with no costs and also have the choice to use the commercial options of the site. Additionally, the site can be used as a low-maintenance without losing the followers (Helmrich, 2016).

YouTube: a social networking site with 1,000,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors, as of June 4th, 2016 (eBizMBA Inc., 2016). This platform is one of the most popular video sites today. Anyone - whether an amateur or a professional, an individual or a corporation - can share a video of various content and length. Available in almost every country and over fifty languages this platform has the biggest reach amongst video-only platforms and is trending amongst the younger users (Boswell, 2016).

Twitter: a social networking site with 310,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors, as of June 4th, 2016 (eBizMBA Inc., 2016). Twitter is most popular in the United States and is most effectively used by businesses as their customer service channel. On this social network users can share short text updates with up to 140 characters as well as images, videos, links, polls and more. By simply mentioning another user in the post, for instance, a company, the platform users can instantly connect and interact with businesses and vice versa (Helmrich, 2016).

LinkedIn: a social networking site with 255,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors, as of June 4th, 2016 (eBizMBA Inc., 2016). Though this platform is one of the most popular among the business community, its purpose and structure is not useful for tourist destination marketing. This network is built to allow the businesses and professionals to connect to each other. It does not provide the suitable environment for tourist destinations to build a fan base and interact with it, as the audience is simply of a different interest (Rouse, 2015).

Pinterest: a social networking site with 250,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors, as of June 4th, 2016 (eBizMBA Inc., 2016). It is more of a niche network than Facebook or Twitter, for instance, and has primarily women users with focus on fashion, beauty, photography, food, exercise and “do it yourself” projects. The platform consists of bulletin boards where users can display photos or videos in the form of pins and categorise their content. Due to the narrower use of the platform, not every business can see it as a useful tool for their marketing (Helmrich, 2016).

Google Plus: a social networking site with 120,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors, as of June 4th, 2016 (eBizMBA Inc., 2016). This platform is used by many, due to the fact, that is an additional option available to all Gmail account users. But due to the fact that is built for users to connect with their Gmail contacts and form closed circles of communication and share updates or files, the businesses or tourist destinations cannot successfully use it for their marketing and public communication purposes as simply as in Facebook, for instance, without any costs (Digital Unite Ltd., 2014).

Tumblr: a social networking site with 110,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors, as of June 4th, 2016 (eBizMBA Inc., 2016). This platform is different from others in its structure and audience. It is basically a host for blogs rather than users, as in other platforms. The majority of these blogs are operated by young people, therefore, not every business are able to fit here. The platform allows posting text, chats, quotes, audio files, video and photos. Due to its blogging based structure and niche oriented focus, it can be used by tourism destinations rather successfully (Helmrich, 2016).

Instagram: a social networking site with 100,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors, as of June 4th, 2016 (eBizMBA Inc., 2016). Similar to Pinterest, this social media platform is made for sharing the content solely in the form of video or photo files. Owned by Facebook, this platform has many tools for editing and its users tend to focus on topics like food, fashion, art and, most importantly, travel. This platform is different from others being primarily a mobile network, rather than web, where it has very limited functions (Helmrich, 2016).

Aside of these social networks being the most popular among users and businesses, the reasonable choices for the purposes of this paper are the social platforms that are fit for use to tourist destinations. Therefore, after excluding the unfit platforms, the ones used in the evaluation model further on will be: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr.

3.2. Online Travel Review Sites

Aside from social media platforms, tourists tend to rely also on the travel review sites, when picking a travel destination. Such sites are seen as a reliable inside information source provided by the customers and visitors of the place of interest. As people tend to trust the word of mouth advertising more than any other kind, the travel review sites are a highly valued source of information among tourists as they are actually made for the purpose of tourists sharing their experience. For businesses it is a great way to market themselves as well as interact with their audience. When, for instance, a destination or its service receives a bad review, they can act on it and improve their image as well as the tourist experience by apologising and offering some kind of compensation, possibly also eventually fixing the issue for the better future experience. Such sites allow businesses tracking their customer satisfaction. The top 3 most popular of such travel review sites are: Tripadvisor.com, lonelyplanet.com and virtualtourist.com (Small Business Development Corporation, 2016). Further each of these sites are given in a short overview with description in order to establish whether they are a good fit for being included in the online presence evaluation model or not.

