For long holiday tourism has been in the grip of economic thinking and sociological research. On this webpage a more balanced view is maintained on the focal centre of tourists' activities: tourists themselves and their encounter with their holiday destination. Tourists are the only ones who can sense emotions; neither ‘society’ nor the tourism "industry" can. Tourists take what is given to them and then turn it into their own ends; it is these ends what is of our primary interest and more than 25 articles on this site are about just that: the tourists' tourism.


Information and Tourism

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INFORMATION AND TOURISM

Introduction

     The most important characteristic of a tourist attraction is that it is “consumed” at the destination, rather than at the tourists home. This means that in order to consume the product, the client must first travel to it, thus laying the foundation for what we call tourism: somebody moving to a site where there is a tourist attraction of some kind, such as a beach destination, indigenous pyramids, a concert, nature reserve or a special sports event. The tourist travels to the product to experience (consume) it.

     The sublime moment in tourism is the instant when a tourist starts to live an experience, in other words, when he starts to consume Impact Calories (ImpCal). The intake and the processing of ImpCal lead to an experience, and that is exactly what the tourist is looking for. The tourist wants to have an experience and that is only possible when he is using his own senses and absorbing ImpCal, later to be processed into an inner experience. In fact, the tourist pays for the possibility of consuming ImpCal and the processing of ImpCal starts at the beginning of his journey, when he closes his front door behind him. ImpCal can be taken in during the trip to the destination, upon arrival and finally, when he reaches the main attraction (the Main Impact Source or Impsource), which was the reason for his going there in the first place.

     Nearby there may be smaller tourist attractions developed for tourists, the so-called Side Impsources. Apart from these, there is the normal entourage involving local daily life – the Shared Impsources - that may also be interesting for the tourist. Another possible ImpCal intake can be produced by chance meetings or sudden occurrences, the Incidental Impsources (accidents also form part of incidental Impsources). In order to create opportunities for tourists to visit places and have ImpCal intake of some sort, many travel organizations deal with advertising and selling ‘possible experiences’ (also called tourist products). This may involve travel stores, tour operators or travel guides. In short, tourism consists of a large number of people, organizations, hotels or other types of buildings, means of transport and many other entities that form a complicated pattern of networks and relations. The tourist forms part of these networks, too.

     Tourism consists of a number of obligatory components, such as staying overnight (minimum one night, maximum one year) and mobility. The component of staying overnight is arbitrary, but generally accepted (World Tourism Organization). Mobility is inseparably connected with tourism, because to be a tourist you have to travel to a place that is not the home environment, otherwise you would not be a tourist. Travelling therefore forms an obligatory part of tourism. Apart from this, travelling in tourism is on a voluntary basis, which marks one of the differences between tourists and travellers in general.

     There is a third obligatory component: information supply also forms an inseparable part of tourism for exactly the same reason that a tourist travels to parts of the world that are largely or completely unknown to him. The tourist must become informed about the destination he or she wants to visit and even the decision itself about where to go is based on information. One may have heard enthusiastic stories from the neighbours or seen a beautiful nature film on television, which may have tipped the balance in favour of some specific holiday destination. Travel brochures, guide books, TV programmes or novels may all be sources for choosing holiday destinations and additional details about their infrastructure. Regardless of whether a tourist hops on his bike and starts travelling with nothing more than a backpack and a little tent, or he books a complete all-inclusive holiday arrangement with a travel organization, information supply is vital and as such it forms an inseparable part of tourism.

Information

     The concept of information itself covers a lot of ground and is used in many scientific disciplines – each of them interpreting the term within its own field of action (e.g. computer science, philosophy or mathematics). In general, we can state that information contains data that makes some sense to someone; in other words, we are talking about meaningful data. The term data is another concept open to many interpretations, but we shall stick to the definition that states that data are putative facts regarding some difference or lack of continuity within the same context. A red little ball in a box ful of similar red little balls, does not form a datum, since it does not distinguish itself.

     Data alone are not information, but they become so, when they have special meaning for the receiver. A telephone number by itself is just a piece of data; it turns into information when the receiver knows that it is a telephone number, realizes whom he can contact with it and knows how to use a telephone. When someone does not have this knowledge, or has no access to telephones at all, the number just remains a datum.

     What we must realize is that anything surrounding or happening to us is a possible source of information. It all depends on whether we have a particular reason for extracting a certain happening or fact from its context to be presented on its own. This also means that in order to be called such, information has to be of interest to someone. When a tourist is startled because a Northern Harrier flies away right in front of him, this may be a source for a piece of information of great interest to a professional birder, while the average city dweller could not care less.

