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The phenomenal rise of social media as a factor in travel plans is a Janus-like development for operators of hotels, restaurants, and other travel industry businesses. On one hand, social media have created a new distribution channel and opened a deep well for marketing research. On the other, however, social media have changed the way travelers determine where they will stay—particularly leisure travelers. Hospitality firms need to understand consumers’ attitudes toward social media, and find ways to use the depth of information available on social media sites. For example, hotels can interact with their customers on such websites as Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and YouTube, by sharing information, watching for service failures to correct, and to refine their brand. The study presented here takes a snapshot of the rapidly changing field of how consumers gather information and make their decisions regarding travel purchases, based on responses of 2,830 recent travelers. With regard to gathering information for a hotel stay, the principal dividing line occurs between business travelers and leisure travelers. Business travelers often use the hotel recommended by their company, although many of them use search engines or online travel agents for their hotel search. Recommendations of friends and colleagues are less important to business travelers than they are to leisure travelers, who cited personal recommendations from friends and families as far and away the chief source of information, followed by travel related websites, search engines, and OTAs. Once the information is gathered, however, travelers of all kinds turn more to such sources as the brand website, OTAs, and TripAdvisor. Late in the decision process, the respondents tended to land on the brand websites or go to an OTA, where they can book their room.


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