TripAdvisor: the world’s largest online travel-planning/booking service with 340,000,000 unique monthly visitors and 350,000,000 reviews and opinions covering more than 6,500,000 restaurants, accommodations and attractions in 136,000 destinations (numbers updated on 23rd of June 2016). Users can share their experiences, pictures, videos, ask questions in forums to receive answers from other tourists, discus various topics, rate the attractions or services, read the reviews, see the maps of mentioned locations, locate various attractions, activities, restaurants, accommodations within the area of interest or in the neighbourhood of chosen destination. Using the site users are also able to book the hotels within the desired location. The site is operating in 48 markets and is available in 28 languages (Smith, 2016). TripAdvisor has been called “the Goggle of the travel world” with most of travellers inevitably ending up using it for the information needed for their travel decisions. For destinations and businesses this site offers great opportunities for reputation management (Stimmler-Hall, 2016).

Lonely Planet: with 4,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors (updated on 1st of July 2016) (eBizMBA Inc., a., 2016), Lonely Planet is the world’s most successful travel publisher, releasing approximately 120 million books, guidebooks and eBooks about almost every destination on the planet in 11 different languages (lonelyplanet.com, 2016). Using this platform, tourists can find various articles, information, pictures, maps and books about different destinations, purchase guides, gifts, book hotels and flights, interact with other travellers in forums, share their experience, even find a travel partner or swap accommodation. Similarly to TripAdvisor, here the user can also find information about various activities in chosen location, services, hotels, restaurants, events and prices.

VirtualTourist.com: worldwide online travel community with 9,000,000 unique monthly visitors which, since July 2008, is a part of the TripAdvisor Media Group. This community consists of travellers and locals sharing their experiences and advices on the platform. This user-generated media website allows its users and visitors not just to read and share the experiences but also interact with the travellers, read the profiles of each person who shared their experience, learn about their age, hometown, hobbies, looks, travel interests, find more of their personal experiences, tips, reviews. The information generated by the travellers is categorised by destination and then into 13 more categories, such as hotels, local customs, things to do and more. Users can also interact in forum, ask questions, get their answers, organise weekly meetings in various locations. Additionally, travellers have the possibility to email the members of this platform directly. The platform has 1,200,000 registered members from over 220 destinations, who shared over 1,800,000 travel tips about approximately 73 thousand destinations worldwide (VirtualTourist.com, 2016).

For the purposes of this paper and based on the literature review, these three travel review sites are the most suitable for the research of this paper as they fit the requirements of the popularity based on the amounts of users and ratings, fit the goals and ways of use that are relative to the destination marketing and best represent the general picture of the situation.

3.3. The Use of the Search Engine

When using the internet in the process of choosing the travel destination or looking for more information about the chosen destination, aside from social media sites and specific travel review sites, travellers often turn to the use of the chosen search engine. Since it is so easy to use and it does provide users with an enormous amount of results, search engines have become almost a daily tool for finding information needed on any possible topic. Some people even type in an entire question to which they need the answer, and more often than not, they do find the answer they need. With that in mind, the search engine is more informative, more known and easier to use for many people, than social media or travel review sites (Fishkin, 2011). Based on the most recent available traveller research study from 2014, over 60% of travellers use search engines as their first online information source when choosing a travel destination or gathering information about a chosen destination (Ipsos MediaCT, 2014). Therefore, it is essential for travel destinations to, first of all, be visible on the search engine among the results.

For the purposes of this paper, while analysing the online presence of tourist destinations, the focus will be on one search engine rather than more, due to the clear statistically visible market leadership of one specific search engine as well as better result evaluation and comparison conditions allowing higher focus and control of the data. Therefore, as the biggest and most popular search engine, for further research the chosen search engine is Google, which, by the latest calculations from July 1st 2016, has 1,600,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors. This is 75% more than the next biggest search engine has (eBizMBA Inc., b., 2016).

By definition, search engine is a computer program/software or a site on the internet that uses such software to search data and locate key words in other sites (Merriam-Webster Inc., 2015). The keywords, by the definition, in context of search engine, are specific words or phrases that describe and match the contents of a website. They are used to sum up the entire website as a shortcut to it. Keywords are a big part of websites metadata that allow the search engine to match a website to the search query. The accuracy of keywords match to the site influences the ranking of the site among the search results (Techopedia Inc., 2016). Therefore, it is essential for the online presence evaluation model used in this paper to focus on the relative keywords used in the search engine that would be important when looking for the information about a chosen destination.