     Information may be further segmented into instructional and factual information. The first refers to the transfer of knowledge, while the second has to be subdivided into true information and false information. In the first case, this leads to real information while in the latter it leads to disinformation (intentionally false) or misinformation (unintentionally false).

     A collection of information transmitted with a specific goal can be called a ‘message’. This message can contain information on different levels. However, as long as we cannot give meaning to information, because it is presented in an unknown language for example, this information cannot be transferred and we cannot speak of information in this case. Information is therefore a subjective matter.

     Another problem we may find is the case of noise. External noise occurs when the transfer of information is disturbed by outside noise (a busy street, for example). Internal noise refers to the case where the receiver is not giving the information his or her full attention and is distracted by other thoughts. The concept of noise is not applied when the information is presented in a form the receiver does not understand. A case where we do use the term noise is when a piece of information passes through many recipients and senders before reaching its final destination – we are talking about third-hand information.

     To complete this section on information, we can distinguish four interdependent levels:

  1. Pragmatics is concerned with the purpose of the communication and links the issue of signswith intention.
  2. Semantics is concerned with the meaning of a message conveyed in a communicative act – in other words dealing with the meaning of the signs.
  3. Syntax is concerned with the formalism used to represent the message. The language that is used and its syntax is concerned with its correct and comprehensible use.
  4. Empirics is the study of signals used to carry the message; we are talking here about physical qualities (sound, light, electronics, etc.).

     Our last remark on this theme is that information is not simply a matter of humans. Among computers there now exists intense information exchange traffic (as long as systems are compatible) without any human interference. But in nature as well we can find many examples of information transfers, such as flowers giving information by smell and colour to bees. There are many more instances of information without any human intervention.

Information and Tourist Networks

     In the specific case of tourism we can distinguish many forms of information and in our case we shall concentrate on the tourist himself. First of all, the tourists-to-be must think about where they want to go to for their holidays and they must decide which type of holiday they want. The tourist will need information to make this choice. Once the destination has been selected, he will need information about all the details of the journey, the local infrastructure (hotels, attractions, restaurants, etc.), transportation, and in general, what can be done there. Upon arrival at the destination the tourist has the chance to explore local information sources and to arrange any trip or overnight stay if required. We cannot think of tourism without information exchange on many different levels, concerning not only the tourist but the tour operators as well, both of whom need information about hotels, flights, entry fees, etc.

     Many entities are active in tourism, including people (tourists, hotel staff, air traffic controllers, bus drivers, and so on) as well as things (hotels, airplanes, souvenirs or landscapes). The sheer fact that a tourist arrives at some place and enjoys something (an impressive glacier perhaps) means that many of these entities have been actively helping the tourist arrive at that particular place. These entities must work together, such as a tour operator who makes a hotel reservation for the tourist or a transport company that must know when the tourist has to be picked up. Cooperation among entities results in networks and the interplay within and among networks gives life to the concept of tourism. Obviously, this is not only the case in tourism, because life is full of networks on many different levels. Often we do not realize how many networks we are acting in. A sudden incident, such as losing your passport, makes us realize that an embassy is a network connected to many others, that a passport photograph has to be taken (another set of networks) or that a statement has to be made at the local police station, again tapping into completely different networks.

     Cooperation and communication among entities form the basic ingredients of a network. This may occur on many different levels and with both senders and receivers. In this sense, things are also active actors, although more as receivers than senders. What brings life to a network are the actions and input of the entities. A restaurant provides meals, the bar the booze and the hotel the room to rest. These are things or services that link entities with each other and crystallize the connections between entities and networks. These can be called intermediaries in a network, referring precisely to those services and things other entities are interested in. Other examples are credit cards, passports, tour guides, transport or money. It is all about things or people forming the link between entities and networks, which in turn are meant to help tourist get to the place to enjoy that magnificent glacier. By the way, one always has to realize that it was the tourist’s voluntary choice to form part of a network and to decide which intermediaries apply to his case or not.

     There is another intermediary we can mention: detailed information the tourist asks for specifically, such as the price of something, departure times, location, what type of shoes to wear or a signpost at a crossroads. This is information meant for everybody and not just for tourists, but it does have a specific target group. For a certain destination, tourists are not likely to be interested in possible tax advantages for small businesses, while the average investor will not care much about the number of tents the local campground can handle.

 

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A free parking sign made by the locals: factual information on one hand, but at the same time on a pragmatic level it is about an invitation for tourist to stop to buy something at the pottery stall.

