by Robert M. Bichler & Constanze Biesalski & Eva Gaderer
Proposed Contribution for the Research Committee on International Tourism RC 50, Session No. 2 ‘Global impacts and local positions’, World Congress of Sociology 2010
What we intend to outline in this paper is how shifts in the virtual organization of tourism are changing the way backpackers gather information on tourist destinations. A special focus will be on the relations between classic travel guidebooks and currently emerging Web 2.0 applications. We claim that especially new Web 2.0 applications (such as travelblog.org) diversify tastes within the realm of tourism. Web 2.0 is based on technologies, which allow an integration of a variety of tools and applications that are easily accessible, interconnected and interactive. The so far passive user is becoming an active, constitutive and distributive producer, who shares and exchanges information openly and free of charge in order to make knowledge available to all, to collaborate equally, to foster collective intelligence, so that everyone benefits. Every taste can be (potentially) represented, every experience can be (potentially) reintegrated, the opposing forces of authenticity are reassessed, but negotiated. However, the question remains whether centralization exists among the online information sources that backpackers use and consult. For describing and analyzing the current changes taking place in backpackers’ information gathering processes we employ a Grounded Theory approach. The data will be collected via qualitative interviews with backpackers on the Philippines and should shed more light on the following research questions: Is there a shift feasible in the ways information is gathered by backpackers? Is the influence of paper-based guidebooks more and more vanishing? Why do some backpackers share information on the Internet (e.g. blogs) and others don’t? Does the information gathering behaviour differ before and during the trip? In the last fifteen years the Internet has become more and more commercialised and traditional media companies are also dominating the online world. Are Western commercial interests prevailing the way backpackers use the Internet? Are the leading travel books in the offline world (e.g. Lonely Planet) also dominating cyberspace? What are the possible implications of Web 2.0 applications for Philippine tourist destinations? How do local tourism operators react to the ongoing shifts in the virtual organization of tourism? Essentially, our research questions direct us to investigate the information-search/share behaviour of modern backpackers in the 21st century as they are empowered with new ways to do so.