In other words, when a tourist turns to the use of search engine to look for information about a destination, he or she will use certain keywords for the search query. Those keywords will directly influence the search result as well as the rankings of the results on the Google pages. For the purposes of this paper and evaluation, there will be a number of most fit keywords chosen for the use in search engine, those that the tourist would most likely use to look for the destination of choice.

Furthermore, a very important aspect of the search engine use is also the pages and mentioned ranks of the results, which necessarily has to be taken into account when evaluating the online presence. Due to such rankings and pages, some results are more visible to search engine users than others and some are likely to not be seen at all. Therefore, the online presence, when looking specifically at the search engine and the links or sites searched for, can be considered rather worthless, if the results put the link or site at one of the last pages of Google search results, because it is highly unlikely to be seen. According to statistics, the first pages as well as the first links on the page receive much more traffic than those at the end. For instance, various researches from 2007 to 2014, using Google search engine, have found that the very first result (not including the paid commercial links) of the search gets around 33% of traffic. Meaning that a search engine user is about 33% more likely to click on the first result. The first 5 results get around 70% of traffic, the next 5 notably less, and the ones on the following pages even less than that (Petrescu, 2014). The figure below shows the data acquired by most recent research from 2014 calculating the click-through rate of organic desktop searches (meaning: the links not sponsored to stay on top of the results display) in Google.

Figure 1. The click-through rate (CTR) of organic desktop searches in Google

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Source:Petrescu, P. 2014.Google Organic Click-Through Rates in 2014.

In this figure it is clearly visible how rapidly the visibility of the result decreases based on its position on the results display. The closer to the top of the search results - the bigger chance of being seen. Similar results have been seen in the visibility of the results by page (Chitika Insights, 2013): results shown on the first page are much more likely to be clicked on than those following, as seen in the following figure. The first page receives the substantial majority of Google traffic, showing that most people don’t look past the first page of results when using the search engine. And it clearly shows that only the first three pages receive more attention, while the following pages get barely half of 1% of traffic.

Figure 2. Percentage of Google Traffic by Results Page

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Source:Chitika Insights. 2013.The Value of Google Result Positioning

Based on this and earlier discussed information, the online presence evaluation model used in this paper will focus on the search engine results being on the first three pages of result display and rank the visibility similar to the principle seen in the first figure.

The model will also count only the organic search results, like the studies mentioned above. The reason behind it is that organic results are based on the keywords match and accuracy to the site content, when the commercial links are pinned to the top position due to payment rather than just the keyword match. Additionally, Google search engine users tend to trust the organic links more than commercial links, which is visible in the statistics of the clicks such links get compared to each other: organic links are preferred 94% of the time out of 1.4 billion successful search queries (Goodwin, 2012). Though, in 2016 Google has made some changes in how the results can appear on the page with paid advertisements and organic pages, with more favourable placements for paid links. The resulting statistics of clicks have mostly showed the impact on the paid links getting different amount of traffic among each other based on ranking. The effect on top organic links has not been very notable yet. Nevertheless, the paid ads are still marked as such, so that the user can see and recognise the difference between the paid and organic link (L.Kim, 2016).

For better understanding of the term “search query” and the reasoning behind the use of few keywords rather than phrases or questions further on in this paper, when researching and evaluating the online presence of the chosen tourist destinations, it is necessary to provide some explanation. By the definition, “search query” is a short string of words or terms that reflect the search intent of the search engine user, his information needs or his goal of using the search engine at that moment. During various studies in information science and related consumer behaviour in tourism the researchers have analysed the characteristics of search engine queries, for instance, the depth of search, the length and types of search as well as the changes within the characteristics with the time. The results have shown that a typical search session lasts around 15 minutes and 47% of search engine users only search once per session and use one query. It has also shown that up to 30% of queries consist of just one word or term. Specifically in tourism and travel, the studies have shown that the travellers’ queries most of the time tend to be short and consist of less than four keywords (Xiang, Z., Pan, B. and Fesenmaier, D.R., 2013 pp. 8-9). Therefore the evaluation model described and used further on in this paper will focus on the use of short queries consisting of just one or few relevant keywords for better and more accurate representation of the online presence.