     There are many entities dealing with just this: furnishing tourists with specific information based on simple data. We shall call this factual information.

The tourist also has to deal with other types of information. First of all, there is the information the tourist does not ask for specifically, but it is presented to him nonetheless: travel brochures, tour operators’ internet sites, ads in newspapers or magazines, etc. This information supply forms part of the entities that maintain network relations and that want to invite tourists to become part of their network; in other words they are offering their services. This information has a clear target and the message is directed to tourists only; it tries to give a certain image of a destination. This information does not form part of a network and it is not an intermediary. We call it target information.

     A Belgian tour operator describes the active Arenal volcano in Costa Rica as follows: “In the evening you see, from a safe distance, glowing pieces of lava thundering down the volcano. An unforgettable sight. Fireflies are dancing above the stream of lava, everybody is mouse-quiet. Far away you hear the volcano’s thundering and roaring under a sparkling sky.” Apart from the fact that half the time this volcano is in the clouds and one cannot observe anything, the content part is being sacrificed in favour of an attractive description of people watching a volcano (fireflies will not last very long dancing above glowing lava…).

 

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Target information as image: suggesting there is something to see and at the same time giving potential tourist the feeling that they could be there watching this rare bird.

     The third type of information concerns the atmosphere, colours and smells of a place. We think of the exchange of impressions friends or colleagues have had, impressions from nature films, novels or newspaper articles. These info-sources surround the tourist and he can make use of it or not. It may also deal with the background in some news item, or a fashion photo shoot may be taken in some country that may spark a tourist’s interest, who absorbs it and keeps images somewhere in his memory. The information that can be distilled from this type of information depends very much on the tourist’s referential framework and it also depends on what a tourist thinks of the source. A friend’s opinion may be quite valuable – or the opposite. This type of information is usually not geared towards tourism (although it may be) and it depends heavily on the tourist’s willingness to absorb it. We call this descriptive information.

     Each of the three information types mentioned here have their own starting points and their own reasons for existence. The factual information has to be gathered by the tourist himself, target information is directed to the tourist, while descriptive information just lingers around the tourist who can make use of it or not. Each of these three types of information are different, and among other things this means that when they are mixed up, the receiver may be misled.

     When a tourist has decided he wants to go to China for his next holiday, he may consider passing by the local travel store to get information about flights, package deals or hotels. At this point we are entering slightly turbulent waters, because although the case may sound simple, the information the tourist gets from the travel store has a complicated structure. The tourist wants to have some factual information and possibly some descriptive information, but what he gets as an answer instead is target information. The travel agent may indicate that on a given day there is only one possible flight to Peking for a certain price. This sounds like factual information. However, it could very well be the case that there are more flights going, on other airline carriers, but for commercial reasons it is not in the travel agent’s interest to offer them. It looks like factual information, but it is target information, dressed up differently. Obviously, one may not differ too much from another, since on the Internet nowadays it is easy to verify things. The three types of information are not the same and the tourist must try to differentiate them.

     Let’s take a look at another example: a tourist reads a scientific article about snakes on the Internet. We assume that this article is really interesting for biologists, but the average tourist may draw wrong conclusions, deciding not to risk taking holidays in tropical areas anymore. What is factual information for one person may be descriptive information for another, with all the consequences of the case.

     Travel guides like the Lonely Planet or others generally deliver reliable factual information. However, on the level of descriptive information we may wonder how good this information is. Almost without exception, these guide books have been written by people from the home countries of the tourists and not by people from the destination. The descriptive values (of impressions among others) are pictured through the eyes of someone from the same country as the tourist. The latter may pick up the ideas easily, since they are presented according to his own way of thinking, but this may stop a tourist from experiencing things independently and to be open to new impressions and other ways of viewing things. Apart from this, travel guidebooks may suffer from hidden target information, by recommending a certain area where a friend has a hotel, for example.

     The three cases mentioned here all show problems regarding the pragmatic level of information and its original intention. Too often it is difficult for a tourist to value information against the springs behind it. Misunderstandings can also occur on a semantic level. As often is the case, interpretations of information on the basis of what one expects may lead to communication problems, especially when we are dealing with cultural differences between the tourist’s home country and the holiday destination. There are cases of globalized terms, such as ‘green season’, ‘tropical beaches’ or‘Caribbean atmosphere’, whereby anyone can fill in whatever he or she thinks about these universal phrases and in one country that may be different from another. Another example is the notion of time, which may be different among countries. Expressions such as ‘in a minute’ or ‘in a little while’ (in Spanish ‘ahorita’) will be interpreted by most western tourists as a time span of 10 to 15 minutes, but in Central America this may mean two hours or more. Another point regards what is considered to be comfortable or luxurious. Standards between countries may vary considerably and tourists have to take this into account.

