The influences and consequences of being digitally connected and/or disconnected to travellers
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Technological progress and tourism have worked in tandem for many years. Connectivity is the vehicle that drove the goal of technologically enhanced tourism experiences forward. This study, through an exploratory qualitative research identifies the factors that boost and/or distract travellers from obtaining a digitally enhanced tourism experience. Four factors can boost and/or distract travellers from being connected: (1) hardware and software, (2) needs and contexts, (3) openness to usage, and (4) supply and provision of connectivity. The research also analyses the positive and/or negative consequences that arise from being connected or disconnected. A Connected/Disconnected Consequences Model illustrates five forms of positive and/or negative consequences: (1) availability, (2) communication, (3) information obtainability, (4) time consumption, and (5) supporting experiences. A better understanding of the role and consequence of connectivity during the trip can enhance traveller experience.
KeywordsConnectivity During-trip stage Unplugging Selective unplugging Social Wi-Fi
The tourism sector is often considered to be an information intense industry (Fotis et al. 2012). Therefore, it is important to understand how technology, together with online connectivity, has fundamentally reshaped the distribution of information (Buhalis and Law 2008) and the way people experience their travel (Neuhofer et al. 2014). For this reason, several researchers and developers have undertaken the challenge to discover or produce a piece of work to fuse technology with tourist experiences (e.g. Wang et al. 2012; Berger and Paris 2013; Hannam et al. 2014; Neuhofer et al. 2015; Wang et al. 2014; Paris et al. 2015). Connectivity has become such a crucial technological development that innovative projects like Facebook’s solar powered drone (see: http://www.internet.org) or Google’s balloon powered technology (see: http://www.google.com/loon) are being developed to deliver connectivity even in the most remote areas around the world.
Try and visualise a traveller who is about to embark on a journey. As he makes his way to the airport, he listens to music on Spotify, keeps socially updated on Facebook, and completes the online check-in for the flight. He boards the flight with a boarding pass that was retrieved on a smartwatch, arrives at the destination, and books a ride with Uber to the city centre. After checking-in at the hotel, the visitor selects and books a restaurant through TripAdvisor, and then navigates to it using Google Maps. Once the food arrives, he captures a photo and uploads it on Instagram and Facebook, shares his location and writes a short insight on Twitter, chats on WhatsApp and reviews the restaurant on TripAdvisor. Google Now, suggests a list of attractions in the vicinity that he might want to visit. Once in the recommended attraction, he opens Periscope and shares a live stream of the view with people from all around the world. Current technology allow for all these activities to be performed effectively and efficiently. Although this, by no means, represents how all travellers use technology, it illustrates functional possibilities that users can potentially operate.
The ever-increasing body of work on how information and communication technologies (ICTs) influence travellers during their trip has often focused on how digital media, software, and devices can increase communication, gather information, co-create, and improve experiences (e.g. Buhalis and Amaranggana 2013; Buhalis and Foerste 2013, 2015; Wang and Fesenmaier 2013; Lamsfus et al. 2015). On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is also emerging research on the induced experiences and tensions resulting from disconnection or unplugging from technology (e.g. Pearce and Gretzel 2012; Paris et al. 2015; Germann Molz and Paris 2015).
This study aims to explore the factors that boost or distract the use of connectivity during a trip and the subsequent positive and/or negative consequences of being connected and/or disconnected. The outcomes of these findings offer strategic implications for tourism marketers, and a different perspective for researchers.
2 Literature review
2.1 Online content and tourism experiences
The accumulation of information and online content shapes the tourism experience in three different stages: pre-trip, during-trip, and post-trip (Hjalager and Jensen 2012). The events that occur before the trip (e.g. planning), during (e.g. at destination) and after the trip (e.g. recollection) make up one’s individual subjective evaluation and undergoing of a travel experience (Tung and Ritchie 2011). During the planning process, tourists use information search to obtain ideas, seek for alternatives, and help avoid places that does not interest them (Xiang and Gretzel 2010). Through reading online reviews, travellers gain a clearer picture of what to expect, increase their confidence in decision making and reduce the risk of satisfaction disconfirmation (Xiang and Gretzel 2010; Jun et al. 2012). At the post-trip stage travellers socialise, communicate, share experiences, help others, and reconstruct their memories of the trip by using social media (Jun et al. 2012; Wu and Pearce 2016). In doing so, travellers enter a mental imagery process that has the potential to modify their satisfaction level of their previous trip (Jun et al. 2012).