The online presence evaluation model and the chosen properties of the research discussed in the next chapter of this paper will be built on the previously discussed reasoning, consideration of the information acquired through the literature review and reflection on the previous studies of a similar type. The closest to the type is the research done in 2006 by Karl W. Wöber examining the online visibility of tourist destination marketing organizations and individual hotels in Europe. His study found that most tourist websites suffer from very low rankings on the search engine results, which makes it highly difficult for the tourists to find the searched information (Wöber, 2006 pp. 205-226). In the figure below some of his research results are documented while also showing his use of specific most representative keywords for the research and better comparison among search engines. A similar approach and keywords use will be seen in the research model of this paper as well, but with a more specific focus on particular destinations within Europe and their comparison among each other using one most popular search engine.

Figure 3. How difficult is it to find information of official city tourist offices' websites in Europe by using global search engines

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Source:Wöber, K. W. 2006.Domain specific search engines. p. 208

Another important aspect that will be considered further on in this paper, while evaluating online presence of the chosen tourist destinations, is how up to date the information found online is. One reason for why it is important for the websites or social media sites to be up to date is that, as an advertising medium for the tourist destination, those sites and pages have to capture the attention of the target audience and seem trustworthy. People tend to trust the sites that are more up to date, especially in tourism, considering the information to be more reliable in such cases. Especially in online places, such as social media, people expect updates at least once in a week or the very least once in two weeks. Apart from the trust factor, updating the page or website allows better search engine placing which in turn provides a better visibility online (Gardner, 2012). Therefore, the found and presented online presence during the further research will be also valued in the terms of its up-to-date level.

III. Description of the Models Used for Online Presence Evaluation

In this paper, for the evaluation of the online presence of the chosen tourist destinations there is a necessity for an evaluation model that would allow collecting and providing the relevant data as well as its proper comparison among the chosen examples. In order to be more precise and to have a more informative representation of the collected data, there will be more than one model in a form of tables with each representing a certain discussed aspect of online presence, such as, presence on social media and travel review sites, presence and visibility on the search engine as well as the “up-to-dateness” of the presence found. The model is created entirely by the author of this paper and the information and results displayed and discussed further on are gathered in the process of the author’s primary research. The process of how the information, presented through the evaluation model’s tables, was obtained is described when presenting each table of results.

The model and the research is taken from the perspective of the tourist - focusing on the online presence that would be visible to a tourist looking for the information about the destination and therefore presenting the results of how visible the destination is online to a tourist. Due to this perspective, the model will not focus on the all possible online data about a certain destination, but rather focus on the statistically most visible and viewed part of presence, as described previously in the literature review.

The data presented and discussed regarding the online presence of the tourist destination, such as social media profiles or presence and visibility on the Google search engine, is considering only the profiles and sites that are relative to tourism or traveling and the country as a tourist destination only. Which in turn means that the sites or profiles about or involving the country name but consist of other types of topics, such as general news about or from that country, political or any other non-tourist and travel related topic and content, will not be included and counted as a part of the tourist destination’s online presence.

For the more precise comparisons and better research and result representation the online presence of each chosen country will be evaluated and presented using separate tables and later visualised through graphs originating from those tables. First there will be a table presented and discussed for the purposes of evaluating the tourist destination’s online presence on social media using the previously discussed most popular and suitable social media sites. Next, there will be a table for the evaluation of the tourist destination’s presence on the travel review sites. Afterwards, the table for evaluation of presence on the Google search engine will be presented as well as the table for the evaluation of the levels of how up to date the found information is. Such division of the evaluation model into several tables is based on the fact that on different online places the presence can be seen and evaluated on different terms. For instance, even though social media and travel review sites are mostly user-generated media, they cannot be evaluated in the same way using same table with same categories, because social media has many aspects that are alike on most of social media sites, such as followers, posts, likes, but travel review sites do not have such features. Instead they have numbers of reviews, topics in forums, articles and so on. For better representation of how the tourist destination is present and how much one can find of it on social media and travel review sites, there has to be a more precise way of evaluation and presentation of relevant data. Therefore, further this chapter is divided in few sub-chapters with each describing the chosen ways of evaluation for each relative online presence part.