     Problems at the level of syntax may have to do with language, which can be different from the one spoken in the tourist’s home country, leading to information that is almost incomprehensible to the tourist. When describing a beach holiday in Spain, one may read: “…and today we can spend the afternoon at the lovely ‘playa’…” (picturing some atmosphere as part of target information). If a tourist does not know that ‘playa’ is the Spanish word for beach, he may wonder whether he has to play some kind of game there. Other common problems at the level of syntax can occur when information is stated in miles or kilometres, Fahrenheit or Centigrade, in Euros or in Dollars.

     Finally, a tourist may encounter problems on the empirical level; the main problem really is whether a tourist has access to the Internet or not; during his holiday this may be a problem because of bad connections or no connections at all. We have to mention here that bad connections in general (including with cell phones) may lead to the problem of noise with consequently misleading or incomplete information.

     For tourists, ImpCal sources and the three different types of information can be applied differently, depending on the type of holiday they have chosen. They may go for travelling in a group, individually, on wild adventures or just a relaxing holiday. Let’s examine four examples:

Resort Tourism:

     The main ImpSource is the resort hotel itself. There are some simple and easily recognizable side Impsources (spa, horseback riding on the beach, golf course, big swimming pools, just to mention a few). These make it difficult for tourists to leave the premises, which means that tourists will hardly have any local impressions (shared Impsources) and no contact with the local population. Incidental ImpSources are unlikely to present themselves in such a controlled environment. The hotel staff will not help much in this sense either, since in most cases they are not from the local area either. This type of holiday is usually booked via a travel agent, which means that the tourist forms part of a series of active tourism networks that must ensure his quiet holiday at this resort hotel.

     The information the tourist will use for this type of holiday will consist of some basic factual information, such as flight details, local currency, voltage, any additional costs, the climate, etc. The target information forms the bulk of information the tourist gets and usually is the main reason why the tourist selected this particular holiday. This target information is dealing with concepts of relaxation, comfort, good food, many activities for children, swimming pools and an emphasis on side Impsources that ensure light-hearted entertainment. The social element with the other guests is also an argument used. The descriptive information has to complete the dream-picture of paradisiacal beaches, tropical gardens and a perfect climate. The same holds true, by the way, for holidays on Cruise ships.

Group Travel:

     This type of journey usually involves some well known main Impsources (highlights) and provides for possible visits to side Impsources. Hotels are quite comfortable, which often means there is a fair number of hotel staff from outside the region. The number of shared Impsources is limited. Every day the group drives through the country, enjoying the views, landscapes and villages. There is a new tendency to visit local schools or even visit local people at home in an attempt to increase ImpCal intake from shared Impsources.

     Factual information the average tourist will ask for is pretty basic, especially since the tourists are travelling in a group with an experienced tour guide who can provide any factual information needed.

     In this case too, target information plays a very important role, because this way of travelling is nearly always organized by a tour operator. These organisations form part of series of networks with local agents, hotels and transport companies. The descriptive information will have played its part at the time the tourist made up his mind about which holiday destination to choose and it may have come from many different sources. Nevertheless the influence from this type of information will probably be limited, because the decision to travel in a group means that the tourist has a certain interest in his fellow passengers, and he does not choose this type of holiday because of the typical local atmosphere he wants to experience. In the latter case he would have selected the following type of travelling.

Travelling individually (comfort):

     Depending on what the tourist wants, his holiday will consist of a series of main and side Impsources. Besides, there are the shared Impsources that are important because he is travelling through the countryside every day. The incidental Impsources (just the positive ones, we hope….) may also form an important part, but this always depends on the extent tourists are open to them.

     Factual information plays an important role since the tourist must find his way on his own. He therefore needs not only the standard factual information of the country, but also the specific details inherent to travelling in that country on his own. Target information depends to what extent the tourist has booked things in advance. It is often the case that a tourist studies target information but does not make use of the services offered by the providers (the tourist doesn’t hook into their network). Descriptive information is important for this type of tourist or holiday, because it can steer the tourist who has selected where to go while issues such as the atmosphere of a place will be taken into account.

