Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Residents And Mallorca's Tourism Image

Tourism 2.0 is a concept borrowed from Web 2.0 to refer to a movement from a model of tourism in which there had been lack of access to and transparency of information and a lack of knowledge exchange (Tourism 1.0) to a situation in which "collective intelligence" is harnessed. Put more simply, it is the movement to the use of networks via the internet to inform tourist decisions, and by networks, one principally means social networks.

Tourism, as with any industry, and not least the computer and communications industry, is littered with its jargon and junk terminology. Web 2.0, Tourism 2.0 have spawned a massive outpouring of worthy research, studies, learned papers and conferences all aimed at explaining the movement towards the use of social networks and yet which succeed in obscuring the subject through the sheer weight of their jargonistic newspeak.

As I write this, I have open in my Acrobat Reader a 492-page doctoral thesis about the management of the image of a destination in the context of Tourism 2.0. It is the work of Isabel Llodrà Riera, a technical expert with the Fundació BIT at Palma's ParcBIT technology park.

Though it is an academic work and though it would not be especially meaningful to anyone not steeped in academia, it is a far from uninteresting piece of research, and its interest stems from the association with ParcBIT and with one of its more revealing discoveries.

The regional government was recently able to announce that it had secured joint funding by the national government and the European Union for investment in technological innovations. Much of this investment is likely to end up in ParcBIT and all of it is intended to be for innovation that is tourism-themed. President Bauzá has made a commitment to the importance of the tourism industry (and also to ParcBIT) by presenting the case for and securing this investment; it is something for which, as I've noted before, he and the government should receive plaudits.

Through a combination of ParcBIT, the Universitat de les Illes Balears and the tourism industry on the island, Mallorca has a very strong case for making itself a leader in the application of tourism-themed technologies. But though Web 2.0 features heavily in the local tourism ministry's plans, there has been little evidence of theory being put into practice. Which isn't to say that it won't be put into practice, but the harnessing of the "collective intelligence" of Tourism 2.0 has, as yet, proved to be no more than a theoretical construct where the tourism agency and others are concerned. 

Academic research, such as that by Isabel Llodrà, is of no real value unless there is a practical application. And in her research, she has pointed to one group of users of social networks who might typically have been overlooked when it comes to all the recommendations and information-sharing which occurs and which influence the image and choice of Mallorca as a tourist destination. If you live in Mallorca, then you are part of that group of users she is referring to. Residents.

There is a tendency to think that this information-sharing goes on between tourists and tourists alone, but it should be obvious that it doesn't. Trip Advisor may be skewed more towards tourist-to-tourist recommendation, but other social media aren't. Facebook is a good example. And what Isabel Llodrà has discovered is how information through "knowing" residents on social networks can differ to that through "knowing" other tourists. In the survey she conducted as part of the research, she found that the knowledge of residents is more highly regarded, while the impression of Mallorca differs for those users who have come to "know" residents than for those who haven't. In a nutshell, residents present a better image of Mallorca, one that stresses its charm, interest and relaxing nature. Residents do not tend to dwell on disagreeable aspects.

It may seem obvious that residents would present a more favourable and, in all likelihood, more informed impression of Mallorca, but sometimes the obvious needs stating. It also needs stating, though, that the more highly regarded knowledge of the resident might not always be so favourable, and there are examples one can point to where it isn't.

The title of Isabel Llodrà's thesis is important - "management of the image". A key question relates, therefore, to how this management is done and by whom. Web 2.0 and so therefore Tourism 2.0 is a virtual free-for-all of opinion, and if residents are as significant to creating an image for Mallorca as the thesis suggests, then they need to be kept onside as much as is feasibly possible. If there are aspects of Mallorca's tourism which are attracting negative opinion from residents, then they need addressing. Tourists trust what residents say. Good or bad.

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