1. Evaluating the Tourist Destination’s Presence on the Social Media Sites

The presence on the social media sites can be evaluated by calculating the number of profiles that are related to the chosen country as a tourist destination, average number of subscribers or followers that those profiles have, average number of likes or views for the most recent activity on those profiles and the level of how up to date those profiles and activities are.

As discussed in previous chapters, the chosen social media sites for the online presence evaluation are the 6 most popular and suitable for tourism marketing sites: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr. While some aspects are named slightly different on these sites, for instance, on YouTube users upload videos and have subscribers on their channels while on Facebook users create posts and have either subscribers or number of likes on their pages, and in first case users collect views while in the second they collect likes, these all fall into the same categories and have the same meanings. The bigger the number of each of these is, the more popular and visible the profile or channel is on the internet and, therefore, the more attractive or reliable for the target audience. Additionally, as mentioned earlier in this paper, all this activity, including the creation of such profiles, pages or channels, activities on them, such as posting, sharing, uploading or any other general use is entirely cost free. Which means that the level of activity and, as a result, popularity or visibility of the profiles, pages or channels is entirely dependent on the will of such use and time available for it. There are no substantial funds necessary for initiating and supporting such activities. Which is also an important fact to remember and consider when evaluating the online presence, because, due to this being a general knowledge as well as almost every person in this age being personally present on most of this social media, there are expectations of at least a certain level of activity or presence in general and when these are not met for the target audience it might lead to a disappointment and decrease of the interest, attraction and trust.

For more precise check the chosen social media sites are searched through using relative keywords most fit for the research goal. Each chosen social media platform is searched first using the country name as the keyword, later, using country name plus the keyword “travel” together. There was also the check by using the keywords “tourism” and the country name and “destination” but they were later dismissed as not fit keywords for the research purposes as they either showed no results or the results that duplicated the same results from other keywords but in a more poor fashion.

Each profile is check for the fit to the industry of research focus and only evaluated if the fit is confirmed. Aside from counting the number of such profiles and also noting how many are official and how many are non-official, each profile is evaluated for the amount of subscribers or followers and the amount of likes or views for the last 10 posts or videos and level of how recent the update or last activity is. The level of how up to date the profiles and activities are, or the “up-to-dateness”, is measured and presented in percentage allowing a better comparison among different pages or categories. The values assigned to time for the measurement of the level of “up-to-dateness” are presented in a form of table later in this chapter.

The table used for the evaluation is presented next. It will be used for the evaluation of each chosen country separately twice: once presenting the results from the search using the country name as a keyword and the second time presenting the results from the search using the country name as well as the word “travel” as keywords. The rest will be fixed.

Table 1. Model for the Evaluation of Online Presence of the Tourist Destination on the Social Media

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As visible above, there is a checklist type of column in the table where the fact of the tourist destination’s presence on the specific social media platform is noted by checking either the box for Yes or for No, based on the situation. This allows clearance of the situation in the cases where the entire row has no values or zeros under each column: whether the country is just not present on the site at all or it is present but has no followers, likes and/or the profile cannot be viewed and categorised properly under any of the columns by clear values. The expectation is for the destination to be present on each site.

Further, as seen above, there is a column for indicating the number of social media profiles, which separates them into two types: official and non-official. The reason behind such division is the aim to see how many of the profiles are created and run by official sources such as tourist information, travel agencies, government institutions, other travel and tourism sector related organisations or companies and how many are created by travellers or destination enthusiasts of any kind who are not a part of any organisation and whose online activity related to the destination is a topic related to travel and tourism and promotes the destination in question but come solely from their own personal will, needs or interests. The numbers allow seeing how much of the destination online presence is due to the efforts of official institutions (which are supposed to work with goals of the destination promotion) and how much is the result of user-generated media coming from different travellers or just people with interest for that destination as a topic. The expectations at this aspect of the research are to see the bigger part of activity to result from official sources.

The reason why the average value is chosen to be presented instead of total or the values of each precise profile is due to the aim of evaluating and presenting the presence on that specific social media site in general. For instance, presenting total value would give the number of total sum of all followers of all the profiles for that destination on the specific site, but it would not represent the situation properly as some profiles might have little to no followers when some have substantial numbers instead and in such cases the best realistic evaluation and representation of the situation is the average value calculating the values of each profiles, adding them up and then dividing the result by the number of those profiles. The choice not to show each profile’s values is due to the share amount of data and difficulties to presentation and especially further comparison to other sites and destinations. But for documentation and ability to proofread the calculations in case of such need the values of each profile will be listed in the appendix.