Backpackers:

     This is a totally different type of tourism whereby main and side Impsources are completely ignored, as a rule. First of all, backpackers depend on incidental Impsources and obviously they will have a fair share of shared Impsources. Factual information plays an important part and will be gathered mostly at the destination. Target information is nearly zero while the descriptive information will be important when the backpacker is deciding where to go, especially information stemming from fellow backpackers. The character of a certain place is important for this type of tourist, as is social contact with fellow travellers or locals.

Information and Expectations

     When thinking about what to do for his next holiday, the potential tourist will start to build up his expectation patterns little-by-little, which will then be fed along the way with more information. It is about developing ideas about possible destinations, what there is to do (Impsources), hotel options or different means of transport (infrastructure). Depending on the amount of time one has for holiday preparation, the potential tourist starts to build a picture of what he wants to do or to see, and what he expects. Additionally, most tourists want to make sure they get to see what there is to be seen. The tourist does not arrive at a holiday destination as a blank sheet of paper; to the contrary. Not only are his own referential frameworks and cultural and social behaviour patterns being taken to the holiday destination, his mind has been fed to a certain extent (some tourists more than others) with the fruits of factual, target and descriptive information. The blank page was already filled out with remarks, opinions, images, facts or views.

     Studying available tourist information will help the tourist set certain expectation patterns. Expectations are based on images and in turn an image is a simplification of reality. The latter is complex and cannot be caught in just one image. In the case of target information, specific selected images are used in an effort to give an idea of reality. In this image, something (an Impsource for example) is being reduced to its most important characteristics. This selection must have a purpose or direction and must connect with a target group. However, the image should not deviate too much from reality, because that could create expectations that would have to be fulfilled in order to avoid possible disappointment with the tourists.

     Images can be divided into material images, such as photographs, films or Web pages, and mental images, which are related to a person’s referential frameworks and earlier experiences. Target information uses material images primarily, while descriptive information relates more to mental images. Tourists build up particular knowledge of a destination (material images, target information) and on the other hand they have certain associations with the place (mental images, descriptive information).

 

Ganghes eng

Descriptive information through an image: life in India near the Ganghes River as a perfect setting for creating a mental image.

     Internal sources a person has can be drawn from parts of the memory. When a tourist thinks of going to Patagonia in Argentina, images of penguins or glaciers may come to mind, some may have read Paul Theroux’s The Patagonia Express while others may have seen a car rally on TV. Many parts of our memory may have stored images or information and when trying to compile all one knows about a destination, the memory drags all the info to one place. We are talking about the initial phase of forming expectations for a particular holiday.

     One interesting phenomenon is the interaction between what a tourist wants to see, what is shown to him that he should see, and what reality can offer. In this sense the concept of ‘tourist gaze’ has been developed (Urry, 1990). This is about the way an Impsource (for example) is illustrated (selection and simplification of images) in combination with the way the tourist looks at it. A tourist gaze can latch onto globalizing concepts such as the Caribbean atmosphere, or choose a completely different line of approach using a cultural or historical angle.

     The gaze invites tourists to look at things in a certain way and it therefore deals with the symbolic framing of an object or phenomenon with a clear target. Those who are inviting the tourists are the actors involved in one or more tourist networks. They may be tour operators or agents in a government tourist information office. Entities that want to incorporate tourists into their networks invite potential tourists to look at an Impsource from a certain angle, assuming that this way of looking coincides with what the tourist is looking for. The tourist is shown an image that contains recognizable elements that he can mirror himself in. This symbolic framing as part of the tourist gaze is mainly handled by the countries of origin of western tourists.

     In the case of the city of Granada in Nicaragua, the idea is to emphasize its cultural and historical background (as the oldest Spanish town in Latin America). Images of old churches and other edifices give life to this particular gaze. One tour operator describes a stay in Granada as follows: “A lovely place to hang around lazily, wooed by a refreshing breeze and to absorb the colourful local life and the charming colonial architecture.” Costa Rica adopted the idea of being nature-minded (as far as the tourist gaze is concerned) supported by the campaign slogan of “No Artificial Ingredients” with images of pristine rivers, empty beaches and green forests. Even though we are dealing here with general abstract concepts, this is still all about target information and the formation of images. These symbolic transformations of reality are generally directed at the western tourist. It should be clear that with the presentation of a limited number of images there are many things and phenomena at a destination that are not mentioned. In Costa Rica, the ways of life of the indigenous populations or the beauty of the geological landscape are not presented and will therefore hardly be noticed by tourists.

     The selection and simplification of images must answer questions regarding what things or phenomena they refer to, what can be said about them, and how this information is being presented.