2.2 Connectivity and technology enhanced experiences
Online communication is increasingly challenging the traditional view where tourists manage to disconnect themselves from their home and move into a potentially rewarding, life-changing or challenging space (Pearce 2011). This notion of movement between two distant worlds has been substituted with the idea of ‘digital elasticity’ (Pearce 2011). Contemporary travellers explore the identity and the world of others while remaining electronically connected with their home world (Pearce and Gretzel 2012). The idea of disconnection whilst travelling has given way to the contemporary travellers’ world where they paradoxically make systematic efforts to keep in touch with friends and family (White and White 2007). Constant connectivity enhances the sense of obligation for travellers to retain the same level of presence, attention, and intimacy with their friends and relatives (Pearce and Gretzel 2012; Germann Molz and Paris 2015). As a result of increased use of technology, tasks which were previously fulfilled in the pre-trip and post-trip stages are now being fulfilled during the consumption stage (Wang and Fesenmaier 2013; Wang et al. 2014). The pre-consumption stage has been shortened as travellers tend to plan less and thus become less rigid and more spontaneous. Travellers are more open to change when an activity becomes unsatisfactory and plan alternatives on the spot. The post-trip consumption has become less necessary since experiences are already being shared live on social networks during the consumption stage (Wang et al. 2014; Tussyadiah 2014).
Memorable travel experiences increase the likelihood and the variety of content that travellers are willing to publish on social media (Minazzi and Mauri 2015). As social posts start to become a new form of postcards, the reaction of other users to the content uploaded can shape the travel experience of the uploader. Indeed, Kim et al.’s (2013) research shows a significant relationship between social-media enabled communication and emotion. Travellers arguably have a more enjoyable and memorable experience if they acquire positive emotional support and encouragement on social media during their trip.
In addition to social interaction, connected travellers can also shape their experiences through co-creation with service providers. Neuhofer et al. (2014) through the ‘experience hierarchy matrix’ argue that different levels of utilisation of technology create different degrees of impact on the tourist experience. At the lower level of the matrix, where use of technology is scarce, travellers have no option but to interact or get involved in creating their experiences. Conversely, higher up in the matrix, travellers co-create their experiences with service providers, the tourist consumer and other consumers. At the peak of the matrix, technology becomes a catalyst and an integral part of the travel experience rather than being merely a supporting tool.
If technology-empowered experiences through co-creation is the goal (Neuhofer et al. 2014), then connectivity is the vehicle that can drive this goal forward. Other enablers of technology enhanced experiences, such as hardware and software (Neuhofer et al. 2015), often depend on connectivity to fully maximise their functionalities. The internet allows users to obtain information, share experiences through content and communication, and co-create experiences (Wang et al. 2014; Minazzi and Mauri 2015; Neuhofer et al. 2015). Whereas ubiquitous and reliable 3G/4G networks are amongst the most widely adopted solutions for connectivity, they are expensive when used abroad. As a result, Wi-Fi, even with its limitations (i.e. lack of coverage), is often the preferred method of connection (Gass and Diot 2010). Wi-Fi can provide intermittent high bursts of data retrieval at a low or free cost, while roaming offers continuous connectivity with low data rates and relatively high costs (Gass and Diot 2010).
