Sport Tourism and the Internet: Enhancing the Experience and Strengthening Tour Group Ties
This paper reports on a longitudinal study that examined the online actions and interactions of participants of a sport tour to the Athens Olympics. The sport tour was innovative in that it brought together potential participants within an online environment before the tour and encouraged them to participate as a group to determine the structure and itinerary for the tour. The data for the paper was collected across a twelve month period of time spanning the formation of the group's online presence through to post-tour and the ultimate termination of the group's online presence. This study examined the behavior of the group in that online communal setting. It also reports on their post-trip satisfaction. Two primary methods were utilized in the collection of data. The first was observation of the computer-mediated communications within the group. This included analysis of emails, polls, photos, files and the calendar that the group created during their online existence. The second was online interviews with tour group members and the tour group leader using chat software. Two key themes that emerged were how the online interactions enhanced the groups' overall sport tourism experience and the pivotal role of the tour leader in facilitating the online interactions between group members. Sub-themes include the development of a group identity through online interactions; small-group dynamics; and the importance of other customers in the sport tourism experience. From a marketing management perspective there are several important implications arising from this study. The tour company took a micro-marketing approach that involved their customers in the creation, production and consumption of the sport tourism product. The advantage of engaging customers within the creation of the product led to a feeling of ownership of an authentic experience. The tour company also understood the importance of other tour group members in the tour experience for any one customer. They fostered a sense of community within the tour group by bringing the customers together as a group to interact before and after the actual tour. As a result the customers reported extreme satisfaction with their tour and emphasized the importance of the online interactions in heightening their experience. Loyalty was also evident through reports of word-of-mouth referrals, a willingness to pay premium prices, and interest in other products provided by the tour company.
North American Society for Sport Management Conference Proceedings