While the average number of followers per site and then in total show how big is the audience that has an interest in the destination on those specific sites, the average number of likes or views for the last 10 posts (or any type of upload and update) show how much of that audience is actually active and reactive or, in other words, how many of those followers are reacting and seeing the updates meant for them. The reason the last 10 are chosen for such evaluation instead of one or any other number is to see the values of the most recent activity as well as to be able to see a general picture of how much is actually seen and reacted to by the target audience. 10 last posts give a good overview of the general picture, while picking smaller number would not be enough as well as the bigger number would be less accurate due to, in many cases, those posts would be rather out-dated. Additionally, users of this social media have an option of changing their mind and “unliking” the posts they have marked with a like in the past. The expectation is to see a proportionally reasonable amount of followers liking the posts as well as the similar distribution amongst the different posts. For instance, if the profile has thousands of followers but only an average of 1-3 likes or less, it shows a poor performance of the profile and low interest amongst the followers. Similarly, when the profile has few followers but a substantial number of likes, it shows that there is not enough interest in the profile and, in turn, the topic, but the content posted and uploaded is attractive for many though not enough to subscribe to the profile or channel that uploads it (in some cases this is due to the content being of general attractiveness and topic but not really related or representative of the specific topic of the profile or channel uploading it), which again is a rather poor performance of the profile.

As noticeable in the table, there is a “not applicable” notice for some values related to Tumblr profiles. This is due to the fact that whether registered or not registered, in 99% of the cases there is no way to view the number of followers or likes a page, blog or profile has. Therefore, it is not possible to evaluate that specific aspect of the tourist destination presence on this social media site. Additionally, for better explanation, the “n” and “N” stand for numeric values, where “n” means the sum and the “N” mean the total sum.

It is important to note the way of search and limitations in this case: some accounts that have been created but have never posted or uploaded anything will not be included into the calculation in order to not smudge the results and proper representation of the situation; the research was done using the incognito mode set in the browser which allows the most realistic representation of data and values and bans any previous searches or preferences as well as additional settings, such as location, language and so on, from influencing the results of the search; social media has a specific, different from other parts of this research, aspect of accessibility to the profiles and media uploaded on it - it can only be viewed, subscribed to and liked by the users who are registered (with no costs required or other limitations) on that specific social media, unlike regular websites or travel review sites which are open for anyone to view and interact with; the language of the keyword used is irrelative on social media as it still shows the results in all languages that meet the meaning of the keyword; using the cities as keywords is not reasonable as the country names already bring out the results for all the cities within that country anyway, due to the way the social media functions - it always registers the country next to the city name, not always registers the city next to the country, therefore the city will show up when search by the country, but there will be much less relative results when searched with the city name and it will not represent the real data.

2. Evaluating the Tourist Destination’s Presence on the Travel Review Sites

As discussed earlier in this paper, one of the most important online places to look for information about tourist destination as well as the one of the best places for the destinations to make sure to have a good presence is the travel review sites. As mentioned before, the most popular and biggest travel review sites are TripAdvisor, LonelyPlanet and VirtualTourist, which have been chosen for the purposes of this research. In these sites majority of information is user-generated, which is why these sites are quite liked among tourists as a reliable information source when looking for travel experiences in specific destinations. Nevertheless, the sites also have a certain amount of commercially generated information, articles written by travel experts or guide books that one can purchase. With all that in mind, these sites are a great place for the destination to be present on.

Unlike in social media sites, here there are no multiple pages or profiles for the same destination. Rather, each destination has one page or profile with all the possible related information and media being uploaded and shared there. Instead of likes or followers the important numbers here are the numbers of travel reviews, opinions, articles and so on. Organisations responsible for promoting the destination can use these sites for interacting with the travellers in forums, writing travel reviews or opinions and descriptions about activities, places, as well as upload media such as photos or videos. Therefore, apart of the number of real travellers’ reviews and forum topics showing how many have interest in the destination or how many are adding to promoting the destination, the numbers also show in general how much is there about the destination. If there’s not much, then it is a poor online marketing of the destination by the responsible organisations, which could add more information and media to these sites any time for no monetary costs.