Increasingly, the provision of free Wi-Fi is being integrated with social logins (see http://www.fusionwifi.com; http://www.purplewifi.net). Through social logins users manage account registrations and passwords more efficiently and reduce the burden of “password fatigue” where users need to manage multiple accounts across different websites and/or services. This service, termed as Social Wi-Fi, provides users with the ability to seamlessly gain access to connectivity, and also provides valuable social data for organisations. At the same time, mining of personal data also raises privacy and security issues (Bonneau et al. 2009; Wang et al. 2012; Gafni and Nissim 2014). Third party applications are able to gain access to data which is already available on the user’s profile: access to basic information (e.g. user name or email address), personal information (e.g. gender, nationality, residence, friend list), created content (e.g. images, videos, status updates), data from potentially non-consenting users (e.g. friends), and the writing permissions for RPs to share content on the users’ social network (Vapen et al. 2015). Nonetheless, users’ concerns about loss of privacy and security vulnerability of social logins are often a consequence of poor understanding of how the system works (Gafni and Nissim 2014). While there is increasing literature on social logins (e.g. Sun et al. 2013; Vapen et al. 2015), there is a significant lack of research on Social Wi-Fi, and especially travellers’ perception of this connectivity enabler.
2.3 Disconnection and unplugging
The inability to connect online can be either one’s own personal decision, or a result of inadequate infrastructure (Paris et al. 2015).The absence of highly familiar sensory inputs and disconnection creates technology-induced tensions to some (Pearce and Gretzel 2012) but a relief for others (Germann Molz and Paris 2015). Pearce and Gretzel (2012) established four types of technology-induced tensions in dead zones areas: (1) social communication tension, (2) work communication tension, (3) security escape tension, and (4) immediacy connectedness tension. Technological dead zones create ‘social communication tension’ as travellers are unable to meet the typical social expectation to be continuously connected and in constant communication. At the same time, dead zone areas give the traveller a break from this continuous need to be online. The fact that one cannot receive or send communication in dead zone areas offers a good justification for the lack of virtual interaction.
While dead zone areas might create work anxiety, at the same time this disconnection provides a relief from responsibilities as it creates a compelling excuse to not pay attention to work communication. The inability to for travellers to report their well-being to others provokes a security tension to some. On the other hand, being disconnected arouses a sense of adventure, spontaneity, and freedom to truly escape from society. Technological dead zones encourage travellers to focus on the moment and to stimulate skills that technology might typically replace. Pearce and Gretzel (2012) argue that the need to find one’s own entertainment and immediate presence in unplugged areas were challenging to some but also rewarding to others.
Induced anxiety from disconnection might be related to the perceived need of staying online, as well as the level of addiction to the internet (Paris et al. 2015). The constant need to check and think about new notifications is often a consequence of smart devices (Harwood 2014). While it is hard to argue against the convenience that internet brings to modern life, a high proportion of the population have developed an addiction to it (Ko et al. 2005). Addicted users might not only feel higher anxiety or distress than typical travellers because of disconnection, but they might also find their denied mobility as unacceptable (Hannam et al. 2014).
Ultimately, the level of reaction towards being unplugged depends on the original intent of the trip, the perceived need of staying connected and the level of control and choice over the disconnection (Paris et al. 2015). In practice, Paris et al. (2015) argue that there might be marketing potential for disconnection as long as it is the travellers’ choice to be unplugged. If the traveller is originally aware that he/she will be in a dead zone area, or desire to be in a dead zone area, then the level of anxiety will drop because of the awareness and the preparation which is done beforehand to deal with the eventual disconnection. Arguably, while networking technologies create ways of being virtually together, it also creates new desires for distance and new ways of disconnecting (Germann Molz and Paris 2015). Indeed, Dickinson et al.’s (2016) study on travellers staying in campsites shows that tourists are not constantly connected, and up to 50 percent of them have some desire to disconnect.
The nature of the study involves issues that need to be explored profoundly. For this reason, an exploratory qualitative research was carried out by conducting face-to-face semi-structured interviews. The primary research utilised a purposive sample since it represents an effective method for a pre-determined criteria for the selection of participants (Bryman 2008).