A tourist attraction can be viewed as the relationship with its visitors, the object of phenomenon itself and the image presented of it.

     This holds true for main and side Impsources only because shared Impsources do not have a directedness or image, since they form part of the locals’ daily life. If the locals were to dress up just for tourists, they would become a tourist attraction in their own right, but when locals walk around in the same clothing as always, this might still be interesting for tourists (Guatemala!) but there is a lack of direction toward tourists and the local population remains authentic.

     Travel books may indicate that a certain village is quite picturesque (descriptive information – picturesque from the tourist’s point of view) or that on Saturdays there is such a colourful market. It is up to the tourist to use this information. However, most shared Impsources and obviously all incidental Impsources were not expected by the tourist beforehand. The tourist staying at an all-inclusive resort hotel will hardly experience any shared or incidental Impsources. The tourist cruising the country in his rental car will have contact with the local population every day and will experience things unknown to him beforehand. It may be clear that this depends to what extent a tourist is keen on encounters and is open to things that are new to him or different. Sometimes it is not always clear what ImpCal the tourists absorb or how this is processed. Poor huts may be seen by tourist as “typical little houses of the area” or the mist in a cloud forest may receive a comment about the amount of smog.

     At the receiving end of a message there may be another type of problem. Not all tourists have travelled a lot and there still are many of them who have never been on an airplane. There are even more tourists who have never strolled through a tropical forest or canoed in wild rivers. There are many experiences we may have read about or seen on TV, but we still can hardly imagine what they are like. There are countries or regions, landscapes or types of people that do not mean anything to us, due to our lack of referential frameworks or images in our memory. The only thing we can do in those cases is to take the presented images and promised experiences (target information) as factual information. If an area is presented as a paradise for birders but we lack references for what this means, we may expect to see hundreds of birds at any moment of the day and we complain if this is not the case. The material images (a simplification of reality) are taken as facts (reality). The same holds true for mental images. The Caribbean atmosphere may mean something to many of us, but those who do not know anything about the tropics will draw the logical conclusion that this atmosphere can only be found near the Caribbean Sea, otherwise this would be incorrect. Many tourists do not possess the necessary referential material to relate to certain images or have a gaze, in which case the image of the Caribbean atmosphere does not receive a response and cannot be mirrored with existing images in our memory. The tourist gaze taken literally does not work.

     This is a well known problem among travel organisations: descriptive information may be taken literally, mental images may be confused with material ones, and the message is not received on a pragmatic or semantic level. The direct result is translated into complaining tourists and the question of who is to blame: the travel organisation, who assumes that most tourists have sufficient referential material to mirror internally the images presented or the potential tourist who, by lack of experience, does not know how to handle target information. This raises the question whether it is a good idea for these tourists to go to destinations they know nothing about while travel organizations may wonder how to target their public more accurately.

Social Information

     Three types of information have been introduced that are most useful in tourism: factual information, target information and descriptive information. However, in light of the aforementioned tendencies, there is a fourth type of information of growing interest to tourism: social information as a result of Social Information Seeking (SIS). In recent years there have been a fast growing number of sites where people can ask questions and they are answered by groups of people or communities. One of the early examples is the site ‘Answerbag’ and since then more have sprung up – Yahoo!Answer being one of the most popular, so it seems.

     The basic idea is quite similar to the Wiki concept, of which Wikipedia is the most famous. Generally, a site consists of 4 parts: a mechanism whereby people can submit questions, a venue for submitting answers, the community built around this information exchange, and finally answers are indexed for search engines, thus enabling web users to find answers given to previously asked questions in response to new queries. This can be on world level or limited to specific groups of people with a common interest (communities). The term community is used here in the broadest sense of the word and those sites are called cQA sites. These kinds of sites began to appear on the Internet in 2003 and they have been a growing phenomenon ever since. Apart from this, there was already a tendency for people to ask for information via the Internet, rather than trying to find it themselves. An ever increasing number of people seem to think “why bother seeking an answer when the Internet can connect me with the people who have it?” On forums and similar communication platforms the habit of asking questions is also growing quickly.

     The possibilities for those interested in tourism are enormous and cQA sites may provide a necessary link between (pre-) tourists and the people from a destination or local community. Due to the fast-growing influences of the various Internet applications that provide people with information and the tools for acquiring specific data such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques, potential tourists can find a lot more information directly on the Internet and the additional cQA sites carry the concepts even further along a new route of social information exchange. Obviously this refers not only to tourism, but to the world in general.

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