Similarly to the social media sites, in travel review sites the search is done using a keyword, but in the case of travel review sites the keywords are always travel destination related. In the case of this research the keywords used where the country names. As the sites have the country profiles with all the cities included, there is no need to search for cities as the result will be the same profile. This also regards to the languages used in the search. Below is the table used later on for the research as the template or model for all the chosen countries.

Table 2. Model for the Evaluation of Online Presence of the Tourist Destination on the Travel Review Sites

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Same as in the previous table for the social media related online presence the “n” and the “N” indicate the types of numeric values to be expected. This table, as the previous, has a column in the form of a checklist with same properties and same reasoning behind it. As already mentioned, in case of the online presence evaluation for the destination in the travel review sites, it is important to check the number of destination related articles one can find on the sites, number of topics from the site users in the forum and, of course, the number of reviews and opinions about the destination. In this case, the numbers are not the average value, because in each site there is one profile that has all the numbers in one place. Therefore, there is nothing to combine and divide for the general picture. The numbers are the direct representation of current situation. The total number here, unlike in the previous table, is also meant to be the total sum, and not the total average. Because in the social media, even though those were multiple different social media platforms, there were many profiles that belonged to the same organisation. In other words, the exact same profiles where present on different social media and most likely had the same followers. Therefore the sum would not be accurate representation of the real situation. When, in this case, with travel review sites, it is a bit different due to it being a different type of platform. Here it is not the same organisation posting the exact same content on all the sites, rather different authors, whether professionals or simple travellers, publishing articles, writing reviews and opinions, discussing related topics in the forums. And the sites, even though designed for the same purpose and have the same type of services or features, are still rather different and have different ways of functioning. The content in these sites for most part comes not from the same source and is not the same, therefore, should be added together for the general representation rather than summed up and divided to get the average. The expectations in this aspect of the research are to see different numbers on different sites, as they should not have duplicated content and audience, and to see higher number indicating better presence and audience interest related to the destination. The level of how up-to-date the content is on these sites is also highly important as discussed earlier in this paper, thought this aspect would be explained more in the following subchapters as well as in the presentation of the results discussing it in more detail.

3. Evaluating the Tourist Destination’s Presence on the Google Search Engine

While evaluating the tourist destination presence on the Google Search Engine the most important factor to evaluate is the destination’s visibility, which is the entire meaning behind the online presence in the case of Google Search Engine. Therefore, specifically is this part of the research the important numbers to look for and to evaluate are not the followers or reviews or any similar aspects evaluated in the two previous models. Important here is the level of visibility presented in numeric values, which, as discussed earlier in the literature review, is measured by the relevant links being present on the first pages as well as in the first 5 spots of the search results. As revealed in the literature review and through known research done by other authors, Google Search Engine users typically don’t look past the third page of the results and often don’t view links past the first 3-5 results on the top of the first page. Considering those statistics it is important to consider and evaluate the results that come up in the top 5 spots on the first page separately and then calculate the amount of relevant results on each of the first 3 pages of the Google Search results. The expectations are, of course, to see as many as possible results to be relevant to the search. In other words, the results have to fit the expectations of the search, for instance, when looking for the destination one has to find the links about that destination in terms of travel or tourism and not general news or politics or other. The bigger the numbers are of the amount of relevant links found on these first pages, the better is the visibility and online presence of the destination. The expectation is to see bigger numbers in the top spots and a slight decrease towards the next pages of results. This would show that the destination’s online presence is well managed: often updated (which is why it is also important to evaluate the level of how up-to-date the results found are in average) and have a good match to the keywords used in the search query.

Table 3. Model for Evaluation of How Visible a Country is as a Tourist Destination on the Google Search Engine

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

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Details

Title
How the online presence of a tourist destination affects the country brand. The Case of Lithuania
College
Stralsund University of Applied Sciences  (Faculty of Business Studies)
Course
Tourism Development Strategies
Grade
1.3
Author
Year
2016
Pages
135
Catalog Number
V341076
ISBN (eBook)
9783668309876
ISBN (Book)
9783668309883
File size
1352 KB
Language
English
Tags
case, lithuania
Quote paper
Viktorija Širvinskytė (Author), 2016, How the online presence of a tourist destination affects the country brand. The Case of Lithuania, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/341076

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