Pre-determined set of questions to guide the interview
1. How much value do you place on social media and internet in your life?
2. How reliant on connectivity are you during your trip?
3. What are the activities for which you opt to use connectivity during your trip?
4. Can you list an experience where you desired or required to be online but it was not available?
5. Can you list experiences where you desired or required connectivity and it was available?
6. If any, what are the main positives of being connected on your tourist experiences?
7. If any, what are the main negatives of being connected on your tourist experiences?
8. What is your attitude or feeling towards Wi-Fi services that use social logins?
9. How would your holiday have been different if you had no connectivity at all?
This study required participants who have an affinity for engagement with technology, connectivity and travelling and thus can be termed as ‘informal experts’ because of their experiences (Line et al. 2011). The term ‘informal experts’ does not relate to expertise and formal knowledge from a professional point of view, but rather, it focuses on personal interest and the interviewees’ good grasp of the range of functionalities of online connectivity and mobility devices (Line et al. 2011). Respondents who have formerly used the internet and technology during their tourist experience had to be identified, as only these users were capable to describe such experiences (Neuhofer et al. 2015). Therefore, the pre-defined criteria consisted of two main factors: first, the informant must be a technology-savvy user who owns a smartphone and is regularly active on the internet and social media. Second, the respondent must have travelled within the last twelve months in order to be able to share his/her related experiences.
The sixteen participants who accepted to participate in the study were interviewed between 26th of May and 8th of June 2015. Three pilot interviews were conducted in the UK prior to executing the final interviews in Malta to minimise ambiguities and confusions in the research. The participants of the pilot interview were asked to be as critical as possible and outline any questions which seemed ambiguous or not understandable. As a result, some of the pre-defined questions had to be redeveloped to be clearer for the interviewees.
To safeguard the credibility of the findings and interpretations, rigorous and prolonged engagement with the data was conducted through a qualitative thematic approach. This researchers utilised Braun and Clarke’s (2006) six phase guide for thematic analysis. In the first phase, familiarisation with data involved transcription of text from the interviews. This phase also included continuous reading and re-reading of the transcriptions to form the initial analysis of the data. In the second phase, initial codes were generated to gain a deeper understanding of the data collected. Descriptive coding was conducted on QSR NVivo 10. The third phase included the search for themes by identifying codes that were related to each other. The fourth phase of the analysis consisted of a review of the themes. To ensure raw data was accurately supported and represented in these themes, the data was interpreted again. In the fifth phase, themes were defined and named, while ensuring that they do not become too diverse or too complex. The sixth and final phase involved the first analysis and write-up of the report.
4.1 Factors influencing a connectivity enhanced experience
4.1.1 Hardware and software
“I use my mobile phone pretty much every time, so first thing in the morning and the last thing I use at night. I get quite fidgety when I’m out and it’s not working. (…) I use Facebook—I need to keep in touch with my world. Google Maps, TripAdvisor if I need to find a restaurant or museum and want to make sure that the place I go is well rated. For transport, bus schedules, train schedules” (Victoria).
“If you have Wi-Fi you can always do something, unless your mobile dies without battery” (James).
4.1.2 Needs and contexts
Different desires and contexts produce different non-technological factors that can either increase or distract the need for users to have a connectivity enhanced experience. This study highlights three types of contexts that have influenced the need for connectivity for the respondents of this study: (1) solo-accompanied travel, (2) familiarity–unfamiliarity of the destination, and (3) purpose of trip. Effectively the impact of these influences on the use of connectivity will depend on the traveller’s personal characteristics, interests, culture and previous experiences.
“I will need internet if I am travelling alone for example because I am quite afraid when I am travelling so I might need the help of the internet to find my way through stations” (John).
Conversely, accompanied travellers obtained this sense of relief through the collective presence of a group of people. Indeed, respondents who travelled with friends and/or family did not need connectivity to feel safer since they were either dependent on other people or felt less stressed because they were not alone. Similarly, some maintained that travelling with a guided tour subsided the need of connectivity—especially when it comes to assistance with navigation and information. Therefore, solo and accompanied travellers value and use connectivity differently because of their different needs and contexts.
(2) Familiarity–unfamiliarity of the destination: Participants report that the level of familiarity with the destination influenced the role of connectivity on a tourist experience. Familiarity includes factors such as: knowledge of spoken language, previous experiences in the destination, and prior preparation. Tacitly, the stronger the participants were equipped with these three factors, the less connectivity they required. Conversely, without this knowledge, the internet became the tool which assisted travellers to enhance their experience in a destination. Through rapid information search and availability of rich content in multiple languages, connectivity becomes a great asset for travellers who need to become increasingly familiar with the destination.
“Well, I think it’s quite important to have Wi-Fi somewhere, but it depends where you are. I think when you are in a city trip for example, it’s quite cool when you have Wi-Fi because you can check for restaurants or sights or bus times. I think when I’m away and lying on the beach I don’t need it too much” (Samantha);
“For example if the holiday, you aim to go on holiday, on a retreat or just to be away from your everyday life, you would probably need much less connectivity and hope to find much less connectivity there than at other destinations!” (Mary).
4.1.3 Openness to usage
The level of openness to use connectivity during travelling heavily influences the possibility of internet enhanced experiences. Different participants had different perspectives on the level of escape they wanted from their travels. Connectivity, being such an integral part of everyday life, has become comparable to an essential item in a suitcase to some, but to others it has also become an emotional and behavioural baggage. Those who perceive connectivity as a means to enhance their experience or a way to keep some connection to the life they are temporarily leaving, are more likely to practice an internet enhanced experience than those who desire to escape from home—both physically and virtually. The study has observed three particular voluntary approaches to connectivity: (1) actively connected, (2) selective unplugging, and (3) self-imposed total disconnection.
“I don’t post photos or status normally, but, when I travel well it’s the time to brag you know [laughs] so I quite often upload photo, but that’s also for my family, I want to share my experience—like real time experience with my family and friends as well” (Jessica).
“When I am on vacation I normally decide not to see any emails; still I search the internet, check the news, log on my Facebook, Twitter, but not emails—so that at least I don’t see what work is coming for me when I return home” (George).
“When I was in a bar, I was looking at places where we could go, and then I just realised, why not just enjoy the moment and I will look up places before sleeping. You have to be conscious to stop doing that sort of thing, because I do it without wanting to. I’m conscious that sometimes I use it too much” (James);
“In normal life you check your Facebook all the time, even if you don’t have any alert you just check if you have any notification, so, that kind of habit you actually bring to your holiday as well, so when I’m in holiday I just think, like okay, let’s not check—maybe later when I finish this route, when I finish this museum” (Jessica).
Selective unplugging becomes an increasingly important approach as travellers start to recognise the side effects of being completely connected online. The need for selectively disconnecting from aspects of connectivity stems from a conscious effort to stop the overdependence of technology and to enrich the physical and emotional experience in a destination. Nonetheless, as certain functionalities and abilities of connectivity are able to complement travel experience, travellers are still open to be connected at certain moments or for specific features. In this approach, travellers strive to find a balance between connection and disconnection in the type of usage and consumption.
“If I’m travelling, like, around with my backpack then I don’t use internet—I don’t like (using) it. There is some point in the year where I really need to be disconnected” (Sarah).
Self-imposed total disconnection removes any technological anxieties from the trip experience and enables travellers to fully immerse themselves in the destination. Participants with this approach desired to wander around the destination without the assistance or distractions of connectivity. As a result, travellers feel closer to their new environment and their inner senses. Consequently, this approach to connectivity thoroughly reduces the opportunity for an internet enhanced experience.
4.1.4 Provision and supply of connectivity
“Yeah I use Wi-Fi wherever it is: the hotel, hostel or restaurant or coffee shop. I am not trying to use the 3G that I have because it costs money and I don’t want to spend money when there is Wi-Fi” (Sarah).
With the proliferation of social network users and the consumers’ increasing requirement for provision of connectivity, it is not surprising that organisations are starting to fuse the two together and offer ‘Social Wi-Fi’. The term Social Wi-Fi can be defined as the integration of social logins with the accessibility and provision of Wi-Fi.
“I think using my social account it is way faster and easier and I don’t need to figure out a new password which I’m going to forget in the next few days” (Tom);
“Social Wi-Fi was faster, more reliable and I think it’s more user friendly as well because it’s just one click and you’re done” (Joanne);
“Social Wi-Fi is just easier and faster, you don’t have to put your name and email and all you data, you just log in, ok, and you are done” (Emily).
“Especially abroad, who knows, it could be the most popular service abroad, but to me, I have no knowledge of them, so my leniency to give them my information would be super high not too” (Ryan);
“Yeah, first of all it depends on the organisation and secondly if they would use this information for a good reason. Yeah I think it depends on the situation and the company: Mainly who will use my information?” (Tom).
“…you just press one button and it’s all there for you and there’s this whole integrated system that recognises a lot of your habits, somehow, and your behavioural patterns so that can come in handy and it might also provide a lot of unsolicited benefits to the other business” (Mary).
This study identifies four factors that influenced the willingness of the participants to connect to Social Wi-Fi: (1) users’ attitude towards privacy, (2) availability of substitutes, (3) perceived value of connectivity, and (4) perceived reputation of supplier. The stronger perceived value of connectivity and reputation of supplier, the more likely participants were willing to connect to Social Wi-Fi. Conversely, the stronger the care for privacy and the availability of substitutes, the less likely were respondents open to use Social Wi-Fi.
4.2 Consequences of connection and disconnection
“I recall one time when I needed to login to my remote connection at work because something was wrong, and I found a Wi-Fi connection (…) It made me more comfortable knowing that I can control, for example my PC at work, and my mind was at rest that I can access it whenever I want” (John).
“Ten years ago no one expected you to be available. And now when you don’t answer a WhatsApp message within some hours, it’s like are you alive? So not sure if this is good or bad” (Samantha).
“And I’m going to worry, is my girlfriend going to text me on the chat app or my family going to chat with me and then I disappear, so I’m quite worried that people are going to worry about me. I don’t know I’m addicted to social media sometimes” (Jack).
“We are always with our mobile phones in our hands, it’s annoying, because, people are speaking with people that they are not there, and then when they are with those people, they are speaking to us” (Kate).
“I experienced snow for the first time so I wanted to share it with my boyfriend, so I switched on Skype and I could see his reaction and he could see mine live” (Joanne).
4.2.3 Information obtainability
“The amount of information that you can get at every moment, every time, in whatever situation. You make the most of the experience, you do not miss anything… While when you don’t have internet, you are a bit lost, and you wander around” (Emily).
“Internet makes you plan everything and check in advance, you can even like see the menu of the restaurant, and pick before you go there, and maybe that is not really good for the experiences. (…) Maybe somehow it is even better when there is no connectivity because you can explore yourself. Because when you have Wi-Fi you go for what you need, and that’s it. Maybe you see more of a place if sometimes you don’t have internet” (Samantha).
4.2.4 Time consumption
“I would be walking like I’m a resident there—like I already know what’s happening—so that (connectivity) saved me time” (Ryan).
4.2.5 Supporting experiences
Online connectivity is able to support users on information, entertainment, and communication requirements. Connectivity provide travellers a sense of security in knowing that any needs can be addressed instantly. Minazzi and Mauri (2015) discussed how tourists reduce the perception of risk through the availability of online information and enrich their experiences with instant decisions using mobility devices. This reduces the conventional stress that arises from temporarily living in a different and unknown environment, often with its different culture, language, norms, especially when visiting for the first time. However, this can also become detrimental when travellers over-depend on it, as connectivity is inconvenient and stressful when it is unavailable. While connectivity has the ability to aid and increase the personal development of travellers, it can also cage the traveller in his/her own online world and miss out on potential learning experiences.
“If anything I’d be a bit, not dissatisfied, like be how unfortunate. I’d feel like I missed out on something you know, having internet would have made it a bit better the holiday experience. Even though you don’t do much, even if you don’t post or anything, even just receiving data, it would have complemented the holiday” (Ryan);
“Not necessarily an advantage at time because it might distracts you, however, overall I think it’s a plus because it’s a service that is available there and you never know what you might need off the internet” (Mary).
Figure 2 illustrates how the five forms of consequences can potentially feature positive and/or negative attributes for both connection and disconnection. The consequences of being (dis)connected depend on the level of control over the decision to have connection or disconnection, the openness for usage and the context of the traveller. The positives from being disconnected are amplified if the disconnection is the traveller’s own personal decision through blocking access to connectivity or knowingly travelling in unplugged areas. The negatives will intensify if the disconnection was not a personal decision made by the traveller but was imposed on him/her. The negative consequences of both connection and disconnection can be reduced if the traveller is able (and is allowed to) strike a balance between both approaches. Being connected did not necessarily make the participants unsociable or unable to enjoy the immediate presence or companionship. The respondents’ degree of control over the use and duration of connection or disconnection played a huge role in augmenting or decreasing the negative consequences. Selective unplugging was often the respondents’ preferred attitude towards connectivity in order to strike a balance between the online and offline world.
Connection and disconnection have often been studied exclusively in their own respective worlds. In doing so, researchers often ignored the fact that travellers have to commonly adjust between the two states of connections during their travels rather than be completely connected or disconnected. Additionally, the influence of technology has often been observed solely from a software and/or device point of view (e.g. smartphones and wearable technologies) (e.g. Wang and Fesenmaier 2013; Dickinson et al. 2014; Tussyadiah 2014; Wang et al. 2014) but rarely have they specifically concentrated on the main factor that maximises their functionalities: connectivity.
This research aimed to fill this literature gap by understanding the factors that boost or discourage connectivity enhanced experiences and the positive and negative consequences of being connected and/or disconnected. The accumulation of these influences was classified in four main factors: (1) hardware and software, (2) needs and contexts, (3) openness to usage, and (4) supply and provision of connectivity. Travellers’ openness to usage is arguably the most influential factor in being connected or disconnected. Without the desire to obtain connectivity all the other factors that can enable internet connection become futile. Conversely, hardware, software, provision of connectivity become crucial supporting tools when the user desires to be active online during the trip. Subsequently, the research also presented a number of multifaceted experiential consequences of being connected and/or disconnected. The findings suggest that the consequences of being (dis)connected largely depend on the level of control over the decision to be connected or disconnected, the willingness to use connectivity, the context of the traveller, and the travellers’ volitional balance between the two opposite states of connectivity.
The research has identified three different approaches to connectivity. Through the novel approach of focusing on both connection and disconnection, the study introduced the concept of “selective unplugging” where travellers attempt to strike a balance on the usage and dependence on the internet and its supporting tools. Alternatively, travellers might opt to be ‘actively connected’ throughout their trip, or even practice a ‘self-imposed total disconnection’. As a result, businesses seeking to satisfy their customers’ needs should attempt to understand the desires of their target markets, and ensure that they are equipped with the appropriate infrastructure. As Paris et al. (2015) also argue, marketing potential exists for both the provision of connection and disconnection. There are numerous examples of organisations and businesses promoting themselves as Wi-Fi friendly, but at the same time, there are also existing places and businesses that promote the fact that they do not provide any connection. One example is Visit Wales’ witty marketing campaign whereby they promoted areas of “outstandingly bad mobile reception” (Brand Arcade 2010).
the extent to which ‘selective unplugging’ approach is utilised by travellers,
the factors that influence the degree to which ‘selective unplugging’ approach is used,
the role of Social Wi-Fi in the context of travel and tourism.
As technology enhanced experiences, co-creation, and smart destinations continue to emerge and grow (e.g. Buhalis and Amaranggana 2013; Neuhofer et al. 2014, 2015; Buhalis and Foerste 2015), both academics and marketers need to ensure there is appropriate level of infrastructure. Effectively, destinations and organisations need to ensure their telecommunications infrastructure is capable to address the ever expanding needs of the market.
The research work disclosed in this publication is partially funded by the Master it! Scholarship Scheme (Malta). This Scholarship is part-financed by the European Union—European Social Fund (ESF) under Operational Programme II—Cohesion Policy 2007–2013; “Empowering People for More Jobs and a Better Quality Of Life”.
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